American Studies Association votes for boycott of Israeli universities

by | Dec 19, 2013 | Other News

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The membership of the American Studies Association endorsed its national council’s call for a boycott of Israeli universities.

Two-thirds of the 1,252 members who voted approved the boycott, according to an ASA announcement Monday, Dec. 16, a day after the deadline for voting.

At the time of the vote, there were 3,853 eligible voters, meaning a third of the membership participated.

The membership-wide canvas was unprecedented and was undertaken in part at the behest of boycott opponents, who said at a session during the ASA annual conference in Washington last month that the matter was too sensitive to leave up to the 20-member national council, which unanimously endorsed the boycott.

“The National Council engaged and addressed questions and concerns of the membership throughout the process,” the ASA statement said. “During the open discussion at the recent convention, members asked us to draft a resolution that was relevant to the ASA in particular and so the Council’s final resolution acknowledged that the US plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

The resolution, which applies to ASA as an organization, is not binding on members and targets institutions, not individuals.

In its announcement, the ASA said it would invite Israeli and Palestinian academics to its 2014 national meeting in Los Angeles. ASA describes itself as “devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.”

“The Israel Action Network (IAN) is troubled that members of the American Studies Association voted to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that directly violates the strongly held principle of academic freedom,” said Geri Palast, managing director of The Israel Action Network (IAN), a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, of which the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater is a member.

Prior to the vote, Robin Mancoll, director of UJFT’s CRC, contacted local professors to express concerns about the ramifications of the potential boycott, and to “reach out to their friends around the country to make the plea to vote not to divest.”

“As a practical matter, this resolution will have limited symbolic significance, but it still raises a number of deeply troubling concerns. Its adoption promotes a discriminatory policy that could fuel a dangerous trend in which violating rights to academic freedom becomes a norm. It singles out academic scholars and institutions based on their nationality, without regard to the important role they play as thought leaders in evaluating and critiquing government policy. And rather than encouraging important discourse and debate, or promoting Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, this resolution will only polarize the academic world by ‘blacklisting’ alternative views, scholars and institutions,” Palast said in her statement.

“Peace for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on both parties working together towards a negotiated, two-state solution. Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected boycotts of Israel as counterproductive. Divisive measures such as academic boycotts will only serve to further deflect attention away from serious moral and political issues. These one-sided attacks based on falsehoods should embarrass their proponents, and we move our community to condemn this action,” she said.