American Studies Association to Boycott Israeli Institutions in Historic Vote

(By Sarah Lazare)

An association of 5,000 academics on Monday became the largest U.S. scholarly organization ever to join the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The American Studies Association, which calls itself "the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history," announced Monday that its membership passed a resolution stipulating the organization "endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions."

The resolution, which was introduced last year and unanimously endorsed by the ASA's national council on November 4th, attracted an unprecedented number of voters, with 66.05% endorsing the resolution, 30.5% against, and 3.43% abstaining, according to the ASA statement.

"This stance in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is historic and signals a new era of engagement with colonized populations."

"The overwhelming majority that voted in favor of the resolution illustrate that we refuse to lend complicity to Israel's aggression," Steven Salaita, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech and a member of the ASA Activism Caucus, told Common Dreams. "This stance in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is historic and signals a new era of engagement with colonized populations."

The resolution passed with an outpouring of support from ASA members, including renowned activist, author, and scholar Angela Davis. "The similarities between historical Jim Crow practices and contemporary regimes of segregation in Occupied Palestine make this resolution an ethical imperative for the ASA," she wrote. "If we have learned the most important lesson promulgated by Dr. Martin Luther King—that justice is always indivisible—it should be clear that a mass movement in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is long overdue."

The ASA has faced an onslaught of criticisms and attacks from pro-Israel forces, including calls from former Harvard president and Obama administration official Larry Summers for a boycott of the ASA on grounds that the resolution violates academic freedom and perpetuates anti-Semitism.

Yet Alex Lubin, Director of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut, slammed such accusations writing last month in The Nation,

Academic freedom means very little when it takes place in a context of segregation and apartheid. Change came to the Jim Crow South not through academic dialogue, but through protest and, in some cases, through boycotts of the institutions that fostered segregation. Change came to South Africa’s apartheid system not through academic dialogue, but through protest, resistance, and an international boycott. Those of us who value academic freedom must always struggle to ensure that the world surrounding academia provides the basic human rights that enable academic life.

"The boycott resolution is intended to address a profound case of discrimination against Palestinians and is consistent with the ASA’s previous endorsement of anti-racist positions in other areas," Lubin stated upon endorsing the resolution. "The resolution does not target Israelis, Jews, or any individuals; indeed, the ASA’s support for the boycott affirms its opposition to all forms of racial discrimination, including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia."

The call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel emerged from Palestinian civil socieity organizations in 2005 in a bid to win human rights, self-determination, and freedom from occupation for Palestinians, using tactics similar to those levied to transform apartheid South Africa.

Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti writes in The Nation that 2013 has seen great strides in the academic wing of this BDS movement:

Days ago, in a letter of support to the ASA, the University of Hawaii Ethnic Studies department became the first academic department in the west to support the academic boycott of Israel. In April, the Association for Asian-American Studies endorsed the academic boycott—the first professional academic association in the United States to do so. Around the same time, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland unanimously called on its members to “cease all cultural and academic collaboration” with the “apartheid state of Israel,” and the Federation of French-Speaking Belgian Students (FEF), representing 100,000 members, adopted “a freeze of all academic partnerships with Israeli academic institutions.” Also this year, student councils at several North American universities, including at the University of California Berkeley, called for divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.

The full text of the ASA's resolution follows:

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.

Mirrored from Commondreams

Related video:

RT talks to South African academic and activist John Dugard, former special rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council concerning Palestinian affairs about the resemblance to Apartheid of Israeli rule of the Palestinian West Bank.

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12 Responses

  1. It’s starting to look as though professional nut job “I’m A Dinner Jacket” was right, that the evil empire will disappear from the sands of time.

  2. I’m not saying RT has nothing good to say, but it’s a little suspicious when a country with a human rights record as horrible as Russia is saying it.

    • Putin’s little propaganda organ just rips off the messages of real leftist outlets, anyway, so why link to them instead of, say, Democracy Now?

  3. This is good news not only for the hard-pressed Palestinians who live as stateless citizens under occupation and oppression, but it is only good news for all the decent and democratically minded Israelis who wish to get rid of apartheid in their country. The sanctions against South Africa did not only liberate the blacks, but it also liberated White South Africans from the guilt of oppression and discrimination against their fellow citizens. Let us hope that concerted action by many more democratically-minded people in the West will free the Palestinians and the Jews from the clutches of rightwing governments that have ruled them over the past few decades.

  4. This should set off a new sense of awareness of Israel’s brutal policies against the Palestinians which have been subtly encouraged most unfortunately by the US,UK and other countries of the West who chose to look the other way. The Arab countries that could have helped did so only half heartedly while some like Egypt during Mubarak’s regime actually helped Israel. But this is not enough. Israeli businesses too should be boycotted and sanctions should be imposed. Israel’s nuclear arsenal should be probed and non-proliferation treaty imposed. Israel should be made to pay for her crimes
    Hope this is the beginning of a new historical era of Human Justice on this earth.

  5. No doubt we will see Israel’s well oiled PR machine move into action as it always does in these situations. It will be interesting to watch if it is as effective as it has been in the past. Will it be smooth running or will it miss a beat? Will this be the beginning of it’s slide or will it bury this boycott as it has with every one in the past?

  6. To quote Churchill, it is not the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.

  7. The ASA boycott, doubtless the result of an anonymous ballot, is a very welcome victory though it could have taken place decades ago had it not been for an inchoate *fear* of individual retribution even among tenured academics.

    The same thing is true even if much more intense where it really counts, at the governmental level, and this, years after the publication of the diagnosis in ‘The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy’.

    This giant oppression of our more or less democratically elected government is a humiliation which seeps down through the population itself in more concrete forms: 35,000 casualties among the cannon fodder underclass, multiple tours of duty, near bankruptcy, actual unemployment of something like 14%, giant contractor fraud associated with the wars. And if one thinks that there is no connection, well, it should be talked about in the open.

    Lest the argument from fear seem overreaching or even hysterical, we should think about the fact that AIPAC, the spearhead of our woes in Washington, is an illegally operating unregistered foreign lobby. More specifically it violates FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and yes, Virginia, American citizens who lobby for a foreign country must register and stay out of electoral politics under that act. The last time the enforcement process was even begun was under Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department and we recall what cut it short.

    Why, we may ask, has it not been done since? It’s still fear, of course, in various forms even at that level where the power is immense and that fear may be primarily about the next election.

    So what do we do? Surely the problem is not without a solution, but what what the hell is it? And why must it be left to to civil society?

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