While Israeli officials played down the significance last week of two US
academic associations voting to boycott Israel, former envoy to the US Michael
Oren thinks those moves are serious enough to warrant Congressional
Oren, in an article he wrote Friday for Politico, addressed
the boycott by the American Studies Association (ASA) and said that “merely
protesting this abhorrent decision will not succeed in reversing it or
discouraging other similarly bigoted organizations from following suit. What’s
needed is a way to fight back, and Congress can do it.”
Oren said that a
“successful precedent” for Congressional action against boycotts against Israel
existed: Namely, a series of laws Congress passed in 1977 rendering it illegal
for US companies to cooperate with any boycott of Israel, and imposing stiff
fines for those who did.
Oren, who holds the Abba Eban chair in
international diplomacy at the Lauder School of Government at the
Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said those laws led to the unraveling of the
Arab League boycott of Israel that was instituted in 1945, three years before
the establishment of the state.
“A similar legislative response could
prove effective in quashing the movement to boycott Israel academically,” Oren
wrote. “Laws could be passed withholding federal or state funding from any
academic program that knowingly blacklisted Israeli scholars or institutions or
cooperated with associations that did.”
Oren said that while an
organization like “ASA might prefer punishing Israel to receiving government
funds, other academic bodies – including universities – most likely will not. At
the very least, lawmakers on the local and national level can go on record
expressing their unequivocal opposition to such boycotts.”
official said that he did not know of any move in Jerusalem mobilizing to try to
get Congress to enact any such laws, and said that the former ambassador to the
US was speaking in a private capacity.
The ASA, which claims 5,000
members and 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.
A day earlier, another
small North American academic association – the Native American and Indigenous
Studies Association (NAISA) – also declared a boycott of its own against Israeli
The ASA move compelled two universities, Brandeis
and Penn State at Harrisburg, to announce later in the week that they were
ending their institutional membership in the association.
And on Friday,
Boston University President Robert Brown, responding to alumni emails asking
what his university’s position was on the boycott, said he was “disappointed and
concerned” by the ASA move and that Boston University “cannot support this
At the same time he stopped short of pulling the university out
of the ASA saying, “I am somewhat cautious about following a boycott with a
I’d rather see thoughtful discourse and engagement. I take the
point that the ASA boycott is pernicious and a rather direct attack on academic
freedom and scholarly interactions across borders.
With my formal
statement, I have registered that objection.
At the same time, we must be
careful about reactions that have the effect of further limiting much-needed
One government official, wanting to put the ASA and the NAISA
moves in context, said last week that not one of America’s 4,000 universities
and colleges has boycotted Israel, and the student government bodies of only
five of them have recommended such moves to their colleges.
Post staff contributed to this report.