July 14, 2020
Dear SSSP Board of Directors,
are writing regarding the 2020 Proposed Resolution 2, “Resolution on the Global
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS).”
1. We ask you to consider not proceeding with the resolution, putting forward an alternative resolution, and/or postponing the resolution to 2021.
A) Not proceeding with the resolution:
This resolution was already discussed, debated, and voted on in 2019. The 2020 resolution is not substantially different from the 2019 resolution.
Furthermore, this resolution is in direct contradiction with SSSP’s stated purpose, which includes that,
Fulfilling this purpose requires both a strict adherence to the highest principles of academic freedom, freedom of speech, and due process, as stated in the AAUP’s 1940 statement on academic freedom and tenure and 2014 statement on academic freedom and electronic communications.
SSSP adopted a resolution in 2017 in support of academic freedom and expressing SSSP’s solidarity with and resolving that SSSP “adopt and add to our website a statement, consistent with the AAUP’s, on academic freedom.” In a 2005 report on academic boycotts, the AAUP outlines its position that systematic academic (as opposed to economic) boycotts are an infringement on academic freedom. The report was revisited in a 2013 AAUP statement that addressed BDS. In this statement, AAUP “recommend[s] that other academic associations oppose academic boycotts” and reiterates that systematic academic boycotts threaten academic freedom. AAUP again reiterated its opposition to BDS in a 2018 statement that states AAUP “oppose[s] all academic boycotts, including an academic boycott of Israel, on the grounds that such boycotts violate the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”
Before putting forward a resolution that violates SSSP’s stated purpose and adopted alignment with AAUP’s statements and principles on academic freedom, SSSP should decide whether it wants to revisit, discuss, and vote on amending its commitment to academic freedom and alignment with AAUP prior to proceeding with a resolution that contradicts this adopted commitment.
B) An alternative resolution:
The Board has the option to put forward its own resolution in lieu of proceeding with this one. We think it is appropriate for the Board to put forward a social justice oriented pro-peace resolution that does not include an academic boycott. This could be focused on academic freedom for Palestinians, opposing the Israeli government’s proposed annexation (a timely issue), the urgency of moving towards a negotiated two-state solution, or another issue related to the conflict. We would be happy to assist in drafting such a resolution.
C) Postponing the resolution:
If the board sees fit to proceed with a membership vote on a resolution for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, we ask you to consider postponing the resolution to 2021. We do not see a compelling reason to proceed with a contentious resolution that was already discussed and voted on last year during our current circumstances. With the SSSP annual meeting largely canceled, many regular SSSP members will not be participating and may be skipping this year in terms of their membership renewal. Many universities have frozen travel funds, which are often a source for membership registration, and many people are facing financial issues as a result of COVID-19. Are members going to be able to give this resolution due diligence and have the necessary dialogue on the matter? Membership fluctuations seem relatively harmless for resolutions that have a relative consensus among SSSP’s membership, but not for an issue we know members strongly agree and disagree with. The Board created a new process for resolutions “to ensure that it is as fair as possible.” This is not possible this year, given that SSSP’s membership this year may be substantially unrepresentative. Given the special circumstances of this year and the cancellation of the annual meeting, we think that if this resolution is to proceed, it would make sense to do it when we are planned to meet in person again in 2021.
2. If you proceed with this resolution, we ask you to make a few edits to the resolution for the sake of clarity so that people understand what they are voting on.
A) The proposed title, “Resolution on the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS)” is ambiguous in terms of what position members are being asked to vote on. We ask that the title be changed to “Resolution for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.” We would note that the Association for Humanist Sociology’s statement by one of the proposers of the SSSP resolution is “Statement in Support of the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel,” so we expect this title change should not be objectionable.
B) Members deserve to know that this resolution was brought forward in 2019. We ask that below the title a note be included similar to the following: “A near-identical resolution was proposed for SSSP’s consideration in 2019, voted on by membership, and not adopted.”
C) Members deserve to know what the boycott would apply to. We ask you to amend the first “be it resolved” clause to inform members of what “complicity” is being defined as. At the end of the clause, add “PACBI considers Israeli institutions complicit if they support Israel’s continued existence or do not take a position against Israel’s continued existence. Complicit institutions therefore includes, but is not limited to, all Israeli universities, all Israeli academic associations including the Israeli Sociological Society, groups that bring together Israelis and Palestinians like Seeds for Peace and Women Wage Peace, organizations that work for Palestinian rights but have not taken an actively anti-Zionist position such as the Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement that works to protect Palestinian academic freedom and Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers who are anti-occupation and speak about their experiences, and domestic Israeli organizations work for social justice inside Israel such as Women of the Wall.20,21
21https://web.archive.org/web/20110718132803/http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=405314 (cited in #7 of the guidelines)”
D) The first “Be it also resolved” clause in the resolution currently resolves that SSSP supports PACBI and USACBI’s resolutions, yet these are not part of the SSSP resolution members are reading prior to voting. It should not be expected that people make themselves aware of the details of these other resolutions prior to voting on this resolution. We ask you to replace the language in this clause that reads “regarding our support of their resolution with ours” to “regarding our resolution.”
3. If you proceed with this resolution, we ask you to make the following edits to the resolution to more accurately reflect the determinants of the conflict’s continuation and the challenges to Palestinians academic freedom, and to mitigate the BDS movement’s focus on delegitimizing Israel, demonizing Israel, and holding Israel to a double-standard.
