Last week’s American Studies Association’s vote in favor of academic boycott of Israel has unleashed a backlash. University execs are lining up to disavow the idea.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust’s statement is remarkably terse:
Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars. The recent resolution of the ASA proposing to boycott Israeli universities represents a direct threat to these ideals, ideals which universities and scholarly associations should be dedicated to defend.
That was the whole thing. The president of Wesleyan University has a lot more to say. Michael Roth writes in the LATimes, as a Jew. Excerpts:
The ASA has not gone on record against universities in any other country: not against those that enforce laws against homosexuality, not against those that have rejected freedom of speech, not against those that systematically restrict access to higher education by race, religion or gender. No, the ASA listens to civil society only when it speaks against Israel. As its scholarly president declared, “One has to start somewhere.” Not in North Korea, not in Russia or Zimbabwe or China — one has to start with Israel. Really?
…As a Jew, I have argued against the policies of the current Israeli government, many of which I find abhorrent.
Boycotts don’t serve these debates; they seek to cut them off by declaring certain academic institutions and their faculty off-limits….
As president of Wesleyan, and as a historian, I deplore this politically retrograde resolution of the American Studies Assn. Under the guise of phony progressivism, the group has initiated an irresponsible attack on academic freedom. Others in academia should reject this call for an academic boycott.
I’d point out that the discussion Roth says he seeks is only happening because of this vote. So the vote has already been effective in raising consciousness about abuses (kind of like Obama catching up to Snowden, and saying (implausibly), we were going to have this debate).
University of Maryland President Wallace Loh and his provost come out firmly against boycott.
We firmly oppose the call by some academic associations—American Studies Association; Asian-American Studies Association—to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Any such boycott is a breach of the principle of academic freedom that undergirds the University of Maryland and, indeed, all of American higher education.
Faculty, students, and staff on our campus must remain free to study, do research, and participate in meetings with colleagues from around the globe. The University of Maryland has longstanding relationships with several Israeli universities. We have many exchanges of scholars and students. We will continue and deepen these relationships.
In the United States, we can disagree with the governmental policies of a nation without sanctioning the universities of that nation, or the American universities that collaborate with them. To restrict the free flow of people and ideas with some universities because of their national identity is unwise, unnecessary, and irreconcilable with our core academic values.
Earlier this year Loh went to Israel for the first time at the highly-impressionable age of 67. He accompanied Maryland’s Democratic governor on a government trade mission and was excited by the startup nation (Israel is “one of the world’s most entrepreneurial nations”). He announced an educational partnership with Tel Aviv University and plans to increase the numbers of exchange students. “We hope to enrich current partnerships in Israel, and achieve significant new collaborations in the region,” he said then. Washington Jewish Week was thrilled by the plans.