NEW YORK – The 5,000-member American Studies Association (ASA), which describes itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” announced on Monday that it had endorsed and would participate in a boycott of Israeli universities and academic institutions.
It is the second educational group in the US to adopt the boycott. The Association for Asian American Studies did so in April. Another academic group, the American Association of University Professors, recently reiterated its opposition.
In all, 1,252 members of the ASA participated in the vote on whether or not to endorse the boycott. Approximately 66 percent voted yes, 30% voted no and 3% abstained. The voting began on December 4 and ended on Sunday.
The membership-wide canvass was unprecedented. It was undertaken in part at the behest of boycott opponents who said at the ASA’s annual conference last month in Washington that the matter was too sensitive to leave to the group’s 20-member national council, which had unanimously endorsed a boycott.
“The National Council engaged and addressed questions and concerns of the membership throughout the process,” the ASA statement said.
“During the open discussion at the recent convention, members asked us to draft a resolution that was relevant to the ASA in particular and so the Council’s final resolution acknowledged that the US plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
The final resolution, which applies to the ASA as an organization, is not binding on its members. It also targets institutions, not individuals.
In Monday’s announcement, the ASA said it would still invite Israeli and Palestinian academics to its 2014 national meeting in Los Angeles.
Jewish groups in the US reacted strongly and immediately to the announcement.
The boycott was a “shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in a statement.
“Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel – the only democratic country in the Middle East, where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish – is based on a myopic and fundamentally distorted perspective of Israel and the conflict and is manifestly unjust,” Foxman went on. “We commend those members of the ASA who boldly spoke out and voted against this shameful resolution.”
Kenneth Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s director for issues of anti-Semitism and extremism, called it “blatant discrimination against Israelis.”
“Academic freedom is based on the principle that human civilization benefits from the free flow of ideas and knowledge,” Stern said in an AJC statement. “This resolution – ghettoizing knowledge simply because it is tied to Israeli academic institutions – violates the core principles of the academy.”
Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, had similar words for the ASA , saying that it was actions like this that caused “many Americans [to] dismiss the academy as deeply biased and disconnected with reality.”
On the other side of the spectrum, the California-based Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) issued a statement supporting the boycott, saying it represented a “significant milestone in the growth of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement in the United States.”
“With its endorsement, the members of the ASA have voted to hold Israeli institutions accountable for their participation in human rights violations, bringing into sharp focus Israeli policies that severely limit the academic freedom of Palestinians within the occupied Palestinian territory and inside Israel,” JVP said.
“While Jewish Voice for Peace takes no position on academic boycotts, we do not believe that boycotts to pressure Israel to abide by international law are inherently anti-Semitic.”
The group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) also gave its “unqualified endorsement” of the boycott, saying the resolution would “move us one small step closer to a world of democracy, freedom, and justice.”
The ADL included the two groups on the list it compiled this year of the 10 most anti-Semitic organizations in the United States.