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‘Throwing gasoline on bystanders’ — school presidents’ condemnations of boycott ignore Palestinian rights

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ASA logo tiff (1) copyThe leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations announces a milestone:

“We are pleased that we have reached a major milestone with over 100 universities publicly claiming their opposition to the boycott of Israeli universities and academia adopted by the American Studies Association.”

You’ll find the presidents’ statements, or links to them, at that link.

Here is John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America in Washington, with a particularly intemperate statement:

The American Studies Association’s recent call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is lamentable. The Association has appointed itself as a kind of inept volunteer fire department, aiming to put out the Israeli-Palestinian conflagration by throwing gasoline on the fire. That’s not exactly right. It has decided to pour gas not on the source of the fire but on bystanders, some of whom are trying to extinguish the flames. No good can come of punishing academic institutions for the shortcomings, real and perceived, of their nations’ leaders and policies.
Rather than restricting academic freedom to advance political causes, academic organizations like the ASA should be working to foster dialogue with their foreign interlocutors, perhaps especially those they disagree with. The academy–universities, faculties, and satellite institutions–is a place where research, open discussion, and creative thought can lead to reforms and new approaches to longstanding problems. I hope the ASA’s call for a boycott produces just the opposite of its intended result–a proliferation of U.S. linkages with Israeli universities and other universities in the Middle East.

Does President Garvey think boycott is ever in order? Maybe when someone’s rights are being trampled? But there’s not a word here about Palestinian rights. I bet that when university presidents opposed divestment from apartheid South Africa they said something on behalf of the rights of black South Africans. Here most of them haven’t even had the decency to do that. Look down through these excerpts of university presidents’ statements. Not a word about the treatment of Palestinians under occupation.

Also: Compare the lobby’s practice in this case– wrangling university presidents to issue statements against boycott, surely employing donor pressure in some instances– with the ASA’s democratic process. A committee considered and put forward the resolution, it was openly debated, the membership voted in favor.

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12 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    January 4, 2014, 5:02 pm

    Same 100, obviously pro racist, universities would support boycott on palestinians, iranians or whoever the same israeli lobby would push for.

    Shame on John Garvey, president of the Catholic University!

  2. JeffB
    January 5, 2014, 8:34 am


    I bet that when university presidents opposed divestment from apartheid South Africa they said something on behalf of the rights of black South Africans.

    I don’t know that there would have been. There was no non-fringe support in America for apartheid. The debate was never about the rights of black South Africans. The primary debate was about issues like how to treat a cold war ally’s domestic problems. Apartheid was thought of like a guy who was a good employee but had a drinking problem and how best to handle that. Israel is more like a good employee who is in Landmark. Some people think he’s bringing a more tolerant open environment which is likely to make the workplace better and others think he’s a member of a personally destructive quasi-cult. There is real controversy about whether the underlying actions are even bad in the Israeli case which wasn’t true in the South Africa case. So it literally went without saying that people were personally opposed apartheid. That’s just not the case with Israel.

    Moreover and I don’t know why BDSers keep forgetting this. When campus activity had started on South Africa there was already a powerful congressional caucus that had been working on divestment and sanctions for years. A sanctions bill had already passed congressional subcommittees. The debate was much further along.

  3. Ron Edwards
    Ron Edwards
    January 5, 2014, 9:54 am

    I ask that everyone be careful of the trick being pulled by Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in their statement. They refer to universities’ opposition to boycott, when in fact they can only properly reference the statements of the university presidents.

    There is no process by which a university president’s statements are first vetted by the university community (by any definition), nor any understanding that his or her statements represent the university community’s viewpoint.

    Speaking as a university professor, I have found university presidents to be craven, untrustworthy, obsessed with being liked, and helpless against the mini-cabals that actually rule any university as their personal playpens. I know zero fellow professors who consider their president to be their employer, their leader, their representative, or even their colleague. (This does not stopping many of them from kissing his or her ass frequently; my point is that such kissing is arrant careerism and nothing to do with respect or representation.)

    A statement from a university professor has about as much to do with “the university” as a statement from a U.S. presidential administration’s Press Secretary has to do with “the country.”

    • irmep
      January 5, 2014, 3:50 pm

      Great observation of standard lobby practice to conflate elite approval with those of their institutions, parties, congregation whatever. That and carefully-worded public opinion polls.

  4. just
    January 5, 2014, 10:12 am

    These Presidents seem as influenced as our Congress by the almighty dollar……or shekel.

    It’s pretty obvious and awfully shameful.

    • puppies
      January 5, 2014, 5:00 pm

      Not “shekel”. US taxpayer dollar.

      • just
        January 5, 2014, 10:17 pm

        dollars into shekels…not entirely sure about the exchange rate, though.

        US $ = Occupation.

  5. ahhiyawa
    January 5, 2014, 10:33 am

    If what Mr. Edwards says is true, than this statement by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is a weak reed to lean on for sure.

  6. American
    January 5, 2014, 12:08 pm

    ”No good can come of punishing academic institutions for the shortcomings, real and perceived, of their nations’ leaders and policies.”

    But that is what Israel does isnt it?
    They bomb Gaza civilians to rubble for the rockets a few resisters lob at Israel.
    They have the US sanction an entire naiton because they dont approve of its leadership.
    Collective punishment is the way of the world is seems.
    Israel has gotten off easy in that regard.

  7. Citizen
    January 5, 2014, 8:51 pm

    From ANC web site archive:
    Academic Boycott of South Africa: Declaration by British Academics

    26 November 1965

    [In 1965, 496 university professors and lecturers from 34 British universities signed the following declaration in protest against apartheid and violations of academic freedom. They made special reference to the issuance of banning orders against Jack Simons and Eddie Roux, two well-known progressive academics.]

    “We, the (undersigned) professors and lecturers in British universities in consultation with the Anti-Apartheid Movement:

    Protest against the bans imposed on Professors Simons and Roux;
    Protest against the practice of racial discrimination and its extension to higher education;
    Pledge that we shall not apply for or accept academic posts in South African universities which practise racial discrimination.”
    * From Spotlight on South Africa, Dar es Salaam, November 26, 1965

  8. Citizen
    January 5, 2014, 8:56 pm

    US universities of shame:

  9. Obsidian
    January 6, 2014, 1:24 pm

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