Answering the Academic Boycotters of Israel

  • 0

Six days after its membership voted to implement an academic boycott against Israeli universities, the American Studies Association’s Caucus on Academic and Community Activism hurriedly issued a defensive appeal for support bemoaning, in the wake of a tsunami of backlash, what it defined as a “campaign of intimidation against the ASA.”

Instead of taking responsibility for the significant and profoundly damaging action it collectively took by approving the boycott in the first place, the ASA saw the wide-ranging negative response from the academic community as an attack on the organization’s integrity, its stated solidarity with the Palestinians, and its overall credibility as an academic organization. The ASA also struck back with a well-worn tactic used by those individuals and groups who participate in the demonization and delegitimization of Israel as part of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign: the ASA reflexively, and disingenuously, accused “powerful and well-funded academic and non-academic organizations” of “mount[ing] a public campaign aimed at destroying the Association.”

The paranoid notion that “powerful and well-funded” interests had any desire to even notice, let alone seek to destroy, the ASA, is ridiculous.

More troubling is that this statement reveals that ASA members naively believed that they could institute a broad academic boycott against Israel, call for Jewish academics to be shunned, and tar the reputation of Israeli scholars without anyone with opposing views answering back these slanders with counter-arguments and opposing views.

The ASA claimed that the wide condemnation came after the boycott vote – not because the boycott’s concept was intellectually defective and ran counter to academia’s values, but “because it dared to express criticism of Israel.”

More significant is that, in singling out Israel and Jewish academics to be boycotted, many, including former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, observed that the ASA boycott was possibly ant-Semitic, “if not in intent, then in effect.” The ASA responded by saying “these organizations falsely accuse the ASA membership of being anti-semitic [sic],” and “bent on the destruction of Israel.”

The ASA members may not like being accused of exhibiting anti-Semitic behavior, but several working definitions of anti-Semitism, including those by the U.S. State Department and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, suggest that such actions, in targeting Israel and holding it to a different standard of behavior than all other nations—something which this boycott clearly does—is one criteria by which speech and actions can be considered anti-Semitic.

Protestations and defenses aside, the issue is far more obvious than the members of ASA care to realize, and much less insidious. Those who speak back to ideologues do so not to suppress criticism of Israel; academic freedom grants the professors the right to spew forth any academic meanderings they wish, but it clearly does not make them free from being challenged for their thoughts.

The core issue is that just as the pro-Palestinian activists within the ASA have the right under the umbrella of academic free speech to express their views—no matter how factually inaccurate, vitriolic, or repellant they may be—those within and outside academia with opposing views also have the right, under the same precepts of free expression, to question the ASA’s views, and to call them anti-Semitic, or racist, or genocidal, or merely historically inaccurate or incorrect. It is naïve and unrealistic, at best, for the ASA leadership to think it could call for such a potentially damaging boycott, which seriously violates fundamental academic principles, without any response from a great many people with opposing views about the wisdom of such an action.

That the academics of the ASA do not understand, or choose to ignore, such a fundamental concept is troubling, and yet more evidence that universities have become, as Abigail Thernstrom has described them, “islands of repression in a sea of freedom.”

Answering the Academic Boycotters of Israel

  • 0
AUTHOR

Richard L. Cravatts

Richard Cravatts has taught advertising, integrated marketing communications, consumer behavior, opinion writing, magazine publishing, editing, public relations, technical writing, account planning, entrepreneurial marketing, and e-commerce strategy at Simmons College, Boston University, Babson College, Tufts University, UMass/ Boston, Suffolk University, Wentworth Institute, Emerson College, Northeastern University, and Emmanuel College.

For over 26 years Cravatts was publisher of the Boston Classical Network, a firm which created playbills to enhance the marketing of the region's major performing arts organizations, including the American Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, Celebrity Series of Boston, Handel & Haydn Society, and Boston Lyric Opera. He was the founding editor of Metrowest Magazine and Wellesley Weston Magazine, and associate publisher and editor in chief of Orlando's Best and the Greater Boston Restaurant & Wine Review. He was also the art director and travel editor of Palm Beach Illustrated, as well as the Boston dining correspondent for East/West Network, Inc., publishers of in-flight magazines for the nation's leading airlines.

From 1976-78, Dr. Cravatts was the first director of publications at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University at a time when the School was undergoing dramatic growth and in the midst of a significant capital campaign, and was the founding editor of the School's magazine and portfolio of marketing publications; he also later served in a similar capacity as the first director of public relations at Harvard's School of Public Health.

Dr. Cravatts has published over 350 articles, op-ed pieces, columns, and chapters in books on campus anti-Semitism, campus free speech, terrorism, Constitutional law, Middle East politics, real estate, and social policy, and is the author of the book, Genocidal Liberalism: The University's War Against Israel & Jews. He is also a frequent guest on radio programs and lectures nationally on the topic of higher education and the Middle East.

In addition to being an SPME board member and chair of its Greater Boston chapter,  Cravatts is a board member of both The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism and the Investigative Taskforce on Campus Anti-Semitism, and an Academic Advisory Board member of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.


Read all stories by Richard L. Cravatts

Skip to toolbar