George Washington University (GWU) released a statement on May 19 condemning anti-Semitism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
On May 8, the university had announced that it was appointing anthropology professor Ilana Feldman as its interim dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs. GW for Israel denounced the move, pointing to Feldman’s support for the BDS movement.
University Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs M. Brian Blake addressed the matter in a May 18 statement.
“The university’s policy on the BDS movement is very clear — GW does not support divestment or other actions called for by BDS,” Blake said. “While the University supports academic freedom for all, members of the administration — including those in an acting or interim capacity — are required to comply with all University policies or actions, including those on BDS, and foster an atmosphere that allows all voices to be equally heard. As vice dean, and now as interim dean, Dr. Feldman has and will adhere to all of our policies and specifically committed to adhering to GWU’s policy regarding freedom of expression.”
He added: “The University also prioritizes the safety and security of everyone in our community. We do not tolerate discrimination in any form, including anti-Semitism and racism. We believe in an inclusive and robust community that respects all points of view. These values are intrinsic to the GW community.”
George Washington University condemned the BDS movement and reassured community members that the antisemitic interim dean will have to follow GW’s anti-BDS policies. Tell @GWtweets thank you for condemning the antisemitic BDS movement! pic.twitter.com/Sve0sq8OjV
— BDS Report (@BDSreport) May 19, 2020
Jewish groups praised GWU’s statement.
“We are encouraged by the fact that GW acknowledged our concerns about this professor potentially abusing her power to implement destructive boycotts,” StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal. “We urge the university to ensure that whoever takes over as permanent dean does not have a record of promoting campaigns of hate or blatant violations of academic freedom.”
AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement to the Journal, “Ever since this appointment was announced, we have been deeply troubled that given [Professor] Feldman’s past willingness to fuse her personal political activism with her professional responsibilities, she would use her new position to implement an academic boycott of Israel, harming GW students and faculty and violating their academic rights. We greatly appreciate that GW recognizes the potential threat of faculty abuse, and that they feel compelled to address it.”
However, Rossman-Benjamin argued that the statement has its shortcomings.
“They don’t address the main problem — academic BDS differs from BDS in the very real harms it causes to campus community members,” she said. “GW’s statement further does not provide assurances that Feldman or any other faculty member won’t be permitted to carry out the actions of an academic boycott. Without these assurances, there is no stopping faculty from bringing their political activism onto campus and depriving students of their rights. GW can and must do better here with a clearer and more specific statement.”