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September 4, 2019 11:17 am

Resolution to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions Thwarted at Annual Poli-Sci Conference

avatar by JNS.org

A banner welcoming people to the American Political Science Association’s annual convention. At its 2019 meeting, a group of political theorists is expected to discuss a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Photo: APSA via Facebook.

JNS.org – A resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions at the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) annual conference in Washington, DC, was thwarted on Saturday.

“Proponents of an anti #Israel academic boycott resolution (& its obnoxious accompanying FAQ) lost spectacularly last night at #APSA19. 120+ packed the room, the vast majority opposed. There will be no further action or vote. #bdsfail,” tweeted Miriam Elman, executive director of Academic Engagement Network (AEN), an organization of American college and university faculty opposing the BDS movement, on Sunday.

Although the “Academic Boycott Resolution” was going to be only discussed and not voted on during the Aug. 31 meeting, AEN nonetheless expressed alarm towards the APSA, which was founded in 1903, and is “the leading professional organization for the study of political science and serves more than 11,000 members in more than 100 countries,” according to its website.

Ahead of the conference, AEN, which consists of APSA members, expressed concern that the resolution introduced by APSA’s Organized Section 17, Foundations of Political Theory, would “further a virulently anti-Israel agenda and the goals of the BDS movement” and “not allow a fair discussion of the resolution.”

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“Indeed, 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,” continued the letter, which was written by AEN’s chair Mark Yudof; Elman; and deputy executive director Michael Atkins. All three called for the discussion to be “robust and even-handed.”

The BDS resolution (obtained by JNS) cites the intersection of politics and government—that “Israeli academic institutions are complicit in Israel’s settler colonization of Palestine, and the attendant ethnic cleansing, dispossession, military occupation and apartheid policies that constitute this colonization.”

For the record, there is no country called “Palestine,” and most Palestinians are under control of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or the terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The resolution notes that the alleged “colonization consistently violates the academic freedom of Palestinian students and faculty to attend school, conduct research and make contributions to knowledge. The colonization of Palestine is the silencing of Palestinian scholarly contributions to knowledge.”

The AEN letter meticulously refutes the FAQ provided by the pro-boycott group, which it called “unsourced,” including the group’s claims that the boycott would only target Israeli institutions and not Israelis themselves; BDS isn’t antisemitic; and that Palestinians have a right to defend themselves with violence.

At last year’s APSA’s conference, the same Section 17 members conducted a roundtable titled “BDS and Political Theory” where, according to AEN’s letter, “only BDS proponents were included and in which diverse viewpoints on this issue were rejected out of hand.”

“Given their stated position, we are concerned about the possibility for a lopsided discussion where, even if there are many APSA members opposed to academic boycotts present in the room, the conversation will be monopolized by the Resolution’s supporters and only BDS proponents will be heard,” said AEN. “We urge you to ensure that the discussion at the August 31 meeting is robust and even-handed. We hope that our members and others who plan to attend the meeting to voice their concerns will be given an ample opportunity to do so.”

Smith did “graciously acknowledge AEN’s letter,” mentioning that diverse viewpoints would be allowed at the meeting, and that all APSA sections are prohibited by its bylaws from releasing public statements, AEN senior communications associate Raeefa Shams told JNS.

Pro-Israel groups told JNS they condemn the BDS resolution.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Elman stated that the chair, Robyn Marasco, began the meeting by announcing she “had received some 360 emails in her inbox, of which some 80 percent opposed the resolution.”

“This major #BDSFail is the result of many orgs and academics in the US and Israel working together to get the word out, ensuring a robust and honest conversation at APSA’s Foundations of Political Theory section meeting,” said Elman in the post. “Of course, this spectacular fail needs to be advertised WIDELY, as we all know that BDS zealots will either try to bury it or spin this as some kind of remarkable victory.”

“Also, BDS scholar-activists rarely take ‘no’ for an answer,” she continued. “Even a defeat like this is a win from their perspective, in terms of the oxygen sucked out of this section and the time & attention that could have been productively focused elsewhere instead of obsessing on Israel’s ‘genocidal behavior,’ and how Israeli academics who would be harmed by an academic boycott are like ‘bus drivers in Montgomery Alabama’ who ‘complained’ when ‘black folks boycotted them.’”

Elman warned that “these people will be back. Mark my words for APSA 2020.”

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