In recent weeks, in what can only be described as an unprecedented and carefully
planned stealth move by the anti-Israel BDS movement, the Asian American Studies
Association on the last day of their meetings in Seattle became the first
academic association to pass a boycott resolution against Israeli academics and
While the details are sketchy, this action has
escalated the anti-Israel BDS movement to a new level of conflict that will be
impervious to many of the existing pro-Israel advocacy groups on campus. These
are academic societies, not campus-based, and governed completely by faculty.
They may be national and/or international with faculty members across
institutions throughout the world, and very much set the tone for what is
presented in curriculums and in the classrooms, which is not the purview of the
alphabet soup of pro-Israel organizational professionals and institutional
These are member societies of faculty, supported primarily by
members’ dues. They regard any attempted interference by non-academic groups as
unwelcome, to be resisted and scorned. The only hope for reversal of these kinds
of BDS actions is through peer review and condemnation.
That is, other
academic societies will have to take a good hard look at the resolutions of this
society and evaluate them by the criteria of academic freedom, freedom of speech
and universally accepted academic etiquette, as presented by the AAUP and other
faculty standard- bearing groups, and then speak out against such boycott
This will be a significant challenge to academics throughout the
world. Societies dealing with ethnic studies, where the AASA faculty are
practicing, need to be among the first. It will not be enough to cry foul,
anti-Semitism or anti- Israelism as, quite frankly, these cries are falling on
deaf ears no matter how true they may be.
These actions have to be
deconstructed in academic terms by grassroots members of these academic
associations in such a way that faculty members will not want to their
association to be participating with groups that are actually suppressing
academic freedom, censoring academic inquiry and disrupting the flow of academic
research and knowledge.
The argument against academic boycotting of
Israel will have little to do with Israel and Jews, but rather with entirely
academic issues within the guild. This approach has been successful before in
staving off such behaviors, from 2004 until this recent turn of
This fight will not be won by the treasure and sweat of the pro-
Israel community resources. It will be won by the determination of academics not
to succumb to actions based on principles that will neither resolve the
Palestinian- Israeli conflict nor contribute significantly to academic
Faculty now must come out of the foxholes, rely on their
collective voice and not pass off these tasks to Jewish communal professionals
and large-scale donors.
This is hand-to-hand combat in the
The author is a retired counselor and psychologist educator,
co-founder and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, past
chairman of the SPME Task Force on Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions and a
consultant, activist and lecturer.
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