Jewish Organizations, Political Pundits Object to ASA Decision to Endorse Boycott of Israeli Academics
by Joshua Levitt
Jewish organizations and political pundits on Wednesday objected to the American Studies Association’s vote on Monday to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, with arguments that the move is anti-Semitic, as it covers for Jew hatred, intellectually dishonest, by singling out Israel in a world of human rights abusers, and potentially illegal, because it forces a 501 (c)(3) non-profit to make a political statement.
On Monday, the ASA said 66.05% voted in favor of the motion, 30.5% voted against and 3.43% abstained. While the ASA said the vote signified the largest turnout in its association history, at only about 25% of its 5,000 members, it meant that only 16% of its membership actually voted in favor of the resolution.
In a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, Michael Salberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s Director for International Affairs, wrote that the ASA vote was “based on a one-dimensional and biased perspective on Israel and the conflict” and quoted former Harvard University President Larry Summers who addressed the same issue a decade ago:
“Lawrence H. Summers, when president of Harvard, said it best when he was faced with a similar effort to wage an academic boycott against the Jewish state more than a decade ago: ‘Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.’ More recently with regard to the American Studies Association, Mr. Summers rightly questioned whether university funds should be used to finance faculty membership in an association that is being used not as a scholarly association but as a political tool.”
“The group’s resolution blacklisting Israeli universities damages the cause of academic freedom, unfairly demonizes Israel, and certainly does nothing to advance the cause of a lasting Palestinian-Israeli peace.”
In a separate statement, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, said:
“This shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom by the American Studies Association should be soundly condemned by all who are committed to the ideal that open exchange of ideas is the most effective way to achieve change. Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel — the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish — is based on a myopic and fundamentally distorted perspective of Israel and the conflict and is manifestly unjust.”“We call on academic institutions across the United States to enhance their existing relationships with Israeli universities and research institutions and stand resolutely in support of open exchange, dialogue and study.”
Kenneth Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s Director on Anti-Semitism and Extremism, said:
“This abhorrent action is blatant discrimination against Israelis. Why are Israeli academic institutions the only universities in the world to be shunned? Well, as ASA President Curtis Marez said, ‘one has to start somewhere.'”
“Frankly, Mr. Marez’s observation is shameful. Academic freedom is based on the principle that human civilization benefits from the free flow of ideas and knowledge. This resolution – ghettoizing knowledge simply because it is tied to Israeli academic institutions – violates the core principles of the academy.”
On Monday, Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, said, “This vote to boycott Israel, one of the most democratic and academically free nations on the globe, shows the Orwellian anti-Semitism and moral bankruptcy of the American Studies Association.”
“The Middle East is literally filled with dead from governments’ reaction to the convulsions of the ‘Arab Spring,’ but the American Studies Association singles out the Jewish State, the one Middle Eastern country that shares American values, for opprobrium? No wonder many Americans dismiss the academy as deeply biased and disconnected with reality.”
“The ASA should follow the example of the American Association of University Professors, which notes that any such boycott ‘undermines exactly the freedoms one wants to defend, and it takes aim at the wrong target.”
“In a supporting document called ‘Answering Questions About the ASA Boycott from Department Chairs, Deans, Administrators,’ the ASA instructs its members that its mission is to ‘make a positive contribution to human understanding’ and ‘support diversity and equity’ and ‘contribute to solving world problems’ (there is no mention of scholarship, of course: these people long ago obliterated the distinction between academia and activism), but in truth only one ‘world problem,’ only one problem of ‘human understanding,’ exercises it, and it is the problem of the Palestinians.”
“They and they alone are the universal touchstone of decency. A few hours away from Palestine six million people are refugees in their own country, where they are being bombed by their government, and starving in the snow, and fighting polio; but never mind them, they are not Israel’s victims, and it is the turpitude of the Jewish state, not the actually existing misery in the region and the world, that offends the ASA. Compared with Aleppo, Ramallah is San Diego. But one has to start somewhere.”
