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American Studies Association walks back anti-Israel boycott (but damage is done)

American Studies Association walks back anti-Israel boycott (but damage is done)

The fields of American Studies and the Humanties are as much victims of ASA’s political activism as are Israeli universities and scholars.

Ever since I started covering the anti-Israel academic boycott of the American Studies Association in December 2013, I have interacted with some of its members who are reasonable people concerned about the direction the ASA has taken.  But those voices have been drowned out by a shrill and vocal minority.

A little publicized fact is that less than one quarter of the membership voted in favor of the boycott (and depending on which membership numbers you use, perhaps as few as 16%), but it was enough to change the course of the organization due to low overall participation.

Once known as a somewhat obscure but well-regarded organization, ASA now is a pariah (as the NY Times described it) because of the boycott. ASA has become the poster child for how a relatively small group of anti-Israel radicals can take over key committees of a relatively small organization and leverage that power for a political agenda.

In this case, the agenda is the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, conceived of and scripted at the anti-Semitic 2001 Durban conference.  Part of the Durban script was to have Palestinian civil groups issue a call for a boycott.  That took place, and now groups like ASA cite the civil call for a boycott as their justification, ignoring its roots and preplanning.

At a time when the Humanities and Social Sciences are suffering and Ph.D. graduate students in fields like American Studies have few job prospects, the leadership and activists at ASA devote their energies to demonizing and delegitimizing Israel.

During this year’s annual meeting, an entire day will be devoted to an offsite program run by ASA’s Activism Caucus (yes, there really is such a thing) to teach faculty from around the country how to boycott Israeli universities, faculty, and scholars. ASA in a real sense has become a political activist organization.

The boycott, as applied to ASA’s annual meeting, was discriminatory, and the hotel was put on notice that the hotel had potential liability.

That caused the ASA leadership to walk back the annual meeting boycott rules, and it now will allow Israeli representatives of Israeli academic institutions and even the government to attend.  Even Bibi Netanyahu, if he wanted.

For more recent background on how ASA has been forced to walk back part of its boycott, see my post Academic boycott busted — American Studies Assoc backs off anti-Israel conference rules.

But along the way to walking back the boycott rules, the ASA leadership engaged in make-believe, pretending there never even were such boycott rules.  Professor Eugene Kontorovich’s post today at Volokh Conspiracy blog at The Washington Post, ASA policy reversal delegitimizes BDS, but does not reverse past discrimination (via Instapundit), completely refutes that ASA fantasy:

“If the ASA’s original action was important for popularizing such boycotts (at least in the narrow quarters of area studies), its reversal is equally important for showing them to be beyond the pale. It will be extremely hard for other academic groups to now put a good face on adopting a boycott that the ASA has done so much to distance itself from. This is underscored by the ASA’s dodgy and frantic triangulation about its boycott policy. . . . While having the revolutionary vanguard of the boycott movement disclaiming such efforts is welcome, their rewriting history to claim the boycott never happened is less so.”

There also are good posts on the subject at The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The Daily Caller, Washington Free Beacon, Truth Revolt, and elsewhere.

The ASA leadership is now pretending it never had a boycott of Israeli universities or representatives of Israeli universities, even though it clearly did, and we have the screenshots, Google Cache, and Wayback Machine records to prove it.

The ability to deny what is demonstrably provable and proven is not an attractive feature for anyone, but certainly not for the leadership of an entity which already has tarnished itself and the entire field of American Studies with its anti-Israel obsession.

Perhaps the adults in the ASA room will regain control of the organization from the political activists, but that seems unlikely in the short run. The paradigm for such takeovers is that once established through control of key committees and personnel in positions to control the agenda, it is hard to take back an organization.

In the meantime, the Humanities continue to suffer not just from general economy and higher ed bubble, but from the loss of reputation caused by the activists and leadership of the ASA and the academic BDS movement.


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I’ve been waiting all along to hear what a boycott of Israel has to do with ‘American Studies’.

Do Israeli scholars and academic organizations regularly participate in scholarly activity around ‘American Studies’? There is at least one academic person (currently unemployed) who equates the treatment of Palestinians with that of Native Americans — is that a common, fruitful topic of conversation in ‘American Studies’?

I ask because I, in my ignorance, would have thought that the ASA would be a most unlikely place for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to fester in the first place. Shows you what little I know.

Rather, it seems that this is just another iteration of the long march of the progressive movement through each and every institution in the western world. They can’t leave anything behind, can they.