On May 21, a prestigious activist organization expressed its “solidarity and support for Palestinians in their fight for liberation.” In accordance with the radicalism of this organization, it pointedly did not refer to Israel by name, placing the Jewish state instead within “historic Palestine.” This activist organization encouraged us to donate to “local organizations,” like the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), presently celebrating what it takes to be a “courageous victory” over the Zionist regime and its “Zionist settlers” across “all of Palestine.”
The activist organization in question is the University of California Press, the “nonprofit publishing arm of the University of California system.” Because it is associated with a university system, it dutifully notes in its solidarity statement that it will “prioritize pedagogies that reflect intersectional, anti-colonial, anti-racist action.”
This statement is not exactly a departure for the press, which includes a commitment to “drive progressive change” in its mission statement. On the Israel front, it published Sunaina Maira’s Boycott, which risibly asserts that there is a virtual ban on “pro-Palestinian” speech in the academy. The assertion is risible because her book is part of a UC Press American Studies series, co-edited by scholars prominent in the successful effort to win the American Studies Association over to boycotting Israel. If there was any doubt that they had a home in one of the biggest university presses in the country, the Press has now invited them to leave a toothbrush and offered them a drawer.
In recent months, defenders of academic freedom have worried about the ham-fisted and, in some cases, unconstitutional, GOP-led legislative efforts to combat left-liberal “social justice” ideology on state university campuses. State legislators hold the purse strings and are a formidable threat to academic freedom. Perhaps that threat is more deserving of our attention than student op-ed writers. But the defense of academic freedom rests in no small part on the university’s claim to be a center of “the free search for truth and its free exposition.” When the publishing arm of a state university system decides that it is also the publishing arm of anti-Zionism, it undermines that defense.
Not to be outdone, numerous “scholars for Palestinian freedom” have signed onto a statement falsely charging Israel with apartheid and “racial supremacy.” They are all but pledging to treat these false charges as true in their classrooms. It is “no longer acceptable to conduct research in Palestine . . . without a clear component of political commitment,” the statement read. That “no longer acceptable” is important because it suggests how the statement’s signatories might view their work on a hiring or tenure committee.
Would they not feel duty-bound to reject any candidate who rejects the lie that Israel is an apartheid state, even though its Arab and Jewish citizens hold political office and there is no de jure segregation? Would they not be obliged to reject any candidate who doesn’t go along with calling a people with a continuous presence in and deep ties to the land of Israel as “settler-colonialists”?
I am skeptical of charges that professors, more bound by professional constraints than their critics imagine, indoctrinate their students or engage in political discrimination. But when people pledge to do something, we should believe them. They, too, undermine the university’s claim to be engaged in the free search for truth and its free exposition. So those who care about the university ought to say something. And yet, it is conspicuous that academics, whose voices must be hoarse from denouncing “politicization” when it comes from legislators and trustees, do not speak up when the politicization is coming from inside the house.