Friday, October 19, 2007

Georgetown University:
For the boycott of Apartheid Israel--


"DeGioia's Response Misrepresents GU"

It’s a shame that readers who get their news solely from THE HOYA editorial page have been left with a complete misunderstanding of the controversy concerning University President John J. DeGioia’s signature on a New York Times advertisement. (“DeGioia Sticks to Principles,” THE HOYA, Oct. 12, 2007, A2.

THE HOYA’s editorial board lauds President DeGioia for expressing a principled opposition to boycotts of academic institutions. Similarly, President DeGioia presents himself as taking a principled stand in favor of engagement. But Georgetown’s willingness to engage and its opposition to boycotts are decidedly selective. Georgetown has no programs engaging with Burma, North Korea, or, for that matter, Hezbollah or Hamas.

My own view is that a boycott of major Israeli institutions, including Israeli universities, would send a useful signal to Israel about world-wide opposition to its appalling record on human rights, in the same way that the boycott of major South African institutions did a generation ago during apartheid. Certainly, there are legitimate arguments against a boycott, and I would not have written an open letter to President DeGioia if he had simply announced that Georgetown was not supporting the boycott.

President DeGioia’s signature on the New York Times advertisement reflects not a general and principled position on boycotts, but an overtly partisan and political stance on Israel. The advertisement was sponsored by an uncompromising advocacy group dedicated to the defense of Israel from any opposition whatsoever. That group would not have allowed a word of criticism against Israel, and, indeed, the advertisement contained no such criticism. Instead of a measured, balanced and principled discussion of the issues, the advertisement resorted to name calling, such as the phrase “Shoddy Intellectualism.”

To see just how offensive this is, imagine that a generation ago, an advocacy group dedicated to the maintenance of the apartheid regime in South Africa had paid for an advertisement opposing the boycotting of that country. Imagine as well that the advertisement referred to boycott supporters as intellectually shoddy and politically biased. Imagine, finally, that the advertisement contained no mention of apartheid itself or of the offensive policies of the South African government.

Would THE HOYA claim that the President’s signature on such an advertisement was principled or that it promoted robust intellectual discourse?

If we substitute Israel for South Africa, it turns out that President DeGoia has signed precisely such an advertisement, with precisely the same wording. He did not ask the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, or staff for their views. Instead, he purported to speak for the entire University on a question on which there is much disagreement. In doing so, he exceeded his authority.

Given the events of the past few weeks, THE HOYA’s praise of President DeGioia for promoting a robust intellectual discourse on campus is also a little hard to take. When I approached University Provost James O’Donnell about having a robust intellectual discourse about President DeGioia’s actions, I was told in no uncertain terms that I would not be allowed to use the university e-mail listserv for this purpose. When I asked, instead, to be allowed to use clerical and photocopying services to communicate with main campus faculty, students, and staff in hard copy, I was told that if I personally addressed and stamped letters to thousands of people, that would be permissible but that under no circumstances could I have main campus university assistance to promote this robust intellectual discourse.

This is not the way that an open, self-confident, and vibrant university behaves. President DeGioia and Provost O’Donnell should be ashamed of themselves. And THE HOYA should not be supporting them.

Louis Seidman is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.