The American Studies Association Returns to the Middle East Fray

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The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

As has become standard practice in the academic BDS movement, the ASA’s Executive Committee has an academic pretext for its intervention in the Middle East: the recent strike on the Islamic University of Gaza. The committee understands that most observers will think an organization devoted to American culture should not have a stance on the Gaza conflict. But the statement almost immediately drops that pretext and concedes that the ASA’s stance is really about “Israel’s long-standing practice of denying an entire people the basic necessitates [sic] of life and freedom.

There follows a link you can click to give the ASA money to “to join in financially supporting our principled response to attacks on the organization and our continued growth and impact as an association. As Rahm Emanuel once said, you never want to leta serious crisis to go to waste.

Of course, the ASA stand is sheer self-indulgent theater. Still, it is revealing. Last year, it was at least possible to imagine that the American Studies Association distinguished between the West Bank and Gaza, understanding Israel’s need to defend itself againstHamas, an organization devoted to its violent destruction and to violence against Jews altogetherToday, like others in the BDS movement, the American Studies Association has openly sided with Hamas’s military wing, or, as BDS darling Ali Abunimah likes tocall its members, “resistance fighters.”

With this latest ill-advised statement, the ASA leaves no daylight between its own position and Abunimah’s, namely that Israel is the bad guy in the fight between Israel and Hamas, Hamas’s deliberate strategy of firing indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and placing its own civilians in harm’s way notwithstanding. All that is lacking is the open celebration, which we find in Abunimah, of the military exploits, such as they are, of the Al Qassam Brigade. I suppose the executive committee thinks that such a celebration might frighten the donors.

William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has predicted that this year’s anti-Israel activity on American campuses will be even more virulent than it was last year and may even turn violent. I hope he is wrong about the latter but sure he is right about the former.

Those of us who care not only about Israel but also about the enterprise of colleges and universities must point out again and again that the avowedly nonviolent academic BDS movement, which has always shied away from criticism of Hamas and has long hugged the lunatic fringe, is now vying to turn American college campuses into propaganda mills for the “military wing” of Hamas, which even the European Union considers a terrorist group.

Despite the wall to wall coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suspect that most faculty members and students alike know very little about it in general or about Hamas in particular. Even on college campuses, the debate against BDS can be won. They can’t hide from that charter.

The American Studies Association Returns to the Middle East Fray

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Jonathan Marks

Jonathan Marks is a Professor of Politics at Ursinus College and publishes in modern and contemporary political philosophy in journals like the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of American Political Science, and the Review of Politics. He is the author of Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Marks also has written on higher education for InsideHigherEd, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal. He blogs occasionally at Commentary Magazine.

Read all stories by Jonathan Marks