Jewish Group Releases Blacklist of U.S. Professors Who Back Academic Boycott of Israel

AMCHA's list, which includes hundreds of names, comes weeks after Israel barred entry to supporters of boycott. 'Knesset travel ban is toothless, unless there are lists,' professor says.

A pro-BDS student at an Open Hillel Conference.
A pro-BDS student at an Open Hillel Conference. Gili Getz

Barely three weeks after the Knesset passed controversial legislation that would deny entry into Israel to any foreigners who publicly support a boycott of the country, a small but vocal Jewish organization that fights anti-Israel activism on American college campuses published a list Wednesday of all the professors in the United States who have ever called for an academic boycott of Israel.

The AMCHA Initiative, which operates out of the University of California Santa Cruz, unveiled several interactive maps designed to give viewers what it said was “the ability to visually understand the distribution and geographical patterns of anti-Semitic activity on U.S. college and university campuses.”

One of these maps, the “Interactive Academic Boycotters Map,” identifies with different colored markers the institutions of higher education in the United States with faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel. The universities are divided into categories according to the number of boycott supporters they employ. Each category is assigned a different colored marker. 

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By clicking on any marker on the map, a viewer can obtain a list of all the names of faculty members who have signed a public document endorsing the academic boycott of Israel. The list only provides names and not department affiliations. It does not specify what documents the faculty members signed.

The universities with the largest number of boycott supporters, according to the interactive map, are both in the California state system: UC Berkeley with 47 names on its list and UC Davis with 46. Altogether, the lists contain hundreds of names.

Among the other interactive maps published by the AMCHA Initiative today is one called “The BDS Scorecard Map,” which documents the voting results of campus BDS resolutions dating back to 2012.

The AMCHA Initiative, founded in 2011, is a non-profit that monitors anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities on U.S. university and college classes. A year ago, the University of California became the first public university in the United States to issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism on its campuses, though it stopped short of a blanket denunciation of anti-Zionism. The AMCHA Initiative was the driving force behind this landmark declaration. The group has frequently come under attack, however, for conflating anti-Semitism with condemnation of Israel.

“The anti-Semitism plaguing our nation’s colleges and universities continues to grow,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA Initiative founder and director, in a statement. “One of AMCHA’s main goals, one we take very seriously, is documenting and exposing the threat. We hope these new education and research tools will prove helpful to advocacy organizations, government officials, university administrators, researchers and concerned parents, students and university stakeholders.”

Lila Corwin-Berman, a professor of Jewish studies at Temple University and a leading activist in the newly formed Jewish Studies Activists Network, expressed shock at the publication of the list of academic boycotters. “It’s not new to create these kinds of lists of so-called enemies of the Jewish people who are professors – but this initiative seems to me to be technologically more sophisticated. It puts information into a form that allows people to believe that certain universities are bastions of anti-Semitism.”

The timing of its publication, she speculated, was not coincidental. “The Knesset travel ban on boycott supporters is toothless, unless there are lists,” said Corwin-Berman. “This initiative hands a potential list to the Israeli government and seems to be working in tandem with efforts to conflate any boycott ideas with anti-Semitism.”

The AMCHA Intiative, which considers all initiatives to boycott Israel anti-Semitism, has long been treated with suspicion by Jewish-American progressives. In a letter published in The Forward in Octobers 2014, many prominent Jewish studies scholars denounced the organization for urging Jewish students to avoid taking classes with a long list of Middle East studies scholars it had compiled, whom it deemed anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic.

“Its technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built,” they wrote. “Moreover, its definition of anti-Semitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off all but the most narrow intellectual directions and has a chilling effect on research and teaching. AMCHA’s methods lend little support to Israel, whose very survival depends on free, open, and vigorous debate about its future.”