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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

American Studies Association national council endorses Israel boycott

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Israeli forces arrest a Palestinian at Hebrew University during a protest against Israel’s attack on Gaza, 20 November 2012.

(Mahfouz Abu Turk / APA images)

In an historic decision, the national council of the American Studies Association (ASA) today announced its endorsement of the Palestinian call for boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

“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.

Heated debate

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.”

Comments

Finally ,a small step but very important step.I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of big changes in terms of how the world views the zionist state of Israel.
Let the apartheid Israeli system disappear, as it did in South Africa.

Today particularly, upon the parting of Nelson Mandela, we all remain admonished correctly to view more than it is easy to admit of what so many face to be a system in which apartheid remains merely one of many visible impacts.

Maybe apartheid is at an extreme end on a scale of human indifference toward others. As we persist in allowing ourselves to admit the degree to which we each lack tolerance for each other, we can let down the features of intolerance hatred and indifference, however they appear in our lives.

My most solemn wish and yearning would be for all the people living in what is known as the Palestinian land mass , Jewish,Christian ,Muslim , Druze etc. could overcome their differences and live together as brothers and sisters .We would then have destiny manifest IMHO.

How do you folks equate Israeli politics with Israeli educational institutions? To stifle exchange seems to be a common theme in the territories as I have witnessed this first hand. This BDS movement has really bamboozled the gullible American and European public. You think this is a victory? With disproportionately high numbers of Israeli Nobel Prize winners and a disproportionately low number of Arab/Palestinian Nobel prize winners it is no wonder that supporting this measure is a logical step to further dumb down the Palestinian people. Read the American Association of University Professors position. Keep educational institutions accessible to all (including Arabic women!) who want to learn and enrich our world. Salaam aleykum!