Today, the American Studies Association (ASA) announced that its National Council, tasked by the general membership to make decisions on behalf of the organization, has unanimously approved the resolution submitted by the Academic and Community Activism Caucus to endorse and honor the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
The ASA resolution was four years in the making, the result of devoted work by dozens of activist-scholars. The council decided to deliberate the resolution after an overwhelming show of support by ASA members at the organization’s annual meeting at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC, last month. Approximately two thousand ASA members attended the meeting.
Overwhelming support for the resolution was evident by the hundreds of signatures collected on a petition directing the council to honor the boycott.
A town hall about boycott, featuring Angela Davis, Ahmad Saadi, Jasbir Puar, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Alex Lubin, and myself, drew a crowd of hundreds, filling the Hilton ballroom and offering applause whenever the speakers articulated the moral viability of boycott.
The following evening, an open session about the resolution packed the same ballroom (capacity: 750), with people sitting in the aisles and standing along the back wall. Nearly every speaker, selected at random and given two minutes, expressed support for the resolution. Accounts of the numbers differ slightly, but at least 37 people spoke in favor of the resolution, while at most 7 spoke against it. Those who spoke in favor received widespread applause, while those opposed were met with the spectacle of lonely, scattered clapping echoing sadly throughout the sizable room.
A vocal minority attempted to counter the resolution by circulating a counter-petition and issuing a letter condemning the boycott effort. One of the speakers at the open session announced that 55 signatures had been collected against the resolution. By that point supporters of the resolution had gathered 950 signatures.
Everybody left the ballroom that evening with a clear sense that the tide had irrevocably turned in favor of boycott, not merely within the ASA but in the larger context of Palestine activism.
As others have noted, what occurred broke taboos and was a historic moment for Palestine activism in the United States. The energy, the devotion, the compassion, the vitality – all were palpable and invigorating, as was the sense that Zionist functionaries are now whistling past the cemetery.
All in all, the difficult but rewarding process and the subsequent adoption of the resolution by the ASA council provide a remarkable affirmation of the utility of boycott, divestment and sanctions.