A resolution to protect the right to education in the occupied
Palestinian territories was defeated by a 111 to 51 margin at the 2016
meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA).
Historians Against the War (HAW) brought the resolution to the meeting,
with the signatures of 126 AHA members. A group calling itself the
Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) launched a concerted campaign
against the resolution.
The resolution (available at http://historiansagainstwar.org/aha16/
would have put the AHA on record as upholding the rights of Palestinian
faculty and students to pursue their education and research freely in
the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Professor Barbara Weinstein of New York University and 2007 AHA
president was one of the historians who supported the resolution.
Weinstein stated, "It is entirely appropriate for our professional
association to consider this issue. We are addressing serious and
ongoing violations of academic freedom by a close U.S. ally."
The debate and voting on the resolution took place at the AHA business
meeting on January 9, 2016, at its annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
Margaret Power, professor of history at the Illinois Institute of
Technology, made an opening statement for HAW in favor of the
resolution. She outlined the limitations of movement that faculty and
students in Palestine face, and argued that it was within the purview of
the AHA to oppose such violations of human rights.
Sharon Musher of Stockton University provided a rebuttal in the name of
the AAF. She argued that it was a divisive act, and pointed to what she
claimed were errors in the resolution. The AAF also contended that the
resolution wrongly singled out Israel while ignoring violations in other
countries, and would burden the AHA with monitoring a situation for
which it lacks the necessary resources.
Andrew Zimmerman from George Wash University responded to Musher that
disagreement is at the heart of the historian's work. He asked for
logical arguments against the resolution; divisiveness is not an argument.
Carolyn "Rusti" Eisenberg from Hofstra University noted that no one
disputed the charges in resolution. She highlighted the special
relationship between the United States and Israel that allows abuses of
Palestinians to continue. She noted that opposing such violations was a
The AAF failed to engage the proposed resolution on its merits, but
instead used diversionary tactics to challenge its passage. The AAF
labeled itself progressive, by at the same time appealed to such
conservative outfits as Freedom House and attempted to make an argument
in favor of supporting right-wing student protests in Venezuela. A
particularly low point in the debate was when an AAF supporter resorted
to charges of anti-semitism. Nevertheless, as AHA Executive Director
James Grossman noted at the end of the annual meeting, the debate was
carried out with a good deal of civility.
The resolution did not lose on the merits, but with superior resources
and funding the AAF was able to out maneuver HAW in mobilizing AHA
members at the meeting. Even so, the 111 votes against the resolution
was a small fraction of the 3338 people in attendance at the conference,
and fewer than the 126 who signed the resolution.
Bringing the resolution to a vote in itself was a success for HAW. At
the previous year's AHA in New York, AAF used procedural issues to
prevent a similar issue from even coming to a vote. Van Gosse from
Franklin and Marshall College and lead organizer of the initiative left
the meeting with a sense of victory. "We really dominated in the
debate," he noted. "They had no real arguments–just red herrings."
At the AHA, HAW also sponsored a roundtable together with MARHO: The
Radical Historians' Organization on "Violations of Academic Freedom in
the Occupied Palestinian Territories." Salim Tamari of the Institute for
Palestine Studies, Professor Leena Dallasheh of Humboldt State
University, and Tom Ricks, an independent scholar who researches
Palestinian higher education all spoke on the panel.
Ricks drew on his personal experience in Palestine since 1983 to
highlight systematic violations of right to education. He pointed out
that universities routinely faced weeks and months of closures, which
was a particular issue around examination times, and this prevented
students from graduating. Ricks noted that access to education is not
only an issue in Palestine, but throughout the Middle East. He argued
that we should help people gain access.
Salim Tamari argued for the need to disentangle issues of security and
access to education. Every time the issue of freedom of education rises,
Tamari noted, Israel uses the issue of security to deny access. Israel
security forces regularly conduct raids on campuses under the pretext of
hot pursuit, and arrest faculty and students under suspicion of
membership in certain organizations. Educators' right of movement is
restricted at checkpoints. Access of external academics and students are
also denied through visit restrictions.
Leena Dallasheh raised the issue of who has access to craft historical
narratives, including the creation of historical knowledge. Palestinians
face layers of obstacles, including through the active process of
excluding their stories and privileging Israeli narratives. Because of a
lack of statehood, Palestine does not have a formal archive. Records
have been destroyed, stolen, or disappeared. Palestinian scholars also
suffer from restricted access to Israeli archives. Dallasheh notes that
history matters, because it gives us the tools to create active, engaged
citizens. If that is the purpose of education, she asked, then why do we
shy away from trying to change this situation? She contended that the
AHA has a responsibility to make statements such as that contained in
Historians Against the War was founded at the January 2003 AHA meeting
to oppose the pending invasion of Iraq. Since then it has campaigned
against a militaristic foreign policy via publications, public speaking,
teach-ins, and several conferences. HAW has gathered substantial
evidence to support the charges of Israeli government violations of the
right to education in the territories it controls.
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