Three weeks ago I posted to this blog a piece I titled “And Now There’s a Blacklist?” In that post I reported that an organization called the AMCHA Initiative, which claims it is “dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America,” had published what was “perilously close” to a blacklist of 218 faculty members in Middle East studies at U.S. colleges and universities who signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel. Today a group of forty prominent scholars in Jewish Studies issued a statement deploring the AMCHA list. The statement declares that AMCHA’s “technique of monitoring lectures, symposia, and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built. Moreover, its definition of anti-Semitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless.”
The following is the full text of the statement and its list of signatories:
Statement by Professors of Jewish Studies in North America Regarding the AMCHA Initiative
We the undersigned are professors of Jewish studies at North American universities. Several of us have also headed programs and centers in Jewish studies. Many of us have worked hard to nurture serious, sustained study of Israeli politics and culture on our home campuses and elsewhere.
It is in this latter regard that we call attention to the activities of an organization called the AMCHA Initiative whose mission is “investigating, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher learning in America.” Most recently, AMCHA has undertaken to monitor centers for Middle Eastern studies on American campuses including producing a lengthy report on UCLA’s in which that center is accused of antisemitism. AMCHA has also circulated a list of more than 200 Middle Eastern studies faculty whom it urges Jewish students and others to avoid because, it asserts, they espouse anti-Zionist and even antisemitic viewpoints in their classrooms.
It goes without saying that we, as students of antisemitism, are unequivocally opposed to any and all traces of this scourge. That said, we find the actions of AMCHA deplorable. Its technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built. Moreover, its definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off all but the most narrow intellectual directions and has a chilling effect on research and teaching. AMCHA’s methods lend little support to Israel, whose very survival depends on free, open, and vigorous debate about its future.