Pro-Israel academics now challenged as never before

The Asian American Studies Association became the first academic association to pass a boycott resolution against Israeli academics and academic institutions.

Bushido Twitter icon "Free Palestine" 370 (photo credit: Twitter)
Bushido Twitter icon "Free Palestine" 370
(photo credit: Twitter)
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 academic institutions.
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 donors.
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 actions.
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 events.
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 integrity.
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 trenches.

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.