Call for Papers- Freedom of speech and Higher Education: The case of the academic boycott of Israel.


Trinity College

Trinity College Dublin, 12 September 2017

Conference announcement and call for papers

Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.  The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999)

Questions of freedom of speech have been to the forefront in contemporary academic debate. Historically, universities have always provided space for critical thinking and engaged civil society activism. In recent years there has been much discussion about how neoliberalism in higher education has affected academic freedom and the expression of dissenting and controversial views. The conference examines these effects with particular reference to academic boycotts in general, and in particular the controversies surrounding the academic boycott of Israel.

There have been claims that austerity and the cuts in public funding for the higher education sector have led to universities responding by:

  • Changing university culture to emphasise training for the job market at the possible expense of broader educational goals
  • Hiring increasing numbers of temporary, adjunct and precarious academic staff
  • Placing greater emphasis on research funding from public, EU and private sources, leading to increasing pressure on academics to seek and compete for scarce financial resources
  • A greater reliance on managerialism, cost cutting and bureaucratic measures which put greater administrative pressure on academics

This response may result in stifling critical thinking, dissent and freedom of expression by academics and students and lead to self-censorship and curtailing expression on controversial topics. Today’s public university culture is shifting from one based on ‘the liberal university’ to one focused on a business model, the provision of training and resource management, all of which narrows the space for the exchange of ideas and for freedom of expression.

This has thrown into sharp relief a constant question for academics as to whether their role encompasses or precludes political activism – whether homo academicus should also be homo politicus. With growing global political polarisation, this question has returned to the spotlight with academics under fire for expressing political opinions in Turkey, the US and elsewhere.

The case of the academic boycott of Israel

Rather than examining these issues on either an abstract or an anecdotal level, the conference focuses on the hotly contested issue of academic boycott, as this offers a paradigmatic example of how controversial topics are dealt with by the contemporary university and of the effects of the neoliberalisation of the public university on academic freedom.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was initiated in 2004 to contribute to the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. It advocates for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions for their deep and persistent complicity in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights – including academic freedom – that are stipulated in international law. Across the world, academics and students have responded to the Palestinian call for boycott by refusing to cooperate with Israeli higher education institutions on grounds of conscience. This stance has inevitably caused controversy in universities globally.

Since the academic boycott is a controversial topic, one would expect those who support the boycott to be challenged. However, the challenge rarely comes from within the world of ideas and is usually offered through a mixture of ‘lawfare’, bureaucratic strictures, threat to employment and disciplinary measures. In other words, the academic boycott of Israel is an arena in which disciplinarity – rather than the ideals of the liberal university – is brought to bear. While this is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with controversial topics, the question remains as to how university administrators and academics can best facilitate the free exchange of ideas in this arena.

Keynote speakers at the conference are Steven Salaita (Author of Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, Steven was denied a Professorship in University of Illinois due to his views on Israel/Palestine and will speak on “Freedom to boycott:  BDS and the modern University”),  Kathleen Lynch (Chair of Equality Studies, UCD, specialising in neoliberalism and educational policy and theory), and John Reynolds (Department of Law, Maynooth University, specialising in international law and critical legal studies)

Call for papers

The conference does not propose to debate the pros and cons of the academic boycott of Israel but rather to make links and draw lessons about the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom, and the freedom to express critical, even if controversial views. We are inviting proposals for papers by academics at all levels as well as graduate students, university administrators and members of student groups and professional academic associations.

The conference will be interdisciplinary, situated between law, the arts, social sciences and humanities  and will seek to include academics from Ireland and abroad, as well as university administrators and academics with practical experiences of the issues surrounding academic freedom in higher education.

We are inviting proposals for papers on:

  • Academics as political actors and advocates
  • Challenges to academic freedom and the freedom to dissent
  • The practice of academic boycott and academic freedom
  • The effects of ‘lawfare’ and disciplinary measures on support for the academic boycott of Israel
  • Links between academic precarity, managerialism and disciplinarity
  • Comparisons with previous academic boycotts, such as the boycott of Apartheid South Africa

We invite abstracts (up to 250 words) on any of the themes above or addressing related themes you feel deserve consideration. Abstracts should include a title, your email address and institutional affiliation if any (independent scholars are welcome to submit). Please send abstracts to David Landy at <> by 1 July 2017.

Conference information

Detailed information will be made available in due course, but this will be a one-day conference on 12 September 2017 at Trinity College Dublin, with a public lecture the evening before. The conference is hosted by the MPhil in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict in the Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin. Trinity was an early and important supporter of the academic boycott of Apartheid South Africa and remains well known for its liberal stance and openness towards diverse and dissenting voices.

