U.S. academics should boycott Israeli universities

According to an announcement released Dec. 16, the American Studies Association (ASA), a group of some 5,000 university professors, has 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 the release, and a third of the membership’s eligible voters participated.

The membership-wide canvass 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, D.C., last month that the matter was too sensitive to leave up to the 20-member national council, which unanimously endorsed the boycott.

The resolution 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.” — JTA

The American Studies Association (ASA) Resolution supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions has been grossly mischaracterized as an assault on academic freedom. On the contrary, it is one of the most significant affirmative acts any scholarly organization has proposed in defense of academic freedom since the anti-apartheid movement. 

Palestinian students and faculty living under occupation do not enjoy academic freedom, let alone the full range of basic human rights. Even the critics of the resolution recognize this fact and are quick to proclaim their concern over Israel’s occupation and the plight of Palestinians. However, they argue that the boycott would, in turn, punish Israeli academics unfairly. But the truth is, Israeli scholars also suffer under the current status quo. They are denied genuine collaborative relationships with intellectuals in the Occupied Territories and Gaza, and Israeli intellectuals critical of the regime’s policies — most famously, historian Ilan Pappe — have been harassed, censored and, in some cases, forced into exile. 

[David N. Myers: U.S. academics should not boycott Israeli universities]

Much like the academic boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era, the point of the resolution is to pressure academic institutions and the state, complicit in the policies of occupation, dispossession and segregation, to comply with international law and make real academic freedom possible. The lessons from South Africa are very clear: Boycott forced complacent academics to rethink their personal and institutional relationship to apartheid, to talk to each other across the color line and to better understand how their own work relates to social justice. If adopted, the ASA Resolution will create the conditions for genuine intellectual exchange, free of the state’s political imperative to legitimize the occupation, and grounded in a politics of inclusion, justice and equality.

Robin D.G. Kelley is the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA.