Trending Topics:

In response to ASA boycott vote, Lawrence Summers calls academic boycotts ‘abhorrent’ and then calls for a boycott of the ASA

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 15 Comments

Larry Summers was on the Charlie Rose show yesterday and was asked about the American Studies Association (ASA) vote on the academic boycott of Israel. This isn’t the first time Summers has taken on the issue of boycotts. In 2002, when Summers was serving as president of Harvard University, he said of the divestment movement at that time that “serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.” He used the same line with Rose, and said to target Israel “at a moment when it faces this kind of existential threat I think takes how wrong this is to a different level” (Summers didn’t explain what “kind of existential threat” Israel faces at the current moment).

Oddly enough, although Summers repeatedly calls academic boycotts “abhorrent,” and says “the way to change behavior is to talk to people,” he seems to call for a boycott of the ASA at the end of the segment:

My hope would be that responsible university leaders will become very reluctant to see their university funds used to finance faculty membership and faculty travel to an association that is showing itself not to be a scholarly association but really more of a political tool.

So much for talking. Members of the ASA have until Sunday night to vote on the boycott resolution.

About Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of

Other posts by .

Posted In:

15 Responses

  1. Empiricon
    December 13, 2013, 10:19 am

    What Summers is “in effect” saying is that those actions by Israel which the ASA is protesting in their resolution, “profiling, surveillance, and civil rights violations…pervasive deprivations affecting health, education and overall security…restrictions on movement and travel…restrictions on education, scholarships, and participation in campus activities” etc. are racially-based and/or racially-entitled behaviors of all Jews. Now who’s the racist here “in effect, if not necessarily in intent?”

    • JeffB
      December 13, 2013, 5:39 pm


      “I think academic boycott in principle are abhorrent…. This is worse because of all the countries in the world …. worthy of boycott this is Israel… is outrageous as a suggestion… If there were an academic boycott of a whole set of countries who stunted their population…. I would still oppose”.

      How is he even addressing your issues? He pretty specifically states:

      a) Academic boycotts are always bad.
      b) Israel shouldn’t be singled out

      • annie
        December 13, 2013, 6:31 pm

        b) Israel shouldn’t be singled out

        then the US should stop favoring it.

        the ASA effort is an anti-racist campaign, a campaign to challenge complicity and silence regarding Israeli colonial practices. Critically, it is one of the only methods by which to open up space for talking about Israeli policies, open the debate in the academy, and to take seriously the U.S.’s unique and exceptional complicity (i.e. military, economic, political and diplomatic support for Israel). Scholars critical of other countries are not similarly silenced, nor blocked from opportunities here in the U.S. academy. Neither is the U.S so complicit with any other country’s policies. Furthermore, there is no other country so complicit in repressive American wars as Israel is by being a proxy for arms sales in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and by pushing for wars in places such as Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

        American citizens are already culpable for allowing such practices, but so far, with few exceptions, are silent about the role that the U.S. has in supporting Israel’s racist policies.

      • JeffB
        December 13, 2013, 8:48 pm

        @Annie —

        I’m a bit unclear are you disagreeing with Summers, are you disagreeing with my characterization of Summers argument or are you disagreeing that Summers argument isn’t “in effect saying” what Empiricon summarized him as saying?

        As far as that ASA quote let me start off with
        “American citizens are already culpable for allowing such practices, ” — Yeah! Finally someone who believes in moral responsibility. That people in a democracy are responsible for the policies of that government.

        Now a point of disagreement with the content in that Britain and Japan are far more “complicit” than Israel is US policy.

        Finally on the core issue. The ASA is correct that anti-Israeli sentiment as it usually exist is much more politically explosive than just about any other country anti-movement. They are right there.

        Part of this is that the anti-movement for Israel is genuinely different then the rather passionless disagreement one hears about other countries. Who has anti-French sentiment or anti-Italian or anti-Polish sentiment. Imagine if there was a professor who despised Poland and the Polish. Who let’s say talked about how he wished the Katyn massacre hadn’t just been officers but had been directed at the population: 22 million not 22 thousand. I suspect this would be very controversial. I think this passion in anti-Zionism comes from the fact that many of the participants are Jewish and thus are personally invested.

        This greater degree of passion on the anti-Zionism side doesn’t combine well with students. Many Jews in America identify with Israel enough that they often find harsh anti-Zionism personally threatening. So normally you would want to tone it down not tone it up. Because kids can feel threatened the mood changes. Academics are disciplined for anti-black, anti-asian, anti-women, anti-male views that students find threatening. There is nothing unique there.

        Let me just add. I was in college at the height of the anti-apartheid movement that everyone likes to compare the anti-Israeli movement to. The debates on South Africa were far more nuanced between different subgroups of whites: Afrikaner vs. British vs. Jewish, there was understanding of the sort of intermediate roles of the Indians (coloreds in South Africa, but Americans couldn’t bring themselves to use that term ever)… People had a wide range of views on both sides with all sorts of nuance. Anti-apartheid was like people’s attitude towards Obamacare today with two sides but a ton of views on both and everyone understanding that there was nuance.

        Certainly Americans of South African descent never felt threatened at anti-Apartheid rallies or discussions. Though in all fairness none (or likely few) of them were Afrikaner either, had they been they might have been deeply offended. I never heard revenge fantasies, no one wished for the post-apartheid Afrikaners to be massacred and/or expelled. Though it was often believed that the result would be much less peaceful than it turned out on both sides, both sides agreed this was tragic not something to be wished for.

