Response to President Hamilton, NYU (GSOC Members for BDS)

GSOC is here to stayMay 3, 2016

Response to President Hamilton, NYU

Dear President Hamilton,

In response to your recent memo on the democratic decision of the graduate student union GSOC-UAW 2110 to endorse and join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, we would like to highlight some errors and register our disappointment in the manner it was issued.

First, your memo misrepresents the boycott and the referendum  Our vote for boycott never targets individual academics, but rather seeks to break ties with institutions that participate in the oppression of Palestinians and the curtailing of their human rights and academic freedoms. Under the academic boycott, no restrictions are placed on working with individual Israeli scholars–those following the boycott are still welcome to invite Israeli scholars to conferences, to co-author papers with them, and to coordinate research (so long as these scholars are not acting as official representatives of the Israeli state). What the boycott targets are institutional ties with Israeli universities and research institutes. For a full detailing of the academic boycott procedures, please refer to the guidelines provided by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel (PACBI).

Furthermore, while your statement claimed that our vote called on NYU to “divest from all Israel-related investments”, in truth it calls on NYU to divest from “Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights”. We are calling for divestment based on companies’ conduct and role in the oppression of Palestinians, not divestment from any company vaguely “related” to Israel.

Second, we are disappointed that the memo does not acknowledge that this was a democratic referendum passed with strong support by 66% of voting GSOC members. Your dismissive attitude suggests that you have little regard for the actual concerns of NYU students, which have been given voice by GSOC’s vote. Moreover, the claim that the pledges of GSOC members could conflict with their responsibilities as employees of NYU is opaque, somewhat threatening, and certainly false. It is inappropriate for university officials to make vague, unsubstantiated gestures that suggest there might be negative consequences for individual graduate students who follow their conscience.

Third, your failure to address blatant human rights violations is appalling and insulting to both the cause of Palestinian human rights and the democratic vote put forth by the GSOC. This is yet another regrettable instance in which the lives of Palestinians are unaccounted for and their voices are silenced. Contrary to the memo, opponents of BDS are not the only ones who claim that their position is in favor of academic freedom. We, along with all supporters of BDS, are deeply concerned with academic freedom, and indeed, the shocking lack of such freedom for Palestinian universities, students, and academics is one of the reasons we have called for boycott. As with the boycott of Apartheid South African universities–which NYU eventually supported, revealing that the university has not always been categorically against such boycotts–we hope to create pressure so that Israel respects the freedoms of the Palestinians, including their academic freedoms.

We hope that out of respect for your graduate students and for justice, you issue a clarificatory statement acknowledging these errors.

Sincerely,

GSOC members for BDS

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