ASA conference revisits the boycott of Israeli institutions


Nancy Koppelman, an American Studies professor at The Evergreen State College in Washington, is well aware of how passionate things can get on college campuses over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The late pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003, had been a student at Evergreen. 

Last week, at the American Studies Association’s (ASA) annual meeting in Los Angeles, Koppelman addressed another aspect of this heightened tension that more directly involved her peers. She chaired “The Party’s Over: A Panel and Open Discussion on the Aftermath of the ASA’s Boycott Resolution,” examining the ASA’s 2013 controversial vote to forbid academic partnerships with Israeli universities. 

The criticism lobbed against the organization dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history in the aftermath of the vote came from both scholars and organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League. (The ASA is the second U.S. academic organization, after the Association for Asian American Studies, to endorse such a boycott, according to insidehighered.com.)

“The symbolic boycott harnessed the ASA to a highly partisan goal, and then its advocates tried to drive it where they wanted it to go,” Koppelman, who voted against the boycott, said during the Nov. 6 panel. “But symbols are not like streetcars  — you can’t control them by turning the wheel or slamming on the brakes; once unleashed, symbols have lives of their own.”

The panel at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel was attended by 30 people and also featured Michael Aaron Rockland, a professor of American Studies at Rutgers University; Mohammed Wattad, a legal scholar and assistant professor at the Zefat Academic College School of Law in Israel; and Lisa Armony, director of the Rose Project and community outreach at the Jewish Federation and Family Services in Orange County. 

Rockland, who helped Koppelman organize the panel, described himself as a lifelong member of the ASA. Wattad joined the organization less than one year ago, so he could present at last week’s conference. So did Armony.

Only one-fourth of the ASA’s 5,000 members — many of whom are university professors — took part in the December 2013 vote to ratify the boycott. Two-thirds of the 1,250 votes cast supported the boycott, insidehighered.com reported. 

Over the course of the conference, which took place Nov. 6-9, several panels spotlighted the boycott issue. They included “Scholars Under Attack,” “Students Under Attack,” “I Want My ASA” and “Black Radicalism, Insurgency in Israel/Palestine and the Idea of Solidarity.”

The panels were created to “help bring into sharper relief the vibrant intersection of fun and fury in relation to local and global contexts,” the conference program materials explain. “Of particular interest in the program will be the wide-ranging responses to the ASA membership’s vote to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” 

Conference presenters who were critical of the boycott were few and far between, Koppelman said.

Matthew Jacobson, former president of the ASA and a professor of African-American Studies, history and American Studies at Yale, explained to the Journal that American aid to Israel makes what happens in the Jewish state an American Studies issue. He voted last year in support of the boycott.

“I thought it was a meaningful, symbolic way to raise protest against Israeli policy and also against U.S. policies that enable it,” he said. “I wish this year had been easier both for me and the organization, but I feel it is the right thing to do.”

More than 2,250 individuals registered for the conference, according to ASA Executive Director John Stephens. The conference was titled “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century.”

Stephens also acknowledged that tensions over the event were high. “My job is to hold this thing together, to make sure voices get heard and that we have a community,” he said, heading to the open bar at the close of late-afternoon sessions. “I’m a healer.”  

The majority of the panels had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — exploring gender studies and depictions of slavery in popular culture, for example — but there were plenty of conference attendees who had strong opinions on the matter. 

Eric Sandeen, University of Wyoming director of American Studies, seemed to have a hard time holding his tongue during the Q-and-A portion of “The Party’s Over.” 

“Oh boy, I got something to say,” Sandeen said while leaning against a conference room wall. “I don’t deny there are people out there who want to make a statement about the situation in the Middle East, but I don’t think an academic organization is the place to do it. I think something like a political action committee, which [the ASA] has kind of turned into, is the place to do it.”

University of Michigan professor June Howard, whose area of expertise is 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, disagreed. 

“It feels as if the pushback is as coercive as anything you are [speaking out against],” she told the panelists. 

