Spirited Argument Breaks Out at Roundtable on Resolutions Critical of Israel (Video)

Historians in the News
tags: Israel, BDS, AHA2015, Historians Against War

Rick Shenkman is the editor of HNN. 

Should historians take a stand on controversial issues in the news? That was the question taken up on Saturday afternoon at a packed room of more than a hundred historians at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association who turned out for a roundtable discussion convened to discuss this question:  "What is the Responsibility of Historians Regarding the Israel/Palestine Conflict?"  The roundtable was hastily assembled in recent months after activists decided to petition the AHA to approve two anti-Israel resolutions. 

The panel, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Radical Historians' Organization (MARHO), an affiliate of the AHA, was composed of scholars who favor the resolutions.  But while the panel was one-sided the audience wasn't. As the afternoon proceeded several historians, including Rutgers' David Greenberg, stood up to object.  They argued that it would be imprudent and provocative for the AHA to approve resolutions critical of Israel.  A flier passed out by a group calling itself, "Historians Against Academic Boycotts," made the case that "academic boycotts that target particular groups of scholars on the grounds that they may be implicated in the actions of their governments nevertheless restrict all of us."  Another group opposing the resolutions, the Alliance for Academic Freedom, issued a statement posted on HNN

Supporters of the resolutions, sponsored by Historians Against War (HAW), admitted that many of their members wanted to support a boycott but the group as a whole decided against it for tactical reasons, according to HAW's Van Gosse.  The two resolutions HAW wants the AHA to approve specifically do not mention boycotts. (A petition expressly backing a boycott was proposed by Elizabeth Bishop in the Fall; it was rejected for consideration by the AHA in November after officials discovered it lacked the requisite support of at least fifty members.)

Two past presidents of the AHA -- Barbara Weinstein, a member of the panel, and Natalie Davis, who was in the audience  -- said they support the resolutions.  The other members of the panel included Hofstra's Carolyn "Rusty" Eisenberg, NYU's Linda Gordon, Stanford's Joel Beinin, and Rice University postdoctorate fellow, Leena Dallasheh. Both Beinin and Dallasheh said the issue's personal for them.  (Remember the feminist cry that the personal is political?) Beinin disclosed that close family members have lived in Israel for forty years.  Dallasheh is Palestinian.

As you can see for yourself, things became heated the longer the meeting went on.  It lasted over two hours.

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