Israel

Syracuse Professor: Canceled Invite of Israeli Filmmaker Shows New Tactics of Boycott Campaign

The decision to disinvite an Israeli filmmaker from an upcoming film festival at Syracuse University reflects a change in tactics of the anti-Israel boycott campaign on campuses to “stealth boycotts,” Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science at the university, wrote in an op-ed in Haaretz on Wednesday.

Ben-Gurion University president Rivka Carmi recently expressed her fear that faculty members were being subjected to informal boycotts by anti-Israel academics. This fear was realized, Elman wrote, Israeli filmmaker Shimon Dotan was disinvited last week from an upcoming film festival because a Syracuse faculty member was concerned that inviting him would subject her to “ideologically motivated retaliation” by colleagues promoting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

M. Gail Hamner, a tenured professor at Syracuse’s Religion Department who was organizing a festival about “The Place of Religion in Film,” explained to Dotan, who had made a largely critical documentary about the Israeli settlement movement, that she had been warned by other faculty members that the “BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant” for both her and Dotan if he attended.

Hamner apologized to Dotan, who was invited to present his film at the university at a different forum. Furthermore, Elman wrote, Syracuse subsequently “responded admirably by reasserting the university’s commitment to free speech and its opposition to ‘any boycott of Israeli academic institutions or faculty.’”

But the incident raised a number of questions, Elman argued, including whether Hamner had “to ‘vouch’ in the same way for other films in the conference – or was it just the product of an Israeli national that required special scrutiny? Are a group of anti-Israel colleagues exercising subtle veto power when it comes to academic programming related to Israel?

To answer these questions, Elman and other faculty members are asking the university to “undertake a comprehensive and transparent investigation.” She doesn’t expect the investigation will uncover much, because Syracuse is generally a “welcoming place for Israeli scholars and students.” However, Elman wrote, there is a need to learn the whole story behind Dotan’s situation so that no similar incidents recur.

Three things can be learned from the Dotan disinvite, Elman wrote. The first is that even on campuses that are committed to opposing boycotts of Israel, individual faculty members may act against those principles. In order to fight such silent boycotts, it is necessary for individual faculty members to take principled against them. Finally, she noted that if “famous anti-occupation, progressives Israelis – like Shimon Dotan – aren’t immune” to boycotts, the motivation to BDS is not to end Israel’s so-called “occupation,” but “pure racist hatred.”

Elman’s observation about the shift in tactics confirms a study published by the Israel on Campus Coalition earlier this week, which found that BDS campaigners had changed tactics during the past year, focusing more on disruption, a tactic that involves “deliberately [interfering] with Israel-related educational activities.”

[Photo: Vin Crosbie / Flickr ]