AJC Decries American Studies Association Call for Israel Boycott

Dec 04, 2013, 16:22 ET from American Jewish Committee

NEW YORK, Dec. 4, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC is urging American Studies Association members to reject a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

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"The ASA action is despicable, contravenes the most basic values of academic freedom and does nothing to advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace," said Kenneth Stern, AJC's Director on Anti-Semitism and Extremism.

The resolution was adopted by the ASA's National Council, but members of the organization have until December 15 to vote on it.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) opposes academic boycotts, and wrote to ASA leaders urging them to reject the resolution. Academic boycotts are not consistent with "the free exchange of ideas," and "the freedom of teachers and researchers to engage in work with academic colleagues," said the AAUP.

Since the ASA, according to its website, "exists to promote and encourage the study of American culture," Stern questioned why the organization has decided to engage at all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Treating Israeli academic institutions in a way no other universities are treated anywhere else in the world is discrimination pure and simple," said Stern.

Stern assailed the factually inaccurate and vile language the ASA uses to describe Israel. The ASA's "Frequently Asked Questions" accompanying the boycott resolution claims Israel practices "apartheid," and that Israel itself is a "Zionist settler-colonialist project."

Finally, Stern noted the sad irony that "academics leading the ASA are willing to sacrifice their most cherished principle – academic freedom – to target Israelis."

Six years ago, when England's University and College Union supported the idea of boycotting Israeli academic institutions, over 400 American university presidents signed a statement written by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, and circulated widely by AJC.

"We will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment. In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of idea," wrote Bollinger.

"At Columbia I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities…as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their governments' policies," he continued, adding that the British UCU "should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish."

SOURCE American Jewish Committee