F4P statement on York University and the Iacobucci Report

The conduct of the York University administration around the conference “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace” clearly constituted a serious attack on academic freedom. We look forward to a full report on this attack which is currently being investigated by the CAUT.

The “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace” was a scholarly conference designed to elucidate current debates about potential solutions to the current situation in Israel/Palestine. Pro-Israeli advocacy organizations protested against the conference in a manner consistent with their overall strategy of shutting down free expression around Palestine on Canadian campuses. These protests were given undue attention by the York administration, which responded in a way that undermined academic freedom. The conference did go ahead, but organizers were subjected to undue pressure before, during and after the conference. This pressure, and the thinking behind it, is now documented in e-mail correspondence (see links below).

We are deeply concerned that the internal process initiated by the York Administration and presided over by Mr. Frank Iacobucci, former Supreme Court of Canada Judge, does not address these issues properly. We note, in particular, the report’s inattention to the role of the administration in attempting to reshape the conference, despite evidence presented which clearly demonstrates those breaches. Moreover, the Report’s recommendations put special emphasis on “professional responsibility” of faculty members, “civil discourse” and “respect,” which go beyond the generally accepted standards of assessing scholarship, i.e. peer review. These recommendations constitute prior restraint on academic freedom, and as such are a threat to academic freedom. This is all the more so because the Iacobucci Report ignores the context of discussions about academic freedom regarding scholarship on the Middle East, and fails to situate its findings or recommendations in this broader political and intellectual context. This unique context pertaining to Middle Eastern scholarship is one in which scholars are routinely silenced if they are perceived to be critical of Israeli policies.

We urge faculty at York University and across the country to inform themselves about this threat to academic freedom and to take action against it. We encourage scrutiny of the Report from its Terms of Reference through to the Recommendations, and have provided key links below. Frankly, the York University administration is setting a precedent for direct interference in scholarly activities on campus that threatens all of us, and which threatens debate and academic discussion around Palestine in particular. We look forward to working with others to initiate protest actions around this attack on academic freedom.

Read the article in the Globe and Mail.

For details about the violations of academic freedom (including emails that were obtained through FIPPA), visit Fragile Freedom @ York U.

Read the Iacobucci Report.

Visit the “Israel/Palestine” conference website.

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