Howard pointed to the mistreatment and marginalization of Arab-Americans in her area of southeast Michigan — a region heavily populated by Arab-Americans — as one example of how the conflict, despite being overseas, has an impact inside the U.S. 

Koppelman, for her part, also offered ideas for how critics of the boycott may proceed, including forming a caucus within the ASA that would focus on nurturing relationships with Israeli and Palestinian academics. Or, she said, she and her supporters could form an entirely new organization. 

“But, I’m kind of busy next week,” she said, “[and] that’s a very large order, and I am sure there are other possibilities and you may have some ideas. So we are here to get that conversation started.” 

Event at LA Westin hotel restricts participation by Israelis


In early November, the American Studies Association will be having its annual meeting at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. Per the ASA’s recently adopted policy, Israeli academics will be subject to unique exclusionary restrictions based on their national origin. 

The use of a public accommodation for such a discriminatory event has led a civil rights group to warn the hotel that hosting the conference could violate California’s civil rights laws. The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides that “no business establishment of any kind whatsoever shall discriminate against, boycott or blacklist, or refuse to buy from, contract with, sell to, or trade with any person in this state on account of” national origin and other characteristics. It also extends liability to those who “aid or incite” a denial or rights under the law.

Read more at washingtonpost.com.

Pro-Israel campus groups actively stand up for Israel


From last year’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions by the American Studies Association to protests at campuses across the country, it’s apparent that colleges are not the friendliest places for pro-Israeli students and advocates these days. 

Even before this summer’s violence erupted between Israel and Hamas, people scribbled hateful messages about the Jewish state last school year at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), according to senior Alex Beyzer. There’s also an active anti-Israel website run by a CSUN math professor, and efforts have been made to bring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to campus. 

But these incidents and demonstrations of prejudice didn’t stop Beyzer from standing up for the country he loves. 

“A lot of people simply don’t know what’s going on outside of their little bubble in their college lives,” he said. “They’re very vulnerable to hearing some kind of outrageous claim that would spark biased emotions toward Israel. It’s important to be proactive and show that we’re a friendly, united group of people who are only trying to promote peace.”

Beyzer is the leader of Matadors for Israel, CSUN’s pro-Israel group that has six dedicated members. The students partner with StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy group, as well as Hillel and Chabad. They host movie screenings, put together seminars on the history of Israel and current events happening in the Middle East, and hold their own Yom HaAtzmaut celebration, where they give out free falafel and demonstrate their support for Israel. 

“Given what’s going on in the world with the anti-Israel bias and what’s going on in Europe, which is reminiscent of what was happening pre-Holocaust, it’s very important for us to be active, spread the word, and inform the public that Israel is not the evil state that people make it out to be,” Beyzer said.

In Westwood at UCLA, pro-Israel students can join Bruins for Israel, which is run by senior Eytan Davidovits and has around 300 members. Last school year, he and his group organized a West Coast Students Conference that brought together the boards of different pro-Israel student groups from college campuses throughout the state. They hope to make it an annual event, he said. 

UCLA has been a hotbed of controversy in recent months when it comes to Israel. In the spring, Students for Justice in Palestine was among the groups on campus that asked those running for student government to pledge not to go on trips to Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hasbara Fellowships. Ultimately, 18 of 30 candidates signed the pledge.

“There are so many groups focused on spreading Israel hatred that it’s important that there is a group to counter it,” Davidovits said. “We got signatures to say that the ethics pledge should not be tolerated.”

In February, UCLA’s student government also held a contentious, all-night debate on a divestment resolution, which ultimately failed. Davidovits expects that there might be even more issues this year because of the fighting between Israel and Hamas. 

“I think tensions are going to be heightened,” Davidovits said. “The campus climate after the divestment resolution last year was extremely hostile, and now I think it’s going to be even worse. I think they will desperately try to bring it in a much harsher form much sooner. We are preparing for that.”

Unlike its peers at UCLA and CSUN, USC’s pro-Israel group Trojans for Israel (TFI) hasn’t had such problems with pro-Palestinian organizations, according to president Judah Joseph, whose primary goals this school year include informing students about what’s happening in the Middle East. 

