WASHINGTON — Over four dozen members of Congress have signed a bipartisan letter blasting a decision earlier this month by the American Studies Association to participate in an academic boycott of Israel.
In the letter, circulated by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Doug Collins (R-GA) and Bradley Schneider (D-IL), the representatives stated that “while ASA has every right to express its views on policies pursued by any nation or government, we believe that the decision to blacklist Israeli academic institutions for Israeli government policies with which ASA disagrees demonstrates a blatant disregard for academic freedom.”
The letter comes two days after another major academic institution, the Modern Language Association, passed an anti-Israel resolution, but voted not to express support for the ASA boycott.
Roskam and his colleagues began circulating the letter late last week, before members of the MLA vote to call for pressure on the US government to condemn Israel for allegedly arbitrarily denying American academics entry to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The MLA resolution passed Saturday by a vote of 60 to 53 and will next be reviewed by the body’s executive committee. A second resolution – the “Emergency Resolution in Support of the American Studies Association” – was defeated by a vote of 59-41, but the presiding officer circumvented the hurdle by referring it to the executive committee despite the defeat.
“It’s disturbing to witness a resurgence of calls to boycott Israeli academic institutions,” Roskam wrote in a statement for the Times of Israel. “The recent ASA boycott and the anti-Israel resolution passed by the MLA undermine academic freedom and demonstrate brazen bigotry towards the Jewish state of Israel. Congress will continue to fight back against these unjust efforts to de-legitimize our friend and ally Israel.”
The current focus on anti-Israel resolutions was initiated last month when the ASA voted by a two-thirds majority to boycott all Israeli academic institutions.
In his letter to fellow representatives, Roskam emphasized that “while ASA has every right to express its views on policies pursued by any nation or government, we believe that the decision to blacklist Israeli academic institutions for Israeli government policies with which ASA disagrees demonstrates a blatant disregard for academic freedom.”
Roskam and the other representatives who initiated the letter wrote that “even more concerning is the singular targeting of Israel for boycott, which suggests thinly-veiled bigotry and bias against the Jewish State.”
The ASA has found itself under heavy criticism from within academic circles as well. Over 100 university presidents have rejected and spoken out against the boycott, and a handful of universities have withdrawn their membership in the interdisciplinary organization.
The Association of American Universities issued a letter slamming the vote, emphasizing that “any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general.”
Although the Congressional missive to the ASA’s leadership does not threaten any legislative action, at least one state may consider punitive measures. New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced legislation on Friday that would prohibit colleges and universities from using state aid to fund any academic groups or associations that have passed resolutions or taken official actions to promote discriminatory boycotts.
“Actions such as the American Studies Association’s discriminatory boycott of Israel and its academic institutions are a blatant assault on the academic freedoms that New York and its students have come to hold dear,” said Silver in a statement Friday. “Colleges should not use taxpayer funds to support boycotts, resolutions or any similar actions that are discriminatory and limit academic opportunities.”