“An academic boycott is completely contrary to the field of bioethics,” Bursztajn told The Jewish Press, during a lengthy interview on Monday, Feb. 3.
“We in the field of academia must engage in dialogue, not boycott. Just as in our field we must safeguard against allowing genetics to become eugenics, the same must hold true for all academics.”
“The Board felt strongly about opposing the academic boycott due to our collective belief that it would be counter-productive to both general academic freedom as well as the very social justice concerns expressed by the ASA,” another member of the board, law professor Michael A. Stein, told The Jewish Press. Stein is at Harvard Law School this semester and is the co-founder and director of the Harvard Project on Disability.
“Specifically, the ASA will wind up undercutting many progressive members of Israeli society, both Jewish and Arab, who are working towards a more inclusive Israel,” Stein explained.
It is Bursztajn’s belief that academic boycotts are a step on the slippery slope to academic fascism. “We must recognize that complexity brings with it uncertainty, but it is not helpful either to the peace process or the human process” to shut out the views of anyone.
Bursztajn said that the ABCI board of directors began circulating emails about the ASA boycott as soon as it became public, and they drafted the language of their response. The other members of the board are Dr. André L. Churchwell, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Dr. Terry R. Bard, of Harvard Medical School, a professor, a rabbi, an ethicist and a clinical psychologist who has served on the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry for more than 35 years.
“As an African-American, I am less than a generation past the initial challenges of the Civil Rights movement, and I remain a witness to the continuing challenges of prejudice in all its forms. As the result of my background, I have a personal connection to the issue of the ASA boycott,” Dr. Churchwell explained.
“Academic freedom is precious and in some sense quite fragile. To recommend boycotting Israeli academic institutions opens the door to the possible slippery slope of other boycotts done in this manner. Academic freedom must be protected and nurtured by all who work in the realm of the academy,” was Churchwell’s heartfelt response to The Jewish Press.
Rabbi Dr. Bard, co-founder with Bursztajn of ABCI, explained that the ABCI concentrates in looking at the psychological components of decision making with respect to three primary areas: geriatrics, genetics and more generalized suffering.
Bard told The Jewish Press that in looking at the recent waves of American faculty selectively condemning Israel, one factor playing a role was Israel’s public presentation as a “Kol Bo,” a vessel that will contain everything. This insight refuses to simply cast those critical of Israel as anti-Semitic, instead adding a dimension of disappointment, whether justified or not. It is the kind of insight that makes the analysis even more complicated, driving away from, rather than closer to, a simple conclusion.
This article was updated to correct a quote from Dr. Haque. He said it was not too much of a stretch to draw an analogy between German physicians who rushed to join the Nazi party and today’s academics who promote boycotts of Israeli academics. The earlier version omitted the word “not.”