The Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation that would bar public universities from providing funds to academic organizations that support boycotts of Israel. Similar legislation has been proposed in New York and Illinois.
The legislation wouldn’t bar any group or individual at a state university from supporting boycotts of Israel, such as the deplorable academic boycott called for by the American Studies Association and other left-wing outfits. It would simply mean that state funds wouldn’t not be available to groups supporting such boycotts. Thus, for example, they would have to pay their own way to academic conferences and so forth.
The proposed legislation does not, therefore, impose major limitations on free speech. But that doesn’t make it good legislation. For me, any state action that burdens free speech is suspect.
Although the thought of an academic boycott of Israel disgusts me, boycotts are a legal and common means of expressing opposition to entities and policies one strongly opposes. I would have a tough time counting all the things that I boycott for political reasons. Strong opposition to a boycott movement isn’t sufficient grounds for the state to curb the movement.
Accordingly, I oppose legislation that retaliates against those who support boycotts of Israel. So do key pro-Israel national organizations as well as some, but not all, in Maryland.
I agree with Charles Krauthammer that the appropriate response to boycotts of Israel is to “boycott the boycotters.” For example, thousands of academics joined Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg in signing an open letter declaring, in effect, that they would have nothing to do with anyone involved in an academic boycott of Israel. Individuals who deplore the boycott of Israel should apply the same treatment to pro-boycott actors, entertainers, and the like.
But the state should not single out for discriminatory treatment anti-Israel views that are expressed through perfectly legal calls for a boycott.