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August 16, 2019 2:40 pm

Pro-Israel Scholars Counter Move by Major US Academic Association to Boycott Israel

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avatar by David Gerstman

A BDS demonstration outside the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 2017. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Pro-Israel professors are once again gearing up to prevent the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign from hijacking an upcoming academic association conference.

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN) on Thursday sent a letter to Stephen Rathgeb Smith — executive director of the American Political Science Association (ASPA), which will be holding its annual meeting later this month — warning that BDS activists, who are “uninterested in debate or dialogue” could take over the meeting of the Foundations of Political Theory on Saturday, Aug. 31.

The AEN letter was signed by Mark Yudof, Chair of the Advisory Board, Miriam Elman, Executive Director, and Michael Atkins, the Deputy Executive Director of the organization.

Robyn Marasco, the chair of the meeting, acknowledged in an email obtained by The Algemeiner that while a pro-BDS resolution will be discussed at the meeting “there will be no vote on this resolution at APSA.” She explained that “votes on new policy can only take place at the Business meeting,” which was why she scheduled the discussion of BDS at an “Open Meeting.”

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She  also claimed that her reason for entertaining the discussion is “with the hope and expectation that political theorists can discuss controversial issues that impact our professional (and not just our political) lives.” She added that “I do not believe Foundations should be a partisan organization nor do I believe that I am promoting an agenda or that the organization has been ‘captured’ by activists.

However, in their letter, AEN warned that “the resolution’s sponsors have already shown that they are uninterested in debate or dialogue with those opposed to academic boycotts in general, and of Israel’s academy in particular.”

The AEN recalled that last year, the same group now calling for a discussion of a BDS resolution organized a session that explicitly stated “we have no interest in giving another platform to BDS opponents” in its description.

The behavior of the pro-BDS group in the past raises concerns that this year’s political theory meeting could turn into a “lopsided discussion,” in which “only BDS proponents will be heard,” even if they are outnumbered by APSA members who oppose academic boycotts.

The AEN letter asked that Smith and Marasco “ensure that the discussion at the August 31 meeting is robust and even-handed.”

In recent years, pro-BDS activists have inserted themselves into academic associations to shut down debate and promote their agenda.

Two years ago, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law reported that emails discovered in the course of a lawsuit showed that pro-BDS activists took over key leadership positions in the American Studies Association prior to passing a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel 2013.

Earlier this month, a pro-BDS resolution was narrowly defeated at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP). The motion failed by a vote of 37 to 34 in an association comprised of approximately 2,000 members.

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