On April 1st, the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Illinois State Senate effectively derailed the efforts of Sen. Ira Silverstein to undermine academic boycotts as a form of protest. The committee cast 3 votes for the resolution, 2 against it, and 5 members recorded their votes as "present." This means the resolution did not get the required majority to pass in committee, and so it was not passed on to the full State Senate for action.
The fact that Silverstein's resolution failed meant that it would be virtually impossible for him to secure the passage of a punitive bill that he had previously introduced requiring the state to withhold funding from universities whose professors or students engage in academic boycott - Senate Bill 3017. The deadline for action on that bill had been extended to today, April 11th. With that deadline upon us it is clear that the bill is dead for this session.
Thank you! The efforts of people like you throughout the state made all the difference in this struggle. Your phone calls and messages to state senators, the "witness slips" you submitted to the committee registering your opposition, the statements and letters your organizations wrote, and everything else you did was what made the difference.
The clearest indication that your voices were heard was that the senators who spoke in opposition to the resolution articulated many of the points you made in letters and calls about how academic boycott resolutions are an exercise of academic freedom and an important tool in our country’s history of civil rights activism upon which the legislature should not intrude. A few senators played a positive role in the committee hearing on this resolution and we encourage you to thank them, in particular:
- Sen. Kwame Raoul (firstname.lastname@example.org), who spoke forcefully about the need to preserve the academic freedom of professors to promote boycott.
- Sen. Toi Hutchinson (her assistant can receive messages at email@example.com), who spoke of her days as a student activist working towards academic boycott of apartheid South Africa.
- Sen. Michael Noland (firstname.lastname@example.org), who joined Senator Raoul in voting “No” on the resolution.
This is a tremendous victory for academic freedom and free speech in Illinois. It is also a victory for the rights of everyone engaging in boycotts and other nonviolent efforts to confront, challenge and change oppressive policies. More specifically, this struggle was at its heart a question of whether the people of Illinois have the right to criticize the Israeli government for its occupation and human rights abuses against Palestinians.
By defeating the resolution and derailing the bill, we have made a clear statement - one that will resonate in state legislative bodies around the country. We will not sit by and let our constitutionally protected rights be stripped away. We will not allow manipulative accusations of anti-Semitism and bigotry to silence us.
As important as this victory is, there are too many lessons from history where victories were short-lived. With that in mind, the Illinois Coalition to Protect Academic Freedom and Free Speech will continue to monitor the state legislature to watch for any other attempts to undermine our right to advocate for social change.
Most importantly, we hope everyone can absorb the power of our collective work. By working together we were able to stop this bill and resolution. Now let's imagine what we might do to end systematic discrimination and human rights abuses against the Palestinian people, and to protect our collective right to do so.
The Illinois Coalition to Protect Academic Freedom and Free Speech was formed in response to anti-boycott legislation introduced in the Illinois State Senate. The Coalition includes the Center for Constitutional Rights, CAIR-Chicago, Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, American Studies Association, Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago, Arab-Jewish Partnership for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, Committee Against Political Repression, Friends of Sabeel: North America,United States Palestinian Community Network, American Friends Service Committee-Chicago, Just Foreign Policy, Defending Dissent Foundation, American Muslims for Palestine, UIC Graduate Employees Organization, IFT-AFT Local 6297, the National Lawyers Guild- Chicago, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, Muslim American Society-Public Action and Civic Engagement, and other individuals.