Following the conference, the organisers intend to produce an edited collection of the papers in the form of either an edited book or a journal special issue

Dr David Landy, MPhil in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Ronit Lentin, Associate Professor (retired), Sociology, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Conor McCarthy, School of English, Maynooth University

AFP letter in the Irish Times + great Op-Ed in defence of Academic Freedom



Two items of interest were published in today’s Irish Times. The first, a letter from Academics for Palestine, concerning the ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’ conference due to take place in Cork University which is now under threat from outside forces.

Letter Text:

Sir, – Academics for Palestine, a group of academics working in Ireland in support of Palestinian universities and academics, notes with the greatest concern reported attempts by the Israeli embassy to prevent University College Cork hosting the conference “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” (“UCC conference on Israel sparks row with Israeli embassy”, January 10th).

The conference is being jointly organised by Palestinian and Israeli academics and offers a vital examination of how Israel operates, particularly in relation to international law.

The conference was scheduled to be held in the UK in 2015 but was thwarted following a high-profile campaign by the pro-Israel lobby that branded the event as “legitimising anti-Semitism” and pulled by Southampton University, citing security reasons.

Behind the effort to jeopardise the conference is the Israeli government and its multimillion battle against what it calls “delegitimisation”. A new ministry was set up as part of the effort.

Delegitimisation is considered any effort to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people, criticising Israel’s policies and actions, and calling for accountability for Israel’s breaches of international law.

A recent Al Jazeera investigation has exposed interference by the Israeli embassy in internal British politics and universities, including planning to “take down” a senior member of the government, ousting the leader of the National Union of Students, and demonising advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

It comes as no surprise that similar attempts are being made in Ireland to shut down spaces for debate and attack the work of advocacy groups such as the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Trade Union Friends of Palestine that had their bank accounts closed in the past year without adequate explanation.

A cornerstone of our democracy is freedom of speech. In the interests of academic freedom, open debate and indeed justice, it is crucial that this conference goes ahead as planned without interference. – Yours, etc,

Dr RONIT LENTIN, Chairwoman, Academics for Palestine; Dr DAVID LANDY, Dr IAIN ATACK, Dr YASER ALASHQAR, ELAINE BRADLEY, CIARAN O’ROURKE, Trinity College Dublin; Dr CONOR McCARTHY, Dr SINEAD KENNEDY, Maynooth University; Dr PAOLA RIVETTI, Dublin City University; Dr PETER COLLINS, St Mary’s University College, Belfast;
HARRY BROWNE, JIM ROCHE, Dublin Institute of Technology; ZOE LAWLOR, University of Limerick.


The second is an Opinion piece by Dr. John Reynolds of Maynooth University, who writes in strident defence of academic freedom and the right to ask awkward questions of Israel, and every other state. The piece can be read online here ‘Questioning the state of Israel is not anti-Semitic’, and below is an excerpt.

“This year marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration committed Britain to facilitate the aims of Zionism in Palestine, 70 years since the UN plan to partition Palestine, and 50 years since Israel initiated its military occupation of the remaining Palestinian territories.

The legacies and structures of Israel’s founding dispossession can be no more immune from analysis than those of the extermination and enslavement upon which the United States was built, the forced labour and patriarchy which underpin several Gulf monarchies, or any other forms of institutional discrimination. Scholarly analysis of state structures that constitutionally privilege one particular group of citizens over another is far from equivalent to inciting hatred against individuals or communities on the basis of their group membership.”

Academic Freedom must be upheld: AFP letter in support of UCC conference on Israel


Below is a letter sent by Academics for Palestine to the President of University College Cork (UCC) in support of an academic conference on Israel due to take place there in April 2017, which now finds itself under threat due to external influences.


From: Academics for Palestine
To:  Michael B. Murphy, President, UCC
Date: 15th January 2017

Dear President

As a group of academics working in Ireland who are committed to supporting Palestinian universities and academics, Academics for Palestine are writing to urge you to allow the  conference International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism  to take place as planned in University College Cork in April. This is an important conference that promises to be a crucial intellectual event with many senior international academics participating. Yet there have been disturbing reports in the press that this conference may be cancelled owing to pressure from Zionist groups.
Even if it were a minor conference, we feel compelled to  ask that University College Cork upholds the central principle of academic free speech which is being attacked here. In other countries, undemocratic pressure groups have managed to stifle academic free speech and shut down academic conferences dealing with this topic under the guise of bogus health and safety claims.

It is vitally important that such interference is not allowed to  happen in  Ireland. We urge you to defend the principle of academic free speech and independent inquiry which is the cornerstone of Ireland’s academic tradition, and allow this conference to take place with no restrictions placed on it on behest of outside pressure groups.

