November 18, 2019

UMass Chancellor Condemns Pro-BDS Panel

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy condemned an upcoming panel of pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) speakers in an Oct. 21 statement.

The Media Education Center and the Resistance Studies Initiative are holding an event on Nov. 12, at UMass Amherst titled: “Criminalizing Dissent: The Attack on BDS and American Democracy” featuring former Women’s March, Inc. leader Linda Sarsour, Harvard University Professor Cornel West, journalist Shaun King, Palestine Legal Founder Dima Khalidi and author Tim Wise. BDS founder Omar Barghouti will also be speaking through Skype.

Subbaswamy pointed out while the First Amendment prevents the university from impeding on a private organization’s event on campus, it’s important for the university to condemn academic boycotts as being “antithetical to academic freedom.” He added that he’s perturbed about the “one-dimensional, polarizing event” being held on campus.

“A panel discussion where only one perspective is shared does little to increase the understanding of such a complex topic like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Subbaswamy said. “Because the BDS position, in general, fails to acknowledge the humanity on the Israeli side of the conflict and is considered by many as anti-Semitic, the upcoming event could very well alienate many of our Jewish students and other members of our campus community.”

Subbaswamy said that his job as chancellor is to uphold the university’s values, including “ensuring an inclusive campus that will continue to prioritize the safety and security of all students. When outside organizations come onto our campus and give a high-profile platform for one-sided and divisive political positions that some view as deeply offensive, they are saying to valued members of our community that they don’t belong.” 

His statement concluded: “This is the antithesis of our commitment to inclusion, and we will not hesitate to speak out against efforts to divide our campus community.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein praised Subbaswamy’s statement in a tweet, stating: “Thank you Chancellor Subbaswamy for your fantastic statement against the BDS panel at U of Amherst! U R a role [model]!”

A pro-BDS panel was also held at UMass Amherst in May, which featured Sarsour, former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, former CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill and The Nation Sports Editor Dave Zirin. Three students filed a lawsuit to stop the panel from happening; the judge ruled against them.