SPME on the American Studies Association (ASA) Endorsement to Boycott Israeli Universities

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), strongly condemns the actions of the membership of the American Studies Association, (ASA) whose National Council on December 4th endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities and other Israeli institutions.

The ASA’s call for an academic boycott against Israel follows a similar action this past April by the Association for Asian American Studies, which became the first disciplinary group to endorse the academic boycott of Israel.

The ASA resolution, which was approved unanimously by the 20-member council stated, “we believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.”

Of course, the decision to endorse such a pernicious boycott goes counter to any principle of academic freedom, principles which are enshrined by such academic organizations as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). In 2005, specifically, the AAUP issued an unambiguous statement condemning academic boycotts. “Since its founding in 1915,” the statement read, “the AAUP has been committed to preserving and advancing the free exchange of ideas among academics irrespective of governmental policies and however unpalatable those policies may be viewed. We reject proposals that curtail the freedom of teachers and re- searchers to engage in work with academic colleagues, and we reaffirm the paramount importance of the freest possible international movement of scholars and ideas.”

More recently, the AAUP affirmed their position on academic boycotts by asserting again that a call for a boycott from academic organizations “threatens the principles of free expression and communication on which we collectively depend” and that groups considering such actions should “seek alternative means, less inimical to the principle of academic freedom, to pursue their concerns,” a view that SPME supports.

Equally troubling with the ASA’s boycott resolution is the loaded, politicized language used to justify the boycott, indicating that the focus on Israeli institutions of higher education is the result of historical distortion and cultural bias on the part of the ASA members who voted in favor of the boycott:

  1. As was the case with the Association for Asian American Studies, the decision to call for a boycott against Israeli institutions seems incongruent with each organization’s respective missions or sphere of academic interest, and was seemingly endorsed due to enmity against Israel specifically by members of each association, and not actual concern for the integrity of Israeli institutions of higher education. The ASA claims that its actions were part of its commitment “to honor the call from Palestinian civil society to support the academic boycott of Israel,” suggesting that Palestinian educational institutions, and the human and civil rights of Palestinians, are somehow more worthy of moral support than those of Jewish citizens of Israel who teach or work at Israeli universities.

  2. The ASA’s claim, by which they seem to justify their participation in the boycott in the first place, is that “the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law,” a statement which is both factually incorrect and historically biased. Israel is not occupying a sovereign state called “Palestine,” but a disputed territory, and legal experts on international law have repeatedly affirmed that housing built by Jews in the West Bank is not in violation of international law. The security barrier, which the ASA notes as “the Wall,” was built by Israel in response to terrorist attacks, and has, in fact, reduced the number of Israeli citizens murdered by ninety percent since its construction.
     
  3. Clearly, the ASA’s commitment to “solidarity with aggrieved peoples in the United States and in the world” means that the organization favors the self-affirmation of the Palestinians over that of citizens of the Middle East’s only democracy. 

  4. A boycott that punishes academics because of the actions of their government is selective, unenforceable, and has no remedy available to academics themselves by which the boycott can finally be lifted; it is the government of Israel, not Israeli academics, who have ultimate control over any state policies that are disapproved of by the ASA. Nevertheless, the ASA boycott calls for “a refusal on the part of the ASA... to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions... , or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.” How will Israeli academic institutions, or individual academics, cause that to happen?
     
  5. A political ‘litmus test’ for academics has always been an anathema to the professoriate, as it no doubt would be for many ASA members if a boycott was called for against American universities, for example, during the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq, when many academics denounced that war—and subsequent occupation—as illegal, immoral, and unjustified.

The call to boycott Israeli universities is part of the larger, and more destructive, boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, and is based on its supporters’ desire, not merely to chastise Israel economically and culturally, but to weaken the Jewish state’s moral standing and work, not towards rectifying a number of political faults, but eventually dismantling Israel completely.  By joining in this world-wide campaign of the demonization and delegitimization of Israel, the ASA is facilitating the weakening of a sovereign state, while at the same time violating fundamental precepts of academic freedom.

SPME condemns the ASA boycott and its role in a campaign to use academia to promote boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions against Israel, including the calls for academic boycotts directed towards Israeli scholars and institutions, as they represent an abandonment of scholarly principles, a degradation of campus civility, and a violation of the precepts of unbiased, rational academic inquiry.

Officers

Richard Cravatts, PhD
President, SPME

John R. Cohn, MD
Vice President, SPME

Leila Beckwith, PhD
Treasurer, SPME

Ralf R. Schumann, MD, PhD
Secretary, SPME

Staff

Asaf Romirowsky, PhD
Acting Executive Director,
SPME Faculty Forum, Editor