“I’m confident in TFI’s efforts on campus, because I believe campus leaders want to understand this conflict more fully. News coverage may have piqued their interest, and TFI aims to quench their thirst for knowledge,” Joseph said.

TFI partners with other student clubs on campus, and every semester it holds leadership dinners, where attendees can listen to speakers talk about the relationship between Israel and the United States and current events. 

Joseph said it’s crucial that his organization exists “in order to educate campus leaders and to encourage them to think critically. The USC campus leaders of today will become the CEOs, politicians and influential Americans of tomorrow. As such, it’s imperative that we help them to understand the issues facing Israel.”

Lizzie Stein, an Occidental College student, was inspired to support the Holy Land after visiting. 

“I went to Israel and studied abroad for a semester,” she said. “I absolutely fell in love with the country. I felt this was a home for me. I felt very attached to Israel, and I knew I wanted to get involved with Israel advocacy on campus.”

When she came back, she joined J Street U Occidental, a chapter of the liberal advocacy group that supports a two-state solution. This year, she is president of the club, which brings speakers to campus to discuss global politics and shows movies. Last fall, they created a campaign where students designed postcards saying they were in favor of a two-state solution. Afterward, the postcards were mailed to the local congressional office. 

Overall, Stein said, there hasn’t been any discrimination against J Street U Occidental. On campus, “There was one incident of a swastika being drawn on a whiteboard. That was taken care of quickly by the administration.” 

She said, however, that she has brought students together and “been able to have conversations and avoid the anti-Semitism.”

Stein said she was surprised to return to school recently and attend a Hillel dinner where the war in Gaza went unmentioned. 

“Over the summer, people were hearing a lot more about Israel and the conflict. There was not one mention of what happened [this summer] at [the] Hillel dinner, though.” 

Although the fighting has died down, Stein said that as the head of the club, she still has the desire to talk about it on campus and keep the conversation alive. Like her fellow pro-Israel leaders at the other schools, she wants her peers to be educated about current events in Israel. 

“People are going back to the status quo of not talking about it,” she said. “What happened in Gaza over the summer demonstrates an urgency. That old status quo is not sustainable, and we need to change course.”

Maryland budget slams Israel academic boycotts, offers no penalties


Maryland lawmakers included language in the new state budget condemning academic boycotts of Israel but scrapped any penalties that were included in a bill under consideration.

Wording in the 2015 fiscal year spending plan, which was adopted April 6, includes a statement of strong support for Israel along with condemnation of the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of the Jewish state, but no separate law or financial penalties.

The bill had called for a 3 percent penalty against any Maryland public college using public money to send professors and other staff to conferences hosted by organizations that support a boycott of any country that has a declaration of cooperation with Maryland — a list that includes Israel. The measure did not specifically mention Israel or the ASA boycott.

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League had opposed the proposals in the state Senate and House of Delegates.

House bill would defund colleges that back Israel boycotters


Universities that “significantly fund” groups that boycott Israeli academic institutions would be ineligible for federal funds under legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Under the bill proposed Thursday by Reps. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), the chief deputy whip in the House, and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), the boycotters  would “not be eligible to receive funds or any other form of financial assistance.” It was not clear what would constitute “significant” funding.

The bill, first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, also would require the secretary of education to make public a list of universities designated as supporting a boycott.

Speaking Tuesday on the House floor, Roskam said he would soon introduce the legislation, which was prompted by the decision in December by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities. Roskam described the ASA move as clearly an “anti-Semitic effort.”

Legislatures in New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania are considering the reduction of funding to institutions that back boycotts or condemnations.

Dear John Sexton: Condemn and block the ASA


To: John Sexton, Ph.D J. D.
President, New York University

Re. An Open Letter regarding NYU and ASA, via email, January 20, 2014.

Dear President Sexton,

I am writing to you as an alumnus of NYU-affiliated school who is deeply concerned with the recent boycott resolution by the American Studies Association (ASA) and its adverse impact on the reputation of NYU.

