The landslide American Studies Association vote in favor of academic boycott is proving to be a highwater mark in the BDS movement, and it is galvanizing both sides in a fierce struggle.
The ASA’s action has sparked a reaction from many official groups, with boycott opponents calling on the organization to rescind its resolution.
A US congressman (and major supporter of Israel, Eliot Engel) has written to the ASA president, according to this supportive piece in the Washington Post, describing the Israeli denial of human rights as “purported,” and implying that the vote is anti-Semitic:
Unfortunately, your response that “we have to start somewhere” when queried about this contradiction only serves to highlight your organization’s bias against Israel. If you must “start somewhere,” than I strongly suggest the ASA turn its attention to Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s forces have indiscriminately shelled universities, killing students even as they sat for exams.
The Boston Globe also has a piece highlighting opposition to the vote, though it includes this excellent point from Cornell’s Eric Cheyfitz, who has a child living in Israel:
“[T]he boycott is a time-honored, time-tested mode of civil disobedience in the face of the refusal of political entities to do social justice.”
Dozens of university executives have come out against the measure. That includes the Yale president, the Penn president, the University of Chicago, the University of Connecticut. I have that list because the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement compiling the statements of university presidents who have come out against boycott and describing the issue as a line in the sand.
It seems that the Conference of Presidents solicited the letters:
[The Conference] welcomed the many responses from presidents of leading universities and academic associations across the United States rejecting the call by the American Studies Association for a boycott of Israeli universities. Responding to a letter from Conference leaders, Robert G. Sugarman, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, that underscored the impropriety of the boycott vote and the need for all institutions with a relationship to the ASA to withdraw their support and any direct or indirect funding, many university presidents provided responses that rejected and condemned the ASA’s decision, unfettered.
Sugarman and Hoenlein said, “It is essential to draw the line here and now. The ASA resolution is a wakeup call. Allowed to go unchallenged, it will lead to other associations being hijacked by extremist minorities seeking to isolate and delegitimize Israel. Only about 16% of the members of the ASA actually voted in favor of the resolution. We call on the ASA to promptly rescind the decision publicly.”
The Israel lobby is obviously deeply alarmed and is taking BDS seriously in an all new way. There is bound to be a public debate on the question in the US at last, and we can anticipate that Establishment organizations will line up behind Israel. My response to that reaction: to itemize Palestinian rightslessness and then document Cheyfitz’s standard, “the refusal of political entities to do social justice”: describe 66 years of meaningless international promises to grant Palestinians a state (even as South Sudan and Kosovo and Kazakhstan and countless other states have been born), show the relentless colonization of Palestinian land even as a “peace process” unfolds over decades, and point out the racist indifference to the human rights of Arabs throughout our Establishment just so long as the Jewish state is protected. From the NYTimes’ editorial on Egypt’s emerging dictatorship (boldface mine):
If it were another country, members of Congress would be furious. Instead, because the United States considers Egypt crucial to regional stability and because of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would make it easier to resume aid, which was largely suspended after Mr. Morsi was deposed. The generals are almost certain to interpret that as an endorsement of their authoritarian methods.
What conditions will governments tolerate for The Other so long as the rights of the Privileged are preserved?
That is the essential question. Outrage over that glaring double standard fueled the (very violent) Civil War and the (nonviolent) Freedom Riders. Boycott is a non-violent answer.