Academics for Palestine

Dr Ronit Lentin, Trinity College Dublin (retired) – chair
Dr David Landy, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Iain Atack, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Yaser Alashqar, Trinity College Dublin
Elaine Bradley, Trinity College Dublin
Ciaran O’Rourke, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Conor McCarthy, Maynooth University
Dr Sinead Kennedy, Maynooth University
Dr Paola Rivetti, Dublin City University
Dr Peter Collins, St Mary’s University, Belfast
Harry Browne, Dublin Institute of Technology
Jim Roche, Dublin Institute of Technology
Zoe Lawlor, University of Limerick

AFP letter to TCD Chaplains re: normalisation trip to Palestine-Israel


See below for a letter sent by Academics for Palestine to Chaplains in Trinity College Dublin regarding the upcoming “staff peace pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine” which is an exercise in ‘normalisation’, that aims to create a false equivalency between the occupier and occupied, whitewashing the Israeli occupation and depicting it as a ‘conflict’ between two warring nations.


TO: Peter Sexton, S. J.
Alan O’Sullivan OP
Bernie Daly
Rev. Julian Hamilton

Dear Chaplains,

Academics for Palestine is a group of academics working in Irish institutes of higher education north and south committed to supporting Palestinian universities, academics and students and to upholding the academic boycott of Israel, as requested by Palestinian civil society organizations. It has come to our knowledge that you plan to organize a staff peace pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine and we would like to ask you to reconsider your plans for the reasons elaborated below:

  • The position of Palestinian Christians : Kairos, a group of Christian Palestinians who monitor the suffering of Palestine’s 50,000 Christians in the occupied Palestinian territory (3,000 in Gaza) under the Israeli occupation. Kairos describes the conditions of Christians in Palestine derived from living with the Israeli-built ‘separation wall’ that has turned Palestinian towns and villages into prisons, and with the siege of Gaza that keeps its population in dire need and separate from other Palestinians. The Palestinian reality, according to Kairos, means that Israeli settlers ravage Palestinian land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling natural resources, including water and agricultural land, depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their livelihood. It also means daily humiliation caused by military checkpoints and the bureaucracy of the occupation, the deprivation of religious freedom and the prevention of access to holy places for both Christian and Muslim Palestinians, including barring clergy from entering Jerusalem.
  • The fallacy of the ‘peace process’, which does not ensure justice for Palestinian people under Israel’s occupation. The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes many young Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate
  • Palestinian civil society objection to all projects of normalization which whitewash the Israeli occupation and depict it as a ‘conflict’ between two warring nations. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) defines normalization “as the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.” This is the definition endorsed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee (BNC)
  • And finally, the collaboration by Israeli academic institutions with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and with Israel’s armament and security industries and the collaboration of Irish academic institutions in Israel’s arms trade and thus its war and occupation, as detailed in Academics for Palestine’s brochure.

We would ask you to reconsider your plans for a ‘peace pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine’ and to uphold the academic boycott of Israel and support Palestinian Christians in their struggle against the Israeli occupation. Instead we would like to suggest you contact Kairos who is running projects of responsible tourism to the Holy Land. We look forward to hearing from you.


Academics for Palestine

Academics for Palestine accuse QUB School of Law of complicity in Israeli propaganda by collaborating with IDF-linked university



This weekend Queen’s University Belfast is holding a joint event with the Faculty of Law in Haifa University, an institution that, according to its website, has “a unique partnership with the Israel Defence Forces whereby the IDF’s future leadership and the decision-makers of tomorrow study in our prestigious Havatzalot project for select members of the Intelligence Corps, in our Naval Officers course, and in the University’s National Security Studies Centre. We are training senior IDF officers in modern social science and strategic thinking.”

Academics for Palestine (AFP) maintain that the event, entitled ‘The role of law schools in conducting research in divided societies’  serves the Israeli narrative that ‘both sides’ are to blame for the colonisation and occupation of Palestine, creating an illusion of parity while obscuring the realty for the Palestinians living under occupation and governed by Israel’s military laws in what is one of the longest-running occupations in the world.

Below is the letter we sent to the Head of the School of Law, Dr. Robin Hickey, protesting the collaboration.


TO: Dr Robin Hickey, Head of School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast.
Vice Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston; Professor Christopher McCrudden; Professor Sally Wheeler; Professor Hastings Donnan

11 November 2016

Dear Dr. Hickey

Academics for Palestine is a group of academics and educators working in Irish institutions of higher education, north and south, committed to positively supporting Palestinian universities, academics and students who are enduring the systematic destruction of their educational endeavours under Israel’s regime of apartheid, occupation and on-going colonization of Palestinian lands in contravention of international law.

