(JTA) — A group of Jewish academics who oppose the boycott Israel movement decried a campaign against a Dartmouth professor who backed BDS, saying it has negatively impacted academic freedoms.
N. Bruce Duthu, an associate dean and faculty member in Native American studies at Dartmouth College, declined his nomination as dean of faculty earlier this year due to intense controversy over his past statements supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel.
In response, eight members of the Alliance for Academic Freedom, a proponent of Liberal Zionism, noted Monday in an opinion piece in Inside Higher Education that while Duthu signed a petition supporting academic boycotts of Israel, he “embraced” Dartmouth’s official opposition to academic boycotts and pledged to continue to do so as dean of the faculty.
Pro-Israel critics of Duthu, the op-ed writers suggested, treated Duthu “unfairly” and did a disservice to “the cause of Jewish studies [and] Israel studies.”
Signers of the op-ed included Deborah Dash Moore, a professor specializing in Jewish history at the University of Michigan, and Cary Nelson, the former president of the American Association of University Professors.
On May 22, Duthu declined the nomination as dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Dartmouth and decided to step down as associate dean of interdisciplinary studies after concerns were raised over his signature on a statement calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The statement, by the council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, or NAISA, calls on its members “to boycott Israeli academic institutions because they are imbricated with the Israeli state and we wish to place pressure on that state to change its policies.”
Earlier in May, Dartmouth economics professor Alan Gustman authored a faculty-wide letter calling on Duthu to publicly denounce the BDS statement or resign his position as dean, The Dartmouth newspaper reported.
Duthu responded by writing, “I continue to believe in the right of private citizens to express criticism of any country’s government policies. At the same time, I do not believe that a boycott of academic institutions is the appropriate response. Instead, I support sustained, open and collegial engagement with fellow academics, including collaborative research and teaching.”
Gustman pointed out that Duthu’s statement did not say he was withdrawing his support for the NAISA letter.
Duthu’s defenders include Dartmouth faculty member and Jewish studies head Susannah Heschel, who told the Alliance for Academic Freedom that she had “never heard anything from him that I would consider even remotely problematic about Israel, and I believe several of my Jewish colleagues who are far more right-wing than I feel the same way.”
She noted that Duthu helped her set up visits by faculty at Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.
“Plus,” she wrote, “Bruce has been invited to lecture at Hebrew University and accepted with enthusiasm. Truth: he is no boycotter.”
Duthu said that as of July 1 he will return to the Native American studies department as a faculty member.