CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
March 24, 2017
Vice-Chancellor John Joughin
University of East London
Dear Vice-Chancellor Joughin,
The California Scholars for Academic Freedom,** a group of over 250 scholars, protests in the strongest possible terms your abrogation of academic freedom by cancelling the planned talks by Professor Richard Falk on his new book, Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace. Your action accedes to growing threats to academic freedom at a moment when your country and ours are verging towards a situation of ignoring the basic premises of democracy. It is precisely in this moment that universities must stand as the strongest possible bulwark of free speech, academic freedom and public debate. The groups who have sought to achieve this suppression of free speech and curtailment of academic freedom are extremists who do not believe that open debate is a vital part of education, and that various viewpoints first have to be known before they are rejected. Richard Falk is one of the most highly respected international scholars of human rights law, and his viewpoint is among those that ought rightly to be heard and considered by those who wish to cultivate an informed position on the Middle East.
In fact, Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and has been a Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he currently co-leads UCSB’s Orfalea Center Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy. He taught international law and politics at Princeton University for 40 years. In 2001, he served on a three person Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestine Territories that was appointed by the United Nations, and previously, on the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. He serves as Chair of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Board of Directors and as honorary vice president of the American Society of International Law. Falk also acted as counsel to Ethiopia and Liberia in the Southwest Africa Case before the International Court of Justice. He received his BS from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; LLB. from Yale Law School; and JSD. from Harvard University.
We find the reasons given for the cancellation of these talks — that they were not organized according to “procedure” or that they pose concerns for “public safety” — utterly unconvincing and disingenuous. Those who have convinced you to cancel these talks are clear about their motive—to suppress criticism of Israeli state policies. Their disingenuousness lies in equating valid criticism of state policies with anti-Semitism.
Like you, we oppose all forms of anti-Semitism as well as all forms of racism. It would, however, be unwise to conflate the actual rise of anti-Semitism we have recently witnessed and abhorred in the UK and the US with a spurious charge of anti-Semitism leveled against those who openly criticize Israel’s illegal occupation and support non-violent means to achieve the end of that occupation. The answer to this most recent scourge of anti-Semitism is not to invoke censorship against those who are part of active and important debate on the unjust conditions under which Palestinians currently live in Gaza and the West Bank. Censorship and the limiting of free academic exchange attempts to silence those – including many Jewish intellectuals and public figures – who seek to press the Israeli government to end its illegal occupation and comply with international law.
The baseless charge of anti-Semitism against public critics of the State of Israel for its current policies and laws affecting Palestinians is an effort to suppress viewpoints and to shift the conversation away from the substantive realities of Palestinian disenfranchisement and the clear noncompliance of Israeli policy on Palestinians with several international laws and agreements. If you doubt this fact, then perhaps you should attend a lecture by Richard Falk in order to judge whether the evidence supports the claim. It is most important at this moment, however, to resist the intimidation by extremists and to reverse this unwise decision, an effective act of censorship, to allow a full debate to flourish.
Please also note that your action sets a dangerous precedent, and could very well curtail other forms of speech that you would very much like to see protected by law. We all would prefer not to hear positions with which we disagree, but we are all obligated to allow those positions to be voiced in the context of an open and considered debate. If you stand by your decision to cancel this lecture that offers public criticisms of Israel, will you then be bound to cancel all such lectures, including lectures critical of other states, including your own? This repressive situation is the grave danger of rejecting the principles of both academic freedom and open public debate that are critical of Israel or of any state out of compliance with international norms and laws. We urge you to affirm the principles of open and free debate that alone can insure that an educated public makes good decisions on matters of shared public concern.
We urge you to affirm these principles by re-scheduling the talks by Professor Falk. There are certainly well-known means for ensuring the safety of Professor Falk.
We look forward to your response,
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Maxine Elliot Professor, Department of Comparative Literature
University of California, Berkeley
Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Department of Comparative Literature
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz
**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.