April 2, 2014, Chicago – Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Illinois Senate rejected Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 59, proposed by Senator Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), that urged Illinois university and college presidents to condemn academic boycotts as a form of protest. The vote was 3 for the resolution, 2 against, and 5 “present.” This means the resolution will not move forward to the Illinois State Senate. The resolution was a direct response to boycotts against Israeli academic institutions, called for by Palestinian civil society in response to human rights abuses against Palestinians, and recently endorsed by the American Studies Association (ASA) and other organizations.
Leading the opposition to the resolution was the Illinois Coalition to Protect Academic Freedom and Free Speech, a coalition of organizations (see below), which deluged Judiciary Committee members’ offices with calls opposing the resolution and mustered 412 “witness slips” from around Illinois in opposition to it. For the past several weeks the coalition has mobilized broad opposition to the resolution and to the complementary bill also introduced by Sen. Silverstein.
Testifying against the resolution, in addition to the ACLU of Illinois, was Lynn Pollack of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)–Chicago, who clarified for the senators that the ASA’s endorsement of an academic boycott against Israeli academic institutions does not affect individual scholars or academics.
Dima Khalidi, Director of PSLS and Cooperating Counsel with CCR, hailed the outcome: “The senators clearly understood that this legislation was attacking a form of protected First Amendment expression that previously helped end apartheid in South Africa, and that it was not their place to interfere in such expression because they might disagree politically. We can only hope that legislators in other states where similar bills have been proposed also recognize the harm that they would do to academic speech and association rights.”
JVP’s Pollack stated after the hearing: “It was clear that proponents of the resolution mischaracterized the boycotts themselves, which do not target individual Israeli or Jewish academics. The resolution also disturbingly denies the well-documented human rights violations that motivate the boycotts, which many Jewish people who disagree with Israel’s policies support. Resorting to false allegations of anti-Semitism is a dangerous and dishonest reaction to a viewpoint that you disagree with.”
Nadine Naber, Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an ASA member added: “This resolution must be seen as part of a nationwide effort to stifle criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians. The fact that it did not pass the committee is a testament to the importance of nonviolent efforts to change unfair policies. The resolution would have undermined the important place boycotts have played in social justice and human rights struggles, and would have further intimidated and ostracized faculty that choose to engage in advocacy on controversial issues, through boycotts or otherwise.”
The Coalition has also mobilized against Senate Bill 3017, sponsored by Sen. Silverstein, which would require the Illinois General Assembly to defund public colleges and universities that subsidize faculty associations with organizations supporting academic boycotts against Israel. The deadline to call this bill was extended to April 11.
The Illinois Coalition to Protect Academic Freedom and Free Speech was formed in response to anti-boycott legislation introduced in the Illinois State Senate. The Coalition includes the Center for Constitutional Rights, CAIR-Chicago, Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, American Studies Association, Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago, Arab-Jewish Partnership for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, Committee Against Political Repression, Friends of Sabeel: North America, United States Palestinian Community Network, American Friends Service Committee-Chicago, Just Foreign Policy, Defending Dissent Foundation, American Muslims for Palestine, UIC Graduate Employees Organization, IFT-AFT Local 6297, the National Lawyers Guild- Chicago, and other individuals.