Brodhead on the Israel Boycott

October 1, 2007

In late May, Great Britain's University and College Union, a professional association for academics, sparked controversy by voting to move forward with a proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Palestinian trade unions had called for the boycott to protest Israel's "40-year occupation" of Palestinian land.

In response, President Richard H. Brodhead issued a statement condemning the proposed boycott, which the British union has not yet officially ratified. "It is a foundational principle of American life that all ideas should have an equal opportunity to be expressed," he said in the statement. Free speech allows people who disagree to learn from one another, he added.

Duke has a "proud tradition of upholding the free exchange of ideas, including discussions that involve the bitter, unresolved conflicts in the Middle East." In October 2004, the university was criticized by some for hosting the National Student Conference of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement after organizers failed to sign a statement denouncing terrorism. Following the conference, administrators and faculty members alike said panel discussions and impromptu exchanges outside the conference venues were both passionate and respectful.

In his statement on the proposed boycott, Brodhead stressed the importance of that kind of dialogue. "The idea of forbidding partnerships and exchanges with Israeli universities and scholars contradicts the high value we place in the pursuit of knowledge on our own campus and in the importance of robust intellectual integrity more broadly," he said. "I oppose efforts to suppress the free exchange of ideas at Duke and in university communities around the world."