10. März 2023

„Open Letter on academic freedom and BDS in Germany“

A Response of the Extended Board of the Collaborative Research Centre

“Open Letter on academic freedom and BDS in Germany”
A Response of the Extended Board of the Collaborative Research Centre


Professor Brenna Bhandar, University of British Columbia, who was invited as a Mercator Fellow to the Collaborative Research Centre SFB/TRR 294 "Structural Change of Property" (Jena/Erfurt) for a research stay in Jena, has released an Open Letter on Academic Freedom and BDS in Germany (to be found on the website Mondoweiss) in which she accuses us of a breach of principles of academic freedom. With this statement, we would like to respond to this accusation.

1) We highly value Brenna Bhandar as an important scholar on the theory of property and as a legal theorist, and we feel honoured that she accepted our invitation as a Mercator Fellow at the Centre.

2) We seek to cultivate and foster academic freedom, inviting all scholars who help us understand the logics of property and dispossession in its different contexts and forms.

3) The invitation of Brenna Bhandar, which both sides had already agreed on and which would have included public events in Jena and Erfurt as well as the publication of a podcast episode, was never questioned by the Research Centre or its Speakers.

4) However, in the course of negotiating the details of her stay, the Centre dropped plans for an additional public event with Brenna Bhandar in Berlin. The reason was that there were worries on our side that her commitment to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and her continued support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions) campaign was likely to prompt a politically charged, heated debate, making it impossible to focus on the analysis and critique of property relations. In light of the specific historical sensitivity and fundamental concerns in Germany regarding boycotts against Israeli institutions, which are shared by many in the Centre, we refrained from further pursuing such an event in a city which is not an academic location of the Centre.

5) It is important to us to clarify that this additional event in Berlin was not part of the initial Mercator agreement between the Centre and Brenna Bhandar, and the planning of the event had not yet been finalized. We did therefore not expect that calling it off would cause such a deep insult on Professor Bhandar’s side. We are sorry that our attempts at regaining common ground with Brenna Bhandar did not suffice to reach an understanding.

6) We regret any harm caused in this unfortunate matter, including the situation of our early career researchers, who had little to do with the decision-making of the extended board. We strongly believe that academic exchange is possible and necessary even across fundamental political differences, and we do not give up our hope that at some time in the not too distant future, public as well as personal exchange with Brenna Bhandar will be possible again.