The American Studies Association announced last Monday that it voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions by a large majority. There were 1252 voting members, 66% for the resolution and 30.5% against (3.43% abstentions). ASA has about 5000 members. Its National Council previously announced on Dec. 4 that it was in support of the boycott and asked for a vote. This is a first in the US. Here is the text of the Council’s resolution of Dec. 4:
December 4, 2013
Whereas the American Studies Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-semitism, discrimination, and xenophobia, and to solidarity with aggrieved peoples in the United States and in the world;
Whereas the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians;
Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students;
Whereas the American Studies Association is cognizant of Israeli scholars and students who are critical of Israeli state policies and who support the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement under conditions of isolation and threat of sanction;
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;
It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The news was widely reported. See for instance the article by Sarah Lazare posted yesterday on Juan Cole’s Informed comment. Lazare notes the unusual support by the membership, including the support of intellectuals like Prof. Angela Davis, and the fact it is a first in the US.
As Lazare says, “a mass movement in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is long overdue.” The strangle hold Israel has on Palestinian territories knows few limits. But boycotting Israeli academic institutions is wrong, and not simply because there are “Israeli scholars and students who are critical of Israeli state policies and who support the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement…” Israeli scholars who are critical of Israeli state policies and do not support the BDS movement do not pass the moral test?
An international boycott that targets companies doing business in the territories conquered in 1967 by Israel makes sense. And even more sense would be continued political action against what drives the rest above, or condones it, namely our insane US military budget (615b in page 1 of 2014 President’s budget submission). It is the last one we must boycott in the US: that is where it hurts (including our pension funds’ investments in companies supplying the military, and much of the general wealth of our society), and what will bring change in the Persian Gulf, in the Near East in general, and in Israeli policies regarding Palestinians (or Egyptian military junta’s policies). It is all too easy to ride the ethical train and target only Israel and the unjust policies of its successive governments, while going along with resolutions like that of BDS that willingly confuse government(s) and what the state of Israel still represents, namely a home.
Since the resolution mentions the BDS movement, I recopy here the BDS platform (see wiki on: BDS = Boycott, divestment, sanctions):
1) equal rights of citizenship for current inhabitants; 2) the end to the occupation; 3) the rights of unlawfully displaced persons to return to their lands and gain restitution for their losses.
Three things that are basic justice: equal rights, end of occupation, and right of return. But for instance occupation in number 2 is not specified: occupation of territories since June 1967, or since May 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel? The end of occupation on the basis of UN resolution 242, i.e. return of all territories conquered in 1967, with swaps (but no consideration for so-called “facts on the ground,” aka settlements since 1973 especially), or the end of the state of Israel? The BDS movement’s vagueness on this issue should not have fooled the ASA, and perhaps it didn’t. See the controversy between Frank Barat and Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomsky, easy to find on youtube.