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August 12, 2019 4:52 pm

Major US Academic Association Votes Down Resolution to Boycott Israel

avatar by David Gerstman

A pro-BDS demonstration. Photo: FOA / Facebook.

A controversial resolution promoting an academic boycott of Israel was narrowly voted down at a prestigious social science academic association over the weekend, The Algemeiner learned on Monday.

The resolution, which was co-authored by Melissa Weiner, an associate professor of sociology at the College of Holy Cross, and Johnny E. Williams, a professor of sociology at Trinity College, called on the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) to “promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by academic institutions, and place pressure on your own institution to suspend all ties with Israeli universities, including collaborative projects, study abroad, funding and exchanges.”

However,  the resolution failed by a vote of 34 to 37 on Saturday.

“The conversation on the proposed resolution was civil by and large, even though the issue was quite contentious,” William Cabin, vice president of SSSP during the vote, told The Algemeiner. “We are pleased by our membership’s conduct throughout the conversation and vote.”

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Ezra Temko, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who opposed the BDS resolution at the SSSP meeting, wrote that “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel is an ugly campaign that stands in opposition to social justice.”

Posting on Facebook, Temko said: “It opposes study abroad programs, Israel’s membership in FIFA, and even dialogue and peace-building efforts that bring Israelis and Palestinians together without preconditions. It stands in opposition to a constructive agenda that moves forward towards peace and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians as well as in opposition to a two-state solution. I am glad that SSSP remains committed to being an inclusive and nondiscriminatory progressive space for critical scholarship and action.”

Temko wrote in a follow-up email to The Algemeiner that he remained “concerned that some people who are well-intentioned and committed to social justice uncritically support BDS, so I am certainly disappointed that it had the support that it did.”

However, he also noted that given that the SSSP has some 2,000 members, “only a small portion were voting on the resolution.” Temko also observed that many SSSP members only learned about the resolution when they arrived at the conference and that more were never made aware of the vote. Still, there were others, he noted, “who opposed the resolution that were not in the room and did not vote by proxy either.”

Ahead of the conference, Temko co-signed a letter with nine other sociologists stating that “we oppose the proposed ‘Resolution on BDS’ that seeks an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, including but not limited to ending study abroad programs, exchanges, and collaborative projects with Israeli universities, not recognizing, exhibiting, presenting, or showcasing films, literary works, or other products of Israeli cultural institutions, and ending academic activities and projects that ‘bring together Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis’ without preconditions.

Back in April, Williams, one of the sponsors of the BDS resolution, retweeted a video titled, “Don’t drink the blood of the Palestinians,” which recalled medieval blood libels.

The SSSP’s resolution to impose an academic boycott of Israel prompted Chad Alan Goldberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and winner of the SSSP’s Outstanding Book Award in 2010 for his Citizens and Paupers: Relief, Rights, and Race, from the Freedmen’s Bureau to Workfare, to organize a campaign opposing the resolution.

By the end of July, Goldberg had gotten 17  former SSSP officers, editors and award-winners to sign a letter stating, “We oppose all academic boycotts, including the proposal for an SSSP-imposed boycott against Israeli academic institutions.”

The letter further asserted that by adopting the resolution, the SSSP would be “sponsoring an inequitable and discriminatory policy” that violates its own by-laws.

The boycott would restrict the freedom that is “essential” to association members, without which they “cannot fulfill their professional responsibilities,” it adds.

The letter concluded, “To deny these freedoms to one group of scholars on the grounds that others are deprived of them is logically inconsistent and morally indefensible. We believe these fundamental principles must be upheld for scholars of every nationality, at every academic institution, everywhere in the world.”

The co-sponsors of the BDS  resolution did not respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

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