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From the Editors

ASA Members Vote To Endorse Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Letter from ASA President to Association Members

From ASA President “Stand with the ASA Campaign”

Council Resolution on the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Council Statement on the Resolution

What Does the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions Mean for the ASA?

Frequently Asked Questions about the Academic Boycott (PDF)

Sample Letter to Administrators (PDF)

Media queries: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The members of the American Studies Association have endorsed the Association’s participation in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In an election that attracted 1252 voters, the largest number of participants in the organization’s history, 66.05% of voters endorsed the resolution, while 30.5% of voters voted no and 3.43% abstained. The election was a response to the ASA National Council’s announcement on December 4 that it supported the academic boycott and, in an unprecedented action to ensure a democratic process, asked its membership for their approval.

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Endorsements

Eric Cheyfitz, Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters, Cornell University
Office: (607) 255-3546
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I am a Jew with a daughter and three grandchildren who are citizens of Israel. I am a scholar of American Indian and Indigenous studies, who has in published word and action opposed settler colonialism wherever it exists, including of course the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It is worth noting in this respect that just as the myth of American exceptionalism seeks to erase the genocide and ongoing settler colonialism of Indigenous peoples here in the United States so the myth of Israeli exceptionalism seeks to erase Israeli colonialism in Palestine and claim original rights to Palestinian lands. It is from these personal and professional positions that I applaud the decision of the NC to support the Academic boycott of Israel, which I support, and urge ASA members to affirm that support with their votes.


Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita, UC Santa Cruz
Office: 831-459-5332, 831-459-1924
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The similarities between historical Jim Crow practices and contemporary regimes of segregation in Occupied Palestine make this resolution an ethical imperative for the ASA. If we have learned the most important lesson promulgated by Dr. Martin Luther King—that justice is always indivisible—it should be clear that a mass movement in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is long overdue


Ashley Dawson, Professor, College of Staten Island; editor, AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom
Office: 718.982.3673
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I am in favor of the boycott. As someone born in South Africa during the darkest days of apartheid, I simply cannot cleave to an abstract notion of academic freedom that ignores the material inequalities that structure people’s rights to speak and to be heard. As Robin D. G. Kelley and Erica Lorraine Williams remind us in their eloquent commemoration of Nelson Mandela, Israel’s settler colonial policies have created conditions for Palestinians that bear close comparison with those meted out by the apartheid regime in my homeland. These conditions directly impinge on the academic freedom, as well as the life possibilities, of Palestinian intellectuals.  From Editor’s closing Statement, AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, 2013.


Robin D.G. Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of American History, UCLA
Office: 310-825-3469
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The ASA Resolution supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions has been grossly mischaracterized as an assault on academic freedom. On the contrary, it is one of the most significant affirmative acts any scholarly organization has proposed in defense of academic freedom since the anti-apartheid movement.  Palestinian students and faculty living under occupation do not enjoy academic freedom, let alone the full range of basic human rights.  Even the critics of the Resolution recognize this fact and are quick to proclaim their concern over Israel’s occupation and the plight of Palestinians.  However, they argue that the boycott would, in turn, punish Israeli academics unfairly.  But the truth is, Israeli scholars also suffer under the current status quo.  They are denied genuine collaborative relationships with intellectuals in the Occupied Territories and Gaza, and Israeli intellectuals critical of the regime’s policies—most famously historian Ilan Pappe—have been harassed, censored, and in some cases forced into exile.  Much like the academic boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era, the point of the resolution is to pressure academic institutions and the state, complicit in the policies of occupation, dispossession, and segregation to comply with international law and make real academic freedom possible.  The lessons from South Africa are very clear: boycott forced complacent academics to rethink their personal and institutional relationship to apartheid, to talk to each other across the color line, and to better understand how their own work relates to social justice.  If adopted, the ASA Resolution will create the conditions for genuine intellectual exchange, free of the state’s political imperative to legitimize the occupation, and grounded in a politics of inclusion, justice, and equality.


David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, UC Riverside
Office: (951) 827-5301
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

—The significance of this stand for justice for Palestinians

The resolution that ASA has endorsed responds to the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions made by the great majority of Palestinian civil society organizations.  It represents the ASA’s recognition that in any act of global solidarity, we should follow the initiative of those who are oppressed, much as US civil society did in following the lead of the ANC in opposing South African Apartheid.  The ASA is proud to be the second US academic organization to pass such a resolution and believes that in doing so it has significantly furthered the awareness that, no less than any other group, Palestinians scholars and students are fully entitled to enjoy the fundamental rights of academic and other universally recognized freedoms.

—The charge of anti-semitism and the charge that boycott violates academic freedom (actually, I think that these are fundamentally the same charge)

The boycott targets institutions, not individual scholars.  It leaves individuals free to enjoy the benefits of academic freedom, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or religion, and seeks to extend those benefits to all scholars without condition.  The boycott thus extends academic freedom to Palestinian scholars without denying it to Jewish scholars, Israeli or otherwise.  It targets institutions on the basis of what they do not what they are: it does not target them because they are Jewish or Israeli, but because of their complicity in Israel’s systemic and ongoing violations of human rights and international law.  These are practices, and therefore capable of termination or modification.  What would be truly anti-semitic would be to accept that all Jews are de facto identified with a single state and its policies. 

—The claim that Americanists have no stake in Israel/Palestine

By definition, the study of America includes both the study of its own colonial and imperial past and the study of its international relations.  No state has benefited more in recent decades from US material and political support than Israel and perhaps no people has been more continuously impacted by US global interests than the Palestinians.  The US relation to Israel/Palestine is therefore not only a relevant but a pressing object of analysis for American Studies.  The boycott resolution is in keeping with the Association’s long-standing ethical commitment to translating analysis into morally informed action (from condemnation of the war on Iraq to support for hotel workers).

—The claim that academic organizations have no business taking political stands

The ASA’s members have learnt and taught that every substantial advance in real and material freedom for people subject to racism, colonization and discrimination has come through intellectual analysis that finds expression in practice and in the alliance with social movements working for justice.  No more than political freedom is academic freedom the private possession of the privileged.  It has meaning only if it is translated into action and only if we are not afraid to translate our understanding into collective action for justice.  The boycott is in fundamental agreement with these principle and therefore with those that inform the ASA.


Lisa Lowe, Professor, Tufts University

The collective practice of non-cooperation with institutions has a long distinguished international history, and the ASA resolution on the academic boycott of Israel situates itself squarely in this tradition.  Moreover, it is a mode of engaging both U.S. and Israeli publics to discuss, deliberate, and grapple with responsibility and complicity in the ongoing conditions suffered by Palestinian people in the occupied territories.  By putting the resolution to a vote now, the ASA expresses its view that it is no longer possible for academics of conscience to stand on the sidelines.  The vote on the resolution calls on us to reckon with our implication in the unjust treatment of this people, and of the many people, dispossessed and dehumanized by military occupation.


Alex Lubin, Associate Professor of American Studies, American University of Beirut and on-leave, University of New Mexico
Emails; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Skype: abqalex

Academic freedom means very little when it takes place in a context of segregation and apartheid.  Change came to the Jim Crow South not through academic dialogue, but through protest and, in some cases, through boycotts of the institutions that fostered segregation.  Change came to South Africa’s apartheid system not through academic dialogue, but through protest, resistance, and an international boycott. Those of us who value academic freedom must always struggle to ensure that the world surrounding academia provides the basic human rights that enable academic life. Published in the Nation, December 13, 2013.

The boycott resolution is intended to address a profound case of discrimination against Palestinians and is consistent with the ASA’s previous endorsement of anti-racist positions in other areas.  The resolution does not target Israelis, Jews, or any individuals; indeed, the ASA’s support for the boycott affirms its opposition to all forms of racial discrimination, including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

The boycott targets Israeli State institutions that violate Palestinian academic freedom.  The resolution very clearly does not infringe on individuals’ academic or other freedoms.  Israeli and Palestinian scholars will not only be welcome at future ASA conference, they will also be recruited.  In this way, the ASA will make clear in words and deeds that while it will ask its members to not travel to, nor to establish institutional affiliations with, Israeli institutions the boycott is not against individuals.

This has been a clarifying moment for the American Studies Association; indeed, it is a profound example of what the American Studies scholar, Gene Wise, once called a “paradigm drama.”  Long-time ASA members and recent ones, graduate students and emeriti faculty, could be found on either side of this issue.  While I feel strongly that the ASA made the right decision to support the boycott resolution, I recognize that many colleagues disagree.  In no way should the passage of this resolution exclude or marginalize ASA members who opposed it.  The boycott resolution is not about severing intellectual connections or shutting down conversation; it is about extending academic freedom and enabling free speech.


David Palumbo Liu, Louise Hewitt Nixon Professor, Stanford University
Office: 650 725 4915
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

People who truly believe in academic freedom would realize protesting the blatant and systemic denial of academic freedom to Palestinians, which is coupled with material deprivation of a staggering scale, far outweighs concerns we in the West might have about our own rather privileged academic freedoms.

There is no restriction whatsoever of individuals’ academic freedom—this is a boycott by an academic organization against academic institutions in Israel.  Individual ASA members are to follow their consciences; both Israeli and Palestinian scholars are invited to participate in ASA events.


Fred Moten, Professor, University of California, Riverside
Phone: (951) 827-5301
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

If, by academic freedom, we mean the unfettered exercise and exchange of speech, thought and research by every member of the global academic community, including both Israelis and Palestinians, then the ASA’s endorsement of the call for boycott and sanctions of Israeli academic institutions complicit in the administration of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands is a significant advance in our assertion and protection of it. The responsibility of intellectuals is not only to exercise academic freedom but also to theorize and work to enact the conditions that make it possible, meaningful and universal. Thought is irreducibly social, irreducibly public, irreducibly human. When we callously accede to the exclusion of so many from the conditions that foster its free exercise we violate our own commitment to fulfill its responsibilities. The global history of settler colonialism is the history of the administration of such exclusion. Those of us who study the history and culture of the United States of America know that it has played and continues to play a major part in this tragic and brutal history, both within its own borders and everywhere it seeks to extend, consolidate and instrumentalize its power. In endorsing the call for boycott that first emanated from Palestinian civil society but is increasingly echoed by Israeli activists and intellectuals concerned with the moral and political sustainability of their country, we recognize that what it is to be a friend of the state of Israel and what it is to insist upon the right of the Jewish people to live and thrive in a just world are two entirely different things. There is and can be no such world in the absence of the Palestinians’ right to live and thrive as well. Israeli intellectuals Adi Ophir’s and Ariella Azoulay’s description of the occupation and its administration as a practice of incorporative exclusion is apt not only with regard to Israeli policy but with regard to American policy as well. My support of the ASA’s position is animated by the hope that this endorsement refreshes our capacity to think, speak and act against the structures and effects of incorporative exclusion that viciously shape and define the modern world.


Barbara Ransby, Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Phone: 312-996-2961
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Professional organizations and individual scholars not only have the right but the obligation to speak out against what we deem to be unethical practices by our institutions and the Academy in general. Moreover, it would be a gross violation of academic freedom to punish any individual professor for expressing his or her political views or critical analysis on a controversial issue. During the McCarthy era intellectuals were persecuted and blacklisted for their left wing views. In the Jim Crow South faculty members lost their jobs for supporting the Civil Rights Movement and opposing racism and segregation. Censorship and political intimidation was wrong then and it is wrong now. Today many academics, after much reading, research, debate and deliberation, have decided to support BDS as a nonviolent response to the unjust treatment of our colleagues and counterparts, students and others living under Israeli Occupation in Palestine. I applaud and support The American Studies Association in its ethical stance on this issue, an issue which in the final analysis, is not mainly about Jews or Palestinians, but about justice.


John Carlos Rowe, Professor, University of Southern California
Phone: (213) 821-5594
E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I realize this is a controversial resolution, but it is in keeping with our activist history. It is not directed at individual citizens and academics in Israel, but at academic institutions that have been demonstrated time and again their complicity with state policies intended to discriminate against the Palestinian people. During the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, we attempted and in some cases successfully closed American colleges and universities because they were part of the military-industrial complex. This resolution does the same kind of work. During the Divestment campaign to prevent retirement (and other) funds from being invested in companies doing business with Apartheid South Africa, we recognized the importance of what was at the time termed “symbolic action.” (In fact, divestment resulted in real economic consequences for South Africa). This resolution does the same work.


Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Professor, Barnard College
Email contact only: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The overwhelming support for this resolution heralds a new era of anti-racist, anti-colonial solidarity. It signals an American Studies unafraid to challenge some of the most hallowed underpinnings of global empire, including the imperative to uphold formal freedoms regardless of the dispossession and violence on which those freedoms depend. It is evident that the resolution’s passing has already generated a level of intellectual inquiry, engagement and exchange that is invigorating not only for the academic field but also for the broader arenas of public debate and political action.


Robert Warrior, Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Office: (217) 265-9870
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

This resolution achieves the clarity of balance that Edward Said, who was one of my teachers in graduate school, modeled at the intersection of scholarship and imperialism. I am proud to have the leaders of our association not only endorse the Palestinian call to academic and cultural boycott, but to advance our understanding of how to do so through a long, clear, and democratic process that has invited broad and lively participation.

