American Studies Association Boycott of Israel

American Studies Association Boycott Of Israel


December 17, 2013


On December 16, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott Israeli academia. The boycott bars the organization from entering into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars representing those institutions or the Israeli government, "until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law."

Though the ASA claims that the act is a means of advocating for academic freedom for Palestinians, the language of the resolution and accompanying documents reveal a different motive. Underlying the resolution are several gross, though often-repeated, libels. Among these is the claim that Israeli academia is complicit in the denial of Palestinian rights and the annexation of Palestinian land. The resolution denounces "Israeli occupation of Palestine," not the West Bank, thereby blurring the definition of what it perceives to be Palestinian territory and calling into question Israeli rights within the Green Line. And it is premised on the accusation that Israel has legalized a system of racial discrimination that meets the criteria of apartheid under international law. This offshoot of the "Zionism is racism" canard is an attempt to demonize Israel by distorting the Israeli-Palestinian national conflict over territory, and all of the security challenges it presents, into a racial struggle, and ascribing to democratic Israel institutions of racial subjugation that do not exist.

By perpetuating these slanders and instituting a boycott, the ASA has aligned itself philosophically and formally with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to eliminate Israel by undermining its legitimacy as a nation state. Curiously, while the ASA says it is acting at the behest of Palestinian civil society, leading Palestinians oppose boycotting Israel, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and developer Bashar Masri, whose company is building the West Bank city of Rawabi.

It is important to note that only 1,252 ASA members out of an estimated 4,000 actually voted on the boycott resolution. Of these, 827 were in favor. The process by which the organization vetted the resolution has been sharply criticized for curtailing dissenting views.


Groundswell of Opposition

A growing list of academics, elected officials and Jewish community organizations, including more than 80 universities, have assailed the boycott as an assault on academic freedom and as blatant discrimination against Israelis. In a sharply worded letter to ASA President Curtis Marez, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chided the organization for singling out Israel, reminding Marez that the State Department's most recent Country Reports on Human Rights found no government restrictions on academic freedom in Israel.

A statement by the 40,000-member American Association of University Professors (AAUP) said the "vote represents a setback for the cause of academic freedom," while eight former ASA presidents expressed their view that "we see an academic boycott as setting a dangerous precedent by sponsoring an inequitable and discriminatory policy that would punish one nation's universities and scholars." Former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers described boycotts of Israel as "anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent."

Also censuring the boycott was the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities (AAU), a group of 62 leading research universities in the U.S. and Canada. Among the 11 signatories to the AAU letter was Chancellor Michael V. Drake of the University of California, Irvine. UCI issued a separate condemnation , as did UC President Janet Napolitano . Four universities – Penn State- Harrisburg, Brandeis, Kenyon College and Indiana University, have withdrawn their ASA membership. Others are said to be considering this move.


In Orange County

The Rose Project is working closely with all of our campus, community and national partners on this issue. Last week, Co-Chairs Jeff Margolis and Jim Weiss, M.D., and JFFS CEO and President Shalom Elcott contacted Chancellor Drake to thank him for denouncing the boycott and for the university's continued engagement with Israel. Coincidentally, while boycott proponents were mobilizing support for their resolution, the Chancellor and distinguished faculty from UCI's School of Medicine and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering were in Israel for several academic collaborations, including the second UCI-Tel Aviv University workshop on the future of technological innovation. The International Medical Innovation Technology 2025 conference, held in November in Tel Aviv, and its predecessor, Communications 2025 held last year in Irvine, were co-sponsored by the Rose Project.

We are also in communication with faculty and administrators from Cal State University, Fullerton and have requested that they reconsider CSUF's membership status in the ASA.

The Rose Project will continue to monitor and counter this and other attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel.

More Reading

Alan Dershowitz, "Boycotting Israeli Universities: A Victory for Bigotry"
David Brooks, "The Tragic Situation"