In March 2014, JVP Philly initiated a petition campaign against Pennsylvania State Senate bill SR 279. The resolution, sponsored by State Senator Anthony Williams very likely at the behest of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), condemned the American Studies Association (ASA) for endorsing the academic boycott of Israel and dangerously conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The full text of our petition is below.

Stand up for academic freedom in Pennsylvania

On January 6th, Sen. Anthony Williams introduced SR 279 to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, where it was referred to the Education Committee. This resolution condemns the American Studies Association (ASA) for joining the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It calls on the Department of Education, the State System of Higher Education, Pennsylvania state universities, and all of Pennsylvania’s independent colleges and universities to halt participation in the boycott.

SR 279 conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and represents a threat to academic freedom and freedom of speech. As Jews, academics, and other concerned Pennsylvania citizens, we are alarmed by this attempt at government intervention in free expression. While the resolution is largely symbolic, it is part of a disturbing trend that includes the recent New York State Senate Bill S6438-2013. That bill, which passed on January 28, 2014, prohibits the use of state funds for any college or university that endorses an academic boycott; a similar bill has been introduced in the Assembly.

We stand against all physical and symbolic manifestations of anti-Semitism. We also strongly believe that criticism of Israeli government policy and the non-violent boycott movement are not themselves anti-Semitic, but rather legitimate and crucial responses to ongoing human rights abuses, including the routine denial of academic freedom to Palestinian students, teachers, and professors.

We ask you to oppose this bill in your committee and ensure this flawed resolution does not come before the Senate.