Turkish academic purge puts anti-Israel academic boycotters to the test – why is Israel singled out?
Yesterday I asked the question, in light of the academic purge in Turkey, Will anti-Israel academic boycotters now also boycott Turkish universities?
As noted in that post, over 250 university presidents and major university associations have condemned the academic boycott of Israel. In particular, the December 2013 adoption of the academic boycott of Israel by the American Studies Association was condemned as violation of academic freedom.
Read the dozens and dozens of statements describing how the ASA has violated academic freedom here.
The American Association of University Professors, which has acted at the unofficial authority on academic freedom since the early 1900s, came out against the ASA’s academic boycott of Israel because it views any systematic academic boycott as destructive:
The Association recognizes the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree. We believe, however, that when such noncooperation takes the form of a systematic academic boycott, it threatens the principles of free expression and communication on which we collectively depend….
We understand that threats to or infringements of academic freedom may occasionally seem so dire as to require compromising basic precepts of academic freedom, but we resist the argument that extraordinary circumstances should be the basis for limiting our fundamental commitment to the free exchange of ideas and their free expression.
The ASA was unmoved. To the contrary, it doubled down on the academic boycott of Israel by threatening to bar representatives of Israeli academic institutions from attending its 2014 annual meeting in California. Only after threat of legal action under California’s anti-discrimination laws did ASA relent, and announced that even Bibi Netanyahu was welcome.
ASA’s national council now is led by supporters of the academic boycott of Israel, including its current President Robert Warrior, formerly of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, now at the University of Kansas. Other BDS supporters on the national council include the controversial hate-tweeting Professor Steven Salaita (American U. Beirut), Nadine Nabar (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Jodi Melamed (Marquette University).
One of the concerns with academic boycotts is where to stop. If Israel is boycotted, why not China, Russian, Israel’s neighboring Arab countries, and dozens of other countries. It’s the dilemma I pointed out yesterday when I noted that when ASA adopted the Israel boycott, its then-President Curtis Marez justified singling out Israel because “one has to start somewhere”:
The American Studies Association has never before called for an academic boycott of any nation’s universities, said Curtis Marez, the group’s president and an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. He did not dispute that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, are generally judged to have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s, or comparable, but he said, “one has to start somewhere.”
So now supporters of the academic boycott of Israel face a test — expand the academic boycott to Turkey, or be revealed to be hypocrites at best, or as Alan Dershowitz predicted, anti-Semites who start and stop with the majority-Jewish state at worst.
…. As scholarly associations, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The recent moves in Turkey herald a massive and virtually unprecedented assault on those principles….
As scholarly organizations, we collectively call for respect for academic freedom—including freedom of expression, opinion, association and travel—and the autonomy of universities in Turkey, offer our support to our Turkish colleagues, second the Middle East Studies Association’s “call for action” of January 15, request that Turkey’s diplomatic interlocutors (both states and international organizations) advocate vigorously for the rights of Turkish scholars and the autonomy of Turkish universities, suggest other scholarly organizations speak forcefully about the threat to the Turkish academy, and alert academic institutions throughout the world that Turkish colleagues are likely to need moral and substantive support in the days ahead.
None of the other faculty organizations signing onto the letter, other than ASA, has adopted an academic boycott of Israel (though the American Anthropological Association came close).
I communicated with ASA staff and was told that an academic boycott of Turkey “is one of the possible responses being discussed.” Staff could provide no further details, stating “we know there are discussions, but we do not have those details. Typically, such proposals with details emerge from caucuses or ad hoc groups of members.”
I emailed Warrior, the ASA President and supporter of the academic boycott of Israel: “Can you tell me if the ASA plans an academic boycott of Turkish universities along the lines of the ASA academic boycott of Israel?” As of this writing, I have not received a response.
Should ASA adopt an academic boycott of Turkey, the next question is why stop at Turkey? Why not Saudi Arabia, Iran, territory controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, China (how’s that Tibet occupation going?), and elsewhere.
In light of the Turkish academic purge, other organizations considering an Israel boycott in the 2016-2017 season, such as the Modern Language Association, will have to consider expanding academic boycotts to Turkey and elsewhere.
To be consistent and demonstrate a lack of bias, ASA and other anti-Israel academic boycotters are going to have to destroy the interconnections that sustain academia globally — exactly the destructive snowball effect of which the American Association of University Professors warned.
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