The Executive Board of Academia for Equality wrote to Leon Botstein President of Bard College to commend him for standing firm in support of Professor Nathan Thrall, who is teaching the course “Apartheid in Israel-Palestine” at his college. Professor Thrall has come under attack by the Ulster Jewish Federation and several right-wing media outlets, who advanced the outrageous claim that the very title and existence of the course is antisemitic.
President Leon Botstein
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 12504-5000 Email: president[at]bard.edu
The Executive Board Academia for Equality
Supporting Professor Nathan Thrall’s Academic Freedom
Dear President Botstein,
We write on behalf of Academia for Equality, an Israeli organization of over 700 academics holding positions of all ranks in universities and colleges in Israel and around the world. Our organization promotes democratization, equality, and access to higher education, and defends against efforts to silence critical voices in Academia. We commend you for standing firm in support of Professor Nathan Thrall, who is teaching the course “Apartheid in Israel-Palestine” at your college. Professor Thrall has come under attack by the Ulster Jewish Federation and several right-wing media outlets, who advanced the outrageous claim that the very title and existence of the course is antisemitic. This follows an established pattern of making false accusations against critics of Israeli policies in order to protect Israel from criticism of its well-documented, decades- long rights abuses. These defamatory campaigns stifle legitimate debate, undermine academic freedom, and detract from the actual, urgent fight against antisemitism. They can also lead to a chilling effect on free speech, on Bard’s campus and beyond.
Nathan Thrall is currently a visiting faculty member at Bard. He is the former Director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group, where he spent many years covering Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel’s relations with its neighbors. Professor Thrall is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (Metropolitan, 2017). His influential and award-winning writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the London Review of Books, and The New York Review of Books, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. As such, he is highly qualified to teach a course whose description asks the following questions: “Why have leading international, Palestinian, and Israeli human rights organizations found that Israeli officials are committing the crime of apartheid” and “what are the political, analytical, and legal implications of this finding?” The course, offered in the Bard Human Rights Program and cross-listed in Global & International Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, introduces students to reports on Israeli apartheid by the United Nations and leading human rights organizations, as well as to criticisms of those reports. The course thus takes up an important question about Israel-Palestine that has been central to an ongoing, global debate, including inside Israel itself. Whether one agrees that Israel is practicing apartheid against Palestinians or not, there is absolutely nothing antisemitic in raising this question or exploring it in a course.
The campaign against Thrall is yet another attempt by the Israeli government, allied advocacy organizations, and pro-Israel media outlets to intentionally conflate criticism of Zionism and the state of Israel with antisemitism. These groups weaponize false allegations of antisemitism, and in doing so seek to silence dissent, curtail critical engagement with Israeli policies, and prevent solidarity with Palestinians on US campuses.
We stand firm in stating what should be obvious: that factual, analytical, and ethical criticism of Israeli policies must not be conflated with antisemitism, that is, with hostility toward or discrimination against Jews. We condemn these inexcusable tactics and reject the distorted and illegitimate definitions of antisemitism that pro-Israel groups rely on to attack those who stand up for the rights of Palestinians. We concur with your statement that “Great institutions of learning give voice to a wide range of argument and debate and every individual is free to disagree.”[[As quoted in Diane Pineiro-Zucker, “Ulster Jewish Federation calls Bard course a ‘detestable example of anti- Semitism”, Daily Freeman, February 8, 2023.]] We believe universities must defend academic freedom and safeguard the free expression of ideas and opinions. We therefore urge the university to continue to stand by Nathan Thrall, uphold the value of academic freedom in the face of attacks against him and the course, and protect our colleague’s rights and safety. We stand with Professor Thrall and urge you to continue to do the same.
The Executive Board Academia for Equality