I received my PhD in 1965 from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, which last month became part of NYU. In November 2013, I was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award from NYU-Poly, an honor that made my association with NYU stronger and full of pride. I was disappointed therefore to learn that the leadership of the ASA, which pushed through a resolution that threatens the very fabric of academic life, is so intimately connected with NYU, both academically and administratively.

Four ASA National Council members (25%) are affiliated with NYU and vocally campaigned for the resolution. In particular, the ASA President Elect, Lisa Duggan, is NYU Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis. This means that in the next couple of years, NYU will become the semi-official host to most activities of this organization, and will be perceived as the academic lighthouse from which this group will be broadcasting its irresponsible, anti-coexistence and anti-academic ideology.

I represent a group of professors who are particularly affected by the ASA boycott resolution.  As part of my recent appointment to Visiting Professor at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, I am engaged in joint scientific projects with the Technion and its research staff. I also collaborate with Israeli universities on journalistic projects, named after my late son, Daniel Pearl, which aim at bringing Israeli and Palestinian journalists together.

I think you can appreciate how demoralizing the ASA action has been for me, as well as for other professors in my position. It is not that we view the ASA action as a danger to the continuation of our research projects — scientific collaboration has endured many hecklers in the past, much louder than the ASA drummers, and the latters are clearly more interested in defamation than in an actual boycott. What we do consider dangerous is the very attempt to contaminate our scientific explorations with a charge of criminality, and to bring that “criminality” for a so called “debate” in the public square, on our own campuses. We view this attempt as a new form of McCarthy'ism that is aimed at intimidating and silencing opposing voices, and thus threatens academic freedom and the fundamental principles of academic institutions.

When a group of self-appointed vigilantes empowers itself with a moral authority to incriminate the academic activities of their colleagues, we are seeing the end of academia and the end of the sacred academic principles that have been painstakingly developed over centuries.

It is for this reason that I was personally disappointed with your letter which, while expressing opposition to boycotts in general and the ASA resolution in particular, failed to identify the ASA action as an imminent threat to NYU's  reputation. Your letter did not state whether the ASA will be able to continue using NYU facilities and services as its de-facto national headquarter, and what action you plan to take to restrain its leaders from re-staining the name of NYU with similar actions in the future.

In the name of many NYU alumni who wish to remain proud of their Alma Mater, I strongly urge you to remove NYU's name from the ASA “institutional member” list (as other universities have done), and to voice a strong and unequivocal condemnation of the pro-boycott activities of the ASA leadership.

Sincerely,
Judea Pearl
UCLA

If boycott is anti-academic what do we call its leaders?


To: John Sexton, Ph.D J. D.
President, New York University

Re. An Open Letter regarding NYU and ASA, via email, January 20, 2014.

Dear President Sexton,

I am writing to you as an alumnus of NYU-affiliated school who is deeply concerned with the recent boycott resolution by the American Studies Association (ASA) and its adverse impact on the reputation of NYU.

I received my PhD in 1965 from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, which last month became part of NYU. In November 2013, I was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award from NYU-Poly, an honor that made my association with NYU stronger and full of pride. I was disappointed therefore to learn that the leadership of the ASA, which pushed through a resolution that threatens the very fabric of academic life, is so intimately connected with NYU, both academically and administratively.

Four ASA National Council members (25%) are affiliated with NYU and vocally campaigned for the resolution. In particular, the ASA President Elect, Lisa Duggan, is NYU Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis. This means that in the next couple of years, NYU will become the semi-official host to most activities of this organization, and will be perceived as the academic lighthouse from which this group will be broadcasting its irresponsible, anti-coexistence and anti-academic ideology.

I represent a group of professors who are particularly affected by the ASA boycott resolution.  As part of my recent appointment to Visiting Professor at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, I am engaged in joint scientific projects with the Technion and its research staff. I also collaborate with Israeli universities on journalistic projects, named after my late son, Daniel Pearl, which aim at bringing Israeli and Palestinian journalists together.

