Northwestern affirms ‘unequivocal’ rejection of BDS after incoming professor called Israel an “apartheid state.”
The president and provost of Northwestern University in Illinois affirmed that the school “unequivocally rejects” the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which an incoming professor at the school endorsed while giving a commencement address at New York University.
Steven Thrasher – a graduate of NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA), which recently pledged non-cooperation with NYU’s Tel Aviv campus – used a portion of his speech at the doctoral convocation ceremony last Monday to applaud NYU anti-Zionist groups and his SCA colleagues for supporting BDS “against the apartheid state government in Israel.”
He is expected to officially take up his position as assistant professor of journalism and inaugural Daniel H. Renberg Chair on social justice and LGBTQ media studies at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism on June 1.
The BDS campaign aims to isolate Israel until it abides by key Palestinian demands. It has been denounced by top Jewish groups in the U.S. and globally for denying the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination and advancing anti-Semitic tropes. Supporters say it aims to force Israel to comply with international law and rectify the injustice of the state’s very creation.
“Many were understandably offended by some of the comments made by Dr. Thrasher during his commencement speech at New York University earlier this week,” Northwestern president Morton Schapiro and provost Jonathan Holloway said in a joint statement on Friday, after Thrasher’s remarks drew press and public attention.
“We do not share all of his views, nor do we feel commencement was the appropriate venue to express them,” they continued. “However, academic freedom assures his right to hold them.”
“While Dr. Thrasher will not be the first Northwestern faculty member who supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Northwestern as an institution unequivocally rejects BDS,” they declared. “To the contrary, we value our many relationships with a variety of universities and research centers in Israel.”
“As always, Northwestern remains firmly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the statement pointed out. “Our goal as an institution is to work toward constructive engagement within the context of freedom of academic inquiry and expression. We expect all members of our community to promote these values in an environment free of coercion and intimidation.”
Thrasher’s comments were also criticized by NYU President Andrew Hamilton, who in a statement on Thursday said he found it “quite objectionable” that Thrasher chose to use his platform “to express his personal viewpoints on BDS and related matters, language he excluded from the version of the speech he had submitted before the ceremony.”
“We are sorry that the audience had to experience these inappropriate remarks,” Hamilton added. “A graduation should be a shared, inclusive event; the speaker’s words — one-sided and tendentious — indefensibly made some in the audience feel unwelcome and excluded.”
NYU has recently been under increased scrutiny for what some critics have described as an unwelcoming environment for Jewish and Zionist students, with more than 140 professors and alumni of the NYU School of Medicine urging Hamilton last week to tackle a “climate of anti-Semitism at NYU that creates a hostile environment for Jewish students, prevents honest discourse and limits academic freedom on our campus.”