Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University and former US Treasury secretary, has called for what amounts to a boycott of the American Studies Association (ASA).
“My hope would be that responsible university leaders will become very reluctant to see their university’s funds used to finance faculty membership and faculty travel to an association that is showing itself not to be a scholarly association but really more of a political tool,” Summers told PBS host Charlie Rose on 10 December.
Summers was reacting to the ASA leadership’s endorsement of the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli institutions, which is being put to a referendum of the full ASA membership this week.
Summers claimed that the boycott singled out Israel and was “anti-semitic in effect,” recalling his 2002 statement against divestment from Israel.
Although Rose did put to Summers the systematic violation of Palestinian rights, including the right to education, Summers did not respond to the substantive concerns that have motivated the ASA decision.
By focusing on the “singling out” argument, Summers is distracting from the effects of Israel’s occupation and other violations on Palestinians.
It is ironic that as a former university president, Summers – who called the notion of academic boycott “abhorrent” – would propose punitive measures against scholars exercising their freedom of conscience and association.