American Studies Association endorses academic boycott of Israel

Organization says Israeli academic institutions 'complicit in oppression that denies Palestinians rights'

The National Library of Israel at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

The executive body of the American Studies Association (ASA), the nation’s oldest and largest association of scholars of American culture and history, on Wednesday endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, calling them complicit in a "multi-tiered system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights." The American Jewish Committee (AJC) denounced the boycott decision as "despicable."

The resolution to shun Israeli academic institutions was approved unanimously by the 20-member national council, which has urged the ASA's 5,000 members to adopt it as policy.

“This complicity has been extensively documented, and manifests through direct research and production of military technologies — as with the Israeli Institute of Technology (Technion)’s partnerships with Israeli weapons manufacturers … and Tel Aviv University’s development of weapons systems used by the occupation army in committing grave violations of human rights,” the ASA wrote in a news release.

While the movement to use boycott tactics to pressure Israel on Palestinian rights has considerable support in Europe, it has been largely opposed by major academic institutions in the U.S. until now.

The ASA, in its explanation of the decision, also accused Israeli universities of discriminatory treatment of Palestinian students by cracking down on Palestinian cultural events and political protests and spying on Palestinian student activists.

But the AJC countered that it was the ASA's council that was guilty of discrimination.

“Treating Israeli academic institutions in a way no other universities are treated anywhere else in the world is discrimination pure and simple,” said Kenneth Stern, the AJC’s director on anti-Semitism and extremism.

Stern assailed what he called the "factually inaccurate and vile language" the ASA had used to describe Israel.

“The ASA’s 'Frequently Asked Questions' accompanying the boycott resolution claims Israel practices 'apartheid' and that Israel itself is a 'Zionist settler-colonialist project,'" Stern said.

The campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions is one arm of a global movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which began in 2005 and seeks to rally international pressure on Israel similar to that mustered against South Africa under minority rule. Campaigners have also petitioned musicians to cancel tours of Israel, and to boycott products produced by Israeli companies in occupied territory.

US support for Israel

The AJC said the academic boycott “contravenes the most basic values of academic freedom,” and questioned why an association dedicated to the study of American culture and history would get involved.

For its part, the ASA said on its website that it is supporting the boycott because “U.S. tax dollars fund the occupation, colonization, and apartheid that daily violates Palestinian academic and other freedoms,” and because Washington routinely uses its veto in the U.N. Security Council to international action in response.

The ASA said it is committed to the pursuit of social justice and to the struggle against all forms of racism — including anti-Semitism.

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