[Marxism] Scholars’ Group Endorses an Academic Boycott of Israel
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Mon Dec 16 11:00:25 MST 2013
NY Times December 16, 2013
Scholars’ Group Endorses an Academic Boycott of Israel
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
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
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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