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January 5, 2015 2:06 pm

Historical Association’s Rejection of Anti-Israel Resolutions is a ‘Significant Day in American Intellectual History,’ Says Top Academic (VIDEO)

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The American Historical Association voted against debating two anti-Israel resolutions at its annual meeting in New York. Image: AHA

A leading American academic opponent of the campaign to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education has hailed last night’s refusal of the American Historical Association (AHA) to consider two anti-Israel resolutions submitted to its annual business meeting in New York.

A motion to suspend the rules of the meeting in order for the resolutions to be discussed was resoundingly defeated, with 144 votes against, 54 in favor, and three abstentions.

“This is a significant day in American intellectual history,” Jeffrey Herf, the Distinguished University Professor in the History Department at the University of Maryland, told The Algemeiner. “Scholars have rejected the idea that there is no distinction between politics and scholarship.”

Herf explained that last night’s debate at the AHA meeting concentrated entirely on procedural issues, and did not address the substantive claims raised in two separate resolutions, one condemning Israel for allegedly limiting “the entry of foreign nationals who seek to lecture, teach and attend conferences at Palestinian universities,” and the other decrying Israel for supposed “acts of violence and intimidation…against Palestinian researchers and their archival collections.”

The procedural focus stemmed, Herf said, from the “incompetent, inept and deceptive” approach of the resolutions’ sponsors, the radical group Historians Against the War (HAW,) which came into being in 2003 in order to oppose the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship in Iraq. According to Herf, HAW’s initial resolution was rejected by the AHA Council for not carrying the requisite number of signatures.

That resolution, which advocated the academic boycott, was in any case quickly withdrawn when its proponents realized they would not be able to muster enough support to secure its passage. Instead, the two separate resolutions, which attacked Israel harshly but did not include a boycott call, were filed on December 22. After a spirited debate last night, AHA members voted against suspending the rules of their meeting in order to discuss the resolutions.

“What happened was the failure of an old tactic – to pack a meeting and hope that you can win the vote,” Herf said. His argument that there simply wasn’t enough time for those present to evaluate the claims of the resolutions from a scholarly standpoint “stuck a chord,” he said, with many of those present. “AHA doesn’t want be led around by the nose by an organized minority that is trying to hijack the organization for political purposes. We are not a political organization and we are not the United Nations General Assembly.”

Similar arguments were offered by Herf’s colleagues, some of whom are involved with the Alliance for Academic Freedom, a liberal group which rejects academic boycotts while urging an end to the “Israeli occupation” of the West Bank. A flier distributed before the meeting noted that the AHA “sets a high bar before allowing eleventh-hour changes in the business meeting’s agenda, because it takes seriously the democratic, scholarly, and educational process.” A separate letter to AHA President Jan Goldstein from Professor Sonya Michel of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars argued that “deciding to place the resolutions on the agenda for the upcoming Business Meeting would contravene bylaws put in place to ensure members adequate time and opportunity for full consideration of important issues – issues that, in this case, are by all accounts extremely controversial.”

In his conversation with The Algemeiner, Herf drew attention to a letter he sent on December 14 to Professor Goldstein in which he warned that the adoption of the resolutions “would send a chill especially to young scholars, whose careers could be ended or damaged if they were to take a different view of events in the Middle East.”

In the same letter, Herf highlighted a number of factual inaccuracies in the texts of the resolutions, such as the claim that Israel “arbitrarily denies” entry to foreign academics seeking to teach at Palestinian universities, and the assertion that Israel deliberately targeted the Oral History Center of the Islamic University in Gaza on August 2, at the height of the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. In response to the first claim, Herf quoted the leading Israeli journalist Ehud Ya’ari, who informed him that “Israel does not interfere with foreign academics coming to Palestinian area unless they intend to participate in anti-Israeli activities or support terrorist groups like Hamas. Many foreign academics are now teaching in Palestinian universities and some were allowed to cross into Gaza during Operation Protective Edge this past summer.”

Answering the second claim, Herf pointed out that the strike on the Islamic University targeted an “R&D facility within the campus serving Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades [Hamas’s military wing] where different components of rockets were manufactured…The Oral History center was never targeted but there may have been collateral damage.”

Following last night’s vote, Herf said that he was encouraged by the fact that many liberal critics of Israeli policy opted not to vote in favor of discussing the resolutions. “They didn’t like the way procedure was being abused and they don’t want to see their academic discipline politicized,” he said. Herf was additionally heartened that last night’s vote marked “a step away from the destruction of social sciences and humanities in US universities.”

Last night’s vote was the latest in a series of attempts by academic advocates of the boycott to win over academic associations to their campaign. In December 2013, the American Studies Association passed a resolution to boycott Israel, while the Middle East Studies Association may yet do so. However, last year’s meetings of both the Modern Language Association and the American Anthropological Association rejected the boycott proposal.

Watch a video containing highlights of last night’s AHA debate:

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  • Israel should stop sending money to PA and look after their Holocaust victims,poor and pensioners!I am a Gentile but a Born Again Christian 100% in support of Israel trying to give a good donation to ALLIYAH!However I find that Jonathon Bernis,CEO of Jewish Voice has a salary of $150,000yearly and is grossly overweight(fat cat, glutton)while I want to donate a large part of my $10,500 yearly income as 75 yearly state pensioner!By the way I am not FAT!He is stopping me and many others from donating to a God given calling close to our hearts!Do any persons know of a more honest ALLIYAH org..P.S.Dying to donate!!!!

