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Stunning defeat for BDS at American Historical Association (Updated)

Stunning defeat for BDS at American Historical Association (Updated)

Resolution condemning Israeli violation of Palestinian academic freedom DEFEATED at Annual Business Meeting

I really had expected the worst regarding the anti-Israel resolution being voted on at the Business Meeting taking place at the American Historical Association’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

For full background and details, see our prior post, American Historical Association to Consider Anti-Israel Resolution. The Times of Israel also had an extensive write-up today, in which I was extensively quoted.

If the Resolution had passed the Business Meeting, it likely would have gone to a full membership vote. I thought the Resolution had a chance because, as I was quoted in The Times of Israel:

“The way these business meetings go is most people don’t show up,” Jacobson said. “Most don’t even go to the annual meeting, and most who do go to the annual meeting don’t go to the business meeting. It comes on the last day, late in the afternoon, when a lot of people have already left town. So if you have an organized group of a couple of hundred people, they may be able to get this through the business meeting because they are the ones most motivated to show up.”

The vote just took place, and the Resolution was soundly defeated, 51 for, 111 against.

This is a stunning defeat for BDS because the Resolution was not even a full boycott resolution, it was a scaled back condemnation of Israel.

While some groups, like the American Studies Association, have become captive anti-Israel political organizations, it’s satisfying to see that at least at the American Historical Association, sanity and reason have prevailed.

UPDATES 1-10-2016:

So why did the resolution fail? A Legal Insurrection reader who is at the AHA conference wrote to me:

I am an AHA (and Alliance for Academic Freedom) member, also currently involved with anti-BDS in my Christian denomination. Since someone asked in your comment section: I was at the meeting today and know some of the organizers against the resolution. They were well mobilized, but there was also a substantial contingent of people who had simply heard about this, found the BDS push obnoxious, and showed up without making any contact with AAF people beforehand.

Pro-BDS people did not make their case as effectively and polished as I thought they would. One even said “I always thought the AHA is a progressive organization, not a conservative one,” which is absolute bogus for an academic society. At least it should be. More people lined up to speak against the resolution than for it, and the vote came quicker than expected.

Prof. Jeffrey Herf of U. Maryland, who was instrumental in fighting the resolution and attended the business meeting, was quoted in the Times of Israel:

“They understood that this was part of a political campaign and an attempt to use the American Historical Association for political purposes, and they rejected that,” he told The Times of Israel. “The members of the AHA have very high standards. They were not going to vote for a resolution like this that was making factual assertions that they couldn’t verify themselves.”

Inside Higher Ed quotes several people:

Roger Horowitz, director of the Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library, said he felt “anger” at Historians Against the War, the group pushing the resolution, for the way it framed the issue. He said he was a Jewish person who has long been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but that the resolution amounted to geographical and intellectual “fiction.”

“You presented a terrible resolution, a resolution which does not provide an opportunity for critics of Zionism and critics of the treatment of Palestinians to register a fair vote,” he said. “And you’ve done this by singling out Israel and not providing a proper frame for understanding the crisis in the Middle East and the crisis of opportunity for people in these countries.… It’s just intellectually bankrupt to say that this will be solved by a resolution criticizing Israel.” ….

David Greenberg, associate professor of history at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, said that Afghanistan receives more U.S. aid than does Israel and has major educational access problems concerning girls and women. And China, which is regularly accused of academic freedom violations, benefits greatly as a primary U.S. trading partner, he said. Egypt, Venezuela and other countries also have questionable records, he said.

“We should not turn the AHA into a vehicle for a specific Middle East agenda,” Greenberg said.
He and other speakers said they worried that the resolution also would prove divisive within the AHA and tarnish its reputation.

Richard Golden, a professor of history at the University of North Texas asked, “Why are we considering a resolution that has nothing to do with the great aims of this organization?” He also called the resolution condescending toward Palestinians in that it undermined their own role in their problems,, as well as oversimplified the issues. If Canada was sending missiles over the U.S. border, he said, students at the University of Toronto might have issues entering the United States….

One association member, William James H. Hoffer, a professor of history at Seton Hall University, said after some 40 minutes of debate that he still wanted to know why Israel alone was in the hot seat. He said he could be wrong but that he suspected — despite his own serious misgivings about Israel’s actions regarding Palestinians — “that it’s because it’s a Jewish state.”

What the AHA vote shows is that historians as a group take their scholarship and academic standing seriously.

Other groups, like the American Studies Association and National Women’s Studies Association, view themselves as political organizations where the scholarship — if you call it that — is in the service of the politics. No wonder the Humanities and Social Sciences are held in such low esteem — the political junkies have turned once serious subjects and departments into political engines, and even the serious scholars get tarnished.

When you have committed anti-Israel BDS advocates like the infamous Steven Salaita on the national council of the American Studies Association, you know it’s just a political organization masquerading as an educational tax-exempt entity. See my prior post, Anti-Israel boycotters tighten grip on American Studies Association.

I’ve said many times that BDS will destroy academia long before it destroys Israel. The American Historical Association, at least, did not want to become party to that self-destruction.


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Donald Douglas | January 9, 2016 at 6:56 pm

Great blogging, William!

It seems there were some members who decided to stay to counter this resolution. I hope that’s the case. I would rather this was a defeat that was planned by an opposing group and not just happenstance. The defeat was significant and it may take the wind out of their sails if they know there is a formidable foe willing to fight back.

That’s two years in a row, yes?

I hope this result becomes as routine as the resolution.

DDsModernLife | January 9, 2016 at 8:28 pm

You have to figure that BDS would be a hard sell to anyone with some knowledge of history, right?

It’s simple housekeeping: Once normal, competent people know they have roaches, they can easily find out how to get rid if them, and most of them succeed.

Wonderful news!!!

Almost nobody else covers this, and nobody does it better!

Survivor's Son | January 10, 2016 at 1:59 pm

I have been following this issue on college campuses for approx. 2 years. I consider myself a little left of center (perhaps this means I am a progressive), but I do not understand why being a progressive automatically means that one must support BDS. I also spent 14 years in academia in a previous career, and I was shocked at how faculty, on the progressive or conservative side of the ledger, used academia to support their political agenda despite rational evidence to the contrary. Should we be truly surprised that academia reflects our nation, where both sides of the political spectrum ignore facts in favor of ideology?

    ” I also spent 14 years in academia in a previous career, and I was shocked at how faculty, on the progressive or conservative side of the ledger, used academia to support their political agenda.”

    Wow. You actually knew conservatives in academia? They are as rare as a Unicorn sighting!

How does academia reflect our nation? The is a lack of ideological diversity at American colleges and universities these days. And please point out where the right is ignoring facts in favor of ideology?