American Studies Association Boycotts Israeli Colleges

On Dec. 4, 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) issued a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israeli universities, encouraging its member institutions, which include Boston College, to act in support of the boycott.

According to the organization’s website, the ASA is a “scholarly organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.”

The ASA contains 13 chapters, including The New England American Studies Association chapter, of which BC is currently a member. The organization also includes 2,200 library, university, and other institutional subscribers as well as 5,000 individual members, who receive ASA publications such as The American Quarterly and the ASA newsletter.

According to the ASA National Council, the recent boycott on Israel emerges from “the context of U.S. 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 finally, the support of such a resolution by a majority of ASA members.”

“There is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation,” the ASA’s resolution reads.

“Whereas the American Studies Association is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression, and military violence, and in keeping with the spirit of its previous statements supports the right of students and scholars to intellectual freedom and to political dissent as citizens and scholars,” the resolution reads. “It is resolved that the ASA endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”

A letter signed by the eight past presidents of the ASA called the boycott “antithetical to the mission of free and open inquiry for which a scholarly organization stands.”

The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, and collaboration on research and publications between individual scholars does not fall under the ASA boycott.

“The Council also recognizes that individual members will act according to their convictions on these complex matters,” the resolution reads.
An online petition by the BC club Eagles for Israel seeks the administration’s approval to withdraw the University’s institutional membership with the ASA.

“We are deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and consider the resolution a threat to these values that are basic to the ideals of education,” the petition reads.

“Since its founding in 1863, the objective of Boston College has been to foster academic excellence and emulate the values and principles of our Jesuit, Catholic tradition. We urge [University President William P. Leahy, S.J.] and BC’s American Studies Program faculty to uphold these values by ending BC’s ties to the ASA and denouncing the use of an academic boycott.”

“No matter your views on the issues posed by the Arab-Israeli [and] Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must unite as members of the Boston College community to defend academic freedom and push our school to take a stance against this boycott by the ASA, which has already received condemnation from over 200 universities nationwide,” said Michael Woodbury, CSOM ’14 and co-president of Eagles for Israel.

Bard College, Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College, Penn State Harrisburg, and University of Texas at Dallas have withdrawn their membership from the ASA, and over 200 American universities have expressed their position rejecting the boycott.

In the Boston area, presidents of colleges-including Harvard, BU, Tufts, and MIT-have issued public statements condemning the boycott.

“The ASA has not gone on record against universities in any other country: not against those that enforce laws against homosexuality, not against those that have rejected freedom of speech, not against those that systematically restrict access to higher education by race, religion or gender,” said Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth in a publicly-issued statement on the university’s website.

This month, 134 members of Congress consisting of of 69 Democrats and 65 Republicans signed a letter to Curtis Marez, ASA president, accusing the association of engaging in a “morally dishonest double standard.”

“Like all democracies, Israel is not perfect,” the congressional letter stated. “But to single out Israel, while leaving relationships with universities in autocratic and repressive countries intact, suggests thinly veiled bigotry and bias.”
The ASA defends its position, stating on its website that the resolution is in keeping with the ASA’s continued commitment to ethical research.