I think you can appreciate how demoralizing the ASA action has been for me, as well as for other professors in my position. It is not that we view the ASA action as a danger to the continuation of our research projects — scientific collaboration has endured many hecklers in the past, much louder than the ASA drummers, and the latters are clearly more interested in defamation than in an actual boycott. What we do consider dangerous is the very attempt to contaminate our scientific explorations with a charge of criminality, and to bring that “criminality” for a so called “debate” in the public square, on our own campuses. We view this attempt as a new form of McCarthy'ism that is aimed at intimidating and silencing opposing voices, and thus threatens academic freedom and the fundamental principles of academic institutions.

When a group of self-appointed vigilantes empowers itself with a moral authority to incriminate the academic activities of their colleagues, we are seeing the end of academia and the end of the sacred academic principles that have been painstakingly developed over centuries.

It is for this reason that I was personally disappointed with your letter which, while expressing opposition to boycotts in general and the ASA resolution in particular, failed to identify the ASA action as an imminent threat to NYU's  reputation. Your letter did not state whether the ASA will be able to continue using NYU facilities and services as its de-facto national headquarter, and what action you plan to take to restrain its leaders from re-staining the name of NYU with similar actions in the future.

In the name of many NYU alumni who wish to remain proud of their Alma Mater, I strongly urge you to remove NYU's name from the ASA “institutional member” list (as other universities have done), and to voice a strong and unequivocal condemnation of the pro-boycott activities of the ASA leadership.

Sincerely,
Judea Pearl
UCLA

Additional Remarks by J. Pearl.

———————-
This letter to President Sexton was written as
a reaction to a glaring contradiction between what
University administrators say about boycotts and
the way they tolerate, if not embrace boycott activists.
If boycott stands contrary to basic academic principles then,
surely, boycott advocates are undermining those principles
and should be exposed and treated as such.

Of course, no one expects university administrators to discipline
professors who violate academic principles; academic freedom demands
that its principles remain vulnerable to abuse, it is the
secret of their survival.
What one nevertheless expects campus leaders to do is to
DEFINE the norms of a desirable campus envionment, and
identify violators of those norms as a source of
embarrassment, whose actions are not conducive to the
kind of campus climate we wish to create.

Is the New York State anti-boycott bill dead?


We’ve reported that the New York State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill intended to prohibit colleges from using any state money to fund groups that boycott Israeli universities.

Companion legislation was under consideration in the State Assembly and seemed assured of passage, given that it had the backing of the speaker, Sheldon Silver. Sponsors in both chambers said the legislation was occasioned by the Israel boycott adopted in December by the American Studies Association.

In effect, the legislation would prohibit colleges from using state funds to pay for membership fees in the ASA or for faculty travel to ASA conferences (though the bill doesn’t specify Israel by name and would seem to apply to any boycotts of universities in other countries where universities are chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. Thanks to Mondeoweiss’s Alex Kane for the link.)

The Albany Times Union now reports — in a parenthetical update to an early blogpost — that an Assembly committee pulled it from consideration.

Ryan Karben, a former Assemblyman, says that this is rare for any bill backed by the speaker, and that its shelving by the committee means that the bill is “disappeared.”

The bill had influential opponents, according to the Times Union, including the New York State United Teachers union, which sees the bill as an affront to free speech.

For the same reason, the New York Times also is opposed to the bill.

N.Y. State bill ends funding to schools linked to boycott groups


A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly would suspend funding to educational institutions which fund groups that boycott Israel.

The legislation, introduced earlier this month by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and first reported by Mondoweiss, an anti-Zionist news site, would ban state funding to colleges which fund groups that boycott “in countries that host higher education institutions chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.”

A number of New York-based universities have Israel branches, and Silver made clear in a statement that the target was groups that boycott Israel.

The Democratic lawmaker said he initiated the measure “in response to the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel and its academic institutions.”

