The New York State Senate wants to bar colleges from taking action against Israel.
The Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that would defund colleges that fund groups which boycott Israel, in a 56-4 vote. The bill does not explicitly mention Israel, but the state senator who introduced the bill, Jeffrey Klein, made it clear that the bill's intention was to prevent New York schools from sponsoring the activities of the American Studies Association (ASA), which passed a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
"The legislation sends a very simple message, which is that we should never ask taxpayers to support religious, ethnic or racial discrimination," Klein said in a release. "I will not allow the enemies of Israel or the Jewish people to gain an inch in New York. The First Amendment protects every organization's right to speak, but it never requires taxpayers to foot the bill."
In December, the ASA voted to boycott Israeli universities and academics in solidarity with Arab Israeli and Palestinian scholars and students who have been deprived of their academic freedom, arguing that Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the state's crimes. Over 10,000 palestinian students who are actually able to attend school get their education in tents, caravans, or tin shacks that fall short of basic safety and hygiene standards, according to UNICEF, which has called on the Israeli government to stop demolishing schools and to meet their obligation of protecting childrens' right to education in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian boys light candles to help them study during a power outage at Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City, via AP
Yes, Klein's bill is about state funding. But it's also about silencing speech. Let's face it — Israel is violating international law with their punitive acts against education for Palestinians and American colleges, public or private, should be free to take action. It's part of a long tradition in America of supporting academic freedom.
A similar bill is now working its way through the New York State Assembly, as this contentious issue is garnering heated reactions from people across the spectrum.
The ASA put it best:
“While proposed in the name of academic freedom, the bill is a direct attack on such freedom,” an ASA statement said. “As the American Association of University Professors notes, it proposes a political litmus test for faculty seeking research and travel support and thus recalls the McCarthy era, one of the darkest periods of political repression in U.S. history."