NEW YORK (JTA) – Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi are circulating a letter objecting to retaliation against those who support boycotts of Israel.
Both Butler and Khalidi recently had events canceled at Jewish institutions after critics raised objections to their views on Israel. Butler, a literary theorist affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, pulled out of a talk on Franz Kafka that she had been scheduled to deliver in March at New York’s Jewish Museum amid protests over her support for boycotting Israel. Khalidi, a professor at Columbia University who supports the legitimacy of resistance against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, was disinvited from giving a talk to students at Ramaz, a modern Orthodox high school in New York.
“Whether one is for or against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a means to change the current situation in Palestine-Israel, it is important to recognize that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression,” says Butler and Khalidi’s letter, which has approximately 150 co-signers, including academics and artists.
The letter notes that there is proposed legislation under debate in New York, Maryland and Illinois that threatens academic funding on the basis of criticism of the Israeli government.
“As non-violent instruments to effect political change, boycotts cannot be outlawed without trampling on a constitutionally protected right to political speech,” the letter says. “Those who support boycotts ought not to become subject to retaliation, surveillance, or censorship when they choose to express their political viewpoint, no matter how offensive that may be to those who disagree.”