We are writing to protest the event hosted by you this weekend and the proposed partnership between the School of Law, QUB and that of Haifa University. We draw your attention to the international call for the academic boycott of Israel as a legal and non-violent means of ending Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid against the Palestinian people, a regime in which Haifa University plays a key, well-documented role.

Through this weekend’s event  ‘The role of law schools in conducting research in divided societies’ you are giving a platform to academics who represent the views of the occupier and colonizer (where are the Palestinian voice and experience in this event?). The title alone is biased: the concept of ‘divided societies’ is fallacious in relation to Israel, a settler colonial state built on the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and maintained through apartheid laws. As a legal scholar you surely are aware of this and of the international law implications. In hosting this event you are complicit in facilitating propaganda that serves to promote Israel’s narrative of a ‘divided society’ where resistance to the regime is equated with terrorism. Your event obscures the realty for the Palestinians living under occupation and governed by Israel’s military laws in what is currently the longest occupation in the world. The International Committee of the Red Cross’s report The Judicial Arm of the Occupation: Israeli Military Courts in the Occupied Territories finds the Israeli military legal system invades civilian domains and states that This domination by the army seems to be even more dangerous because it appears to be under the guise of the rule of law.”

While all Israeli Universities are involved in the military activities of the state – from developing weapons to devising techniques of ‘advanced interrogation’ i.e. torture, Haifa University stands out in a number of ways detailed below. Indeed, its Rector proudly describes it as an “academic home for the security forces”:

Military Intelligence and Security

On its website Haifa University boastsWe have a unique partnership with the Israel Defence Forces whereby the IDF’s future leadership and the decision-makers of tomorrow study in our prestigious Havatzalot project for select members of the Intelligence Corps, in our Naval Officers course, and in the University’s National Security Studies Centre. We are training senior IDF officers in modern social science and strategic thinking.

Through the Havatzalot Programme of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Haifa University participates in the education of an elite group of Military Intelligence Officers.  In 2014 the tactics used by intelligence services in the Palestinian Territories were exposed by whistle-blowers: ‘The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed.’  Appointee of Prime Minister Netanyahu, head of the infamous Shin Bet, Israel National Security Agency, Nadav Argaman, received his education at the National Security College of Haifa University. The Shin Bet is implicated in numerous abuses of human rights and international law including torture, and its work underpins Israel’s system of Administrative Detention criticized by the UN. In April 2016 Israel was holding 13 children under administrative detention. Approximately 700 Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted every year through Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army.

Demography and Occupation

Haifa University is directly involved in determining Israel’s policies of occupation, and holds conferences and projects on the ‘demographic problem’ posed by its Palestinian citizens. One of Israel’s leading demographers, Haifa University professor of Geo-strategy Arnon Soffer, who conceived the separation (Apartheid) wall, was the head of the IDF College for National Security, taught at the Police Training College for many years, and has supported upholding Israel’s ‘demographic balance’ to ensure a Jewish majority through policies of ethnic cleansing, population transfer and the prevention of Palestinian refugee return. Though retired, Soffer continues to teach security officials at Haifa University, including students from the National Defence College, Tactical Command College, the Havatzalot Programme of the Intelligence Corps, and the Trainee Course of the Israel police.

In 2004 Soffer said about Gaza: ‘When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful… So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day’.

Another Haifa University academic, Prof David Bukay, investigated by the Attorney-General for racial incitement, was defended by the University’s rector for publications that promote theories about ‘the Arab character’.

Discrimination against Palestinians within the University

Haifa University privileges student-soldiers and gives extra credits, grants and additional exam dates to serving reservists, thereby discriminating against its Palestinian students who do not serve in the military. In contrast, Haifa University boasts the highest rate of ‘Arab’ students in Israeli Universities – 14.4% at BA level – well below the percentage of Palestinian citizens in Israel (20.7%). The low rate of participation cannot be explained by a lack of Palestinian commitment to education: in the occupied territory 25.8% of the population between 18-24 are enrolled in higher education – one of the highest in the Middle East.

Academics for Palestine supports the Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel (PACBI) which has denounced the complicity of Israel’s academic institutions not only in developing weapon systems and military doctrines deployed in Israel’s recent war crimes in Gaza, but also in justifying the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and gradual ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians, and in providing moral justification for occupation and siege as well as extra-judicial killings and indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian civilians. 217 Irish academics have signed the pledge to boycott Israeli academic institutions in response to the request by Palestinian civil society organizations. We enclose our information booklet for further information and consideration.

We strongly urge you to not to participate in any partnership with Haifa University and to respect the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel.

Academics for Palestine