History professor pulls out of event linking Tel Aviv, Brown universities

Last week, I wrote about a symposium at Brown University’s Cogut Center for Humanities entitled “The Humanities in Israel/Palestine: Reflections on the State of Knowledge.”

My interest was not so much for the content, but for the politics around it: PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, condemned the symposium as a violation of its boycott guidelines.

As the guidelines state, the boycott targets Israeli institutions complicit in occupation and other abuses of Palestinians.

The organizer, Brown visiting professor Adi Ophir, contended that there were no institutional ties to Tel Aviv University, where he is a professor and director of the Minerva Center for Humanities.

PACBI rejected this, stating that although Ophir “is a member of the Brown University faculty, he is also the current director – not just a research fellow – of the Minerva Center at Tel Aviv University, an unquestionably boycottable university.”

“Organizing this event at Brown while being a director of an Israeli institution constitutes an institutional link as he is considered a representative of this boycottable institution, increasing that institution’s profile through such an event, and not merely an individual academic affiliated to a boycottable institution,” PACBI added.

Morever, as I reported, a document circulated internally described the event as a “joint symposium” between the Tel Aviv University center and its counterpart at Brown.

PACBI said that the event description promoted the Minerva Center as a “hub” of dissent while omitting the essential context of Tel Aviv University’s “criminal complicity” in the occupation, including last summer’s Israeli massacre in Gaza, and thus constitued “branding, but with a mask.”

In addition to several staff from the Minerva Center, two Brown faculty who have publicly backed the boycott were slated to take part, history professor Beshara Doumani and postdoctoral fellow Sa’ed Atshan.

Doumani pulls out

In response to the PACBI assessment, Doumani, who is also director of Middle East Studies at Brown, pulled out of the symposium, which was held on Monday night. Atshan went ahead with his participation.

Ophir, Doumani and Atshan did not respond to requests for comment, but in an apparent reference to the matter, Atshan posted on his Facebook page that he had come “under attack from a blogger on a pro-Palestinian site.”

As can be seen, the only references to Atshan in my earlier piece state the incontrovertible facts that he has publicly supported the boycott and was scheduled to speak at the Brown symposium. He is not quoted or characterized in any other way (although I did say that he and Doumani could have done more “due diligence” on the symposium before agreeing to participate).

Nonetheless, I offered Atshan an opportunity to rebut any statements he felt treated him unfairly and to explain his position (on a previous occasion I appended a note to an article at his request). He did not take up my offer.

As support for the boycott broadens, more individuals will find themselves in positions where they must go from general statements of support for it to taking ethical decisions in specific situations that they may believe could have personal and professional consequences.

I think this case serves as a positive example of how the PACBI guidelines can operate as a practical guide for individuals and institutions for ethical action and accountability.