Experts will discuss anti-Israel movement on college campuses
By Avery Cooper
On Thursday, Sept. 19, Southern Methodist University (SMU), Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, Hillel and SMU Jewish Studies will host a panel of distinguished guests to discuss the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) assault on academic freedom at college campuses.
The panelists include Texas State Representative Phil King, Executive Director of Academic Engagement Network (AEN) Miriam F. Elman, and Israel advocate and Dallas attorney Charles D. Pulman. There will be a reception beginning at 6 p.m. with the panel beginning at 7 p.m. in the Ernst & Young Gallery at the SMU Cox School of Business.
The guest speakers will discuss the origin of the BDS campaign, state legislation addressing the BDS boycott of Israel and BDS assault on academic freedom on college campuses.
Rep. King has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 1999 representing Parker and Wise counties. He is the author of H.B. 89, the Texas Anti-BDS Bill that passed the Texas House and Senate in 2017.
Charles D. Pulman is a Dallas attorney active on issues related to Israel, BDS and anti-Semitism. He worked with Rep. King in the passage of H.B. 89, the Texas Anti-BDS Bill, back in 2017.
Miriam F. Elman was newly appointed executive director of AEN in early 2019 and finds it important to understand the BDS movement’s current campus strategy and tactics. She hopes the event captures an audience of students and faculty.
Academic Engagement Network was founded in 2015 and opposes efforts to delegitimize Israel; supports robust discussion, researches and educates about Israel in the academy; promotes campus free expression and academic freedom; and counters anti-Semitism when it occurs on campus.
Elman’s vision for this particular event is to combat BDS and campus anti-Semitism, advance academic freedom and campus free speech and further literacy about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“BDS wins simply by monopolizing the conversation,” Elman said, “Which is why, on many campuses, anti-Israel resolutions are proposed year after year, despite the fact that they’re ultimately defeated every time.”
Eliana Abraham, SMU sophomore and Hillel co-president, hopes the event “explains what BDS actually is, particularly in regard to academic discourse as well as Texas legislature.”
Abraham cares about the event because she believes that as students on a college campus, even one with little anti-Semitism or BDS representation, it is important to understand the issue and how it impacts other universities, their students and even the state of Texas.
Pulman is happy to see the student-driven nature of the program.
“This program is an SMU student initiative that timely addresses an important issue affecting all students on all college campuses. Academic freedom is the bedrock principle of our educational system and everyone, regardless of their own beliefs and politics, must be on guard against infringement of any person’s freedom, as denial of freedom for one will lead to denial of freedom for all.”
Bibiana Schindler, an SMU junior and Hillel co-president, said Hillel learned of the opportunity to become involved with this event through SMU’s Republican Club over the summer. She and Abraham both agreed this event would allow the SMU community to engage in a conversation they may not know much about or already have an opinion about.
Schindler found a personal reason to engage in the conversation because she is a Jewish student with family living in Israel. However, she emphasizes that this is a nonpartisan event and its overarching focus is the elaboration of what BDS is and how it finds its way onto university campuses.
“Hillel and SMU stand firmly against anti-Semitism, especially in wake of the swastikas found on campus last semester and anti-Semitism around the U.S.,” Schindler said. “We are elated to see the support from SMU students of different faiths and groups on campus. Their hosting of events like start conversations about inclusivity — which Hillel at SMU aims to do.”
The SMU Hillel co-presidents hope all students, faculty and members of the community at large feel welcome to attend the event and leave feeling like their opinions are not being silenced, but embraced.
“We must understand that although we do not need to agree with others’ views, we do need to be able to listen to them,” Schindler said.
Shira Lander, director of Jewish Studies at SMU and senior lecturer in the department of religious studies, hopes those in attendance can have an open discussion about the true meaning of the BDS movement and what it means for students at SMU.
Lander says the AEN offers a more nuanced and academically-sensitive approach to campus issues related to Israel and Jews and “works with faculty and administrators to build bridges and deepen understanding.” She went on to explain that the AEN’s goals align well with the principles articulated by SMU President Gerald Turner in his March 20, 2018, online statement.
President Turner’s statement read: “SMU has always been a place where ideas are openly shared, examined and discussed. We value civil debate and meaningful dialogue that lead to discovery. We are firmly committed to the bedrock principle of freedom of expression.”
Lander agrees that civil debate and freedom and expression are core principles on SMU’s campus, and she adds the following remark about her goals for the upcoming event:
“Jewish Studies at SMU is dedicated to deepening knowledge about issues affecting Jews and promoting healthy and civil dialogue about those issues. As with many controversial issues in our day, the tendency is to become entrenched in our own points of view and refuse to listen to those who don’t share them. The goal of programs like this BDS panel is to support boundary-crossing conversation that enriches mutual understanding.”
All are welcome to the BDS Assault on Academic Freedom on College Campuses event at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19. Be sure to bring an open mind and any questions you may have for the esteemed panel of speakers.