“The boycott is the best way to protect and expand academic freedom and access to education,” ASA president Curtis Marez said in an email sent to media.
“Palestinian academics are frequently impeded by Israeli occupation authorities, schools and universities have been bombed by US-supported Israeli military forces, and the Wall blocks educational access for thousands of students. As an association of scholars and educators, the ASA has an ethical responsibility to act.”
The national council – the ASA’s elected governing body – also called a referendum of the organization’s full membership to endorse its decision.
The ASA, with 5,000 individual members and 2,200 library and other institutional subscribers, describes itself as the “nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.”
“The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” a statement on the ASA website says.
It adds, “boycott is warranted given US military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.”
Acknowledging the controversy over the issue, the statement notes that the “ASA is a large organization that represents divergent opinions. Anticipating strong and potentially divided feelings on this question, the Council unanimously decided to ask ASA members to endorse the resolution by a vote.” It provided a link for members to vote on online.
The boycott resolution had been the subject of heated debate and efforts by pro-Israel groups to misrepresent and derail it.
But the initiative received overwhelming support from dozens of randomly chosen speakers at an open meeting during the ASA’s national conference in Washington, DC last month.
ASA’s decision follows the lead of the Association for Asian American Studies which approved an academic boycott resolution earlier this year.
It indicates that the call for the boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people is gaining ground within US academia, despite strong opposition from university presidents and administrators.
What boycott means
ASA also published an FAQ offering guidance on what the boycott means. It includes the clarification that:
The ASA understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.
We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences, public lectures at campuses, and collaboration on research and publication. US scholars are not discouraged under the terms of the boycott from traveling to Israel for academic purposes, provided they are not engaged in a formal partnership with or sponsorship by Israeli academic institutions.
Need for support
While supporters are celebrating today’s decision, they also anticipate further debates ahead as the resolution goes to the membership.
The ASA Caucus on Academic and Community Activism sent out an action alert by email urging members to “to take further action in expressing your support for the resolution to endorse and honor the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”
“We appeal to you to show support for the Council’s decision, and vote in support of that resolution.”
“With your endorsement of their vote, the National Committee and the President of ASA will have the broad support of as many members as possible. Please contact other ASA members and urge them to vote for the resolution also,” the action alert states.
The Caucus on Academic and Community Activism also welcomed the decision in a press release which “congratulates the National Council on a decision in keeping not only with the spirit of the Open Meeting, but in accord with the principles of the American Studies Association, which has in its recent history expressed a strong commitment to the study and critique of racism, colonialism, and other forms of social injustice.”