American Studies Association national council endorses academic boycott of Israel

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The American Studies Association National Council has called for an academic boycott of Israel.

The council made the unanimous decision after the group’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., where the academic boycott call was debated.  The vast majority of speakers at an ASA forum on the academic boycott resolution were in favor of the call, and now the organization is likely to follow suit. The resolution will now be put up for a full vote by ASA members. Members have until 11:59 pm EST on December 15 to cast their vote. It’s likely to pass given the prevailing sentiment at the conference. However if the majority of voters do not endorse the decision, the ballot explains the Council will “withdraw the resolution and determine next steps.”

“The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” a statement on the ASA website reads.

The news was lauded by the Academic and Community Activism Caucus, the group of scholars that brought the resolution to the ASA.  The resolution states that Palestinian students and scholars have their movement severely restricted by Israel’s occupation, infringing on their ability to attend and work at schools and travel abroad for conferences. It also criticizes Israeli universities for being complicit in Israel’s denial of Palestinian human rights.

“The American Studies Association endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” the resolution reads.  “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.”

ASA President Curtis Marez said in a statement, “The boycott is the best way to protect and expand academic freedom and access to education. Palestinian academics are frequently impeded by Israeli occupation authorities, schools and universities have been bombed by US-supported Israeli military forces, and the Wall blocks educational access for thousands of students.  As an association of scholars and educators, the ASA has an ethical responsibility to act.”

The resolution was brought in response to the call for academic boycott from Palestinian civil society groups, launched in 2004.  It calls on the international community to end cooperation with Israeli academic institutions due to their deep involvement in Israel’s system of control over Palestinians.

“The American perception that Israel is ‘exceptional’ is bolstered and bankrolled by US policy and military aid, while also secured through the persistent myth of American exceptionalism that denies the colonization of indigenous peoples here,” said Wesleyan University’s J. Khaulani Kauanui, 

The ASA council’s endorsement follows the April endorsement of the academic boycott by the Association for Asian American Studies. Earlier this year, the American Association of University Professors’ journal published an issue where almost all the articles were in favor of an academic boycott of Israel.

The ASA endorsement is sure to dismay supporters of Israel, who have expressed worry that the academic boycott was becoming more popular.

Geri Palast, the managing director of the anti-boycott Israel Action Network, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas that her “concern about some of these smaller academic associations is that they get amplified out of proportion.”

This article has been modified to clarify the ASA decision.  Mondoweiss first reported that the ASA had endorsed the boycott.  The ASA National Council has voted to endorse the call, but now the resolution will be put to a full vote.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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