Maryland politicians’ attempt to punish the American Studies Association (ASA) for its boycott Israel stance started with a bang. But it ended with a whimper. The state legislature passed anti-boycott language inserted into its budget, but the criticism was significantly toned down.
First there were attempts to pass bills cutting off some funding from any public university that subsidized travel to ASA conventions. When that failed, pro-Israel politicians turned to the budget. The result was a comparatively weak clause criticizing the ASA and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and affirming the state’s declaration of cooperation with Israel.
The clause that passed is tamer than the original budget language pushed by Delegate Ben Kramer, which tied BDS to anti-Semitism. Still, the budget’s passage marks the first time a state legislature has voted to oppose BDS.
Campaigners against the anti-boycott language had a mixed reaction. “While we are grateful that the most egregious libels were removed from the budget bill amendment, we believe that boycott is a time-honored tactic that effectively and non-violently brings about social change,” Asim Ali, an ASA member and University of Maryland professor, said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. “That legislators would condemn the use of the same tactic that brought an end to Jim Crow, apartheid in South Africa, and supported farm workers’ rights is deeply saddening.”
Blogger Jeremiah Haber, who teaches at the University of Maryland, was more upbeat about the result:
BDS as anti-semitic or racist? Gone. Forbidding the use of public funds to support travel to ASA conferences? Gone. Condemnation of institutional membership in the ASA? Gone. Condemnation of the ASA “in the strongest possible terms”? At least half-gone…
[I]t is heartening to know that under severe pressure in an election year, the legislature took a position that is articulated by J Street and other liberal Zionists, and rejected a position that has overwhelming support in the activist pro-Israel community.
The push to get the state of Maryland on the record against BDS is part of a larger nationwide effort to condemn academic groups that support boycotting Israel. The effort was a reaction to the ASA’s decision to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions over their complicity in the abuse of Palestinian human rights.
New York’s anti-boycott bill, which would cut some funding from institutions that subsidize travel or lodging to ASA events, remains on the table. Illinois’ does too, though an anti-boycott resolution was defeated.
Pennsylvania’s House passed an anti-boycott resolution last month.