      • traintosiberia
        December 13, 2013, 7:07 pm

        Palestininan students have been denied exit and re-entry visa by Israel. It has destroyed schools and bombed universities. It has curtailed contacts between Palestinian academics and outsiders.
        Israeli Firster in US have forced boycott of people by universities. Israeli Firster have threatened people and managed o send even to jail. The hysteria against Khalil Gibran academy principal was attack on academy.
        Boycott has been the central tenet of Israel against its opponents .
        Does Israel allow pencil and crayon to Gaza ? Boycott of Iranian service for medicine and spare parts for transport is morally much more repugnant and realistically much more hateful destructive behaviors than boycott of Israeli universities ( state funded and military connected institutions )

      • Shingo
        December 13, 2013, 9:41 pm

        b) Israel shouldn’t be singled out

        A defense all rapists, mass murderers, and white collar criminals should use.

        Bernie Madoffagould appeal his conviction in the same grounds.

        What idiocy!!!

  2. amigo
    December 13, 2013, 10:30 am

    “Analysis || Swell of boycotts driving Israel into international isolation
    Western activists and diplomats are gunning for Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories, and if peace talks fail, the rain of boycotts and sanctions could turn into a flood.
    By Barak Ravid | 21:22 12.12.13 | 0″haaretz

    Almost daily we see new efforts succeeding.The zios can whine all they want but only disaster is in their future.They just cannot see it coming right at them.

  3. pabelmont
    December 13, 2013, 11:36 am

    Yeah, and South Africa ended its apartheid only by jaw-jaw instead of boycott? And Hitler ended his invasions of all Europe only after stern (ethical and moral) talk-talk lessons?

    Summers is in a cocoon. It is the cocoon of power and big money. BIG-BANKs are run by people inside that cocoon. So is BIG-ZION.

    • Shingo
      December 13, 2013, 9:57 pm

      Summers is a useful idiot.

      He was the man who told Brooksley Bourn back in the Clinton yearsthat her direwarnings of the dangers of over the counter derivatives was wrong and misplaced.

      The guy is no more credible than the neocons.

  4. David Nelson
    David Nelson
    December 13, 2013, 12:02 pm

    Mr. Summers indirectly admits to the presence of human rights abuses in Israel, but justifies those abuses because other nations also abuse.

    Where would the Enlightenment have taken Western civilization if reason and logic were rejected because other nations are irrational?

    this man’s reasoning is absurd. 100% Hasbara as i know it.

    Israel never has to make peace with its neighbors.

    Israel, as sure as the US dollar, has unlimited resources to continue to fight their never-ending-war against their neighbors. Israel’s never-ending-war strategy against their neighbors is built upon the need to keep those neighbors weak and impoverished so as to allow Israel and its US shadow to dominate a region in which they are severely outnumbered. By snuffing out the progress and hope of the nations surrounding Israel, Israel attempts to humiliate its neighbors into submission. Israel in its actions proves itself to be an anti-modern, retrograde force.

    Most importantly regarding this anti-modern strategy of Israel to keep its neighbors weak is that without US diplomatic, economic, military and ACADEMIC support of Israel, Israel would be forced to make peace with its neighbors as it would not have anywhere near the power to entertain themselves with the never-ending-war strategy of thiers.

    Therefore Americans are directly responsible for what happens in Israel and the Occupied Territories of Palestine. Americans are directly responsible for what happens in Afghanistan, at Abu Gharaib and Guantanamo, in countless other places across the globe where our drones obliterate the lives of people about whom we have no understanding.

    Where is America to go when so many of America’s brightest, most promising intellectuals get led by people like Mr. Summers who hold such anti-modern, retrograde views? All in the name of Zionism, at the expense of the Enlightenment and anything that might be good in modernity.

    • RoHa
      December 13, 2013, 8:45 pm

      “Mr. Summers indirectly admits to the presence of human rights abuses in Israel, but justifies those abuses because other nations also abuse. ”

      You would think a president of Harvard University could do better than drag out the well-known “pointing to another wrong” fallacy.

      “Where would the Enlightenment have taken Western civilization if reason and logic were rejected because other nations are irrational?”


      “Mr. Clarkson, Mr. Wilberforce, let us set aside your Slave Trade Act and Slavery Abolition Act. There are lots of countries which practice slavery, so we should not single out Britain in this way.”

  5. Krauss
    December 13, 2013, 3:57 pm

    Larry Summers also called Edward Snowden a “traitor” in an interview recently.

    Maybe we should boycott Larry Summers.

  6. yrn
    December 14, 2013, 4:29 am

    “Any Palestinian official who today explicitly speaks against boycotting Israel — particularly in a country like South Africa, where the ruling party, leading trade unions, churches and other civil society groups have warmly endorsed BDS — only shows how aloof he is from his own people’s aspirations for freedom, justice and equality, and how oblivious he is to our struggle for their inalienable rights,”

    Guess who said it about whom ?

  7. traintosiberia
    December 14, 2013, 5:35 pm

    It was Summer who advised as an World Bank official ,to dump the toxic material on the 3rd world countries . He argued the poor had very high bar for tolerance and low bar for acceptance of personal harm from toxic industrial products. He saw an win win both for the poor and for the rich nations from a policy of this nature. In. The book – The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel.
    Now one hears the toxicity being dumped on WB and Gaza by rich industrialized Israel . A boycott would not make an economic sense to Summer from that point of unexplored views . Gaza should not boycott the dumps and world should not stop a israel from making those toxic dumps.

Leave a Reply