Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) vigorously condemns the actions of the membership of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), which has just unanimously approved a resolution* which endorses the boycott of Israeli universities, making it the first academic organization in the U.S. to do so.
Most troubling to SPME was the language in the AAAS resolution that targeted Israeli scholars for academic boycott based on their perceived culpability in the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The resolution speciously accuses Israeli institutions of higher education, and the scholars who form those respective intellectual communities, of being responsible for the decisions made by the government of Israel. “. . . Israeli institutions of higher education have not condemned or taken measures to oppose the occupation and racial discrimination against Palestinians in Israel,” the statement reads, “but have, rather, 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 AAAS past president, Rajini Srikanth, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, claimed that the organization’s proposed academic boycott was a justifiable tactic, similar to boycotts used against South African universities to protest apartheid; since there is no apartheid in Israel, however, the analogy is false and disingenuous.
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. Moreover, the boycott is directly in opposition to decades of agreements between Israeli and Arab Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a commitment to a two state solution, but only Israel has repeatedly made concessions for peace. Additionally, by focusing exclusively and obsessively on Israel, and not on many other countries in the world where actual human and civil rights abuses exist, the actions of those supporting academic boycotts, as well as calls for divestment, are, according to former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.”
Further, SPME firmly believes that academic boycotts are:
- antithetical to principles of academic and scientific freedom;
- antithetical to principles of freedom of expression and inquiry;
- may well constitute discrimination by virtue of national origin;
- unfair, inasmuch as they target only one group of academics—Israelis—and hold them responsible for the policies and actions of the Israeli government and the situation in which the Palestinian Arabs find themselves.
The world academic community frowns upon academic boycotts which it regards as antithetical to the fundamental principles of academic freedom. Whatever their feelings, academics cannot say they support academic freedom and exchange if they boycott, censor, or otherwise interrupt the exchange of ideas, research and information. Credible academic institutions must be clear in supporting basic principles of academic freedom with statements and policies rejecting such campaigns and actions.
Therefore, SPME condemns the recent AAAS 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.
*The resolution that passed may be downloaded and read at http://www.usacbi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/AAAS-resolution.FINAL_.pdf