“Colleges should not use funds to support boycotts, resolutions or any similar actions that are discriminatory and limit academic opportunities,” he said in the statement.

The ASA was one of three U.S. academic groupings to boycott Israeli academic institutions last year.

The bill, which currently has 48 sponsors out of 150 members, would cut funding to institutions that pay dues to groups such as the ASA or which subsidize travel to its conferences.

Judea Pearl: Boycott Israel? Not on my campus


There are many good reasons to oppose the American Studies Association (ASA) decision to boycott Israeli universities. But there are some bad reasons as well. Many arguments against the boycott play exactly into the hands of the pro-boycott propagandists and give them the ammunition they need to continue their racist campaign with renewed vigor and self-righteousness.

The two most dangerous “objections” to the boycott consist of these arguments: 1) There are worse violators of human rights in the world, so why pick on Israel?  And 2) Israel is aware of her crimes, and is willing to confess and repent, with the help of an international team of expert “confessors” who are about to fix all that is broken with Zionism.

I will not comment on the second point because anyone who has been watching Israel’s relentless effort to extricate itself from having to control other people’s lives, how her poets, playwrights, educators, philosophers, journalists, jurors and political leaders have been struggling for the past 66 years to redefine Zionism to fit the changing dynamics of society and circumstances would laugh at the idea that what Zionism needs at this point is expert confessors from the Diaspora, to teach it what it truly stands for.

But the first point deserves a comment or two, because it has been used as a crutch by many commentators, not least among them UCLA professor David Myers, writing in these pages.

Admitting “You caught me stealing, but there are bigger thieves in town” is precisely what the boycott cronies want to hear, and the ASA president’s response, “We have to start somewhere,” sounds much more compelling and honest than the plea for first chasing after the other thieves in town. After all, once you admit to being part of the Mafia, you have no business telling the police how to go about fighting crime, and you should not be surprised if you are arrested first.

I want to assure our students that the case against academic boycott is not as flimsy as these arguments make it sound, and that the majority of faculty on our campuses do recognize both the difficult predicaments of Israel and the non-academic character of the boycott campaign. They recognize that Israel did not choose to occupy another people; her presence in the West Bank was imposed upon her by neighbors who admit to wishing her disappearance and who make sure she understands that lifting the occupation would only intensify their wishes.

They recognize that, obviously, the occupation “has a negative impact on the working conditions of Palestinian researchers and students” (this is a quote from the ASA resolution). But it is also obvious that Israel cannot lift movement restrictions in the West Bank while she is intimidated daily, both rhetorically and physically, with existential threats; normalcy must be symmetrical.

They recognize that while occupation is ugly and unsustainable, the Arab side shares (at least) equal responsibility for prolonging this conflict by nourishing a culture in which coexistence is non-existent.

In particular, Palestinian educators, researchers, students and academic institutions who now call for boycotting Israel are greatly responsible for perpetuating this culture of anti-coexistence, hence no less deserving of a boycott than their Israeli counterparts. Most ASA members should agree that denying peoplehood to a people, for more than 65 years, is no less a crime than causing students at Nablus University to be late to class.

ASA members should be concerned about the reputation of their organization if allowed to be hijacked by the rhetoric of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and its radical supporters.

While the resolution itself may sound benign, ASA members should take a hard look at the purpose for which this document will be used in the future, given the radical agenda of its supporters.

The leaders of the BDS movement do not hide that purpose: In every conversation with them. they make it crystal clear that their ultimate goal is not to end the occupation, nor is it to achieve a peaceful solution in the Middle East, but rather to defame Israel in the public eye, to choreograph an arena where Israel’s criminality is debated, to intimidate pro-coexistence voices into silence, if not shame, and eventually bring about Israel’s isolation, if not her demise.

Omar Barghouti, a key ideologist of BDS, stated publicly (Sept. 29, 2013),  “Colonizers [read: Zionists] are not entitled to self-determination, by any definition of self-determination.”