    • Judith Benattar

      James Alford,
      How about donating to CUFI, Christians United for Israel. As a Christian you will find many like-minded individuals (when it comes to Israel at least) and as a Jew, I am a member and am awed by their focus and effectiveness in supporting the Jewish State. I am in love with CUFI!!! I wish more Jewish people would hop onto their website and sign up. You will be brought to tears by their undying messages of support for Israel and their deep understanding of the issues and their commitment to defend Israel on college campuses and at all levels of government.
      I love CUFI!!!!
      We Jews need to build more bridges beyond our own Jewish communities. We cannot fight the evil Israel faces alone, and thanks to CUFI (and other organizations like it), we definitely are not fighting this battle alone.
      Good luck!

  • Israel-haters, a proxy for would-be Jew-bullies, just IGNORE Israel’s good points. They air-brush them out as if they don’t exist. That’s the tactic.

    Israel’s university are full of Muslim students. The Hebrew University is 13% Muslim. Beersheva, Ben Gurion and Haifa and others all boast high Muslim content. You would never know this from proposers of the American Historical Society (AHA) resolutions. They called for B D S and more.

    This time they failed. But they’re unlikely to give up.

  • May Hashem save us all from the liberal Jews.

    • Jack

      oy vaye!

      • Jack

        Or would you prefer ‘oi vey’ maybe…

  • Benjamin Abrahams

    Every time I read about the ” Occupied territories “I get more and more sickened by the wilful stupidity the Anti-Semites show by not mentioning facts about the territory that the “so called Palestinians” call Palestine. As Palestine never existed as an independent state with her own borders or culture or language or customs or history, but for that those Arabs living in the Middle-East, now claiming to be Palestinians only got their identity after Israel for them recovered the land, designated by the UN vote in 1947 to be released from the British mandate as to become an independent Arabic state. Since then that land was occupied by Jordan and Egypt. In fact Israel liberated that land and gave a large jurisdiction to her inhabitants,while administering her interests abroad as no agreement could be reached on her future political stance. These are plain facts for anyone who can see, but those who are blinded by their Anti-Semitic feelings can not obviously see the truth and should either visit an eye-doctor a psychiatrist before they open their mouths again.

  • Reform School

    If Truth-in-Labeling laws were in force (and enforced) in the Islamic world (or Liberal Cock-adaemia) H.A.W. would stand for ‘Hysterians Against Wisdom’ or would need to be renamed W.H.O.R.E. (for ‘Women-Hating Oil-Region Emirs’).

  • steven L

    It never hurts to start the NY on the right footing.

  • west

    This is an interesting report. But sorry to say, it is written way above my head.

    What I can’t understand is the issue with boycotts. Whoever wants to boycott has the right do do so. However, nobody should be forced through procedural trickery to be made a party of it. Veracity and integrity will always win in the long run.

  • Andrew

    When we vote on the Middle East Israel and Palestinian governments especially the Palestinian we need to especially consider peace in the region Egypt does not want them other countries have kicked them out for what Palestinians do that live in Israel is for the security of Israel if America were worried about Canada bombing it are Mexico doing the same would not we protect ourselves until Palestinian people are willing to put the money that the US gives them to their people building hospitals building an infrastructure for the betterment of its people the same way Israel did they do not have anything complain about sincerely yours Andrew

  • P Kipnis

    Good!!! I’m delighted that they put academic integrity above political hi-jinks. Packing a meeting with the purpose of hi-jacking the meeting is neither an academic or integral value. Debate requires study and thoughtful debate. Rants and political diatribe fail the smell test when presented in an academic setting. Congratulations to the Historians who understand the value of academic integrity.


    Boycotting Israel, in my opinion, is nothing more than anti semitism. It is on the rise and this is one of the places it has reared it’s ugly head. Israel can stand on her own, thank goodness. What I do not, and never will, understand, is how so very many people hate Jews, when they only make up 1/2 of 1% of the world population!!!! I think it must boil down to most people being jelous of their success in Israel, and other countries. So sad. I stand behind Israel.

  • Eric Arnesen

    A quick correction: The video clip provided is not of the AHA debate last night; rather, it is an excerpt of a MARHO (the radical historians’ organization) session that took place on Saturday, 2 January that was organized to support the Historians Against the War resolutions. FYI.

  • Retired

    Perhaps If Israel starts to make big money in their new energy business things will change.Israel will have more wealth & can perhaps offer the professors & Universities a better cash deal then they are now getting from the Arabs.If they work something out they can switch their advocacy from the Arabs to the Jews,…..assuming of course,the price is right!
    Even the guys teaching “Underwater basket weaving studies” can make a few bucks!
    P.S.There was an old Soviet Union joke making the rounds 30 years ago,it went like this.The question was asked “What is the definition of a first rate Soviet historian”? The answer came back that “a first rate Soviet historian is someone who can accurately predict the past”.