Lawrence Summers, former President of Harvard University, has commented on the proposed resolution by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic organizations.  The membership voting on the anti-Israel boycott resolution concludes on December 15.

For background on the proposed academic boycott and those anti-Israeli “academics” who worked for years on the resolution and then ambushed pro-Israel and/or pro-Academic Freedom members, see my prior posts:

Here is the Summers interview with Charlie Rose specifically on the ASA boycott resolution (full interview here, segment starts at 35:00)):

This particular academic boycott is much worse, it is much worse because the idea that of all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses, that might be thought to have inappropriate foreign policies, that might be thought to be doing things wrong, the idea that there’s only one that is worthy of boycott, and that is Israel, one of the very few countries whose neighbors regularly vow its annihilation, that that would be the one chosen, is I think beyond outrageous as a suggestion….

Charlie, I said some time ago with respect to a similar set of efforts, that I regarded them as being anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent. And I think that’s the right thing to say about singling out Israel.

If there was an academic boycott against a whole set of countries that stunted their populations in some way, I would oppose that because I think academic boycotts are abhorrent, but the choice of only Israel at a moment when Israel faces this kind of existential threat I think takes how wrong this is to a different level.

My hope would be that responsible university leaders will become very reluctant to see their universities’ funds used to finance faculty membership and faculty travel to an association that is showing itself not to be a scholarly association bur really more of a political tool.

I think Summers in onto something here.  While we’re still doing the research, I question whether engaging in an academic boycott as an organization calls into question ASA’s tax-exempt charitable status.  (If we conclude that it does, we will challenge ASA’s 501(c)(3) status.)

As Summers points out, the organizational academic boycott takes ASA away from being a scholarly organization, one which represented to the IRS that it is engaged in charitable and educational activities, into a political organization.

Several decades ago the U.S. adopted the public policy of penalizing companies that honored the Arab League economic boycott of Israel.  The new boycott is not state-sponsored, perhaps by design to evade U.S. anti-boycott laws.

Perhaps it’s time for Congress, when support for Israel among the American people is at historic highs, to make clear that groups like ASA can spout all the hatred of Israel they want, but if they enter into the new form of international boycott, they should not be subsidized by American taxpayers in the form of tax-exempt status.

We will keep you informed.  Whether the ASA resolution passes or not, we intend to address this situation.

While anti-Israel boycott supporters think they will have pulled a great victory with the ASA resolution, I predict instead that it merely will serve as a wake up call to American civil society to stand against the academic boycott of Israel.

Update: Georgetown Professor of History Michael Kazin in The New Republic, An Idiotic Israel Boycott Obscures Real Progress in Campus Activism:

As many critics point out, to single out Israeli universities for violating human rights is transparently myopic. Chinese universities are also “a party” to the policies of their government, which has forcibly relocated many Tibetans from their homes and demonizes their religion—and fires professors who criticize the rule of the Communist Party. Russian universities promote and enforce the Putin government’s vile laws against gays and lesbians. But scholars of American history and culture routinely speak at academic institutions in both countries and invite their counterparts to visit theirs. By the same logic, one might call on ASA members who despise the national security state yet work for universities that get grants from or allow recruiting by the Defense Department, the CIA, or the NSA to boycott themselves.

Even if most of the 5,000 members of the American Studies Association endorse the boycott resolution, they are quite unlikely to change anyone’s mind or, for that matter, Israeli policy. Instead, the resolution has embroiled the ASA in an entirely predictable cyberstorm, as charges of “Jew-hating” and “Zionist apartheid” befoul the Internet. Supporters salute the “courage” of their comrades, while many academics who reject the boycott—including eight past presidents of the organization—may never take the ASA seriously again.

Update No. 2:  Ari Kelman,  Professor of Education and Jewish Studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, writing in The Nation, Engage, Don’t Boycott: An Open Letter to the American Studies Association:

1. I got into the academic business because I treasure the fundamental value of intellectual freedom. It allows those of us fortunate enough to call scholarship our profession to do the work we do. A boycott of Israeli intellectual and cultural institutions seems to run counter to this basic premise of academic life and the commitment to increasing, not limiting scholarly conversation and engagement….

4. Targeting Israeli universities misses the political mark entirely and could even punish those we wish to support. Israeli universities are actually some of the very few places in Israeli society where Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel interact as equals. Singling out universities for boycott targets precisely the places where interaction can and does take place, and forecloses opportunities for potential political transformation that can result.

5. Israeli higher education is publicly funded. This allows Jewish and Palestinian (and Druze and bedouin) citizens of Israel to go to university with relatively little expense. The boycott, then, might punish not only the scholars to whose work I referred to above, but the Palestinian students whose areas of residence ended up inside the borders of the State of Israel.

6. I recognize that the language of the American Studies Association resolution (as with most language from the broader BDS movement), focuses on institutions, not on individuals. This is, I think, a distinction without a difference….


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