Moral Low Ground


American Studies Association Endorses Academic Boycott of Israel

November 2012 rally and march for a free Palestine; San Francisco, USA (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

November 2012 rally and march for a free Palestine; San Francisco, USA (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

An influential group of US scholars has voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in protest of that country’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

The New York Times reports the American Studies Association (ASA), the nation’s oldest and largest association dedicated to the study of US culture and history, announced Monday that two-thirds of the 1,252 members (out of nearly 5,000 total) who voted in a special election approved the boycott.

ASA released a resolution explaining the reasons for backing the boycott. It read, in part:

Whereas the American Studies Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, discrimination and xenophobia, and to solidarity with aggrieved peoples in the United States and the world;

Whereas the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the expansion of illegal settlements and the (separation) Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall wellbeing, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians;

Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights…

Whereas the ASA is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression and military violence…

It is resolved that the ASA endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Many notable international cultural, political and religious figures and institutions, including numerous Jewish organizations, have decided to join the BDS movement in protest of Israeli crimes against Palestine. But it is global academic community that has arguably been the most vocal and active in its support of BDS. The most high-profile international academic to support BDS has been British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. In the United States, the Association for Asian American Studies expressed support for the academic boycott earlier this year.

The much larger American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has stood opposed to the BDS movement. The association has stated that academic boycotts are not compatible with its “commitment to the free exchange of ideas.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a US-based group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and other bigotry, has been strongly critical of BDS. The group called the ASA boycott endorsement a “shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack” on academic freedom. Many Israelis and pro-Zionist groups that have been critical of BDS claim boycotts are a form of anti-Semitism, although many observers, including at least one former Israeli cabinet member, accuse Israel’s apologists of deliberately and falsely portraying critics as anti-Semitic.

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