American Studies Association coaches members how to defend ASA academic boycott against criticism by Deans, Administrators and Faculty.
The decision of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions is a discriminatory, malicious action which ranks with the odious Zionism is Racism resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1975 and later rescinded.
Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers correctly calls it anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent, and called on Universities not to use their funds to support faculty participation in ASA.
Fox News reports on some of the pushback, Tax-exempt academic group’s boycott of Israel draws fire:
Officials at the Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, blasted the development as 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 manifestly unjust,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement. “We commend those members of the ASA who boldly spoke out and voted against this shameful resolution. We further applaud the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for reiterating its opposition to academic boycotts which ‘strike directly at the free exchange of ideas.'”
The Fox News article then goes on to discuss my intention of challenging ASA’s tax-exempt status.
ASA should be worried about how this anti-academic freedom resolution will be received. The ASA resolution is anathema to academic freedom, and has been criticized by the Association of American University Professors, among others.
As I noted, the ASA resolution also would prohibit ASA from cooperating with joint educational programs between American and Israeli Universities, such as the massive Cornell-Technion campus being built on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
Apparently ASA is so concerned about how its academic boycott will be received at Universities around the country that it has posted talking points on its website.
One of the documents is titled, Points for talking to Administrators about the Academic Boycott (PDF) which reads in part:
Answering questions about the ASA boycott from Department Chairs, Deans, Administrators
With the boycott resolution, the ASA takes a principled position while respecting the unique conditions and diverse positions of our membership. The National Council understands that some of the Program Directors and faculty, and Regional Chapters representatives, may come under particular pressure from your institutions, administrators, or local organizations about the ASA boycott. We emphasize that we uphold your right to say whatever you wish to administrators or university officials who are hostile to this action.
In some circumstance the following general statements may be appropriate:
“While I may not agree/don’t know where I stand on the issue, I support the right of scholars and students to take ethical stands on important public issues.”
“The ASA recognizes the rights of its members to act in accordance with their own conscience and convictions and to disagree with the resolution. As an association that upholds the principle of academic freedom, the ASA exercises no legislative authority over its members. (By contrast, it is a civil offense for scholars within israel to endorse this boycott.)”
If you experience confused, puzzled or critical reactions that prove difficult to manage, please contact the ASA office for further assistance.
Below are some suggested responses to particular questions.
ASA also provides a sample letter for members to send, preemptively, to administrators. The sample letter reads in part:
I wanted to alert you to activities in the American Studies Association that people at UCSD might be interested in….
The resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.
The proposed resolution expressly DOES NOT endorse a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-‐level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences, public lectures at campuses, and collaboration on research and publication. U.S. scholars are not discouraged under the terms of the boycott from traveling to Israel for academic purposes, provided they are not engaged in a formal partnership with or sponsorship by Israeli academic institutions. The academic boycott of Israeli institutions is not designed to curtail dialogue. Rather, it emerges from the recognition that these forms of ordinary academic exchange are often impossible for Palestinian academics due to Israeli policies.
The ASA recognizes the rights of its members to disagree with the resolution and that individual members will act according to their conscience and convictions on these complex issues. As an association that upholds the principle of academic freedom, the ASA exercises no legislative authority over its members. By contrast, it is a civil offense for scholars within Israel to endorse this boycott.
I wanted to let you know about this in case you were interested and in case you receive any questions about the ASA. And while I know this is a difficult issue for many, I hope you will join us in affirming the right of scholars and students at our university and elsewhere to take ethical stands on important public issues.
From what I am seeing in my email inbox, on Facebook, and in news articles, I do expect the pushback to be fierce.
As it should be.
Featured image from Facebook profile of ASA member and boycott advocate Cynthia Franklin. The image is a play on Benjamin Netanyahu’s image used to demonstrate the Iranian nuclear threat to destroy Israel in a speech at the United Nations. That a leading ASA boycott advocate views the ASA boycott as a bomb set to explode on Israel tells you everything you need to know about the hatred of Israel behind this resolution:
Update 12-17-2013: Mark Rice, Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, who publicly opposed the resolution, has started a blog documenting the reaction, you should check it out, The Future of American Studies.
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