US academic group votes to uphold Israel boycott

Members endorse academic boycott of Israel, which they accuse of apartheid, discrimination against Palestinians

Israeli students study at the Ariel college in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, shown in this file photo dated Feb. 2, 2010.
Moti Milrod/File/AP

Members of the American Studies Association (ASA), an alliance of U.S. professors, voted to endorse the group’s academic boycott of Israel Monday, in an ballot that attracted the largest number of participants in the organization’s history.

Sixty-six percent of voters endorsed the resolution, which followed a recent unanimous vote by the group's national council in favor of the measure. It urges U.S. schools not to collaborate with Israeli institutions.

“Academic freedom means very little when it takes place in a context of segregation and apartheid,” Alex Lubin, associate professor of American Studies at the American University of Beirut, said in his endorsement of the boycott. “Change came to South Africa’s apartheid system not through academic dialogue, but through protest, resistance, and international boycott.”

ASA, which is devoted to the study of American culture and history and has about 5,000 members, said the resolution is in solidarity with Arab Israeli and Palestinian scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom.

The move is part of a larger Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, which is modeled after an earlier global campaign to boycott South Africa during apartheid. Critics accuse Israel of similar discriminatory practices against its Arab citizens and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

ASA became the largest U.S. academic group to back an anti-Israel boycott, a movement that Israel and its supporters say unfairly singles out the Jewish state.  The vote, however, is mostly symbolic since the group has no power to compel members or any U.S. institution to abide by it.

Israel denies any comparison with South Africa’s apartheid, though Arab and Jewish citizens are highly segregated in Israeli society.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said, "This vote to boycott Israel, one of the most democratic and academically free nations on the globe, shows the Orwellian anti-Semitism and moral bankruptcy of the American Studies Association."

"The Middle East is literally filled with dead from governments' reaction to the convulsions of the 'Arab Spring,' but the American Studies Association singles out the Jewish state, the one Middle Eastern country that shares American values, for opprobrium?"

The ASA resolution carries broad exemptions for individual Israeli scholars working with American counterparts. In May, British cosmologist Stephen Hawking withdrew from a prestigious Israeli conference. Cambridge University said he did so as part of a boycott by some British academics in protest against Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

Al Jazeera and wires

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