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Comments

  1. UMASS Boston Statement in Support of Academic Boycott of Israel

    http://www.umb.edu/news/detail/statement_in_support_of_academic_boycott_of_israel

    The following is a statement from the faculty and staff members whose names follow the statement.

    Many UMass Boston faculty, staff, and students support the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution to join the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The academic boycott is part of the international BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, a nonviolent, grassroots solidarity campaign explicitly modeled on the movement against South Africa’s apartheid system in the 1980s. It was initiated by Palestinian civil society and is supported by people of conscience all over the world. The academic boycott movement is rooted in the idea that, as institutions, Israeli universities—almost all of them state institutions—are demonstrably complicit with egregious violations of Palestinian human rights. Academic boycott means ceasing to collaborate with and support state institutions that perpetuate human rights violations. It in no way silences, censors, restricts the academic freedom of, or prevents collaboration with any individual scholar.

    Like Chancellor Motley, we too are committed to academic freedom. We are urgently concerned about the routine attacks on Palestinians’ academic freedom: Palestinians are daily prevented from traveling to and from the West Bank and Gaza or Israel to attend school (and have been denied the right to travel to the United States for study); Palestinian schools and universities are often subject to prolonged closures and violent raids that make any course of study impossible; Palestinian universities have been targeted for destruction by the Israeli military; and Palestinians are prohibited by Israeli law from recognizing—much less studying—their own dispossession in 1948.

    We believe that support for the academic boycott of Israel and the ASA resolution is fully in keeping with the mission and values of UMass Boston, which seeks to serve “the public good of our city, our commonwealth, our nation, and our world.”

    Ping-Ann Addo, Associate Professor of Anthropology; Randy Albelda, Professor of Economics; Pamela Annas, Professor Emerita of English; Anneta Argyres, Program Manager, Labor Resource Center; Paul Atwood, Senior Lecturer of American Studies and Interim Associate Director for the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences; Elsa Auerbach, Professor Emerita of English; Anna Beckwith, Senior Lecturer of Sociology; Ann Blum, Associate Professor of Latin American and Iberian Studies; Chris Bobel, Associate Professor and Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies; Matthew Brown, Associate Professor of English; Elora Chowdhury, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; Philip Chassler, Lecturer II in American Studies*; Reyes Coll-Tellechea, Professor of Latin American and Iberian Studies; Dick Cluster, Associate Director, University Honor’s College (ret.); Amy Den Ouden, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; Linda Dittmar, Professor Emerita of English; Doreen Drury, Lecturer II of Women’s and Gender Studies; Amani El Jack, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; Anne Erde, Senior Lecturer, ESL Center, Academic Support Programs; Leila Farsakh, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science; Kade Finnoff, Assistant Professor of Economics; Marilyn Frankenstein, Professor of Community and Labor Studies; Christopher Fung, Lecturer of Anthropology; Tom Goodkind, Senior Research Machinist, CSM Dean’s Office; Panayota Gounari, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics; Itai Halevi, Lecturer of English; Fadia Harik, Lecturer of Mathematics; Claudia Heske, Program Coordinator of IMSD, Biology; John Hess, Senior Lecturer of English and American Studies; Sandra Howland, Senior Lecturer of English; David Hunt, Professor of History; Arjun Jayadev, Associate Professor of Economics; Luis Jiménez, Assistant Professor of Political Science; Larry Kaye, Senior Lecturer of Philosophy; Esther Kingston-Mann, Professor of History; Steven Levine, Assistant Professor of Philosophy; Martha London, Assistant Director of Prospect Research; Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics; Jeffrey Melnick, Professor of American Studies*; Askold Melnyczuk, Associate Professor of English; Susan Moir, Director of the Labor Resource Center; Nadia Nurhussein, Associate Professor of English*; Louise Penner, Associate Professor of English; Rachel Rubin, Professor of American Studies*; Emmett Schaeffer, Senior Lecturer of Sociology; Wendy Schoener, Lecturer in English; C. Heike Schotten, Associate Professor of Political Science; Jack Spence, Associate Professor of Political Science (ret.), Rajini Srikanth, Professor of English*†; Karen Suyemoto, Associate Professor of Psychology†; Clark Taylor, Professor Emeritus, College of Public and Community Service; Lynnell Thomas, Associate Professor and Chair of American Studies*; Lynne Tirrell, Associate Professor of Philosophy; Susan Tomlinson, Associate Professor of English; Ann Torke, Associate Professor of Art; Joseph Torra, Lecturer II in English; Leonard von Morze, Associate Professor of English; Paul Watanabe, Associate Professor of Political Science†; and Ann Withorn, Professor of Undergraduate and Human Services

    * indicates membership in the American Studies Association

    † indicates membership in the Asian American Studies Association, the first academic association to uphold the academic boycott of Israeli universities

    Comment by Jeff Melnick on Sat, March 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm

     

  2. Open Letter in Defense of Academic Freedom
    in Palestine/Israel and the United States

    A statement from members of the Vassar College faculty in response to condemnation of the American Studies Association resolution of December 4, 2013

    February 28, 2014

    As faculty committed to academic freedom for all people everywhere, we wish to voice our dissent from the public statement by Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill and Dean of Faculty Jonathan Chenette on Jan. 2, 2014. The statement condemned the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution endorsing and honoring the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions until Israel’s government ends its systemic discrimination and human rights violations against Palestinians, respects the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and fully complies with its associated obligations under international law.

    We dissent because, rather than upholding the principle of academic freedom in its most expansive sense, their condemnatory statement could have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and opinions on our campus and across the broader society. In addition, their statement does not present a clear understanding of the resolution and therefore misrepresents the precise nature and purpose of the ASA statement. Furthermore, by not acknowledging the concrete realities which led to the ASA resolution, their statement sidesteps ethical questions about our responsibility for the plight of Palestinians and our obligations as scholars and human beings to speak out against gross injustice. Finally, it also obscures the effectiveness of non-violent boycotts in ending similar gross injustices.

    Our colleagues in one of the oldest professional associations in the United States arrived at their decision after an extensive and open debate about the situation in Palestine/Israel. Rather than reflexively rushing to join the bandwagon of condemnation of the ASA, we have a responsibility to try to understand the different dimensions of the debate and the nuances in the resolution. The resolution did not call for the boycotting of individual scholars or termination of collaborations between Israeli and U.S. scholars and students. Nor did it call for the cessation of dialogue with these scholars; in fact the ASA is inviting Palestinian and Israeli scholars to its conference in November. What the resolution calls for is the boycott of Israeli academic institutions because they have been directly or indirectly complicit in the systematic maintenance of the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory as well as the continued domination and dispossession of Palestinians, and because they have not condemned discriminatory policies and practices against Palestinian scholars and students. Some Israeli scholars who are affiliated with these institutions in fact support the boycott.

    We believe that a real threat to academic freedom lies in the recent frenzied campaign by journalists, universities, and lawmakers to censure or delegitimize the ASA. This campaign undermines academic freedom by labeling scholars anti-Semitic or self-hating, punishing and withholding institutional support for faculty members of the association, and pushing for punitive state legislation. Academic freedom protects faculty who wish to participate in thoughtful, ethical actions. It exists so that colleges and universities may stimulate rather than repress discussion of difficult and controversial subjects, including the current Israeli occupation and blockade of Palestinians and their land in violation of international law and the U.S. role in this process. We cannot ignore how the Israeli state systematically denies academic freedom and access to education for Palestinians. Such action has been thoroughly documented by organizations like the Institute of Middle East Understanding, B’tselem and Jewish Voice for Peace.

    We are troubled by reports that academics and activists that work outside of Israel/Palestine are monitored and policed on their campuses and in other forums, particularly if their research is critical of Israeli policies. There have been countless examples of academics in the United States and abroad that have been unfairly harassed, targeted, and denigrated by the scare tactics of watchdog groups and alumni. This surveillance has resulted in the disruption of robust academic and intellectual processes, the creation of a climate of fear and silence, and, in some cases, the unjust destruction of one’s academic career. We want on our campuses, including here at Vassar, to have open, honest and principled discussion about the situation in Palestine/Israel, without the labeling, targeting, and harassing of faculty, students, administrators and staff who disagree with, or are opposed to Israeli policies toward Palestinians.

    We cannot afford to be passive about the considerable violence and brutality that the Israeli state has inflicted and continues to inflict upon the Palestinian people and other minoritized populations, particularly as the United States financially, militarily and diplomatically supports the Israeli state, and thereby contributes to the ongoing occupation.  Even the ardent supporters of Israel cannot deny the ongoing systematic dispossession of Palestinians, the destruction of their homes and livelihood, the expansion of illegal settlements beyond the 1967 borders, and the general humiliation and hardship Palestinians must endure as walls, checkpoints, apartheid legislation, and control of movement deny Palestinians self-determination, freedom, and basic human rights. While Palestinians have been fighting for their freedom since their dispossession in 1948, the world has remained largely silent with regard to this humanitarian crisis. 

    Several critics of the resolution assert that this boycott unfairly targets Israel over other nation-states that abuse human rights. We certainly acknowledge that human rights abuses operate on many levels across the globe, including in the United States, and agree that if any institution or body wanted to boycott US academic institutions for their complicity in settler colonialism, illegal occupations and wars, or affiliation with unjust corporate entities, we would not condemn such resolutions, and, certainly, some of us would even support them. That said, we cannot be blind to the fact that there is a growing movement internationally to hold Israel accountable for its human rights abuses. Palestinian civil society—within the nation-state of Israel, in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, and in the Diaspora—along with many Jewish Israeli and non-Israeli allies, have called for this academic and cultural boycott as part of the larger campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

    The ASA statement, far from limiting academic freedom, represents the fruits of a free and open discussion among academics who refuse to dismiss the internationally-recognized right of people under colonial and foreign occupation to resist their occupiers and assert their dignity. The non-violent boycott of institutions, businesses, and organizations that are complicit in the systematic oppression and dispossession of subordinated groups has a long history. (IMEU http://imeu.net/news/article0024864.shtml) Boycotts have highlighted the suffering of oppressed groups, and have been instrumental in shifting the consciousness of those that benefit from this oppression, culminating in the elimination of exploitative and discriminatory laws and policies. As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56, we cannot forget its seminal role in energizing the African-American-led campaign against desegregation and for Civil Rights in the United States. We cannot heap encomiums on Nelson Mandela following his death late last year, and then forget that he was a strong advocate of the boycott of academic, cultural and business institutions that supported Apartheid in South Africa—a boycott that many Vassar faculty and students supported in the 1980s by advocating for the College’s divestment from U.S. companies doing business there. Nor can we ignore that many icons of the anti-Apartheid struggle—such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu—support the BDS campaign today.

    In the spirit of an expansive academic freedom, humanity, and good faith, we welcome honest and responsible engagement in discussions surrounding the role of academic boycotts in the attainment of justice and dignity for all people.

    Sincerely,
    Barbara Olsen, Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies
    Brian Godfrey, Professor of Geography
    Candice Lowe Swift, Associate Professor of Anthropology
    Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, Assistant Professor of Sociology
    Colette Cann, Assistant Professor of Education
    David Tavárez, Associate Professor of Anthropology
    Diane Harriford, Professor of Sociology
    Donald W. Foster, Professor of English
    Dorothy Kim, Assistant Professor of English
    Erin McCloskey, Assistant Professor of Education
    Eugenio Giusti, Associate Professor of Italian
    Eva Woods Peiró, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies
    Eve D’Ambra, Professor of Art on the Agnes Rindge Claflin Chair
    Giovanna Borradori, Professor of Philosophy
    Hiram Perez, Assistant Professor of English
    Ismail Rashid, Professor of History
    Janet Gray, Professor of Psychology
    Jennifer Church, Professor of Philosophy
    Joseph Nevins, Associate Professor of Geography
    Joshua Schreier, Associate Professor of History
    Julie Hughes, Assistant Professor of History
    Katherine Hite, Professor of Political Science on the Frederick Ferris Thompson Chair
    Keith Lindner, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Geography
    Kirsten Menking, Associate Professor of Earth Science
    Lawrence Mamiya, Professor of Religion and Africana Studies on the Mattie M. Paschall Davis and Norman H. Davis Chair
    Lydia Murdoch, Associate Professor of History
    Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Professor of Hispanic Studies on the Sarah Tod Fitz Randolph Distinguished Professor Chair
    Maria Hantzopoulos, Assistant Professor of Education
    Mario Cesareo, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies
    Michael Walsh, Associate Professor of Religion
    Mita Choudhury, Professor of History
    Quincy Mills, Associate Professor of History
    Rebecca Edwards, Professor of History on the Eloise Ellery Chair
    Samson O. Opondo, Assistant Professor of Political Science
    Susan Hiner, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies
    Tarik Ahmed Elseewi, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Film
    Thomas Ellman, Associate Professor of Computer Science
    Timothy Koechlin, Senior Lecturer in International Studies and Urban Studies
    Tyrone Simpson, Associate Professor of English and American Studies
    Zachariah Mampilly, Associate Professor of Political Science

    Comment by Hiram Perez on Fri, February 28, 2014 at 11:23 pm

     

  3. Statement of Solidarity for the ASA Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions by the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, Ithaca College
    http://www.ithaca.edu/cscre/asaboycott/

    February 25, 2014

    It is one of the greatest conundrums in the world that people who have been subjected to much oppression in history should themselves become powerful and oppressive at a different historical moment.  The American Studies Association’s recent vote to boycott Israeli institutions should be placed in this larger historical context.

    As Vijay Prashad has noted, “The boycott developed in 2005, when 171 civil society organizations in Palestine called on the international community to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Among other tactics, these organizations called for the boycott of Israeli institutions that colluded with the occupation, including Hebrew University, which illegally built parts of its campus in the occupied territories. Supporters were asked to raise awareness of Palestinians’ lack of academic freedom, not only in the occupied territories but also within Israel’s 1948 boundaries. Within the Israeli academy, there has been little care for this lack of freedom: In 2008, a petition on behalf of Palestinian academics was sent to 9,000 Israeli academics; only 407 signed it. One reason Western academics have invested in the movement is to offer our fellowship with Palestinian academics whose voices have been drowned out.”

    One commonly disseminated myth about the ASA boycott is that it bans individual Israeli scholars from participation in scholarly debates and knowledge production rather than institutions. Consequently, numerous presidents of U.S. colleges and universities, including Ithaca College’s President Tom Rochon, have publicly denounced the ASA boycott in the name of supporting academic freedom. This is actually a red herring, since it falsely favors an abstract notion of academic freedom, rather than focusing on the concrete conditions that permit, enable or radically prohibit academic freedom in the first place.

    As philosopher Judith Butler has argued, academic freedom “requires and consists in the workable material infrastructure of educational institutions and the ability to travel without impediment and without harassment to educational sites; by linking academic freedom to the right to be free from violent threats and arbitrary detentions and delays, one would effectively be saying that the very idea of academic freedom makes no sense and its exercise is foreclosed by the conditions of Occupation.” In other words, constructing the issue around academic freedom abstractly denies the realities that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have to confront: the destruction of vital life-giving resources, of civil society, of cultural life and of basic infrastructure.

    As faculty in the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity (CSCRE), we want to express our solidarity with Palestinian and Jewish people who stand in opposition to the Occupation.  We also want to express our solidarity with the ASA Boycott since it explicitly calls for boycotting Israeli institutions that collude with the Occupation.  Although our unit tends to focus on the oppressions and systemic racism within U.S. borders, we believe that fighting for antiracism in the U.S. is always connected to an international community of oppressed people who daily struggle against U.S. militarism, occupation and neoliberalism, part of which involves a fatal alliance with Israeli Occupation.

    Asma Barlas, Director of CSCRE and Professor of Politics
    Sean Eversley Bradwell, Assistant Professor of African Diaspora Studies, CSCRE
    Paula Ioanide, Assistant Professor of Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies, CSCRE
    Gustavo Licon, Assistant Professor of Latino/a Studies, CSCRE
    Nancy Morales, Lecturer of Latino/a Studies, CSCRE
    Phuong Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies, CSCRE and Sociology

    Comment by Paula Ioanide on Thu, February 27, 2014 at 1:43 pm

     

  4. An Open Response from University of Hawai’i Faculty to UHM Administration’s ASA Boycott Condemnation

    This month, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Reed Dasenbrock added their voices to the chorus of university administrators who have publicly condemned the resolution passed last December by the American Studies Association to support the call from over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations to boycott Israeli educational institutions http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869. The majority of these condemnations were issued in December or early January, and the newly released UH statement is itself dated December 23, 2013. http://manoa.hawaii.edu/chancellor/communications.html

    We write to register our strong opposition to this condemnation. The statement by the Chancellor and the VCAA is made in the name of a commitment to dialogue and academic freedom, but we find these grounds questionable.

    Many of us who have signed onto this letter have already communicated our objections to a statement of condemnation, and to the arguments our administrators make. Although we had not yet seen the statement when we met with the VCAA in January, we sent letters to the Chancellor and the VCAA starting in December responding to the most predictable criticisms of the ASA resolution: that it singles out Israel; that it is inappropriate for a scholarly organization to take a political position on Israel; that it punishes individual Israeli scholars and threatens academic freedom by limiting scholarly exchange. Because these charges are as common as they are easily refutable, we provided responses to them in our communications to the Chancellor and the VCAA, supported by links to work by well-respected American Studies scholars. We also pointed to the language of the resolution itself,

    http://www.theasa.net/american_studies_association_resolution_on_academic_boycott_of_israel,

    and to the statements and resources provided from the ASA that answer fully and carefully to these common misunderstandings and false allegations.

    http://www.theasa.net/from_the_editors/item/asa_members_vote_to_endorse_academic_boycott/

    http://www.theasa.net/caucus_activism/item/academic_and_cultural_boycott_campaign/

    Our communications to our administrators are reflected nowhere in the letter released this February, and indeed the retroactive date of the letter suggests their disregard for our communications. Nor does the letter provide any acknowledgment of the environment that makes possible the kind of hate mail which some of us are receiving, which is documented here: http://bdsloveletters.com. The statement also does not engage the hundreds of letters and articles that have been written these past few months by American studies scholars (some of whom specialize on Israel/Palestine), Palestinian colleagues, and various public intellectuals who explain how and why the resolution focuses on Israeli academic institutions not individuals, and how this does not impede academic freedom, but a few quotations will suffice.

    The UH administration charges that the ASA has “singled out” Israel. They wonder why the ASA did not focus on North Korea, or Saudi Arabia. This question has been asked of, and answered by, the ASA many times, and the same question has been put to Modern Language Association president Marianne Hirsch for “allowing” a panel at the 2014 MLA convention on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.

    We here cite one response by Bernard Avishai, Adjunct Professor of Business at Hebrew University, who splits his time between Jerusalem and New Hampshire. Although no proponent of academic boycott, he nonetheless provides a strong response to the often-asked question, “Why focus on Israel when other countries are so much worse? Isn’t this a double standard?”:

    And the answer (which we need to hear more often) is: No—this is a single standard; the question is whether Israelis really wish to be judged by it. When Chris Christie is caught using the powers of the state to muscle political opponents, you don’t expect him to say, My God, why pick on me when Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is so much worse? You expect him to know he belongs to a world-historical club. You expect him to feel the shame.

    Avishai continues,

    Israelis expect to mingle and compete in the West like citizens of the world. They expect to be visited and invested in like Western states. They expect to be integrated into global markets with free trade agreements. They expect to be defended by NATO states and peace-keepers as custodians of democratic values. They cannot violate their terms and then plead that tyrannies—typically shunned or merely tolerated for tactical reasons—are worse.  http://bernardavishai.blogspot.com

    George Bisharat, law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, provides another response to this question, one that also refutes our administrators’ claims that a focus on Israel constitutes a failure on the part of the ASA to “exemplify scholarly research and inquiry”:

    There has never been a “worst first” rule for boycotts. Activists urging divestment from apartheid South Africa were not racist because they failed to simultaneously condemn the demonstrably worse Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. Nor were U.S. civil rights protesters required to inventory the world and only protest if our nation exceeded the abuses of others. Boycotts are justified whenever they are necessary and promise results.

    There are sound reasons that U.S. citizens should respond to the Palestinians’ appeal for support: Our country is Israel’s principal — and often sole — defender in the international arena. Our diplomats have vetoed more than 40 U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Israeli practices, including illegal settlement of the West Bank. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, upon leaving office, described shielding Israel as a “huge part” of her work.

    …Discriminatory systems are inherently unstable, as the oppressed will continue struggling for equal rights, even against daunting odds. ASA members, who study, among other topics, American slavery and its demise, are acutely aware of such dynamics. Their entry to this vital discussion is therefore to be applauded — and emulated by others. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-academic-boycott-of-israel-oped-0130-20140130,0,646747.story

    In addressing the question “Why Israel?” we can provide further answers from our particular location. The Chancellor and VCAA’s very question, and their condemnation, contradict UH’s stated commitment to being a Hawaiian place of learning. Through their statement they support academic institutions that participate in the denial of human rights, including the right to education, experienced by Palestinians who, like Native Hawaiians, live under conditions of occupation. Although the administrators’ statement, as it singles out ASA, does not reference similar resolutions recently passed by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, or the Association for Humanist Sociology in support of the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions, the language in these resolutions, as does the ASA’s, makes clear these resolutions’ relevance for Hawai‘i. When NAISA passed their resolution, they strongly connect the plight of Palestinians to that of other Indigenous peoples living under settler colonial state structures:

    As the elected council of an international community of Indigenous and allied non-Indigenous scholars, students, and public intellectuals who have studied and resisted the colonization and domination of Indigenous lands via settler state structures throughout the world, we strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples. http://naisa.org/node/719

    So, too, the AAAS passed its 2013 resolution both as part of their “commitment to a critique of U.S. empire,” and also as an “act of solidarity with Arab (West Asian) and Muslim American communities, students, and scholars who have been subjected to profiling, surveillance, and civil rights violations that have circumscribed their freedom of political expression, particularly in relation to the issue of human rights in Palestine-Israel.” http://www.scribd.com/doc/137036139/Proposal-to-the-Association-for-Asian-American-Studies-to-Support-a-Boycott-of-Israeli-Academic-Institutions.

    In condemning the ASA boycott resolution, the Chancellor and the VCAA put into question their commitments to indigenous rights and social justice for oppressed peoples here at home.

    The administration’s second main point is that the boycott resolution “treats all the citizens of that country as if they represent the actions of that country” in a fashion that is “chilling, indeed Orwellian.” The resolution precisely and deliberately does not make this equation, and indeed the ASA has funded scholars from inside Israel to attend and speak at the ASA and will continue to do so. The administration makes this claim despite the language of the resolution and the many, many refutations of this claim that have been issued over the past few months, augmented by documentation of how Israeli institutions oppress not only Palestinian scholars and students but also, as we pointed out in earlier letters to both the Chancellor and the VCAA, Israeli scholars who dare to speak out against their government. We quote here from an article by prominent American Studies scholar Robin Kelley, in which he responds to Wesleyan president Michael Roth’s condemnation of the ASA resolution:

    He [Roth] asserts that the ASA targets Israeli academic institutions merely for their “national affiliation.” This is not true. They are targeted for their complicity in the illegal occupation and government policies of dispossession, repression, and racism. He also claims that the resolution extends to individual faculty. It does not. It strongly condemns any attempts to single out and/or isolate Israeli scholars or any scholar of any nationality. On the contrary, the resolution and its authors encourage collaboration and dialogue, but outside the official channels of the Israeli state-supported institutions that continue to directly benefit from or support the occupation. http://mondoweiss.net/2014/01/defending-zionism-academic.html

    Kelley then goes on to meticulously document ways Israeli and Palestinian scholars have their academic freedom curtailed by Israeli universities and by the Israeli government, as he also makes clear that the resolution does not infringe on the academic freedom of American scholars. This piece by Roderick Ferguson and Jodi Melamed also analyzes in depth how for university presidents,  “‘academic freedom’ has become a kind of mantra used to stifle debate and to squash oppositional critiques that result from scholarly inquiry”: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/02/academic-freedom-violence.html

    As we hope these few examples illustrate, despite their stated commitment to “engage in dialogue with everyone, not to shun the citizens of one nation alone as pariahs,” the letter from the Chancellor and VCAA reflects little interest in engaging with any ideas other than those expressed by their fellow administrators. Most egregiously, as they evidence their concern that Israeli citizens not be shunned, they do so in a way that excludes Palestinians from the dialogue they call for, even as their enlistment of Noam Chomsky cloaks their letter in a progressive covering.

    In their concluding call for dialogue and academic freedom, they invoke Chomsky, who they state has “opposed the action of the ASA.” This claim is not true: although Chomsky years earlier opposed academic boycott, it was on tactical grounds and he has not spoken out as an individual on the ASA resolution. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/175085.article http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20100922.htm However, he has affirmed the resolution as part of a collective: the Jewish Voice for Peace, in their statement of support for the ASA resolution, names him as one of their active board members. http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/jewish-voice-for-peace-responds-to-asas-resolution-on-academic-boycott

    Our administrators’ use of Chomsky is not simply careless in its inaccuracy. It also serves to cover over a crucial difference between the letter writers and Chomsky. However ambivalent Chomsky might be about academic boycotts, his support for Palestinian rights, and his insistence that Israel is in violation of them, has been steadfastly clear and unequivocal. By contrast, our administrators nowhere in their statement acknowledge Palestinian existence, let alone ways Palestinians’ academic and human rights are violated by Israel and with the support from the US of over three billion federal tax dollars a year in direct aid alone. In concluding our letter, we turn once more to Robin Kelley, who responded to a statement very similar to the one made by our administrators:

    The truth of the matter is that Michael S. Roth and many of the most high profile, vocal critics of the ASA resolution are less interested in defending academic freedom than defending the occupation, the expansion of settlements, the continued dispossession of land, the blockade of Gaza, the system of separate roads, the building and maintenance of an apartheid wall – no matter what the cost. Nothing in Roth’s editorial or similar statements directly criticizes these policies or suggests a different strategy to compel Israel to abide by international law and to end human rights violations. I don’t expect to persuade Roth or other university presidents to support the boycott, but I do wish they would come clean and admit that unconditional support for Israeli apartheid and occupation is not about academic freedom or justice.
                                   
    As our administrators belatedly echo in their statement those made by “the most high profile, vocal critics of the ASA resolution,” they affirm their support for business as usual in the US academy and in the state of Israel, a country that the chair of the ANC, South Africa’s ruling party, recently stated is “far worse than Apartheid South Africa.” http://america-hijacked.com/2013/12/06/mandelas-anc-israel-far-worse-than-apartheid-south-africa/ In issuing their statement, Chancellor Apple and VCCA Dasenbrock do not support, nor do they speak for, those of us who stand for an expansion of academic freedom in the United States and in Israel, and an end to human rights abuses experienced by Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Nor do they speak for all or even the majority of the UH community (faculty, students and administrators).

    Hokulani K. Aikau, Associate Professor of Indigenous Politics, Political Science
    Ibrahim Aoude, Professor of Ethnic Studies
    Cristina Bacchilega, Professor of English
    Monisha Das Gupta, Associate Professor of Ethnic and Women’s Studies
    Cynthia Franklin, Professor of English
    Candace Fujikane, Associate Professor of English
    Vernadette Gonzalez, Associate Professor of American Studies
    Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘pua, Associate Professor of Political Science
    Ku‘ualoha Ho‘omanawanui, Associate Professor of English
    Craig Howes, Professor of English
    Reece Jones, Associate Professor of Geography
    Noel Kent, Professor of Ethnic Studies
    Karen Kosasa, Associate Professor of American Studies
    Sankaran Krishna, Professor of Political Science
    Laura Lyons, Professor of English
    Paul Lyons, Professor of English
    Davianna Pomaika‘i McGregor, Professor of Ethnic Studies
    Jonathan Okamura, Professor of Ethnic Studies
    Jonathan K. Kamakawiwoʻole Osorio, Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies
    Gary Pak, Professor of English
    Richard Cullen Rath, Associate Professor of History
    John Rieder, Professor of English
    Suzanna Reiss, Assistant Professor of History
    Kathleen Sands, Associate Professor of American Studies
    S. Shankar, Professor of English
    Noenoe K. Silva, Professor of Political Science
    Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and Anthropology
    Hector Valenzuela, Professor of Tropical Agriculture
    Valerie Wayne, Professor Emerita of English
    Mari Yoshihara, Professor of American Studies
    John Zuern, Associate Professor of English

    Comment by Cynthia Franklin on Sun, February 23, 2014 at 7:03 pm

     

  5. A Political Witch-Hunt in the Name of “Academic Freedom”: In Defense of the American Studies Association
    by Alan Wald
    February 5, 2014

    The following essay will appear in the forthcoming March-April 2014 issue of Against the Current.

    http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/4094

    Comment by Alan Wald on Mon, February 17, 2014 at 11:02 pm

     

  6. Academic Freedom with Violence (PDF)

    Roderick A. Ferguson and Jodi Melamed

    If we believe the waning coverage of the American Studies Association’s resolution in the popular press, we would say that the controversy has been retired, and fresher news items have taken its place. But news cycles have never been tools to measure the importance or duration of a discourse, and they aren’t going to start now. In fact, a discourse has emerged around the legitimacy of knowledge and critique that has to be addressed, a discourse that has gained and will continue to gain footing because it surrounds the issue of whether or not we can bear collective witness to the Palestinian situation. To understand that discourse its itineraries and its anatomy we would do well to revisit recent events that may seem residual but are actually still quite dominant.

    The majority of those who condemn the American Studies Association’s resolution to endorse an academic boycott of Israel have one thing in common with many who support it. Both appeal to academic freedom. But when we consider the desired effects of such statements (not just what they say), we see that appeals to academic freedom on both sides are heavy with the unspoken weight of a contest over what counts as legitimate knowledge and over legitimacy itself. As two co-chairs of the American Studies Association program committee (writing solely as individuals stating our own views), we seek to call attention to the increasing use of the slogan of “academic freedom” to punish dissenting scholars and to undermine the university as a home for the kinds of debates, critiques, and movements that bring about social change. At stake is not some mystifying ideal, but whether scholars can engage in activities that question the status quo and challenge where the line is drawn between prohibited and permissible knowledge.

    Most immediately, what is at stake is whether U.S.-based scholars may frame relations between Israel and Palestine through the lens of occupation and write and teach in a manner that ascribes equal value to the human rights and well-being of Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, and Palestinians. On another level, what is at stake is the legitimacy of efforts to expose and critique the violences that are often the conditions of possibility for the freedoms enjoyed by the privileged in the United States and Israel alike. For the United States and Israel indeed share a “special relationship.” They reflect to each other an image of an exceptionalist nation-state with a unique errand to advance democracy under conditions that presumably require expanding apparatuses of legitimate violence, including military force and complicated internal apparatuses of securitization, from prisons to border control.

    Demonstrating the counterintuitive link between expansions of social emancipation and expansions of state-sanctioned social violence has consumed American Studies scholars for the last 20 years. Many ASA members voted for the boycott because we saw it as a reflection of that concern. When we situate the ASA vote in the context of freedom struggles and social movements that have had to reveal the limits and exclusions of status quo notions of justice and freedom, the notion of “academic freedom”—as it is being used to discipline the ASA and to expand the surveillance capacities of universities and governments—can only be seen to be both provincial and repressive.

    To begin with, the historical mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been to protect faculty against the offense of university presidents, regents, politicians and donors—people who might otherwise use their power over academic conditions of labor (including employment contracts) to force faculty to conform to their positions. In its opposition to the ASA’s boycott move, the AAUP now finds itself oddly on the side of its “natural” opposition, that is, ideologically (if not actually) standing with university presidents and state legislators who have taken up the AAUP’s banner of academic freedom to interfere with the conditions of academic labor, interfere with them by requiring American Studies departments to withdraw from membership in the ASA and by trying to prevent funding that will allow faculty to present their scholarship at future conferences.

    Ironically, “academic freedom” has become a kind of mantra used to stifle debate and to squash oppositional critiques that result from scholarly inquiry. While university presidents accompany their condemnation of ASA with loud praise for academic freedom, described as unfettered exchange that rules nothing out in advance, they, in fact, seek to remove from public discussion precisely what the boycott witnesses, including violations of the right to education for Palestinian students, Israeli state policies that negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars, and U.S. support for expanding illegal settlements in the occupied territories. Wielding academic freedom as censors, by defaming the boycott, university administrators undermine the capacity for scholars to freely investigate Israeli settler-colonialism under that name, implicitly attacking oppositional scholarship. It is hard not to draw a connection between such restrictions of permissible knowledges and the pressures administrators face from trustees, donors, and politicians whose various interests cause them to seek conditions that grant absolute sanction to Israeli state policies.

    In addition to observing “academic freedom” as part of a developing strategy within the U.S. to render certain knowledges impermissible, we would also have to situate it within and alongside efforts outside the U.S., particularly by American and Israeli institutions, to quash critiques of the occupation and Zionist nationalism. The historian and theorist Joan W. Scott brings this point home in her article “Changing My Mind about the Boycott.” (1) Discussing her own evolving opinion about academic boycotts, one that was shaped by the circumstances of an “aborted” 2006 AAUP conference on academic boycotts, she writes, “What did it mean, I wondered, to oppose the boycott campaign in the name of Israeli academic freedom when the Israeli state regularly denied academic freedom to critics of the state, the occupation, or, indeed, Zionism and when the blacklisting of the state’s critics is the regular tool of state authorities against Israel’s own academic institutions?”

    Similarly, in their article “Boycotting Against Israel and the Question of Academic Freedom in American Universities in the Arab World,” anthropologists Sami Hermez and Mayssoun Soukarieh detail the ways in which “academic freedom” works to suppress conversations about the occupation and its consequences for Palestinians taking place at the American University in Beirut. (2) Like Scott, they point to what appears more and more to be the ideological function of “academic freedom.” As they put it, “[An] issue confronting supporters of the academic boycott of Israel around the world is whether academic freedom is being used as a defense to shut down dissent, silence controversy on campus, or promote one set of views or policies over others (i.e. administration views over faculty ones).”

    In a context in which many faculty and administrators use the academic boycott to determine what knowledges can be permitted and what knowledges should be prohibited, academic freedom discloses itself to be in the ideological service of privatized and possessive individualism. Put simply, academic freedom is revealing itself as the “right” to remain personally and institutionally unencumbered by the issue of Palestinian suffering. What is perhaps most interesting about the AAUP’s own condemnation of the boycott is its insistence that the academic boycott will inhibit the mobility of individual academics—this, despite the fact that proponent after proponent has argued that the academic boycott does not restrict exchange or travel, that the boycott only prevents persons from Israeli institutions from presenting themselves as representatives of those institutions. So, in fact, none of the vaunted privileges and protections of academic freedom are at risk, but rather the individual’s ability to represent an occupying nation- state. More succinctly, at issue is whether one should be able to adopt the mantle of an occupying nation-state without criticism. In this instance, “academic freedom” functions simply as a state ideology working to protecting a nation-state from criticism.

    The New York legislature’s most recent bill to prohibit academic institutions from providing funding to academic groups who support academic boycotts would have to be understood as one of the ostensibly ironic (and repressive) effects of the deployment of “academic freedom” as an institutional discourse. In fact, through the bills we can see—quite literally—a delirious effort to delegitimize any knowledge of the Israeli occupation and Palestinian communities. For example, the bill affirms the right of students to “have access to an education that is not bound by borders and to have the opportunity to obtain a global education.” The bill goes on to state that the State of New York will “undertake efforts to ensure that its students succeed in a world that is continually becoming more interdependent and diverse and further that students have access to international higher education institutions.” While it sounds laudable—with its ideals of “global education,” “interdependence,” and “diversity,” the bill is absolutely startling for how it erases the very people that have occasioned the boycott’s concern—Palestinians themselves. Rather than fostering institutional and intellectual practices of “interdependence” and “diversity,” the bill actually works to prohibit faculty, students, and staff from considering Palestinians—their histories, their cultures, their lives—as part of any project designed to foster “interdependence,” “diversity,” and “global education.” It represents a managerial use of “academic freedom” to restrict ties between scholars and students to those sanctioned by the status quo, particularly worrisome in light of universities seeking profit by expanding into places like Saudi Arabia and China.

    This use of “academic freedom” is clearly at odds with struggles and movements that seek to expose nation-states for their exclusions and dehumanizations. These actual freedom struggles don’t arise out of the same history as academic freedom, precisely because that latter history, a legal tradition based on claims to safeguard liberal individualism, touts freedom in the abstract but allows for water cannons, death threats, vandalism, and bullets to be unleashed on nonviolent protesters. But these freedom movements are precisely the ones that motivate many of the constituencies in the ASA.

    In fact, the tradition of freedom that occasioned the ASA resolution is one that arises out of various social movements that attempted to illuminate and stand against forms of disfranchisement and oppression. In the post-WWII moment, we can think of movements that tried to throw off the tides of capitalist exploitation, homophobia, sexism, racism, and colonialism within this lineage.

    For some decades now, the American Studies Association has been the scholarly organization that has systemically attempted to shed light on the historical contexts and legacies of those movements as well as the persisting (but not unchanging) conditions that called those movements into being. Far from an indication of scholars-gone-wild, the resolution is—for many of us—part of our decades-long engagement with questions of empire, occupation, colonialism, and race. This mode of freedom based on social movements rather than academic freedom is one that charges us with bearing witness to Palestinian suffering and the suffering of other disfranchised communities.

    In order to undermine the exercise of boycott as a form of witness, those who attack the ASA boycott must exclude Palestinian oppression from the debate as meaningless to academic freedom. This is the point our president, Curtis Marez, was making when he noted recently that the university presidents’ denunciation of the ASA has been silent regarding Israel’s abuses of Palestinian academics and Palestinian human rights in general. While he calls upon them to acknowledge such abuses, not to acknowledge them is the whole point for those who seek to narrow the field of permissible discussion about Israel/Palestine at U.S. universities. Having broken that taboo by questioning the legitimacy of Israeli occupation, the ASA leadership must now also be made excludable, by being painted as irrational, freedom-hating extremists and through baseless accusations of anti-Semitism.

    Of course, one of the signature accusations leveled at the ASA (and ostensibly “proof” of its anti-Semitism) is that the organization has allegedly “singled-out” Israel for critique. But as scholars of nationalism, we cannot help but note that there is not a regime that has not defended itself by claiming that it is the victim of arbitrary and irrational attention. One notable example is actually that of South Africa: In 1946, when the General Committee of the United Nations tried to make the treatment of Indians within South Africa and the apartheid regime part of its agenda, the South African foreign minister Eric Louw argued that the United Nations was setting a dangerous precedent by assuming for itself “the power to interfere in the domestic affairs of Member states.” (3) Also, when Asian and African countries managed to have Louw’s defense of apartheid struck from the U.N. record, the Washington Post responded by writing, “’Nothing that South Africa has done and nothing that its representative said justified the mob-like censure which the United Nations General Assembly visited upon that country and its Foreign Minister, Mr. Eric H. Louw.’” (4) In September of 1956, Louw would also give an address to the American Club of Johannesburg entitled “Why Pick on Us?” In the U.S. context, moreover, proponents of slavery often defended that peculiar institution by saying that the British had their own peculiar version among the Irish and that Northern workers were treated more poorly than black slaves. Put simply, nation-states and nationalist regimes have always defended their exploitations by objecting to what they label as unfair and singular attention—that is, by claiming themselves as the victims of biased critique.

    The crux of the matter—for many of us who supported the resolution—concerns the need to bear witness to the cruelty that nation-states inflict on others under the guise of “legitimate violence,” that is, in the name of the security or interest of the state. In this regard, many of us evaluate the Israeli occupation and the treatment of Palestinians as part of our critical observation of the contradictions of nation-states that, on the one hand, espouse democracy and, on the other, evince repression and inequality. The matter is particularly vexed when the state in question claims exceptional status as a model democracy beset with a special historical errand, as is the case with the United States and Israel. As American studies scholars Melanie McAlister and Keith Feldman (among others) demonstrate, the State of Israel has long served as a crucial reference point for U.S. imperial culture and as a laboratory for how a self-declared democracy can perpetuate exclusion, economic precarity, spatial control, and internal security organized around racial and religious difference. Along with the United States’ singular financial and military patronage of Israel, it is this entanglement that encourages many in the ASA to see the academic resolution as an ethical imperative, grounded in significant scholarly research, which calls us to account in full for the on-going damage wrought by the United States’ “special relationship” with Israel. Bearing witness to the suffering of others is precisely what condemnations in the name of academic freedom are designed to prevent.

    We have tried to reframe the discussion of “academic freedom” away from the parochialism that currently shapes that discussion because a great deal is at stake here, much more than what “academic freedom” can or will allow us to acknowledge: there is the issue of Palestinian suffering; there is the question of faculty governance, but there is also the matter of our increasingly fragile ability and freedom to analyze and critique nation-states. We are in a moment in which nations across the globe are threatening the freedom of civilians to bear witness to exploitations at national levels: Consider Congress’s discussion about whether Edward Snowden should receive the death penalty; ponder as well Pussy Riot’s severe punishment and the crackdown of Russian gay rights activists for speaking out against the Putin regime; contextualize these reflections within the avalanche of vitriol visited upon the ASA for endorsing a largely symbolic move designed to turn attention to Palestinian life under occupation. In other words, these issues have a longevity that isn’t likely to go away any time soon. Seen this way, we can better perceive the transnational aspects of the ASA’s conception of freedom and the provincialism of the AAUP’s own understanding of that word. In the U.S. context, organizations like the American Studies Association, the Association of Asian American Studies, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (the “lesser” fields among the disciplines) are showing themselves to be part of an emerging (and courageous) cadre of intellectual organizations that can present critical alternatives to the AAUP’s definition of freedom, all the while providing forums for bearing witness to the suffering sanctioned by nationalism in general, calling our attention to the tribulations produced by Israeli occupation and U.S. nationalism, in particular.

    Roderick A. Ferguson is Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Jodi Melamed is Associate Professor of English at Marquette University.

    1 Joan Scott, “Changing My Mind about the Boycott,” Journal of Academic Freedom, Volume 4, 2013.

    2 Sami Hermez and Mayssoun Soukarieh, “Boycotting Against Israel and the Question of Academic Freedom in American Universities in the Arab World,” Journal of Academic Freedom, Volume 4, 2013.

    3 Eric H. Louw, The Case for South Africa (New York: McFadden Books, 1963), p. 10.

    4 See “Why Pick on Us?” Cairns Post, 16 November 1948 and The Case for South Africa.

    Comment by Jodi Melamed on Sat, February 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

     

  7. Response to University of Illinois Chancellor regarding the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

    February 10, 2014

    Dear Chancellor Wise,

    We write to respond to your announcement of December 4, 2013 opposing the boycott of Israeli universities and endorsing the statement by the AAU.  Although you do not mention these organizations by name, the timing of your announcement suggests that you were responding to the recent resolutions passed by the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), and the American Studies Association (ASA), which “endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”

    As members of these organizations and as faculty members of this university, we share your stated commitment to the principles of academic freedom.  However, we feel obliged to note that your statement is inconsistent with those principles, because it does not consider the violations of academic freedom that Palestinian scholars have suffered for years, not to mention the violation of other basic freedoms and human rights to which Palestinians have been subjected by the state of Israel.  As the ASA National Council has noted, the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions (not individual scholars) “represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.”

    We must also take issue with your seemingly well-meaning statement that “individual faculty are free to express their personal opinions on the proposed resolution.”  While this statement seems to gesture toward protecting academic freedom, it unfortunately trivializes the resolution as a matter of individual “personal” opinion.  We want to state clearly that the resolutions by the AAAS, NAISA, and ASA represent not individual or idiosyncratic opinions, but a collective stand on a very difficult and complex issue, a decision that is the result of several years of conversation, debate, and careful deliberation by members of these associations. 

    The resolutions cannot be reduced to mere “political considerations,” as your statement suggests.  Instead, the resolutions grow out of a profound connection to the scholarly work that we do, including research on the histories, politics, and practices of settler colonialism, militarism, state violence, nationalism, imperialism, and comparative and transnational studies of racism.  Our deep knowledge of these histories and practices – as well as the histories and practices of social justice—is the reason that members of these organizations have acted to endorse these resolutions.

    We are concerned that, in your official capacity, you acted so quickly to represent the University’s position without consulting with faculty on our campus.  In the future, we urge you to consult with faculty on such matters of import through channels of shared governance, such as the Academic Senate, or through a public forum open to all members of the University community.  By doing so, we believe that you and the University could demonstrate your genuine commitment to the value of academic freedom by creating the space for the open dialogue and debate necessary for understanding complicated historical and contemporary issues that are all too often neglected or treated superficially in public discussion.  We seek your firm assurance that the university will enable the possibility of such discussions by providing necessary resources and support for research and scholarly debate on these topics.

    We remind you that our campus is home to leading scholars in the fields of Native American Studies, Asian American Studies, and American Studies and that several of our faculty are former or current elected representatives of these organizations.  In the recent weeks since your announcement, an international academic delegation to Palestine, which included a UIUC faculty member, were detained by Israeli security forces for ten hours.  These are precisely the kind of tactics that the Modern Language Association (MLA) was referencing when it recently passed a resolution noting grave concern regarding the ability of U.S. scholars to travel and collaborate with Palestinian counterparts.  While these recent experiences pale in comparison to the ongoing treatment of many Palestinian scholars, we urge you to issue a public statement defending the rights of faculty to pursue their scholarly research in Palestine and condemning this particular instance as a clear violation of international norms of academic freedom, including the freedom to travel for scholarly research. 

    If, as the University’s strategic plan states, we “will be leaders in addressing the world’s most complex and critical challenges,” this is a moment when you have an opportunity to prove your efforts toward that goal. We look forward to your response.

    Respectfully,

    Jodi Byrd, Associate Professor
    American Indian Studies (Acting Director) and English
    Member, American Studies Association (Program Committee, 2013); Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (Nominations Committee, 2012–2014); Modern Language Association (Division of American Indian Literatures, 2013–2018)

    Vicente Diaz, Associate Professor
    American Indian Studies and Anthropology
    Member, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association; American Studies Association; Pacific History Association; Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania

    Soo Ah Kwon, Associate Professor
    Asian American Studies and Human and Community Development
    Member, American Studies Association

    Martin Manalansan, Associate Professor
    Anthropology and Asian American Studies
    Member, American Studies Association (National Council, 2013-16)

    Fiona Ngô, Associate Professor
    Asian American Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies
    Member, American Studies Association; Association for Asian American Studies

    Yoon Pak, Associate Professor
    Asian American Studies and Educational Policy Studies
    Member, American Studies Association

    Junaid Rana, Associate Professor
    Asian American Studies
    Member, American Studies Association; Association for Asian American Studies

    Sarah T. Roberts, Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate School of Library and Information Science
    Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario
    Member, American Studies Association

    Richard T. Rodríguez, Associate Professor
    English and Latina/Latino Studies
    Member, American Studies Association; Modern Language Association

    Siobhan Somerville, Associate Professor
    English and Gender and Women’s Studies
    Member, American Studies Association (Nominating Committee, 2013-16); Modern Language Association

    Robert Warrior, Professor
    American Indian Studies and English
    Member, American Studies Association (former member, Executive Committee); Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (Founding President)

    Comment by Martin F. on Tue, February 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm

     

  8. Pomona College Faculty Letter on the ASA Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

    Below is the text of a letter sent by a group of faculty at Pomona College, several of whom are ASA members, in response to College President David Oxtoby’s rejection of the boycott:

    Dear Colleagues

    Many of you may have heard of the American Studies Association’s recent resolution in favor of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and the widespread reaction to that call.  David has joined with over a hundred other college and university presidents by issuing a statement opposing the boycott.  While we disagree with his position, we nonetheless appreciate the temperate nature of his statement about the issue when compared to some of the inflammatory charges about the boycott and the ASA made by others on this issue.  Nonetheless, we disagree that the boycott is, as David writes, “an affront to the principles of academic freedom.” Indeed, we believe the ASA boycott resolution actually will promote the academic freedom of Palestinian and dissident Israeli scholars.

    The wording of the boycott resolution (the main section of which we quote below) makes clear that it is a boycott of institutions that in no way obstructs conversation and collaboration with Israeli intellectuals and professors; indeed some of us supported the resolution at the urging of our Israeli colleagues, family and friends, who are themselves legally constrained from participating in boycotts, what they see as an institutional limiting of their freedom of speech. We believe, further, that the misleading public conversation about freedom of academic expression works to conceal the other forms of freedom at stake: the freedom for Palestinian students and teachers to attend and participate in university life; freedom for critics of Israel to speak freely, a freedom we choose to exercise now, and finally, and more basically freedom of movement, access to water, medical care, safe housing and play spaces for Palestinian women, men and children.

    We urge our colleagues to learn more about this controversy. To that end we thought that it would be helpful to share some of the more thoughtful interventions in this debate:

    The ASA resolution itself: “It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

    http://www.theasa.net/american_studies_association_resolution_on_academic_boycott_of_israel;

    The ASA National Council and members responses: http://www.theasa.net/from_the_editors/item/asa_members_vote_to_endorse_academic_boycott/

    The Journal of Academic Freedom (published by AAUP) special issue on the topic: http://www.aaup.org/reports-publications/journal-academic-freedom/volume-4

    President Oxtoby’s statement, http://pomona.edu/news/2013/12/31-oxtoby-boycott.aspx

    Michael Roth (President of Wesleyan and former CGU Prof ) op Ed in the LA times http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/19/opinion/la-oe-roth-academic-boycott-israel-20131219

    Robin DG Kelley, Professor at UCLA, response to Roth.  http://mondoweiss.net/2014/01/defending-zionism-academic.html

    Judith Butler, Professor at UC Berkeley, http://www.thenation.com/article/177512/academic-freedom-and-asas-boycott-israel-response-michelle-goldberg


    CC. American Studies Association

    Signed (in alphabetical order),
    Ralph Bolton
    Ray Buriel
    Phyllis Jackson
    Sidney Lemelle
    Pardis Mahdavi
    April Mayes
    Frances Pohl
    Erin Runions
    Victor Silverman
    Darryl A. Smith
    Tomás Summers Sandoval
    Valorie Thomas
    Miguel Tinker Salas
    Kyla Wazana Tompkins

    Comment by vsilverman on Mon, February 10, 2014 at 7:09 am

     

  9. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    February 6, 2014
    The National Lawyers Guild and other Rights Groups Call on Universities to Protect Open Debate on Palestine/Israel

    New York - The National Lawyers Guild and other organizations calling for human rights and for the rule of law in Palestine and Israel today urged academic institutions to reaffirm their commitment to free and open campus debate. The plea for free expression, including the right to call for human rights boycotts, was prompted by a series of repressive responses to the American Studies Association’s recent resolution to adopt a boycott against state-funded Israeli educational institutions. These institutions provide research and training used to maintain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

    Official discrimination against particular viewpoints violates longstanding First Amendment free speech rights. Administrative usurpation of a faculty’s right to decide whether to maintain a departmental association with a scholarly association violates the core values of academic freedom that school officials claim to be defending. This includes the right to engage in prior debate before making a decision. Faculty are entitled to take public positions, individually and as associations, on matters of public concern. The severing of official ties with a scholarly association because it took a controversial position on a matter of public concern chills campus speech and debate. Beyond these constitutional violations, such actions undermine a school’s responsibility to teach—and model—democratic decision-making and dissent.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed that “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” (West Virginia State Board of Ed. v. Barnette)

    NLG President Azadeh Shahshahani said, “In a hasty and intolerant official rush to dissociate themselves from the ASA resolution, some colleges and universities are trampling this core free speech right and academic freedom itself, which they purport to defend.”

    As this country’;s longtime defender of academic freedom, the American Association of University Professors, has stated:  “It is the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree.”

    See here for full text of letter

    Signatory organizations are the National Lawyers Guild, American Muslims for Palestine, Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, National Students for Justice in Palestine, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, United States Palestinian Community Network, Council on American-Islamic Relations-California, Al Awda-New York.


    Contacts:     
    Azadeh Shahshahani (NLG): (404) 574-0851; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Jen Nessel (CCR): (212) 614-6449; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Suzanne Adely (Al Awda-NY): (773) 510-7446
    Rachel Roberts (CAIR-California): (408) 986-9874; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Comment by ASASTAFF on Fri, February 07, 2014 at 8:34 pm

     

  10. Letter of Support: ASA vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions

    Dear members and supporters of the American Studies Association (ASA),
    people of conscience,

    On behalf of all Palestinian academics within the department of sociology at the University of Birzeit, Occupied Palestinian Territories, I would like to thank you, the ASA, for taking the courageous and necessary step to boycott all Israeli academic institutions. We sincerely respect the stance you have taken to actively participate in the cultural and academic boycott of Israel and fully support this step.

    The economic, cultural and academic boycott, as a tool for peacefully resisting the brutal Israeli regime of occupation, dispossession and humiliation, is our strongest weapon.

    As fellow academics, we look forward to cooperating and coordinating with you, the ASA, and all other international bodies sharing in the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. We are ready to support you in any way you see fit and are willing to combine our efforts in order to grow the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions.

    Boycott, as a weapon of peace, is our strongest weapon.

    With the deepest respect,

    Ghassan Abu Sulttan

    Academic Tutor, Department of Sociology
    Birzeit University

    Comment by ASASTAFF on Fri, February 07, 2014 at 8:32 pm

     

  11. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    February 4, 2014

    Press Contact: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    ASA Condemns Attempts by NY State Legislature to Suppress Boycotts of Israel as Unlawful Infringement on Free Speech

    On Tuesday, January 28th, the New York State Senate passed a bill (S.6438) targeting the American Studies Association (ASA) because of its recent resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. Yesterday, February 3rd, the New York State Assembly was scheduled to begin discussions on a similar bill (A.8392) that, if passed, could reach Governor Cuomo’s desk shortly thereafter. This legislation severely threatens free speech and academic freedom.

    The New York legislature’s anti-boycott bills prohibit colleges and universities from using state aid to fund academic groups or associations that have passed resolutions or taken official actions to promote boycotts against higher education institutions in countries where the New York Board of Regents charters institutions, which includes Israel, Lebanon, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. The bill also prohibits a college or university from using state funds to pay membership dues to those associations or to reimburse travel or lodging for an employee attending any meeting of such an association.

    This legislation would impose restrictions on academic freedom, represent an assault on free speech and professional activity, and set a dangerous precedent. We join the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild—New York City Chapter, and Jewish Voice for Peace in believing that, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the ASA’s specific boycott or with the use of academic boycotts in general, this legislation must be opposed. We are especially alarmed that faculty and students at public universities and colleges across the state would bear the financial burden of this test, a de facto assault on their right to participate in their professional association. In addition, these bills, unlike the ASA boycott itself, penalize individual faculty and students who do not support the academic boycott or do not wish to take a public stand one way or another.

    The sponsors of these bills claim that a boycott against Israeli institutions of higher education is discriminatory and amounts to anti-Semitism.  We reject the claim that criticism of Israel constitutes anti-Semitism and we strongly oppose the attempt to silence criticism of Israeli and U.S. policies with this accusation.

    The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to engage in a boycott aimed at bringing about social and political change. It protects this form of expression even when the positions taken are controversial. We must guard against unwarranted censorship. If this legislation became law the precedent would be far-reaching, effectively undermining the autonomy of faculty and professional bodies to make political speech without threat of reprisal from government officials.

    Regardless of one’s position on this boycott or on academic boycotts in general, this legislation threatens our First Amendment right as scholars and as professional associations to take positions on matters of public concern. If passed the precedent would be far reaching, effectively undermining the autonomy of faculty and professional associations to freely participate in public life without threat of arbitrary reprisal from government officials.

    We call on the New York State Assembly and the Governor to reject these bills and the dangerous precedent they set for legislating opinion.

    BACKGROUND:

    In December 2013, a majority of voters of the American Studies Association membership voted to endorse a resolution to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education in protest of the Israeli occupation and Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies towards Palestinian students and scholars in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel.  The boycott is limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions. The boycott does not target individual Israeli scholars and moreover recognizes the divergence of opinions among our own membership, leaving individuals free to act according to their conscience and convictions.

    FURTHER REFERENCE:

    New York Times editorial, February 3, 2014, “A Chill on Speech”:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/opinion/a-chill-on-speech.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1

    AAUP Letter:
    Anti-Boycott Bill Threatens Academic Freedom

    Center for Constitutional Rights and National Lawyers Guild detailed analysis and letter:
    http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/ccr-and-nlg-nyc-appeal-new-york-assembly-oppose-anti-boycott-bill

    Jewish Voice for Peace Action Alert:
    http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/action-needed-now-to-stop-dangerous-bill-in-ny-state-assembly

    Comment by ASASTAFF on Fri, February 07, 2014 at 8:31 pm

     

  12. Letter of Support to the ASA from the Arab American Studies Association

    January 26, 2014

    Dr. Curtis Marez and the Executive Committee of American Studies Association
    American Studies Association
    1120 19th St. NW, Suite 301
    Washington DC 20036

    Dear Dr. Marez and the Executive Committee of American Studies Association,

    The Arab American Studies Association (AASA) wishes to thank the American Studies Association (ASA) for its endorsement of the call from Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

    As a scholarly organization committed to the study of Arabs in diaspora, including in the United States and North America, the AASA is committed to upholding freedom of expression and recognizes that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott of Israeli institutions does not—and should not—prevent individual Israelis from participating in academic collaborations with academics in the United States. Rather, it is a response to discriminatory practices against Palestinian and Arab students and academics by Israeli institutions. Thus, the AASA regards the American Studies Association’s endorsement as a commitment to expanding the possibilities of academic freedom and to breaking the silence in American academia on Israeli institutional violations of Palestinian and Arab rights to free movement, education, and expression through continued occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid.

    For decades, the field of Arab American Studies has interrogated the ways in which unqualified U.S. support for the Israeli state shapes the racialized and gendered treatment of Arabs and Arab Americans within the corporate media and everyday life. Yet all too often in the United States, when scholars critically address Israeli state practices and their impact on Arab and Arab American lives, those scholars are met with efforts to silence and limit critical dialogue. Many Arab American studies scholars have had course content scrutinized by university administrators or by student groups committed to closing down open discussion on Israeli human rights violations.  Arab American Studies scholars have served as mentors to graduate and undergraduate students who have been denied entry to Israel based solely on their Arab heritage or unjustly targeted on their college campuses for expressing critiques of the Israeli state. Such efforts deeply impact academic careers and the possibility for open academic debate on campuses in the United States. For too long, these courageous scholars and students faced these challenges on their own. This is the historical significance of ASA’s breaking the silence.

    As an association that is committed to the free and open debate of ideas about Arabs in the Middle East, the United States and the diaspora, the AASA welcomes the discussion that the ASA has opened up about the role that Israeli universities play in denying Palestinians and Arabs access to education, scholarship and teaching opportunities. The American Studies Association’s stance also coincides with the growing participation of Arab American Studies scholars in American Studies and we are enthusiastic about these new conversations and possibilities.

    In all, we fully support the ASA Board and membership in its historic decision.

    Sincerely yours,

    The Arab American Studies Association
    http://www.arabamericanstudies.org

    Comment by ASASTAFF on Fri, February 07, 2014 at 8:29 pm

     

  13. Thanks to Jewish Voice for Peace, all of the major documents and statements related to the fight against the anti-boycott bill in Albany are now all in one place. Click here to see what’s posted.

    Comment by ASASTAFF on Wed, February 05, 2014 at 11:48 am

     

  14. Opposition Grows to New York State Anti-Boycott Bill

    Press Release: ASA Condemns Attempts by NY State Legislature to Suppress Boycotts of Israel as Unlawful Infringement on Free Speech

    AAUP Opposes Anti-Boycott Legislation in Maryland and New York

    Chill on Speech: New York Times Editorial against NY Anti-Boycott Bill

    New Yorkers Fight to Protect First Amendment Rights and Academic Freedom

    Action needed TODAY to stop anti-boycott bill in NY State Assembly

    Immediate Action needed to Stop Passage of Dangerous Bill in NY State Assembly

    PRESS RELEASE: NY State Senate’s Anti-BDS Bill Raises Constitutional Red Flags

    NY Academic Boycott Bill Threatens Academic Freedom, Says AAUP

    Comment by ASASTAFF on Tue, February 04, 2014 at 10:26 am

     

  15. Evergreen State College Faculty on the ASA Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

    We, the undersigned members of the faculty at The Evergreen State College, affirm our support for the American Studies Association’s endorsement of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

    We acknowledge and appreciate that this action is taken in recognition of the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and is directed only at Israeli institutions, not individual academics.  We applaud the ASA for taking this important step, aimed at securing equality and self-determination for Palestinians living under Israel’s illegal occupation.  In particular, we support the academic freedom of Palestinians, which has been systematically violated by preventing Palestinians from reaching their universities, traveling to conferences or to outside institutions for study, and restricting entry of international scholars into the territories. 

    The Evergreen State College and the Olympia community have played a significant role in the support of Palestinian self-determination.  In 2003, our student Rachel Corrie died defending a Palestinian home from demolition.  In 2010, our student body voted 78% in favor of divesting from companies that profit from the Occupation.  In 2011, our local food coop was the first grocer in the United States to boycott Israeli products in support of the BDS movement, and our student-run café, The Flaming Eggplant, also joined the boycott.  As with the American Studies Association boycott, those who voted in favor of these actions continue a long tradition of engaging in boycotts as a legitimate and non-violent tactic for social change.

    We also express our gratitude to other academic associations that have supported the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies.

    We offer our full support and solidarity as we all continue forward in the quest for justice and peace.

    Therese Saliba, Ph.D., Third World Feminist Studies
    Greg Mullins, Ph.D., American Studies
    Anthony Zaragoza, Ph.D., American Studies & Political Economy
    Savvina Chowdhury, Ph.D., Feminist Political Economy
    Steve Niva, Ph.D., International Politics
    Naima Lowe, MFA, Experimental Media
    Jose Gomez, J.D., Constitutional Law
    Grace Huerta, Ph.D., Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
    Michael Vavrus, Ph.D., Education & Political Economy
    Karen Gaul, Ph.D., Anthropology
    Lin Nelson, Ph.D., Social Science
    Larry Mosqueda, Ph.D., Political Science
    Jeanne Hahn, Ph.D., Political Economy
    Anne Fischel, Ph.D., Documentary Media and Community Studies
    Laurie Meeker, MFA, Film Production and Media Studies
    Peter Bohmer, Ph.D., Economics
    Arun Chandra, DMA, Music Composition and Performance
    Alice Nelson, Ph.D., Latin American Studies
    Zoltan Grossman, Ph.D., Geography
    Amjad Faur, MFA, Photography

    Comment by Therese Saliba on Sat, January 25, 2014 at 12:59 am

     

  16. I urge my colleagues who have voted on this resolution, either way, to read the open letter that the American Studies faculty of Middlebury College has written to the ASA:

    http://www.middlebury.edu/academics/amst/about/asa-letter

    Lois Rudnick

    Comment by Lois Rudnick on Thu, January 09, 2014 at 1:07 pm

     

  17. Why are all those who vociferously attacking the ASA’s extremely limited academic boycott of Israeli institutions not doing anything to oppose the USA’s devastating boycott and embargo of Cuba, which has prevented dozens of Cuban academics and other scholars from attending academic and medical conferences? This is hardly an extraneous question, especially since my friend Rich Slotkin’s missive explicitly suggests that the ASA should be boycotting Cuba, evidently forgetting that USA boycott.  Historian Jane Franklin (full disclosure: my spouse for 57 years) has asked me to include her response to Rich’s letter:

    I am surprised and disappointed by Richard Slotkin’s characterization of Cuba in his letter of protest against the boycott of Israeli universities.  He suggests that Cuba would be a better choice for a boycott.  Does he not know that our government has been conducting that boycott for over half a century with its trade embargo? For one example, when LASA invites Cuban scholars to its annual conference, the State Department always finds some of the Cubans unfit for entry into the United States.

    Just last April AHA President Kenneth Pomeranz wrote to Secretary of State Kerry to ask for his “support to facilitate visas for Cuban scholars who have been invited to participate in the XXXI International Congress” of LASA.  Pomeranz pointed out that in 2004 the George W. Bush administration “denied visas to all 61 Cuban scholars Cuban scholars who had been invited to attend that year’s meeting,…prompting the organization to move subsequent meetings outside the United States.”  In 2012 LASA returned to the U.S., believing that the Obama administration was “more permissive of academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba.”  But ten Cuban scholars were denied visas “even though many of them had previously visited the United States with fellowships at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities and had met with high-level officials at the State Department.”  Despite the plea from the AHA, the State Department denied visas to 13 Cuban scholars in 2013.

    Unfortunately, Richard Slotkin totally misrepresents Cuba’s achievements regarding gender issues.  He seems completely unaware of major advances in Cuba.  He obviously missed an important article in the March 15, 2013,  New York Times:  “A Transgender Elected Official Reflects an Evolving Cuba” about Adela Hernández, previously known as José Agustín Hernández, who was elected in November 2012 to the municipal council of Caibarién and was considering “gender-reassignment surgery, which, since 2008, has been available free in Cuba’s public health system.”

    Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History.  http://www.janefranklin.info

    H. Bruce Franklin
    The John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies, Rutgers University—Newark
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Comment by H. Bruce on Wed, January 08, 2014 at 9:48 am

     

  18. Statement of Support for the American Studies Association by Palestinian and other Arab-American Scholars and Writers

    We, the undersigned Palestinian and other Arab-American scholars and writers as well as Arab scholars in the United States affirm our strong solidarity with the American Studies Association’s position in favor of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions

    We also condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the expressions of hate and intimidation to which ASA members are being subjected, tactics that are illegal or verge on illegality under U.S. law.

    We express our heartfelt gratitude to the ASA – and to all other academic associations including the Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) – that have taken this principled and courageous stand despite the fierce backlash from organizations that support Israel’s atrocious and decades-old human rights record of military occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people and their lands. 

    We appreciate your recognition of the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and its three rights-based demands as one for solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for self-determination.
     
    We further express our appreciation of your recognition that BDS is a legitimate, non-violent tool of resistance by peoples enduring settler-colonialism, occupation, and apartheid. The effectiveness of this form of struggle was demonstrated during the South African struggle for freedom, justice and equality and is now being demonstrated by the Palestinian-led BDS movement, which represents all major political and civil society forces within and beyond Palestine.

    We welcome ASA’s stand as an affirmation of the decades of groundwork laid by earlier generations of Arab American scholars in the study of the impact of the U.S.-Israeli alliance in the Middle East and the United States. For many years Arab American scholars as well as Arab scholars in the U.S. have worked in isolation and those tackling this issue have faced a grueling combination of anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, and various levels of censorship with little or no support from most professional organizations.

    By broadening the possibility for critical discussion and debate about the U.S., Palestine, and Israel, the ASA’s stand has created a new opening that will help to challenge the attack on academic freedom that Palestinian and Arab-American scholars and our allies encounter in the U.S.

    We strongly uphold the principles of free speech and association guaranteed in U.S. jurisprudence and demand that the legal protections offered by these guarantees be extended to our colleagues in the ASA without delay. 

    We urge all of our colleagues of whatever ethnicity to support the ASA by:

    1. Becoming an Individual Member of the ASA and/or making a Contribution to the organization,

    2. Encouraging your Department, Program, or Center to join the ASA.

    3. Writing a letter of support to the ASA.

    * Institutional affiliation for purposes of identification only. 

    Signed

    Rabab Abdulhadi, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
    Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University.
    Bashir Abu-Manneh, Visiting Assistant Prof., Brown University.
    Ali Abunimah.
    Samer Alatout, Associate Professor.
    Evelyn Alsultany, University of Michigan.
    Paul Amar, University of California Santa Barbara.
    Sam Bahour, Co-editor, Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians and political pundit at ePalestine.com
    Riham Barghouti, Teacher, NYC and Founding Member, Adalah-NY
    Moustafa Bayoumi, Associate Professor, Brooklyn College, City University of New York.
    Hatem Bazian, University of California Berkeley and American Muslims for Palestine.
    George Bisharat, Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law.
    Lara Deeb, Scripps College, Department of Anthropology
    Noura Erakat, Freedman Fellow, Temple Law School
    Samera Esmeir, Associate Professor, Department of Rhetoric, University of California Berkeley.
    Leila Farsakh, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston.
    Nadia Guessous, Rutgers.
    Layla Azmi Goushey, doctoral student in Adult Education, Teaching and Learning Processes, University of Missouri; Assistant Professor of English, St. Louis Community College.
    Bassam Haddad, Director, Middle East Studies Program, Associate Professor, Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University.
    Toufic Haddad, senior teaching fellow, School of Oriental and African Studies.
    Elaine Hagopian, Prof. Emerita of Sociology, Simmons College, Boston.
    Lisa Hajjar, Professor of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara.
    Wael Hallaq, Columbia University.
    Nadia Hijab, Co-Founder and Director, Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.
    Amira Jarmakani, Georgia State University.
    Rania Jawad, Assistant Professor, Birzeit University.
    Suad Joseph, University of California, Davis
    Nour Joudah, Institute for Palestine Studies.
    Rhoda Kanaaneh, Visiting Researcher, Center for Palestine Studies, Columbia University.
    Remi Kanazi, poet and writer.
    Ahmed Kanna, University of the Pacific
    Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Department of History, Columbia University
    Lisa Majaj, Independent Scholar.
    Saree Makdisi, professor of English, University of California Los Angeles.
    Dr. John Makhoul.
    Nadine Naber, Associate Professor, Gender and Women’s Studies, Asian American Studies, University of Illinois, Chicago.
    Dena Qaddumi, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies; Policy Member, Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.
    Steven Salaita, Associate Professor, Virginia Tech.
    Therese Saliba, Evergreen State College.
    Aseel Sawalha, Department of Anthropology, Fordham University
    Sherene Seikaly, Director, Middle East Studies Center, The American University in Cairo.
    Julie M. Zito, PhD, Professor of Pharmacy and Psychiatry, University of Maryland, Baltimore.

    Comment by Bill Mullen on Tue, January 07, 2014 at 7:15 pm

     

  19. American University in Cairo (AUC) on the ASA Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

    Dear President Curtis Marez, President-Elect Lisa Duggan, and Executive Director John Stephens,

    As faculty members at the American University in Cairo (AUC), we are writing to express our support for the historic decision of the council and membership of the American Studies Association (ASA) to endorse the call of Palestinian civil society for an institutional boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

    We are scholars who live in Egypt, teach at one of the oldest American universities in the Middle East and in the largest Arab country in the world, and represent a range of academic areas. We believe that the ASA resolution represents a reasoned and necessary response to the continued settler colonization of Palestine. As an international collective of professors in Egypt, our multidisciplinary scholarship explicitly and implicitly engages the Middle East and North Africa including Palestine/Israel. We welcome your bold action in response to the ongoing occupation of Palestinians, who are among our faculty and students at AUC.

    The ASA resolution is a powerful position that stands firmly against Israeli policies of settlement, apartheid, and colonization. Israeli policies through a plethora of juridical as well as concrete measures including bypass roads, settlements, checkpoints and the apartheid wall carve the West Bank into segregated geographies that disable mobility and free expression. These policies have rendered the Gaza Strip the world?s largest open-air penitentiary. These policies relegate Palestinians in Israel to second-class citizenship. Finally, they deny Palestinian refugees throughout the Arab world and beyond their inalienable right of return.

    We believe the ASA resolution has broken the taboo of standing against Israeli policies in the United States, joining international public opinion in condemning Israeli policies, and supporting Palestinian rights and academic freedom. In particular, we recognize that the ASA resolution emerges out of years of increasing collaboration between American studies scholars internationally and scholars working in other areas. We have seen this at our own institution, elsewhere in Egypt, and throughout our professional travels. As scholars with intimate knowledge of the academic landscape of the Middle East, we have seen the ways that American studies scholars in Egypt and abroad have been committed to serious, sustained engagement and developing dialogues around issues of settler colonialism, American empire, and US relations with the Middle East and North Africa. We have witnessed years of research, dialogue, and reflection, and recognize the statement of the national council and the vote of the ASA membership to be the products of this participatory process.

    We stand in solidarity with you, and with our colleagues inside and outside of AUC, who are members of the ASA. We look forward to continued and new opportunities to work with all of you.

    Sincerely,

    Mona Abaza
    Rasha Abdulla
    Tahia Abdel Nasser
    Amira Abou Taleb
    Saiyad Nizamuddine Ahmad
    Laila Al-Sawi
    Ibrahim Awad
    Jason Beckett
    Ananya Chakravarti
    Ebony Coletu
    Ira Dworkin
    Abdel Aziz Ezz El-Arab
    Ayman Elazabi
    Yehia El-Ezabi
    Rasha El-Ibiary
    Sara El-Khalili
    Rabab El-Mahdi
    Mohamad Elmasry
    Sharif El-Musa
    Khaled Fahmy
    Nancy Gallagher
    Pascale Ghazaleh
    Ferial Ghazoul
    Camilo Gomez-Rivas
    Iman Hamam
    Iman Hamdy
    Nelly Hanna
    Dina Heshmat
    Mouannes Hojairi
    Nicholas Hopkins
    Walid Kazziha
    Hanan Kholoussy
    Malek Khouri
    Bahgat Korany
    Farida Merei
    Samia Mehrez
    Sean McMahon
    Amy Motlagh
    Usha Natarajan
    Nazek Nosseir
    Martina Rieker
    Helen Rizzo
    Malak Rouchdy
    Reem Saad
    Lisa Sabbahy
    Hanan Sabea
    Emmanuelle Salgues
    Hani Sayed
    Emad Shahin
    Amr Shalakany
    Sherene Seikaly
    Mounira Soliman
    Mohammed Tabishat
    Adam Talib
    Mark Westmoreland

    ——————————————
    Sherene Seikaly
    Director, Middle East Studies Center
    School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
    The American University in Cairo
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Co-Editor, Arab Studies Journal

    Comment by Ira Dworkin on Sun, January 05, 2014 at 4:06 pm

     

  20. Robin D.G. Kelley’s excellent new essay “Defending Zionism in the Name of Academic Freedom”

    http://mondoweiss.net/2014/01/defending-zionism-academic.html

    Comment by Bill Mullen on Sat, January 04, 2014 at 12:10 pm

     

  21. In the spirit of Curtis Marez’s recent email to the membership “welcome[ing] discussion and debate on matters of public significance in an open andprofessional manner,” I invite ASA members, and particularly boycott supporters, to consider this issue for discussion.

    The ASA leadership claims that the organization’s boycott is a protest against the injustices borne by Palestinian academics.  Yet by joining the BDS movement, the ASA uses a large and blunt tool for that narrow and quite specific purpose.  The BDS movement has been criticized, in part, because its criteria for lifting its boycott would essentially end the Jewish identity of the state of Israel.  If the ASA is not calling for the end of the Jewish state of Israel, why did the ASA leadership steward the organization, and so all its members, to join BDS?  Would the ASA leadership consider articulating its support for Palestinian academics under a different set of demands than the ones called for by BDS?  If not, why not?  Thank you.

    Nancy Koppelman
    The Evergreen State College

    Comment by koppelmn on Fri, January 03, 2014 at 11:43 am

     

  22. ASA Turpie Award Winners in Opposition to Israeli Boycott Resolution

    As long-time members of the American Studies Association, we are writing to protest its decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions.  We are recipients of the American Studies Association’s Mary C. Turpie Award, founded in 1993, to recognize American Studies professors for outstanding teaching and program development. Having devoted our academic careers to building American Studies on our campuses and as an international field of study, we wish to express our concern about the future of the ASA and of our shared intellectual enterprise. We are not convinced that the boycott resolution expresses the sentiments of a majority of the ASA. Out of a membership of nearly 5,000, 828 members voted for this resolution.

    We object to the boycott resolution on several grounds.

    First, it is at odds with the purpose of the American Studies Association, which the ASA Constitution defines as “the promotion of 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, and the broadening of knowledge among the general public about American culture in all its diversity and complexity.” The boycott resolution divides the membership of the association by taking a political position that is extraneous to its statement of purpose, and impedes the “strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies.”

    Secondly, The ASA National Council’s call for a boycott is wrong in principle.  We are strongly opposed to the Israeli occupation and the Israeli government’s policies in the Occupied Territory, including the continued expansion of settlements. But the principle at stake here has nothing to do with the merits of arguments about Israeli policy. A professional organization is supposed to foster and protect academic freedom – the right of scholars and teachers to pursue inquiry without political interference or censorship. Such an organization has every right to take a political stand on matters that directly affect the freedom of faculty, scholars, and students to study, teach, and pursue scholarship. Indeed, Article XI of the ASA By-Laws empowers the Executive Committee “to speak for the association on [such] public issues . . .  as academic freedom; freedom of access to information; appointments to and policies of granting and funding agencies.” While that mandate is not limited to these matters, it is, in our view, unwarranted to claim that Israeli policies in the Occupied Territory “directly affect our work as scholars and teachers” of American culture.

    Third, the proposed boycott may undercut the very groups in Israel working for dialogue and peace with the Palestinians. Israeli universities are one of the primary loci of opposition to government policies, and of joint projects in aid of Palestinian scholars, students, and educational institutions. The boycott would block American scholars’ participation in any conferences sponsored by Israeli universities, even if they are held in the interest of peace and reconciliation.
           
    The AAUP (The American Association of University Professors) has rejected academic boycotts (however delimited) because they do not affect oppressive governments, but instead impede the forming of relationships and the exchange of ideas that build support for the protection of human rights. For that reason AAUP backed the economic boycott of apartheid South Africa, which directly affected the interests of the government and its supporters, but refused to impose an academic boycott.

    We believe that this call for a boycott does a grave disservice to an organization and an academic field to which we have devoted our professional lives.  We therefore ask the President and Council of the ASA to reopen the discussion for a longer and fuller conversation among the membership, allow a new vote, and restore our proud tradition of full and free discussion, tolerance, and dissent. Failing such an outcome, we call upon members of American Studies departments and programs to express, in whatever form they prefer, their disapproval of the boycott. 

