We are troubled by the resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities made by the American Studies Association (ASA) in December 2013 and call upon the organization to rescind it. We are deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and consider the resolution a threat to these values that are basic to the ideals of education. The resolution in our...
We are troubled by the resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities made by the American Studies Association (ASA) in December 2013 and call upon the organization to rescind it. We are deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and consider the resolution a threat to these values that are basic to the ideals of education. The resolution in our opinion harms the general interests of an association dedicated to interdisciplinary research of American culture. It sets a dangerous precedent by sponsoring an inequitable and discriminatory policy that would punish one nation’s universities and scholars and restrict the free conduct of ASA members to engage with colleagues in Israel.
Collectively, we, the undersigned, represent a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it should be resolved. While we can and should vigorously discuss these differences, there is one issue on which we all agree: We oppose academic boycotts, especially this one that undermines efforts toward understanding, peace, and reconciliation. It is also based upon many misstatements, baseless accusations, and distortions that reveal bias, lack of research, and poor critical interpretation.
A fundamental principle of academia is academic freedom, the belief that scholars must be free to pursue ideas without being targeted for repression, discipline, or institutional censorship. This resolution endorsing the call for academic boycott against Israeli institutions would do violence to this bedrock principle. We do not see a difference between a boycott of institutions and scholars. Institutions affect scholars and scholars affect institutions. Therefore, scholars would be punished not because of what they believe – which would be bad enough – but simply because of who they are based on their nationality. In no other context does the ASA discriminate on the basis of national origin – and for good reason. This is discrimination pure and simple. Worse, it is also discrimination that inevitably diminishes the pursuit of knowledge, by discarding scholarship simply because it is produced by a certain group of people.
In 2005, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a strong statement expressing opposition to academic boycotts. AAUP maintained neutrality in a complex and multilayered conflict by neither supporting nor opposing the policies of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. In May 2013, AAUP released a Statement on Academic Boycotts saying, “In view of the association’s longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas, we oppose academic boycotts. On the same grounds, we recommend that other academic associations oppose academic boycotts. We urge that they seek alternative means, less inimical to the principle of academic freedom, to pursue their concerns.”
Academic boycotts are not only anathema to academic freedom, but they undercut the important role of academics as thought leaders in both critiquing and evaluating government policies. Similarly, the proposed boycott resolution unjustly holds Israeli academics responsible for policies put in place by the Israeli government. Israeli professors – just like professors in the U.S. or elsewhere -- are politically independent and enjoy the right to express opposition to their government and any of its policies. The implication of this resolution is that it would collectively punish every Israeli (Muslim, Christian, Druze, Jewish and Atheist) regardless of their political views including those Israeli academics who are instrumental thought leaders in the movement for a just peace. It is for this reason that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, announced in December 2013 that he is opposed to academic boycotts of Israel. In 2006, Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al Quds University, the Arab university in Jerusalem, publicly condemned academic boycotts, telling The Associated Press, “If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we've had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals. If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.”
Healthy, constructive debate on the Middle East and other complex topics should be welcome within the ASA and the academy. The ASA should not be issuing a political statement on behalf of a membership with significant opposition to such resolutions. Excluding institutions from participation, squelching dialogue, and discouraging cultural exchange through a boycott is not a constructive way to advance scholarly concerns.
Peace for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on both parties working together towards a negotiated, mutually agreeable solution. In contrast, an academic boycott is divisive and undermines this objective. We must instead encourage constructive efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian academics together on joint projects, including those that foster reconciliation and promote understanding and trust--all critical factors that will enable Israelis and Palestinians to coexist in peace and security. The call for an academic boycott of Israel is a destructive attempt to not only silence, but also punish those involved in this important and potentially transformative academic work.
Since its founding, the objective of the ASA has been to promote “the study of American culture through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication, the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies.” We urge the ASA to uphold these values by rescinding its resolution endorsing an academic boycott.