Over 225 University Presidents have issued statements condeming the anti-Israel academic boycott by the American Studies Association as a threat to academic freedom and education, as have several major academic organizations such as the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Universities.

Of the 80 ASA Institutional Members, at least 8 have dropped their membership and at least 11 have denied being Institutional Members in the first place. It is not an exaggeration to say that ASA has become a pariah in the academic community, and the boycott passed by a vote of less than 25% of the membership (because so few participated) has split the organization.

There also has been legislative activity with regard to anti-boycott laws that is stalled because even critics of the ASA boycott are concerned with preserving university and individual academic autonomy. Nonetheless, even though stalled, the legislation does reflect a political backlash against the ASA.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly called the academic boycott part of “mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism”

From the earliest days, the ASA has played victim, mistaking harsh criticism of its boycott as an infringement of its academic freedom.  ASA’s incoming President, NYU Prof. Lisa Duggan, also has accused one critic, an author at Forbes, of homophobia.  Others have accused Israel Lobby money of being behind the backlash.

All the while, ASA as an organization has sought to put on a happy face, as if none of this troubles them and all is well.

But there are significant signs that the backlash is being felt at ASA. First, the ASA activism caucus issued an urgent request to BDS supporters to join the organization to increase individual memberships. Next, ASA has increaed the activity of its non-profit legal advisers to speak out on the subject, defending ASA’s boycott.

Today I received an Open Letter to college and universities signed by the leftist National Lawyers Guild and other anti-Israel groups and individuals making inflammatory accusations that the Universities that have spoken out against the ASA boycott are engaged in “McCarthy” like witch hunts and are themselves abusing academic freedom by speaking out.

The letter starts with the false premise that individual Israelis are not boycotted. That is not true. As I have documented and explained many times, the ASA adopted in its Resolution the full international boycott. ASA issued non-binding guidelines purporting to scale it back, but in fact even those guidelines apply to Israelis representing Israeli academic institutions. And in any event, boycotting an institution is boycotting the individuals who work there. For example the boycott applies to the entire Cornell-Technion campus being built in NYC because it is co-sponsored by Technion.

The full letter is embedded at the bottom of the post, here is a portion:

The issue is not whether one agrees or disagrees that the ASA resolution strikes the proper balance on academic freedom. Rather, the issue is whether college and university communities and scholarly organizations should remain free to express their views on matters of public concern and, if they choose, to act lawfully to implement them by a call to boycott.12

The post-WWII McCarthy Era was a dark time, when anti-communist orthodoxy on campuses was aggressively promoted. That fearful era taught us important lessons, and the Supreme Court eventually held that efforts to compel orthodoxy in political expression on campus was unconstitutional.13 The response by academia to the ASA resolution offers either a sad occasion to relive that era or a liberating one to apply those lessons by honoring the principles of academic freedom — teaching, by modeling, democracy, tolerance, and the courage to dissent.

We urge all U.S. colleges and universities to reject academic censorship clothed as academic freedom. We ask you to review any plans you may be contemplating, in light of the serious constitutional and academic freedom problems presented. We urge you to rescind any threats, explicit or implicit, public or private, you may have made against your faculty members for belonging to the ASA or supporting its resolution. We especially ask you to vitiate the chilling effects of official condemnations made without campus debate, by affirmatively encouraging such debate and clarifying your openness to it. And we respectfully ask our institutions of higher education, public and private, to reaffirm your commitment to departmental and individual faculty autonomy and academic freedom.

This is just more of ASA and the boycotters refusing to accept that American civil society rejects its anti-Israel boycott. Playing victim is just a way of trying to turn the debate around.

ASA-Open Letter to Academia

(Featured Image: George Mason Students via Facebook)