In the wake of Judith Butler’s withdrawal from her planned talk on Kafka at the New York Jewish Museum and the “disinvitation” of Rashid Khalidi by the Orthodox Ramaz high school in New York last week, the two scholars have launched a petition to defend free speech and denounce the censorship that seeks to set the “boundaries of acceptable discourse relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“
While this petition clearly pertains to the current situation in the United States, we in the United Kingdom cannot afford to be complacent about this kind of activity that seeks only to stifle debate rather than encourage open engagement with diverse points of view on Israel and the Palestinians.
Independent Jewish Voices is an embodiment of this ideal. With regard to the BDS campaign specifically, mentioned in the petition, IJV does not have a collective position on BDS and members of the Steering Group hold different views on the matter. However, we are united on the question of the right to free political expression when exercised through non-violent means, whether in the UK, the US, Israel or elsewhere.
It should be noted that rather than being a question of support for or against BDS, the matter at stake here is freedom of speech. Indeed, the petition makes a strong case against academic boycotts directed against individuals.
This is the full text of the petition followed by a link should you wish to add your support.
Whether one is for or against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a means to change the current situation in Palestine-Israel, it is important to recognize that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression. As non-violent instruments to effect political change, boycotts cannot be outlawed without trampling on a constitutionally protected right to political speech. Those who support boycotts ought not to become subject to retaliation, surveillance, or censorship when they choose to express their political viewpoint, no matter how offensive that may be to those who disagree.
We are now witnessing accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS. We ask cultural and educational institutions to have the courage and the principle to stand for, and safeguard, the very principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas that make those institutions possible. This means refusing to accede to bullying, intimidation, and threats aimed at silencing speakers because of their actual or perceived political views. It also means refusing to impose a political litmus test on speakers and artists when they are invited to speak or stage their work. We ask that educational and cultural institutions recommit themselves to upholding principles of open debate, and to remain venues for staging expressions of an array of views, including controversial ones. Only by refusing to become vehicles for censorship and slander, and rejecting blacklisting, intimidation, and discrimination against certain viewpoints, can these institutions live up to their purpose as centers of learning and culture.