A) While the resolution states its goal is to put pressure on Israel to conform to human rights obligations, BDS is often considered a method to delegitimize Israel’s existence. A co-founder of BDS has been clear he does not support Israel’s continued existence., A 2019 United Nations report found that in relation to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, “expression that draws on antisemitic tropes or stereotypes [or] rejects the right of Israel to exist… should be condemned.” Whether or not one agrees that BDS is inherently antisemitic, BDS advocacy often employs antisemitism. While we believe that SSSP offering critiques of Israeli policy is appropriate and warranted, we oppose SSSP delegitimizing Israel’s continued existence. Furthermore, we believe that the majority of SSSP members support Israel’s continued existence, including many who might vote for this resolution and be unaware or misinterpret its aims. We therefore ask the Board to add a whereas clause that states, “Whereas, SSSP is committed to a two-state solution, an independent State of Palestine alongside an independent State of Israel.”
B) If the Board does not adopt our Recommendation 2D, we ask the board to add to replace all mentions in the resolution of “complicit Israeli academic institutions” or “complicit Israeli institutions” with “Ariel University,” narrowing the focus of the boycott to an Israeli university that is located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The Israeli Sociological Society voted to sever ties with Ariel University. It should be noted that the society’s chair who oversaw this implementation (and who opposes the occupation) opposes BDS and opposes an academic boycott of or within Israel proper, and that this is different than an external academic boycott like the one proposed because the Israeli Sociological Society is an academic society for Israel and considers Ariel University to be outside Israel’s borders. While most SSSP members likely do not want to boycott the Israeli Sociological Society or other Israeli organizations working towards peace, those who do not take issue with academic boycotts more broadly or other issues with the BDS movement would be more likely to support a narrow boycott towards an institution more directly associated with the occupation.
C) If the Board does not adopt Recommendation 3B, we ask the board to modify the resolution to ensure that SSSP’s endorsement of a boycott does not single out Israel among all states and hold Israel to a different standard than the rest of the world, which is both unfair and reflects a continued double-standard often applied historically to Jews. If SSSP moves forward with a boycott of Israel, SSSP should adopt a more universal consistently applied policy. We would therefore recommend the Board add a whereas clause, “Whereas, SSSP is committed to human rights for all peoples, and to applying the same standards it applies to Israel to other state actors,” and a resolved clause, “Be it also resolved, that within the next year SSSP will establish a boycott committee that will thereafter establish objective criteria for what kinds of human rights abuses do and do not warrant boycotts, and that this committee will create and annually update a list of those local, state, national, and international jurisdictions for SSSP to boycott that are violating those standards. Within the next two years the committee will at minimum evaluate other nation states with current human rights and academic freedom records known to be worse than Israel’s record (e.g. the United States of America, China, Iran, etc.).,,
D) Israel commits human rights violations, including against Palestinians. However, the resolution as written inaccurately portrays the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one in which Palestinian institutions play no role in furthering the conflict or in restricting the academic freedom of Palestinians. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have also committed human rights violations against Israelis and Palestinians, including supporting a campaign of violence against Israeli civilians. They have long violated norms of academic freedom for Palestinians; Jordan and Egypt are also culpable here.,, We recommend the Board add a whereas clause stating, “Whereas, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian government also routinely violate the academic freedom of Palestinians,” (including the above citations).
4. Given that it is relatively unique for proposed SSSP resolutions to be controversial among SSSP members, and given that this is the first time a newly revised resolution process is in place, this resolution has raised broader process issues. We ask the Board to consider the following broader process issues and to work to address these going forward.
A) While we appreciate that the resolution submission process is accessible, it also enables people to continue to submit the same resolution year after year, regardless of its impact on members or of its distraction from the good work SSSP does. Whether or not one considers BDS itself to be antisemitic, BDS campaigns are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents. For example, at last year’s annual meeting, a first-time graduate student attendee was called antisemitic slurs by BDS supporters. We ask the Board to consider a policy that if a resolution fails to pass, a substantially similar resolution cannot be put forward for three years unless it first obtains 100 signatures from current members.
B) The move to online voting was met with advocacy encouraging people to join SSSP in order to influence the outcome of the resolution, skewing the extent to which a vote reflects how SSSP’s membership that is not one-year single-issue feels about this issue. There needs to be more clarity and more safeguards built into the process to ensure a fair vote. For example, the bylaws are unclear or absent in terms of requirements such as how long someone must be a member in order to vote as well as whether the quorum for regular votes applies to resolutions. We were informed the length of membership applies but the quorum rule does not.
C) While we welcome members researching resolutions prior to voting on them, as well as dialogue on resolutions, we recognize that SSSP members are busy and considering and adopting resolutions is not the primary reason most members joined the organization. Despite repeated e-mails, many SSSP members at last year’s annual meeting remained unaware of the proposed resolutions. Only 71 members voted on last year’s BDS resolution, despite over 1,000 registered members. Last year’s forum for discussion of resolutions and this year’s online comments forum have both been used by a very small number of members. In order to more directly ensure members who are voting on resolutions are well-informed on resolutions the Board expects may be controversial, these resolutions should have attached background information members click on prior to voting. This would include background, pros, and cons, and could either be put together by a neutral third party or the pros and cons could be put together respectively by supporters and opponents. If the Board is interested in adopting this, we would be willing to offer specific suggestions or help develop criteria and processes for successful implementation of this.
Thank you for your leadership and service to SSSP. We appreciate your consideration of the above items.
Michelle R. Haney
Jerry A. Jacobs
Perri S. Leviss
Barbara J. Risman
Barbara Katz Rothman
 Delgado, Héctor L. 2019. “SSSP: 2019 Membership Survey Results Announced.” E-mail. The Society for the Study of Social Problems, November 8.