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My email to President of Princeton regarding academic boycott of Israel

My email to President of Princeton regarding academic boycott of Israel

Dr. Michael Oren, a celebrated Princeton alumnus, is subject to the American Studies Association boycott. Will Princeton become complicit?

Readers have been very good at posting contact information in the comment section at the Reader crowdsourcing project to fight American Studies Assoc anti-Israel boycott

You also need to start sending emails to Presidents, Trustees and others who have a stake when a university lends its name and funds to an organization engaged in an academic boycott which would include boycotting the university’s own joint programs and scholars.

Even though membership decisions typically are made at the department level, where many of the Israel-haters rule, the decision has university-wide implications. The membership is in the university name and the boycott affects university programs and scholars beyond the American Studies department. Moreover, use of university funds to subsidize ASA is a university decision, and in the case of public universities, also involves the state.

As of this writing, I still have not received a response to My email to President of UT-Austin regarding academic boycott of Israel.

Here is the email I sent yesterday to the President of Princeton University, one of the Institutional Members of the American Studies Association and an institution that supports the ASA financially through covering costs of attending ASA meetings.

To: Christopher L. Eisgruber [[email protected]]

CC: Martin A. Mbugna, Communications [[email protected]]
Mary DeLorenzo, Asst. to the President [[email protected]]

Dear President Eisgruber:

Princeton University is an Institutional Member of the American Studies Association (ASA), contributing its good name and dues to the ASA, and also funding ASA indirectly through covering the cost of attending the ASA annual meeting.

The ASA just adopted an academic boycott of Israel. The American Association of University Professors has rejected academic boycotts of Israel in general, and has rejected the ASA boycott specifically, on grounds of violation of academic freedom. The anti-Israel academic boycott also amounts to discrimination on the basis of national origin as Israeli academics will be subjected to verification procedures not applicable to academics from any other nation.

The ASA boycott is pernicious because it includes boycott of programs run by Israeli academic institutions and encourages American academics to police compliance with the boycott. You can find an explantion in my prior post about the boycott.

This anti-Israel academic boycott has particular implications for Princeton given Princeton”s strong ties to the Israeli academic community and joint programming. Among other things, Princeton has approved study abroad programs at three Israeli universities, an exchange program with Hebrew University, and was a participant in a recent delegation to Israel to expore expanding partnerships.  All such programs and partnerships would be covered by the ASA boycott and also expose Israeli academics to the boycott.  Princeton also recently posted a faculty opening in Judaic Studies, which presumably would be open to Israeli scholars who may retain some affiliation with Israeli academic institutions. Princeton also hosts visiting Israeli scholars from time to time.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren obtained his Masters and Doctoral degrees from Princeton, and now is affiliated with the Lauder School of Government Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel.  Dr. Oren would be covered by the ASA boycott.  Although Dr. Oren is a celebrated Princeton alumnus featured in its magazine, Dr. Oren would be turned away from an ASA conference unless he agreed not to represent his current academic institution.

No other nation is subject to this purity test by ASA.  Not a scholar from Iran, Syria, Cuba, China or any other nation with human rights and academic freedom records far worse than Israel.

Will Princeton be a participant in this egregious breach of academic freedom and national origin discrimination through its continued membership in ASA and indirect funding of ASA through covering the costs of attending annual meetings?

Please let me know Princeton’s position, so that I may inform my readership.

Thank you,

Willam A. Jacobson
Legal Insurrection Blog

Update: A Princeton alumnus, who based on his job history probably has good contacts at the university, contacted me alleging that Princeton is not an Institutional Member:

Dear Professor Jacobson:

Appreciate your efforts in fighting the boycott. However, on an issue like this, it is also important to be 100% accurate. I have verified from a senior Princeton faculty member in a position to know, that Princeton is not an institutional member of the ASA although some faculty members hold individual memberships.

I believe your posted letter to President Eisgruber should be removed and replace with something that is accurate.

Good luck on your efforts.

My response was:

Princeton is listed in the ASA quarterly as an Institutional Member. Attached. If that is not accurate, and a senior Princeton official in a position of knowledge can confirm that on the record, then I will update the post indicating that ASA has misrepresented Princeton’s membership.

Also, Princeton does provide financial assistance in the form of university funds used to cover the costs of attending ASA meetings.


The ASA website represents that “A list of institutional members is published in each issue of the American Quarterly, the Guide to American Studies Resources, and the annual meeting Program.”

Here are the 2013 entries for Insitutional Members from the American Quarterly (has to be viewed in full screen to be readable):

ASA Institutional Members 2013

UPDATE NO. 2, 9:15 p.m. — The Princeton alumnus who wrote earlier wrote to apologize, and that yes I was right, Princeton does have a membership:

Professor Jacobson

I stand correct and must apologize. Although the Professor who provided the information usually has impeccable knowledge and is an active member of the Jewish community, the Program Manager confirmed to a student that Princeton does have a membership.

Thank you for your efforts.


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Princeton, here is a go-by from Brandeis University that hits the nail right on the head:

“A Statement from the American Studies Program on the recent move by the American Studies Association to boycott Israel:

It is a with deep regret that we in the American Studies Program at Brandeis University have decided to discontinue our institutional affiliation with the American Studies Association. We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster. We remain committed to the discipline of American Studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture– freedom of association and expression.”

Or, at least be reminded of Hannah Arendt’s warning of Hive-mindedness or groupthink:

This morning I emailed my Rabbi suggesting that an effort be made to bring together as many Rabbi’s as possible to join your efforts in a unified group.
It would be significant if our religious leaders were to form a block to counterattack now the second academic society that is boycotting Israel.
It is essential we act now before any more momentum is created by the anti-Israel (anti-Semites) movement.

It would probably help if there were broader support for an ASA boycott. Being perceived as a right-wing issue may be counterproductive on many campuses and drive off potential support.

I don’t know if there’s a way to do this, though.

Perhaps good to use the Professor’s above letter as a template, as it succinctly makes the points why the ASA move is so pernicious and how it flies in the face the mission of a university as a whole.

Perhaps also good idea to include links in the email to the pertinent posts here at LI and the LI contact email?

Is it possible that continued participation by these institutions in the ASA might put them in violation of federal anti-boycott laws?

You are doing yeoman’s work on this project. While you are sending copies of your letters to the communications directors, why not copy the school newspaper AND the biggest local papers as well? Let the whole communities know about it.

Include copies or links to the statements of the “refuseniks” like Brandeis, so they know they won’t be the first.