Oren calls on US Congress to quell movement to boycott Israel academically

Former Israeli ambassador to US says in Politico op-ed that more organizations could boycott Israeli academia if action not taken.

Former Israeli ambassador to US Michael Oren. (photo credit: Hyungwon Kang / Reuters)
Former Israeli ambassador to US Michael Oren.
(photo credit: Hyungwon Kang / Reuters)
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 legislation.
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.”
One government 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 academic institutions.
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 boycott.”
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 boycott.
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 dialogue.”
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.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.