The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) writes to condemn Harvard University’s denial of tenure to Dr. Cornel West. We also write to express our solidarity with Dr. West, one of the world’s leading public intellectuals and, we are proud to say, a member of the USACBI Advisory Board.
The report that Dr. West has been told he would not be considered for tenure is something that sounds like a hoax or as if someone got their facts mixed-up. Cornel West is, after all, Cornel West. But with characteristic clear-sightedness, Dr. West himself has recognized that a likely cause is his robust support for Palestinian freedom and equality, which necessarily means robust criticism of the Israeli state. More than anything else in US academia over the past half-century and more, the ongoing crises of Palestine and Israel have led otherwise reasonable persons, particularly university administrators, to betray good sense and rationality, as they work to defend the indefensible: the Israeli state and its ongoing practices of apartheid, occupation and settler colonialism.
Over and over again in an increasingly desperate attempt to defend a state in clear violation of any number of international laws, “up” becomes “down,” “yes” becomes “no,” apartheid becomes “democracy,” legitimate criticisms of a state become “anti-Semitism”—and Cornel West becomes someone who, astonishingly, is said not to merit tenure. This last would be unbelievable, except that university administrators’ mistreatment of those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians has become routine and rote in the seven-plus decades since the 1948 Nakba, or the catastrophe dispossessing Palestinians of their homeland to establish the Israeli state–a Nakba that continues to this day. And without question, there is particular punishment inflicted when the supporter of Palestinian rights is an internationally renowned and fearless Black intellectual and fighter for human freedom. Solidarity across borders is powerful and thus deeply threatening to oppressors and their faithful servants.
As for Harvard University—the specific institution that has twisted itself into this absurd position —if Harvard wants to disregard the phenomenal contributions of Dr. West, that is certainly a right that it can continue to claim as it stands in steadfast support of colonial and racial practices. But we urge Harvard University administrators to reverse their position in the interest of maintaining any claim whatsoever to Harvard’s integrity on intellectual as well as ethical and political grounds.
For our part, the USACBI Organizing Collective remains honored and humbled to have Dr. West serving on our advisory board. Inspired and guided by him, we take this occasion to re-affirm our commitment to doing all we can to support Palestinian liberation.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons