TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Opposing the Israel Boycott by the American Studies Association

The National Council of the American Studies Association has voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. That decision is now subject to a ratification vote by the ASA’s membership, which will be completed on Dec. 15.

While the ASA website prominently displays support for the boycott, it has to date not given equal play to the many opponents of the boycott within the association. In order to give space to the ASA dissidents and in the interest of academic freedom, Telos publishes the following documents: a communication by former ASA President Shelley Fisher Fishkin to Executive Director John Stephens, of Dec. 8, and a Letter in Opposition to the boycott signed by numerous ASA members, including seven former presidents.


Dear John,

During the past week, I have been deluged with emails from ASA members who are angry that a vote of the ASA membership is being undertaken in a context in which only one side of a complex question is presented. Several pointed out that the link to more information simply sends people to arguments in support of the boycott, rather than arguments on both sides. Several complained that the ASA ignored their request to circulate the AAUP statement against academic boycotts, and that the website mistakenly implies (by mentioning the AAUP in a paragraph about academic freedom) that the Council and the AAUP are on the same page. People who wrote me—including former presidents, prize winners, and long-term active members—are distressed that their public opposition to the Academic Boycott resolution appears nowhere on the ASA website. They have suggested that in the interest of balance, the public statement below with the pdf of the letter and signatures (also pasted below) be circulated to the membership or, at the very least, appear prominently on the ASA website. Circulating this letter would help assuage some of the suspicion that the Council consulted the membership in this highly flawed manner not to gauge members’ actual views but to maintain the appearance of democracy in the absence of a process conducive to genuine democracy.

Thank you for considering this.

All the best,
Shelley

Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities; Professor of English, and Director of American Studies, Stanford University

November 18, 2013

To Members of the National Council of the American Studies Association:

As members of the American Studies Association (ASA), including several former presidents, Council members, and ASA award winners, we are deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. Given these priorities, we are troubled by the attempt of a vocal minority amongst the ASA’s membership to force the entire association to enact a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The “Proposed Resolution on Academic Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions” sponsored by the ASA Caucus on Academic and Community Activism does not further, but rather harms, the general interests of the association. If upheld, it would set a dangerous precedent by sponsoring an inequitable and discriminatory policy that would punish one nation’s universities and scholars and restrict the free conduct of ASA members to engage with colleagues in Israel.

Collectively, we, the undersigned, represent a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it should be resolved. While we can and should vigorously discuss these differences there is one issue on which we all agree; We oppose all academic boycotts, including the idea of an association-imposed boycott against Israeli academic institutions.

A fundamental principle of academia is academic freedom; the belief that scholars must be free to pursue ideas without being targeted for repression, discipline, or institutional censorship. The adoption of an academic boycott against Israel and Israelis would do violence to this bedrock principle. Scholars would be punished not because of what they believe—which would be bad enough—but simply because of who they are based on their nationality. In no other context does the ASA discriminate on the basis of national origin—and for good reason. This is discrimination pure and simple. Worse, it is also discrimination that inevitably diminishes the pursuit of knowledge, by discarding knowledge simply because it is produced by a certain group of people.

The notion of an academic boycott has been raised by ASA members in the past and was rejected by the ASA’s Committee on Programs and Centers for this very reason. The ASA should not set policies that would impose on or restrict our academic right to research, and collaborate with colleagues as we see fit.

In 2005, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a strong statement expressing opposition to academic boycotts. AAUP maintained neutrality in a complex and multi- layered conflict by neither supporting nor opposing the policies of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. In May 2013, AAUP released a Statement on Academic Boycotts saying, “In view of the association’s longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas, we oppose academic boycotts. On the same grounds, we recommend that other academic associations oppose academic boycotts. We urge that they seek alternative means, less inimical to the principle of academic freedom, to pursue their concerns.”

Academic boycotts are not only anathema to academic freedom, but they undercut the important role of academics as thought leaders in both critiquing and evaluating government policies. Similarly, the proposed boycott resolution unjustly holds Israeli academics responsible for policies put in place by the Israeli government. Israeli professors—just like professors in the U.S. or elsewhere—are politically independent and enjoy the right to express opposition to their government and any of its policies. If an academic boycott were imposed, it would collectively punish every Israeli (Muslim, Christian, Druze, Jewish and Atheist) regardless of their political views including those Israeli academics who are instrumental thought leaders in the movement for a just peace. In 2006, Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al Quds University, the Arab university in Jerusalem, publicly condemned academic boycotts, telling The Associated Press, “If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals. If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.”

Healthy, constructive debate on the Middle East and other complex topics is most welcome within our association and the academy. We believe the ASA should permit its members to address these issues freely, including between ASA members and Israeli colleagues. Squelching dialogue and cultural exchange through a boycott is not a constructive way to advance political concerns.

Peace for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on both parties working together towards a negotiated, mutually agreeable solution. In contrast, an academic boycott is divisive and undermines this objective. We must instead encourage constructive efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian academics together on joint projects, including those that foster reconciliation and promote understanding and trust–all critical factors that will enable Israelis and Palestinians to coexist in peace and security. The call for an academic boycott of Israel is a destructive attempt not only to silence, but also punish those involved in this important and potentially transformative academic work.

Since its founding, the objective of the ASA has been to promote “the study of American culture through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication, the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies.” We urge the ASA to uphold these values by rejecting an academic boycott on a single group of people.

Sincerely,

Adam I. Arenson, Ph.D.
Department of History
University of Texas and El Paso

Eric Aronoff, Ph.D.
Residential College in the Arts and Humanities
Michigan State University

Allan Axelrad, Ph.D.
Professor of American Studies, Emeritus
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Michael Barton, Ph.D.
Professor of American Studies and Social Sciences
Director, Center for Pennsylvania Culture Studies
Pennsylvania State University

Klaus Benesch, Ph.D.
Professor of English and American Studies
Ludwig Maximilian University
Munich, Germany

Dag Blanck, Ph.D.

Director, Swedish Institute for North American Studies

Uppsala University
Sweden

Trevor J. Blank, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor English and Communications
SUNY at Potsdam

Simon J. Bronner, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore
Chair, American Studies Program
Pennsylvania State University

Recipient of the ASA’s Turpie Prize for Program Leadership, Teaching, and Advising

Anthony B. Buccitelli, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of American Studies and Communications

Pennsylvania State University

Mary Clater, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of History

Clearwater Christian College

Former Chair of the ASA Students Committee

Janet M. Davis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor American Studies, History, Women’s and Gender Studies
University of Texas at Austin

Birgit Dawes, Ph.D.

American Studies

University of Mainz, Germany

Jessica Dorman, Ph.D.

Director of Publication

The Historic New Orleans Collection

Isabel Duran, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies and Chair
Universidad Complutense
Madrid, Spain

Michele Elam, Ph.D.

Olivier Nomellini Family University Bass Fellow in Undergraduate Education
Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professor
Department of English
Stanford University

Ann Fabian, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor, History Department
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Paul Finkelman, J.D.

President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law

Albany Law School

Leslie Fishbein, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, American Studies & Jewish Studies

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Ph.D.

Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities Professor of English
Director of American Studies

Stanford University

Former ASA President

Jonathan Freedman, Ph.D.

Professor of English and American Culture
University of Michigan

Doris Friedensohn, Ph.D.

Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies

New Jersey City University

Recipient of the ASA’s Bode-Pearson Prize for Outstanding Contributions to American Studies

Michael T. Friedman, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor Physical Cultural Studies Program
Department of Kinesiology
University of Maryland

Michael Frisch

Professor and Senior Research Scholar American Studies

Buffalo, The State University of New York
Former ASA President

Ingrid Gessner, Ph.D.
Professor of American Studies
University of Regensburg
Regensburg, Germany

Angus Gillespie, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Udo Hebel, Ph.D.

Chair of American Studies Department
Universitat Regensburg
Regensburg, Germany

Bernard L. Herman, Ph.D.

Chair and George B. Tindall Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Alfred Hornung, PhD

Chair and Director, American Studies
Johannes Gutenberg University
Mainz, Germany
Recipient of the ASA’s Bode-Pearson Prize for Outstanding Contributions to American Studies

Daniel Horowitz, Ph.D.

Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of American Studies Emeritus

Smith College
Recipient of the ASA’s Mary Turpie Prize and Constance Rourke Prize

John F. Kasson, Ph.D.

Professor of History and American Studies
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Joy Kasson, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Recipient of the ASA’s Turpie Prize for Program Leadership, Teaching, and Advising

Michael Kazin, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of History
Georgetown University

Mary Kelley, Ph.D.

Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of History, American Culture, & Women’s Studies
University of Michigan

Former ASA President

Ari Kelman, Ph.D.

Member, Committee in Charge American Studies Program
Stanford University

Linda K. Kerber, Ph.D.

May Brodbeck Professor in Liberal Arts & Sciences

University of Iowa

Former ASA President

Alice Kessler-Harris, Ph.D.

R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History
Columbia University

Former ASA President

Ralph Ketcham

Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Syracuse University

Annette Kolodny, Ph.D.

College of Humanities Professor Emerita of American Literature and Culture

University of Arizona

Charles D. Kupfer, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of American Studies and History

Penn State University

Judith Yaross Lee, Ph.D.

Professor of Communication Studies
Ohio University

Iping Liang, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of English
National Taiwan Normal University
Taiwan

Patricia Limerick, Ph.D.

Professor of History, Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West

University of Colorado

Former ASA President

Elaine Tyler May, Ph.D.

Regents Professor, Departments of American Studies and History
University of Minnesota


Former ASA President

Lary May, Ph.D.

Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor
Department of American Studies and History
University of Minnesota

Michelle Craig McDonald, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator and
Associate Professor of History

Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Jay Mechling, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies

University of California, Davis


Recipient of the ASA’s Turpie Prize for Program Leadership, Teaching, and Advising

Deborah Dash Moore, Ph.D.

Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History Director of the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies

University of Michigan

Nina Y. Morgan, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of English, American Studies Program
Reprise Editor, Journal of Transnational American Studies

Kennesaw State University

Sharon Ann Musher, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of History and Director of M.A. in American Studies

Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Mae Ngai, Ph.D.

Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History

Columbia University


Recipient of the ASA’s Lora Romero Book Prize

Miles Orvell, Ph.D.

Professor of English and American Studies
Temple University


Recipient of the ASA’s Bode-Pearson Prize for Outstanding Contributions to American Studies

Berndt Ostendorf, Ph.D.

Professor of North American Cultural History
Amerika Institut
Ludwig Maximilian University
Munich, Germany

John S. Patterson, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus of American Studies and History

Pennsylvania State University

Anna Pegler-Gordon, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Director
Asian Pacific American Studies Program
Michigan State University

Carla L. Peterson, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of English
University of Maryland

Claire Bond Potter, Ph.D.

Professor of History
Co-Director of OutHistory.org

The New School for Public Engagement

Riv-Ellen Prell, Ph.D.
Professor of American Studies
University of Minnesota

Benjamin Railton, Ph.D.

Professor of English Literature and American Studies

Fitchburg State University

Michael A. Rockland, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 

Recipient of the ASA’s Turpie Prize for Program Leadership, Teaching, and Advising

Eric J. Sandeen, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies

University of Wyoming


Recipient of the ASA’s Turpie Prize for Program Leadership, Teaching, and Advising

Roberta P. Seid, Ph.D.
Lecturer

University of California, Irvine

Steve Siporin, Ph.D.
American Studies Program
Utah State University

Robert W. Snyder, Ph.D

Associate Professor Director of American Studies

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Werner Sollors, Ph.D.

Professor of Literature and African/African American Studies

Harvard University


Recipient of the ASA’s Constance Rourke Prize for best contribution to American Quarterly

Michael Steiner, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies

California State University, Fullerton 

Recipient of the ASA’s Turpie Prize for Program Leadership, Teaching, and Advising


Siva Vaidhyanathan, Ph.D.

Chair, Department of Media Studies
Robertson Professor
Department of Media Studies & School of Law
University of Virginia

Shira Wolosky, Ph.D.

Professor of American Studies & English Literature

Hebrew University

Jerusalem, Israel

Institutional Affiliations are provided for Identification Purposes Only


 

2 comments to Opposing the Israel Boycott by the American Studies Association

  • Ronit Jacobs

    We are living in dangerous times when a highly regarded academic organization becomes a political tool that surreptitiously imposes a minority’s agenda on the entire organization. This discriminatory and divisive action sets a precedence and sends the message that intimidation and propaganda are legitimate and effective tactics. It is imperative that we make it known to those involved that it is unacceptable. We stand for academic integrity, open dialog and against discrimination and division.

  • henri

    The American Studies Association has voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions

    Unfortunately, this anti-Zionist war against academia is part of a broader attempt to transform academics from educators to activists, and make the universities centers of a highly politicized radical universe. Scholars, along with tuition-paying parents and students, should oppose the boycott as part of a broader fight for truth, for scholarly integrity, and for the rigorous, open-minded, knowledge-based, skill-honing, soul-stretching, higher education system America built — and still needs.

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