ASA members should also take a hard look at what the passing of this resolution would do to campus climate, how it would isolate faculty members who choose to collaborate with Israeli universities and what it would mean to the posture of Jewish students on campus once BDS supporters sense the smell of victory, however mild.

The commentary by UCLA professor Robin Kelley, who wrote in support of the boycott in these pages, was a perfect reflection of this BDS mentality. We are witnessing a “professor of history” who is as quick to desecrate the word “apartheid” as he is to ignore the historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the responsibility of the Arab side in sustaining that conflict. Some “professors of history” can preach for hours and hours on the moral right of the Palestinian people to self determination and, at the same time, ignore or deny the historical right of their neighbors to the same self determination.

In the old days we used to label such professors “racists,” but nowadays that label is reserved strictly for Islamophobes and “white settlers’ colonial societies,” so, on a technicality, Kelley is exonerated. One of Israel’s painful misfortunes is that professors like Kelley formed their worldview at a time when the only villains in town were “white settlers.”

Today, when there are no such settlers in existence (except perhaps the British settlers in the Falkland Islands), history professors must invent them, no matter how absurd the resemblance. And you can guess whom they chose for the honor — the only functioning society in the Middle East that speaks the language of its historical birthplace.

On the positive side, we should not forget that despite its symbolic victory in the ASA case, the BDS movement has given the Jewish people two important gifts. First, support of BDS has become a crisp and unmistakable litmus test by which to distinguish potential discussants from hopeless bigots, and by which to determine whom to include and whom to exclude from the broad tent of “Jewish conversation.” Drawing such red lines was one of the smartest things our sages enforced to preserve Jewish identity. At times it involved painful decisions, which left the Karaites, the early Christians, the Shabtaim, the Spanish Conversos and “Jews for Jesus” out of the community. But these were necessary, life-saving decisions. Today, as if by divine supervision, BDS supporters find themselves excluded from the Jewish conversation — a life-saving demarcation line has been drawn, and a stronger, more united community has emerged

The second blessing has been a miraculous awakening and an unprecedented galvanization of Jewish students and faculty to confront the dangers of the BDS assault. It is still too early to assess, but I would nevertheless venture to predict that next year will not be an easy one for Israel’s enemies on campus. 


Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (

Ack! Condemn! Ick!


Answering back to the academic boycotters of Israel


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 on December 21, 2013 hurriedly issued a defensive appeal for support bemoaning, in the wake of a tsunami of backlash and censure against the boycott, 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 to their action, not as justifiable criticism of an intellectually-defective boycott, but 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, fatuous tactic used by those individuals and groups who have participated in the demonization and delegitimization of Israel before as part of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign: instead of acknowledging that any of the criticism was justified from the many individuals and groups who immediately denounced the boycott, 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 from the community of world scholars while simultaneously singling out and attacking the Jewish state as an illegal, colonial occupier on stolen Palestinian land, and tar the reputation of Israeli scholars by making them complicit in, and responsible for, the actions of their government in perpetrating what the ASA defines as an “illegal occupation” 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.” “These organizations falsely accuse the ASA membership of being anti-semitic [sic],” the ASA message said, “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, which of course the ASA vigorously denies.

And whether or not the ASA feels it is being anti-Semitic is not even relevant, of course; anti-Semites rarely admit to their behavior, or to the consequences of their actions and speech. Not only did the ASA reject some of the claims of underlying anti-Semitism in the boycott itself, it also decided that those organizations and individuals who made efforts to expose that anti-Semitism were not authentic, but merely attempts to promote their own, pro-Israel agenda.  

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 if, in fact, that is the case. It is naïve and unrealistic, at best, for 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.”


Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews, is president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

PRO/CON: Should U.S. academics 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


YES, U.S. academics should boycott Israeli universities 

by Robin D.G. Kelley

NO, U.S. academics should not boycott Israeli universities 

by David N. Myers

Brandeis, Penn State Harrisburg quit ASA over Israel boycott


The American studies departments of Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg withdrew from the American Studies Association after it voted to boycott Israeli universities.

“We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster,” Brandeis University said in a statement Wednesday.

