American Studies Association endorses Israel boycott

Freezing out academic institutions is the ‘best way to protect and expand academic freedom and access to education,’ group says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli students on The Hebrew University of Jerusalem campus on the first day of the new academic year, October 21, 2012. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli students on The Hebrew University of Jerusalem campus on the first day of the new academic year, October 21, 2012. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The American Studies Association on Wednesday decided to boycott Israeli academic institutions, handing the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement another victory in its struggle against Israel.

Decrying “the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law” and “the systematic discrimination against Palestinians,” the organization resolved to “honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”

The “boycott is the best way to protect and expand academic freedom and access to education,” ASA president Curtis Marez said in a press release.

In the resolution passed unanimously by the association’s national council, the group justifies its decision with the assertions that Palestinian students and scholars enjoy “no effective or substantive academic freedom” under Israeli rule and that “Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”

However, the organization clarified that the resolution does “not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication.” The ASA’s leadership recognized that individual members will “act according to their convictions” regarding interactions with Israeli academia, the group stated.

Founded in 1951 and now counting about 5,000 members, the Washington, D.C.-based ASA is America’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, according to its website.

The association “voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action,” the group stated Wednesday. “It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.”

The resolution passed Wednesday was widely discussed during the ASA’s annual meeting last month. An overwhelming majority of speakers were in favor of the its adaption, but no determinative vote was taken.

The resolution was eventually passed because many academics involved in American studies field lean left politically and often embrace critical views of tough critiques of what they view as US-enabled imperialism, according to Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network, a pro-Israel group active on US campuses. “My concern about some of these smaller academic associations is that they get amplified out of proportion,” Palast told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Earlier this year, the Association for Asian American Studies became the the first US academic institution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. At its annual conference in Seattle in April, the group’s general membership unanimously voted in favor of a resolution that accuses Israeli universities of supporting systematic discrimination against Palestinian students, among other charges.

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was founded in early 2009, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Since then, it has been endorsed by 963 faculty members across the country.

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