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Influential group of 5,000 US scholars votes to boycott Israel

Published time: December 17, 2013 00:40
Edited time: December 17, 2013 16:54
Reuters / Francois Lenoir

Reuters / Francois Lenoir

A powerful group of US scholars has voted to launch an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. With a membership in the thousands, the group has become the largest academic collective to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The American Studies Association (ASA) announced Monday that its nearly 5,000 members voted in favor of the boycott by a 2-to-1 margin on Sunday night. A total of 1,252 members voted on the issue, with 66 percent voting ‘yes’ and 30 percent voting ‘no.’ Three percent abstained from voting altogether.

The boycott calls on US schools and academic research groups to end all work with Israeli groups. It does allow individual Israeli scholars to still attend conferences and speak at American universities, as long as they do not do so in any official capacity of the government.

The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” the statement declares. It goes on to mention “Israel’s violations of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights,” among other points.

In April, the Association for Asian American Studies voted to enact a similar boycott, although the American Association of University Professors has voiced its opposition to such a measure.

The seeds for this month’s vote were laid last month at the ASA’s annual conference in Washington, where the 20-member national council unanimously agreed on a boycott.

The National Council engaged and addressed questions and concerns of the membership throughout the process,” the statement explained.

During the open discussion at the recent convention, members asked us to draft a resolution that was relevant to the ASAS in particular and so the Council final draft resolution acknowledged that the US plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

Monday’s announcement is the latest in a line of boycotts that may have Israeli leaders worried. Vitens, a Dutch water company, said last week that it would cut business ties with Israel’s national water company. Considerations of a more widespread boycott have also been discussed throughout Europe, where Israel has strong economic ties.

The ASA’s statement has already been called the first step toward more boycotts from American institutions, with the Modern Language Association saying its meeting next month will include a discussion on academic boycotts.

The movement to single out Israel’s academic institutions has not come without critics. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), released a statement Monday condemning the ASA. Foxman deemed the act a “shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom.”

Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel – the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish – is based on a myopic and fundamentally distorted perspective of Israel and the conflict and is manifestly unjust,” he said. “We commend those members of the ASA who boldly spoke out and voted against this shameful resolution.”