New York University (NYU) has refused to comment on reports that a Palestinian student in Gaza has been prevented by Israel from traveling to join one of its “coexistence” programs.
Its silence contrasts with university leaders’ loud condemnations of calls for the academic boycott of Israeli institutions, supposedly in order to defend “academic freedom.”
“Outstanding” Gaza student banned
On 23 January, Haaretz ran a report headlined, “Israel bars Gaza student from travel to U.S. for coexistence program.” It states that the Israeli group [Gisha] “says the refusal to issue a permit to the 21-year-old is indicative of a policy shift that is making it more difficult for Palestinian students to study abroad.”
In a post on its Facebook page, Gisha said that the student “submitted a request for security clearance and received an exit permit in order to travel to the US Consulate in Jerusalem to receive his visa. But when he tried to exit for the second time in order to fly to the United States, all of a sudden problems began. Now it turns out that a student who wants to study abroad all of a sudden needs to have a consular escort and that the exit permit be requested by an official body in the United States.”
According to Gisha, as quoted in Haaretz, “It’s not clear why Israel decided to toughen the restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinian academics in general, and in particular that of an outstanding student who received academic recognition from an institution as respectable as NYU.”
While the report does not name the student, the rights-monitoring group Gisha adds that Israel’s restriction was especially puzzling “in light of the fact that he was chosen to participate in a program that includes Israeli and Palestinian students who aspire to promote coexistence and reconciliation among the nations.”
Silence from NYU
The Electronic Intifada wrote to NYU president John Sexton, vice president for public affairs John Beckman, and other senior officials asking them for additional information as well as to inquire what steps the university was taking to counter Israeli measures that impede the academic freedom of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and siege.
Despite follow up requests in writing and by telephone over several days, the university ignored the inquiries.
According to its website, NYU runs a program called “Paths to Peace” which “brings sixteen students (eight per semester) of different faiths and backgrounds from Israel and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) to study together for one semester at New York University.”
NYU’s refusal to stand up for the academic freedom of Palestinians – including apparently participants in its own programs – is notable given Sexton’s loud objections to the recent American Studies Association (ASA) vote to endorse the academic boycott of Israeli institutions.
Sexton and university provost David McLaughlin issued a joint statement to the ASA “to express our disappointment, disagreement, and opposition to the boycott advocated by your organization of Israeli academics and academic institutions.”
“This boycott is at heart a disavowal of the free exchange of ideas and the free association of scholars that undergird academic freedom; as such, it is antithetical to the values and tenets of institutions of advanced learning,” the NYU leaders asserted.
The irony of the university’s silence now is not lost on Lisa Duggan, NYU professor of American studies and president-elect of the ASA.
“NYU President John Sexton and Provost David McLaughlin have publicly claimed that the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel is an infringement of academic freedom,” Duggan wrote to The Electronic Intifada.
Yet, “they have nothing to say, not a word of protest, when Israel refuses to allow a student from Gaza to travel to attend an NYU program on reconciliation.”
Duggan noted that the university’s disregard for academic freedom applies not only to Palestinians, but also to scholars in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and China, where NYU has campuses.
“They do not protest myriad reported violations of academic freedom by governments where NYU global campuses are located,” Duggan adds.
“Their opposition to our boycott constitutes cynical pandering to pressure from pro-Israel groups, who wish to obscure that state’s violations of international law and human rights. Those are the all too often invisible violations that our boycott was adopted to protest.”
Duggan is right. If Sexton and NYU were concerned about academic freedom, they would show their courage, at least, on behalf of a student from Gaza.
Instead, they choose silence, a clear form of complicity in Israel’s ongoing assault on Palestinians.