“The ASA is hardly an organization whose pronouncements shake the earth, and its boycott resolution probably won’t join the Balfour Declaration and PLO Charter in the Arab-Israeli conflict’s pantheon of defining documents. But because it typifies a certain type of empty intellectual posturing on a complicated issue and because both supporters and opponents of the BDS movement engage in some over-the-top rhetoric about resolutions of this type, it is worth thinking about the support base for the kind of anti-Israel resolution that so many academics longing to feel cutting-edge about something seem to be drawn toward.”
“Other than the anti-Semitism it’s all very understandable, but a professional body that lets itself be dominated by these kinds of concerns doesn’t do itself much good. Sometimes the critics of these sanctions efforts go too far themselves, and dismiss the whole complicated mess as a simple episode of anti-Semitism run amuck. What’s happening is much more complicated, but the more I look at the half-baked anti-Israel resolutions the trendy left keeps proposing, the more confident I am that academic country boycotts and campus speech restrictions are two excellent examples of things this world can do without.”
In Time, Rabbi David Wolpe, of Los Angeles’s Temple Sinai wrote:
“It may not be immediately obvious to you that an Israeli professor who specializes in Faulkner is a threat to international stability, but you are sadly deceived. Because as the ‘FAQ’ sheet of the ASA helpfully informs us, the universities themselves are part of ‘the ideological and institutional scaffolding of the Zionist settler colonial project.’ If you thought such fusty pseudo-Marxism crumbled with the Berlin wall, welcome to the modern professorate, guardians of the good and moral scold of the only western style democracy the Middle East has to show.”
“The cost of this self-righteousness carries with it the stench of Anti-Semitism. On our troubled globe, where states do truly terrible things to their people, gassing them, slaughtering them en masse, impoverishing and immiserating them, I am aware of only one country whose continued existence has been called into question. Should Zimbabwe exist? Or Sudan? Or Syria? Only Israel is subjected to constant questioning of its right to remain a nation. Israel, a sliver of a country surrounded by tyrannical regimes or perpetually unstable governments, free for the moment from war because of strength and not because of neighborly goodwill, this Israel is the target of the opprobrium of preening academics the world over. The question is not whether members of the ASA are anti-Semites, as individuals. All this is not because the world’s only Jewish state is uniquely evil. It is just uniquely Jewish.”
Meanwhile, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association on Wednesday said it had also declared its support for a boycott in a statement entitled, Declaration of Support for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions:
“As the elected council of an international community of Indigenous and allied non-Indigenous scholars, students, and public intellectuals who have studied and resisted the colonization and domination of Indigenous lands via settler state structures throughout the world, we strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples.”
The Forward wrote that the next battle ground on the debate would be at the annual conference of the 30,000-member Modern Language Association, which meets in Chicago for its annual conference, starting on January 9. Meanwhile, Peter Beinart, in The Daily Beast, asked why the ASA went beyond even what Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had advocated last week, what Beinart also supports, a limited boycott of Israeli products from Judea and Samaria, rather than from the whole country.
Legal experts also objected to the ASA vote. Lawyers said move may open the group to a legal challenge, as the vote may have abrogated the ASA’s U.S. 501(c)(3) tax exemption charter, which does not allow non-profits to take political positions. As The Algemeiner reported on Monday, William A. Jacobson, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Securities Law Clinic at Cornell Law School, and the author of the LegalInsurrection.com blog said he, with the help of tax lawyer expert Alan P. Dye, Esq., Partner at Webster, Chamberlain & Bean, LLP, would challenge the ASA’s status because of the vote.
On Wednesday, David Abrams, a New York City-based lawyer placed an ad on the popular pro-Israel Elder of Ziyon blog, seeking out ASA members who objected to the vote and wanted to join a class action suit to challenge the move.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Abrams said, “My idea is that there is a doctrine called ‘ultra vires’ which says that a corporation may not exceed the bounds of its organizational charter.”
Abrams said he felt moved to take on the case because “I am a proud supporter of Israel.”