[Marxism] Scholars’ Group Endorses an Academic Boycott of Israel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 16 11:00:25 MST 2013

NY Times December 16, 2013
Scholars’ Group Endorses an Academic Boycott of Israel

An association of American professors with almost 5,000 members has 
voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and 
universities, the group announced Monday, making it the largest academic 
group in the United States to back a growing movement to isolate Israel 
over its treatment of Palestinians.

The group, the American Studies Association, said that its members 
approved the boycott resolution by a 2-to-1 margin in online balloting 
that concluded Sunday night, with about a quarter of the members voting.

“The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of 
their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, 
including Palestinians,” the American Studies Association said in a 
statement released Monday.

The statement cited “Israel’s violations of international law and U.N. 
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 other factors.

Boycott supporters concede that resolutions by professors’ groups are 
primarily symbolic, as long as no American college or university 
supports such an action. The boycott called on American schools and 
academic groups to ban collaboration with Israeli institutions, but 
individual Israeli scholars would still be able to attend conferences, 
lecture at American universities or do research with American 
colleagues, as long as they did not officially represent Israeli 
universities or the government.

Still, attempts in the West to isolate Israel have received close 
attention in that country. The greatest danger to Israel may lie in 
calls for an economic boycott, an idea that has gained much more 
traction in Europe, where Israel has close trade ties. Last week, a 
Dutch company, Vitens, announced that it would no longer do business 
with Israel’s national water company.

Israelis are also accustomed to sharp criticism from Europe and 
unstinting support from the United States, and are sensitive to signs 
that support may be waning. The vote came despite a statement last week 
by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, that his government’s 
stance is to boycott Israeli businesses and other activities in the 
occupied territories, but not in Israel itself.

The national council of the American Studies Association voted 
unanimously on Dec. 4 in favor of a boycott resolution, and then put the 
issue to its members. The group’s stance has pitted scholars and 
organizations against one another in a heated debate about the ethics of 
academic boycotts, the motives behind the campaign and whether Israel is 
being singled out unfairly.

The movement to cut off relations with Israeli academic and cultural 
institutions dates back a decade, but organizers say it was not until 
April that an American academic group of any size, the Association for 
Asian American Studies, endorsed a boycott. The Modern Language 
Association’s annual meeting next month will include a discussion 
session on academic boycotts, and it will consider a motion critical of 
Israel for restricting professors’ freedom to visit Palestinian 

The American Studies Association has never before called for an academic 
boycott of any nation’s universities, said Curtis Marez, the group’s 
president and an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University 
of California, San Diego. He did not dispute that many nations, 
including many of Israel’s neighbors, are generally judged to have human 
rights records that are worse than Israel’s, or comparable, but he said, 
“one has to start somewhere.”

The singular focus on Israel has become the most pointed part of the 
boycott debate, with opponents seeing signs of anti-Semitism — which 
supporters vehemently deny — and arguing that the real aim of 
Palestinian boycott backers is not to change Israel’s behavior, but to 
eliminate the state.

On the Charlie Rose show on PBS last week, Lawrence H. Summers, the 
former Harvard University president and former Treasury secretary, 
disparaged “the idea that of all the countries in the world that might 
be thought to have human rights abuses, that might be thought to have 
inappropriate foreign policies, that might be thought to be doing things 
wrong, the idea that there’s only one that is worthy of boycott, and 
that is Israel.”

He called for a kind of reverse boycott, saying that universities should 
reconsider paying for faculty members to belong to the American Studies 
Association or to participate in its events.

The American Association of University Professors, with 48,000 members, 
has reiterated its stance against academic boycotts, which it said 
“strike directly at the free exchange of ideas,” and not at those 
responsible for oppression, stifling precisely the kind of interaction 
that would aid human rights. The association has noted that during the 
apartheid era, it backed economic boycotts of South Africa, but not 
academic ones.

The push for an academic boycott is an outgrowth of a broader campaign 
against Israel called the B.D.S. movement, which calls for boycotts, 
disinvestment and sanctions, much like those against South Africa in the 

The academic boycott movement has drawn far more attention in Britain, 
beginning in 2002, when two academic journals fired Israeli professors 
from their boards because of their nationality. There have been several 
strong attempts in Britain’s largest higher-education labor group, the 
University and College Union, to put its weight behind a boycott.

In May, the physicist Stephen W. Hawking withdrew from a conference in 
Israel, in support of the boycott.

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