Thank the American Studies Association for anti-boycott trade legislation passed today.
The anti-Israel activists employed as professors who led the fight at the American Studies Association to pass the academic boycott of Israel in December 2013, have been patting themselves on the back ever since.
The ASA humiliatingly had to back down from its plan to bar representatives of Israeli academic institutions from its annual meeting, eventually promising that even Bibi Netanyahu could attend.
The profs seething with hatred of Israel, and anti-Zionist websites which promoted their academic boycott agenda, saw it differently. In their own minds, they were on the cusp of a historic anti-Israel paradigm change. The future belonged to the boycotters, in their minds.
The reality has not worked out that way. Other than some very small faculty organizations, no major academic group has adopted the boycott. No university in the U.S. is even considering a boycott.
But the hyperbolic hateful rhetoric by the profs did have an effect.
First of all, it has created hysteria in which Israelis and supporters of Israel tend to exaggerate the actual impact of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in the United States. Loud mouths get lots of press. And as I’ve said many times, the academic boycott movement and its fellow travelers deserve to be taken as a serious concern, because bad things start small..
But we need to react strategically and methodically, not out of emotion or fear. The effects of a generation of anti-Israel professorial activism on campus have had an impact on some segments of the student population, and that is a concern. But it a concern which must be addressed generationally — we need to take back the campuses from the anti-Israel professoriate, but that will take many years. So too anti-Israel activism in some churches.
Second, and more important, the anti-Israel profs at the American Studies Association awakened a sleeping giant, in the form of American public opinion which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. It’s not even close. The dreaded “Israel Lobby” that is the subject of demagoguery is, in fact, the American people.
Despite tensions between Obama and Bibi Netanyahu, it remains true that Americans and Israelis are on the same page, at many levels. Just as the U.S. political branches reacted to the Arab League boycott of Israel in the 1970s with legislation, so too the ASA boycott ignited a movement to address BDS, the new form of boycott.
The academic boycott, while nasty and potentially destructive to our own system, never was going to do nearly as much damage to Israel as the potential of European Union BDS sanctions on Israel, whether governmental or private. EU economic sanctions could have hurt a lot more than some Assistant Professor of Me, Me, Me Studies in the Humanities Department refusing to attend a conference in Israel.
And that is where trade legislation passed by the Senate today comes in. As previously described, supporters of BDS who understand the movement and are not completely wrapped up in their campus bubbles, understood that language requiring anti-BDS provisions as part of any trade deal would be the death of economic BDS in Europe.
Since there is no meaningful economic BDS in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world other than Europe, that meant the single biggest blow to BDS yet.
Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL), who has been instrumental in anti-BDS legislation, issued the following statement today:
Today, Congressman Peter Roskam (IL-06), co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, released the following statement after House and Senate passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, which includes bipartisan language Roskam authored to combat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. These provisions, which were originally introduced as Roskam’s H.R. 825, the U.S.-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, were unanimously adopted into the House and Senate versions of TPA in April.
“Today, for the first time in nearly four decades, Congress sent legislation to the President’s desk to combat efforts to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel. The recent wave of boycotts originating in Europe, including French telecom company Orange’s decision this month to sever ties with Israel, demands a robust response from the United States. This is that response. The bipartisan TPA provisions I authored are simple: if you want free trade with the United States, you can’t boycott Israel. After today, discouraging economic warfare against Israel will be central to our free trade negotiations with the European Union. Congress will not be complicit in the marginalization of our ally Israel by watching these attacks from the sidelines. Instead, we have decided to fight back against the BDS movement and ensure the continued strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Those trade provisions, however, did not just happen.
The Jerusalem Post accurately traces the passage today of trade legislation with strong anti-boycott language directly to the ASA boycott (emphasis added):
“Four decades have passed since Congress last agreed on a law pushing back against boycotts of Israel worldwide. That streak was broken by the Senate Wednesday, at a moment perhaps prescient, as European capitals consider new measures to highlight and punish Israel’s continued “occupation” of the West Bank….
TPA, which passed through the Senate and landed on the president’s desk, includes roughly 150 trade negotiating objectives – requirements of the president, as mandated by Congress, to raise specific US priorities in its negotiations.
One of those objectives is to push back against efforts within the EU to sponsor the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel….
The process began with a December 2013 op-ed in Politico Magazine written by Michael Oren, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, which challenged Congress to respond to the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israel – by no means the first protest of its kind, but an early sign of what was to come from similar organizations based in Europe.
A letter of support circulated around Capitol Hill, signatures were collected, and a bill was ultimately passed reinforcing Congress’s commitment to academic freedom. But the concern lay in the tactic.
What if measures taken by ASA were used by other organizations against Israel as a form of economic warfare? Several congressmen, including Roskam, made note that the first free trade agreement signed by the US was with Israel. They sought a legislative solution with teeth: a bill that would establish any future trade pact with foreign nations boycotting Israel as being in direct contravention of the existing US-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
That’s right folks, the ASA boycott may not have hurt Israel much, but it led directly to the trade legislation which has dealt a damaging blow to the BDS movement.
I don’t expect the profs to give up the fight. Expect a new round of campus divestment and faculty association academic boycott calls starting this fall. It’s what they do. It’s their lives. They have to justify themselves.
And attacks on Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, and the climate of intimidation, will likely intensify as the BDSers realize that the country as a whole has turned on them. Expect more dorm stormings, disruptions of speeches and classes, and other acts of intimidation.
And we will continue to fight against these campus bullies, and to defend the academic freedom of students and faculty who want to interact with Israelis.
UCLA pro-Israel students just took back control of student government from the group that passed divestment, and Bowdoin College students overwhelmingly rejected the academic boycott. When fully informed, there is little appetite among most students for what BDS is selling.
Meanwhile, the people’s representatives will continue to work on behalf of the overwhelming majority of Americans who side with Israel. Already, Illinois and South Carolina have passed anti-BDS legislation. Other states are promising the same.
As Professor Eugene Kontorovich points out, there will be more, and soon:
The law calls for more state boycott legislation, so there will be more where it came from. https://t.co/PGtc6monWR
— Eugene Kontorovich (@EVKontorovich) June 24, 2015
The faculty BDSers at the American Studies Association were quite proud to think of themselves as the hunters of Israelis.
But they shot themselves in the foot.
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