George Washington University’s (GWU) pro-Israel student group GW for Israel condemned the university’s appointment of a pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) professor to the position of interim dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA).
GWU Provost Brian Blake announced the appointment of Anthropology Professor Ilana Feldman to the position on May 8, stating: “Dr. Feldman brings to the interim dean role more than a decade of teaching and administrative experience at GW, most recently as vice dean at Elliott. As an expert in her field with close working relationships with faculty, students and staff, she is an excellent choice to serve in this role.”
GW for Israel issued a statement on May 12 denouncing the appointment of Feldman, citing her support of the BDS movement.
“As a fervent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Professor Feldman isolates Israeli students in the ESIA as well as the hundreds of students who support a Jewish state for Israel,” the statement read. “GW for Israel supports a two-state solution where both Israelis and Palestinians can live in prosperity alongside each other. The BDS movement does not support a two-state solution, seeks to exclude Israel and the Israeli people from the academic, economic and cultural life from the rest of the world, and undermines direct peace negotiations between the two parties.”
The student group added that while it’s necessary to have a diversity of viewpoint among faculty members to ensure students have a balanced education, “we feel the outwardly anti-Israel sentiment Professor Feldman has repeatedly demonstrated will prevent from doing so while simultaneously targeting Israeli and Jewish students who have already faced harsh discrimination and hatred.”
Jewish groups also denounced the university’s actions.
“Pro-Israel students have felt increasingly under attack at [GWU],” Anti-Defamation League Washington, D.C. tweeted. “With the appointment of a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel as an interim dean, we urge GWU to make clear that pro-Israel perspectives & activism will be protected on campus.”
Pro-Israel students have felt increasingly under attack at @GWtweets. With the appointment of a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel as an interim dean, we urge GWU to make clear that pro-Israel perspectives & activism will be protected on campus. https://t.co/WwDdz5Chwb
— ADL Washington DC (@ADL_WashDC) May 13, 2020
StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “We are deeply concerned about GW’s choice for interim dean of its international school. This is someone who publicly advocates for academic boycotts against Israel, which have been widely condemned as violations of academic freedom. We saw at University of Michigan how a professor with the same political agenda abused his power against a Jewish student seeking to study abroad in Israel. The university must act swiftly to ensure that Ilana Feldman will have no ability to enact a boycott or otherwise cause harm to Jewish, Israeli, or pro-Israel students at GW.”
AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement that she was deeply concerned about Feldman’s appointment.
“Feldman spearheaded the American Anthropological Association’s academic boycott of Israel, and she regularly demonizes Israel and excuses terrorism in her professional research,” she said. “Promoting an academic boycott of Israel is unlike any other social justice cause that a faculty member may choose to pursue, since it not only directly tramples on the academic rights of any student or faculty member who wants to travel to or study about Israel, it is significantly associated with acts that target Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm, including assault, harassment, destruction of property and suppression of speech. In fact, our most recent research demonstrated that academic BDS-compliant behavior and promotion was linked to 86% of Israel-related acts of anti-Semitic harassment.”
Rossman-Benjamin added: “We will be keeping a close eye on GW to ensure that Jewish students’ safety and rights are adequately and equally protected.”
GWU spokesperson Crystal Nosal told the GW Hatchet, the university’s student-run newspaper, that the outgoing Dean Reuben Brigety, the Dean’s Council and various faculty members have all expressed support for Feldman’s appointment.
“Dr. Feldman has demonstrated her leadership ability and her respect for and commitment to all students, faculty and staff of the Elliott School community,” Nosal added.
Feldman did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.