BDS America

For first time, US academic group boycotts Israel

In unanimous vote, Association for Asian American Studies slams professors for being ‘deeply complicit’ in Israeli crimes

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 Association for Asian American Studies decided to boycott Israeli academic institutions, reportedly becoming the first US academic institution to do so.

At its annual conference in Seattle last week, the group’s general membership unanimously voted in favor of a resolution that accuses Israeli universities of supporting the occupation and systematic discrimination against  Palestinian students, among other charges.

“Whereas the Association for Asian American Studies seeks to foster scholarship that engages conditions of migration, displacement, colonialism, and racism, and the lives of people in zones of war and occupation… Be it resolved that the [AAAS] endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” the resolution read.

The problem was not just that Israeli institutions of higher education failed to oppose “the occupation and racial discrimination against Palestinians in Israel,” the text charged; rather, they have been “directly and indirectly complicit in the systematic maintenance of the occupation and of policies and practices that discriminate against Palestinian students and scholars throughout Palestine and in Israel.”

The resolution further claims Israeli academic institutions are “deeply complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights and in its denial of the right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians.”

Affirming its critique of the “US empire,” the group also expressed its opposition to “US military occupation in the Arab world and US support for occupation and racist practices by the Israeli state.”

While the resolution states that the AAAS “supports… open discussion about these issues without censorship, intimidation, or harassment” and aims to “promote academic exchange, collaboration and opportunities for students and scholars everywhere,” it unequivocally encourages students to become engaged in the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel celebrated the votes as “historic,” highlighting on its website that the AAAS “is the FIRST academic organization in the U.S. to boycott Israeli institutions.”

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a US-based nonprofit fighting anti-Israel bias in academia, condemned the AAAS’s decision.

“SPME deplores the AAAS resolution as it is counter to any acceptable academic discourse and is contrary to the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” the group said in a statement published Wednesday. Since calls for boycotts of Israeli institutions usually focus “exclusively and obsessively” on the Jewish state, they are “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent,” the statement read, quoting former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers.

The AAAS, founded in 1979, seeks to advance “the highest professional standard of excellence in teaching and research in the field of Asian American Studies; promoting better understanding and closer ties between and among various sub-components within Asian American Studies: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Hawai’ian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and other groups,” according to its website.

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 821 faculty members across the country.

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