“We remain committed to the discipline of American Studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture — freedom of association and expression,” it said.

Penn State Harrisburg in a statement obtained by the Legal Insurrection blog said: “In the wake of the passage of the resolution by the ASA to boycott Israeli institutions, which programs and departments such as Penn State Harrisburg’s program in American Studies consider to curtail academic freedom and undermine the reputation of American Studies as a scholarly enterprise, the chair of the American Studies program at Penn State Harrisburg plans to drop its institutional membership and will encourage others to do so.”

Its department chairman, Simon Bronner, attended the ASA session in November that included a discussion of the boycott.

The boycott, approved in an online canvassing of the ASA membership that ended Dec. 15, targets universities, not individuals, and is not binding on ASA members.

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.

U.S. academics should not 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


Like many readers of the Jewish Journal, I have followed with interest and foreboding the recent vote of the American Studies Association (ASA) on whether to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Some of my university colleagues are vocal in support of the boycott. They are decent people whose main motivation, as my friend and fellow UCLA historian Robin Kelley phrased it, is to create “the conditions for genuine intellectual exchange … grounded in a politics of inclusion, justice and equality.” I share that aspiration and also believe that those who favor a boycott have the right to express their views. Nevertheless, I strongly disagree with the substance of their position.  

It is not that we should support the continuing occupation of the West Bank. Hardly so. For the occupation entails the denial to the Palestinians of the very right that Zionism fought and won for the Jews: national self-determination. Moreover, it corrodes the soul of Israel and its reputation in the world. 

So why, then, oppose?  There are various reasons that have been mounted, including the central importance of free speech in academic discourse, the sinister resonance of boycotts in modern Jewish history and the fallacy of the historical comparison to apartheid South Africa, in which boycotts and sanctions were used to considerable effect. 

[Robert D.G. Kelley: U.S. academics should boycott Israeli universities]

I would like to focus on two other factors. First and foremost is the selectivity of focus. The logic invoked by ASA President Curtis Marez that “one has to start somewhere” in imposing boycotts as a means of punishing simply doesn’t hold water. Without absolving Israel of responsibility for the consequences of its destructive occupation, it is a spectacular act of audacity to single out that country as if it were the state that most violates the human rights of its residents. In a region filled with state actors with dubious records (think Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, for starters), Israel surely does not deserve pride of place as the first or only one in need of reprimand. Were punishment meted out more equitably in the region, it might be a different matter. But the skewed and lopsided judgment to focus on Israel defies the basic principle of fair application of norms of justice.

Secondly, it has been stated often that within Israeli society, universities are the incubator and guardian of the most progressive values, precisely those that one would need in order to effect meaningful change from within. This is a rather abstract proposition, so let me offer a concrete example. At the end of December, I am to head to Jerusalem to participate in a conference titled “Did Something Happen to Zionism Along the Way?” The meeting will bring together a group of historians, including both fervent supporters and vocal critics of the State of Israel’s policies, to reflect on the historical path of the Zionist movement into the present. It is the kind of conference that would be difficult to mount in the United States because of Jewish communal sensitivities but which takes place on a regular basis in Israel. In fact, this conference will be held at and sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel’s oldest and most prestigious university. 

Some in the Diaspora may find it odd that a conference such as this would be held in Israel with the full support of an Israeli institution. But it is exactly the kind of open and honest historical inquiry in which Israeli academics routinely engage. They do so because they understand such inquiry to be an essential part of the probing self-critique that any healthy society requires.  

Far from boycotting such endeavors, we should enthusiastically support them. To do otherwise — by supporting the ASA boycott — is to stifle the admirable efforts of Israeli academics to challenge what they find to be broken and in urgent need of repair in their own society.  Likewise, support for the boycott surrenders to a bewildering selectivity of focus that masquerades as the pinnacle of morality but ultimately betrays its very
essence.


David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and is the Robert N. Burr Department Chair of the UCLA History Department.

American Studies Association votes for boycott of Israeli universities


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, 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.”

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