WASHINGTON — The American Studies Association leadership endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities, but also sought the approval of the body’s 5,000 members.
The decision posted Wednesday follows a contentious debate at the group’s annual meeting last month and 10 days of deliberations that were supposed to last a morning. The boycott resolution was approved unanimously by the 20-member national council.
“We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given US military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA,” the council announcement said.
The council, however, is seeking the endorsement of the group’s entire membership.
“The ASA is a large organization that represents divergent opinions,” the announcement said. “Anticipating strong and potentially divided feelings on this question, the Council unanimously decided to ask ASA members to endorse the resolution by a vote.”
Voting will be conducted electronically. If a majority of the association’s voting members do not vote to endorse the boycott resolution by December 15, the national council said that it will withdraw the resolution and determine next steps.
Boycott opponents, speaking Nov. 23 at an open meeting called to discuss the resolution during ASA’s annual conference, had recommended a body-wide poll. Such a poll is unusual, and boycott proponents strongly opposed it. The national council representatives at the meeting said they would consider the resolution the following morning and would likely have a decision that day, but the mulling lasted a week-and-a-half.
ASA describes itself “devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” Voices at the open meeting overwhelmingly favored the boycott, but those opposed said they were not representative of the organization’s broader membership.
According to the Frequently Asked Question page posted on the ASA website, the boycott will not inhibit collaboration with individual Israeli academics.
“The ASA understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law,” the FAQ said.
“We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences, public lectures at campuses, and collaboration on research and publication,” it said.
The FAQ suggests that the boycott is not binding on members, meaning it would apply principally to the activities of the ASA as an organization.
“In general, the ASA recognizes that members will review and negotiate specific guidelines for implementation on a case-by-case basis and adopt them according to their individual convictions,” it said.