Letter in support of Professor Jasbir Puar regarding right-wing attacks on her recent talk at Vassar College

Professor Jasbir Puar, a member of the Advisory Board of USACBI, has come under an intense right-wing smear campaign perpetrated first by an attack blog, and then by the Wall Street Journal. The Organizing Collective of USACBI and individual scholar signatories sent the letter below to the President of Vassar College and also of Rutgers University, where Professor Puar teaches, in defense of Puar and in objection to the attempts to silence Puar and other critical scholarly voices on Palestine. 

In addition, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Academic Advisory Council has drafted and circulated a sign-on letter for faculty and academics, in support of Professor Puar. Please read and sign on here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1aJBcvnhQ0ZiFarqDmlBlEx-RzbmGtiiA7doPp-40yxI/viewform?c=0&w=1

We write as advocates for academic freedom and global justice to urge you to take a firm stand against a campaign of intimidation and harassment of Professor Jasbir Puar that has followed her lecture at Vassar College on February 3, 2016. We believe it is a university”s responsibility to denounce smear campaigns, and to defend the right of scholars to present their research.

Professor Puar is a scholar of national and international repute.  She has authored a major book from a prestigious University press; authored numerous articles in leading academic journals and collections; and won several major awards and fellowships.   Many of these have been groundbreaking in their analysis of U.S. imperialism, critical race and queer studies,  settler-colonialism, Israel and Palestine.  No doubt these credentials were among the reasons she was invited to your campus to speak.

The attacks against Professor Puar were instigated by right-wing blogger William Jacobson, who is infamous for his virulent attempts to discredit scholars who work in the fields of ethnic and middle east studies: http://legalinsurrection.com/2016/02/vassar-faculty-sponsored-anti-israel-event-erupts-in-controversy/

Now, representatives of an explicitly pro-Israel group are contributing to this smear against Puar and against Vassar itself. In an op-ed to theWall Street Journal,  the authors cite Jacobson’s libelous smear at length,  reproducing even its sexist misappellation of Professor Puar as “Ms.,” a clear attempt to discredit Professor Puar by eliding her considerable professional credentials: http://www.wsj.com/articles/majoring-in-anti-semitism-at-vassar-1455751940

These attacks are a reminder that Universities have frequently been pressured by advocates for Israel to cancel lectures and events, block speakers and restrict funding or even fire faculty who criticize Israeli state policies.  The intent to protect the state of Israel and its policies of occupation and apartheid from any public criticism are nearly always couched in libelous claims of “anti-semitism” while defending its racist policies.  This is precisely the case with the attacks on Professor Puar.  We note that her attackers have produced no evidence other than outraged assertion to contest the facts that she presented in her public lecture, all of which have been amply documented in the peer-reviewed, published version of the lecture:  http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol14no1_2015/puar_maim.pdf

As the national civil rights group Jewish Voice for Peace has noted, academic freedom depends upon open dialogue about Israel and Palestine.  JVP”s Academic Advisory Council states, “At a time when such freedoms are coming under increasingly well-funded and organized attack from putatively “pro-Israel” organizations, the defense of robust speech on campus about Palestine and Israel, including speech critical of Israel, affirms the core values and freedoms at the heart of higher education”s mission.

As advocates for academic freedom, racial justice, and liberation, we urge you to take a firm stand against this campaign of intimidation and harassment of Professor Puar. We believe it is a university”s responsibility to denounce smear campaigns, and to defend the right of scholars to present their research. Furthermore, it is our experience that only a robust and forthright repudiation by university administrations of such attacks on academic freedom will put an end to spurious campaigns of this kind and protect faculty and students from further efforts at vilification and intimidation.

Please act in the interests of academic freedom and scholarly integrity by bringing to a halt attempts on your campus to discredit, defame or otherwise impugn the reputation of a major international scholar.  To fail to do so is to contribute to the erosion of universities as sites that foster critical thinking and that enable rather than suppress opposition to repression, discrimination, and structural violence.

We hope that you will defend not only Professor Puar, but also academic freedom and the honor of your College in doing so.

Ashley Dawson, CUNY Graduate Center
Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus, Princeton
Cynthia Franklin, University of Hawaii-Manoa
Terri Ginsberg, American University Cairo
Salah Hassan, Michigan State
David Lloyd, UC Riverside
Sunaina Maira, UC Davis
Rima Najjar-Merriman, Former Faculty Al-Quds University
Bill V. Mullen, Purdue University
David Palumbo-Liu, Stanford University
Jordy Rosenberg, University of Massachusetts
Steven Salaita, American University Beirut
Organizing Collective, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

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