    Simon J. Bronner
    Chair, American Studies Program
    Distinguished University Professor of American Studies
    Penn State Harrisburg
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Robert A. Gross
    James L. and Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History
    Department of History
    University of Connecticut
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Daniel Horowitz
    Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of American Studies Emeritus
    Smith College
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Joy Kasson
    Professor of American Studies
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Jay Mechling
    Professor Emeritus of American Studies
    University of California, Davis
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Jesper Rosenmeier
    Fletcher Professor Emeritus of English
    Tufts University
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Michael Aaron Rockland
    Professor of American Studies
    Rutgers University
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Lois Rudnick
    Professor Emerita of American Studies
    University of Massachusetts Boston
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Eric Sandeen
    Professor and Director
    American Studies Program
    University of Wyoming
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Richard Slotkin
    Olin Professor of American Studies, Emeritus
    Wesleyan University
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Michael C. Steiner
    Professor Emeritus of American Studies
    California State University, Fullerton
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Norman R. Yetman
    Emeritus Chancellors Club Teaching Professor of American Studies & Sociology
    The University of Kansas
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Comment by Lois Rudnick on Fri, January 03, 2014 at 10:55 am

     

  23. Blowback: Why I voted for an academic boycott of Israel

    http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/blowback/la-ol-israel-academic-boycott-blowback-20131227,0,4082285.story#ixzz2onfenzHT

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Comment by Carolyn Karcher on Sat, December 28, 2013 at 2:39 pm

     

  24. An Open Letter to the President & Dean re: their letter on the ASA resolution on Israel.

    Note: Over the Christmas holidays, President Jones and Dean Mitzel released a letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

    (http://www.conferenceofpresidents.org/news/press/2013/dec24/presidents-conference-welcomes-strong-rejection-american-academic-community)

    to attack the American Studies Association for its vote earlier this month (by a 2-1 margin) to pass a resolution that “endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions”

    (http://www.theasa.net/american_studies_association_resolution_on_academic_boycott_of_israel).

    President Jones and Dean Mitzel’s letter, as it appeared to the ASA, is at the end of this email. The letter from the President and Dean claim to speak for the College; they do not, however, speak for all of us nor for the totality of the American Studies faculty on campus (the American Studies faculty declined to join the letter from the President and Dean). This letter from us, below, will soon appear on Jadaliyya, a website dedicated to Middle Eastern Studies (http://www.jadaliyya.com/). We are posting our letter in its entirety below.

    Best Wishes for the new year, Vijay.


    James F. Jones, Jr., President, Trinity College.
    Thomas Mitzel, Dean, Trinity College.

    December 26, 2013.

    Dear President Jones and Dean Mitzel,

    We received your letter by accident. It was sent to one of us after it was sent off to the American Studies Association (ASA). No announcement was made to the faculty prior to the letter going out, and so no discussion was permitted. The letter – which is below – condemns the ASA for its resolution on Israel. It is also found on the website of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as part of a campaign by that body to undermine the ASA.

    Many of us who are signing this letter are members of the ASA, proudly so, and several of us voted on behalf of that resolution that you chose to condemn in your letter. We believe that your letter is wrong-headed for several reasons. Some of these are detailed below:

    (1) Your letter is singularly uninformed.

    One of the tired mantras of the Anti-Defamation League is to say that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” This is a factually challenged statement. You seem to neglect at least two countries – Lebanon and Turkey – that are formal democracies. In the region, as well, there are monarchical democracies such as Kuwait and Morocco, with Jordan not far behind. Surely these are not so different from the monarchical democracies of Europe that would not earn a similar sneer (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom for example). We do not hold any water for monarchical democracies, but the double standard is remarkable.

    The use of this statement reveals how little effort was used to write this important position taken by the President and Dean of Trinity College. Or else you are of the view taken by Princeton’s doyen of Orientalism Bernard Lewis, that Arabs are somehow not capable of democracy – and that even where there is electoral democracy, this is simply a mirage. As an antidote to this view, we recommend Larbi Sadiki’s The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses, 2004 and the volume Democracy in the Arab World edited by Ibrahim Elbadawi and Samir Makdisi, 2011.

    Democracy should not be reduced entirely to elections. It has to be seen in a wider context. For instance, the Israeli system has disenfranchised the totality of occupied Palestinians and has reduced the democratic rights of Palestinian Arabs who live in Israel (in other words, Palestinians who live in Israel and hold its passport have lesser rights in practice). We recommend for your reading the reports from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and from B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. If you are interested in these issues, we strongly recommend you read the new UN report, Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (November 13, 2013).  This has to be part of any discussion of “democracy in the Middle East.” At the same time, in the context of the Arab Spring, as vibrant attempts to create political democracy continue across the Middle East, your comment sounds tone deaf.

    (2) Your letter is intellectually lazy.

    The debate over the ASA’s resolution began in 2007, and was heightened over the past six months. The discussion about boycotts and academic freedom took center stage in the debate. The level of intellectual conversation on these themes was sophisticated and of great interest. Your letter avoids the fine-grained conversation and returns to clichéd denunciations. We would encourage you to read at least a few of the essays that offer the case for the ASA position and show that academic freedom is not violated. The best debate was held in the American Association of University Professor’s journal, Journal of Academic Freedom, vol. 4 (2013), edited by Ashley Dawson (http://www.aaup.org/reports-publications/journal-academic-freedom/volume-4); to us Princeton historian Joan Scott’s essay, “Changing My Mind About the Boycott” is a good place to begin. But the debate is an old one. The philosopher Judith Butler offered a scrupulous analysis of the idea of academic freedom and the boycott strategy in 2006 (“Israel-Palestine and the Paradoxes of Academic Freedom” Radical Philosophy, vol. 135, January-February 2006; available ~ http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/israel-palestine-paradoxes-of-academic-freedom/). It would have been a useful gesture to have read up on the debate and engaged it with some authority. As it is, your letter returns to the first utterance when the campaign for an academic boycott was proposed by Palestinian and Israeli scholars in 2005 – there is no engagement with the long debate as it has unfolded over the past decade.

    What is doubly disappointing is that you had a front-row seat a few years ago when Vijay Prashad’s appointment to lead an institution at the college was attacked by the ADL and faculty on campus – at that time Vijay had engaged President Jones in a discussion about academic boycotts in his role as member of the advisory board for the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. On your faculty you have several people – Raymond Baker, a former Dean, and Johnny Williams, for instance – who have worked concertedly on issues of justice for Palestinians. None of this seems to have in any way troubled the tired language of your letter. At the very least, there might have been recognition that this is a long-standing discussion and not an impetuous decision by the ASA as you suggest. It behooves intellectual leaders who speak for academic freedom to at the very least take the ideas seriously. That is what the ASA did, which is why it hosted a long period of debate and discussion.

    (3) Your letter ignores the denial of academic freedom to Palestinians.

    In her essay mentioned above, Judith Butler lays out a broad understanding of academic freedom:

    “a. The new formulation of an academic-freedom argument that insists that academic freedom requires and consists in the workable material infrastructure of educational institutions and the ability to travel without impediment and without harassment to educational sites; by linking academic freedom to the right to be free from violent threats and arbitrary detentions and delays, one would effectively be saying that the very idea of academic freedom makes no sense and its exercise is foreclosed by the conditions of Occupation. This would be a way of affirming that academic freedom is essentially linked with other kinds of protections and rights and cannot be separated out from them.

    b. When academic freedom becomes a question of abstract right alone, we miss the opportunity to consider how academic freedom debates more generally – and here I would include both pro- and anti-boycott debates – deflect from the broader political problem of how to address the destruction of infrastructure, civil society, cultural and intellectual life under the conditions of the Occupation. As much as rights, considered as universal, have to be imagined transculturally and transpolitically, they also bring with their assertion certain geopolitical presuppositions, if not geopolitical imaginaries, that may not be at all appropriate for the situation at hand.”

    Your letter notes that Trinity participates in the very important Rescue Scholar program – the program that funds scholars from parts of the world who feel threatened in their workplaces or whose political views deny them academic work. This is a laudable effort, and as you know many of us have been major supporters of it.

    A study of the academic situation in Occupied Palestinian lands might have you reconsider your smug statement that “it is inconceivable to us that we would ever be welcoming a Rescue Scholar fleeing Israel for political reasons.” As a warm up to understand the situation of academic freedom in Israel, we recommend you read Ilan Pappé’s Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (2010). Ilan used to teach at the University of Haifa, in the city of his birth in 1954, but was hounded out in 2007 when the President of his college called for his removal based on his support of the academic boycott campaign – a campaign that is illegal according to Israeli law (so much for academic freedom, by the way). Ilan now teaches, virtually as a Rescue Scholar, at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

    If matters are hard for Israeli academics who wish to put their views against the Occupation on record, matters are worse for Palestinians and those who teach in Palestinian universities. Once more we recommend that you read a few of the publically available reports:


    a)  Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, “Obstacle Course: Students Denied Exit from Gaza,” July 2009.

    b)  Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, “Students from Gaza: Disregarded Victims of Israel’s Siege of the Gaza Strip. A Report on Israel’s Prevention of Gazan Students from Studying at the West Bank Universities,” July 2010.

    c)  The materials amassed by the Right to Education campaign at Birzeit University, a college that has been under siege for the past decade (http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/).

    d)  Ruhan Nagra, Academia Undermined: Israeli Restrictions on Foreign National Academics in Palestinian Higher Education Institutions, May 2013.

    Your silence on this deep attack on the rights of Palestinians to an education indicates that the principle that motivates your letter is not academic freedom. If it were, you would certainly have expressed your concern about the violation of the academic freedom of an entire population since at least 1967. What principle you are upholding is up to you to establish. An indication might come from your failed attempt to suborn the American Studies faculty at Trinity to break their institutional linkage to the ASA; having failed with the faculty, you ignored them and claimed to speak as if there is not a rich seam of disagreement on our campus on this issue.

    Your letter does not surprise us. In 2007, without a discussion in the faculty, President Jones signed on to an American Jewish Committee advertisement in the New York Times with the inflammatory tag line, “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” We suspect it says a great deal about the state of US academia and its democratic traditions that presidents can speak for a college or university without the minimal courtesy of consultation of the faculty, staff, students and alumni. The signing of the 2007 letter to the Times, this letter – these are political acts by a college administration that are disguised as acts of high principle.

    That you have written this letter shows that the resolution of the ASA has had some effect – it has forced a conversation about the denial of the rights to full education of our Palestinian colleagues, about the impunity granted to Israeli institutions by the complicity in the US as well as the active financial, military and diplomatic support by the US government for the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians. That your letter does not seriously engage any of the issues – even academic freedom still less the actual occupation – is a sign of the lack of seriousness on your part. We look forward to a more robust discussion. As it is, you did not speak in our name – also members of the Trinity College community – when you wrote this ill-advised letter to the ASA President.

    Sincerely,


    1.    Andrea Dyrness, Associate Professor of Educational Studies.

    2.    Anne Lambright, Associate Professor of Language and Culture Studies.

    3.    Dario Euraque, Professor of History and International Studies.

    4.    Davarian L. Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies.

    5.    Drew Hyland, Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy.

    6.    Garth A. Myers, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Urban International Studies.

    7.    Gary Reger, Hobart Professor of Classical Languages.

    8.    Janet Bauer, Associate Professor of International Studies.

    9.    Jeffrey Bayliss, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of History.

    10.  Johnny E. Williams, Associate Professor of Sociology.

    11.  Maurice Wade, Professor of Philosophy.

    12.  Paul Lauter, Allan K. & Gwendolyn Miles Smith Professor of Literature and past president of the American Studies Association (1998).

    13.  Raymond William Baker, College Professor of International Politics and Chair, Middle East Studies Program.

    14.  Robert J. Corber, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in American Institutions and Values.

    15.  Seth Sanders, Associate Professor of Religious Studies.

    16.  Stephen M. Valocchi, Professor of Sociology.

    17.  Thomas Harrington, Associate Professor of Language and Culture Studies.

    18.  Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian Studies and Professor of International Studies.

    19.  Zayde Antrim, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of History and International Studies and Director, International Studies Program.

    Comment by mshihade on Sat, December 28, 2013 at 11:15 am

     

  25. The ASA decision (and the decisions the Asian American Studies Association and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association) to join the BDS movement has unleashed a fury, replete with the customary cries of anti-Semitism, hypocrisy, etc. The decision by the ASA has been years in the making - I was at the first meetings to discuss the possibility - and it was well thought out, so it’s not a sudden tantrum, and it comes after decades of Israel rebuffing all attempts to restrain its colonial expansion, after decades of attempts to restrain the US support for Israeli expansion. I am uncomfortable with any cultural or academic boycott, and I know so many Israeli scholars (in the humanities) who are excellent scholars and act with integrity to end the occupation (and the boycott does not prevent me from working with them). However, Israeli universities especially in the sciences and engineering are often culpable, complicit in sustaining the occupation and militarism. Yes, much good research takes place, but the complicity is deep.

    There have been campus movements to divest from companies who do business in the occupied territories. This type of campaign should be acceptable to those who object to the boycott - but these campaigns, very careful to target only those involved in the occupation, were also denounced in the same way. And Jewish students at Stanford, for example, who supported this carefully targeted campaign were not allowed to meet in Hillel.

    When I spoke on platforms with the ANC during the 80s, pro-Israel Jews who were anti-apartheid used to denounce my criticisms of Israel as supporting the apartheid regime, even to the point of joint development of nuclear weapons. They were shocked by such an “anti-Semitic” accusation, it violated their notions of sacrosanct Jewish ethics - then the ANC representative would confirm what I had said, and the pro-Israel anti-apartheid people were flummoxed. Liberal supporters of Israel will also be flummoxed by the growing boycott.

    For those who say why not boycott Syria or China or how about boycotting the US? Each case is different, but it’s not out of the question. And if people feel strongly they should organize it, make their arguments, but don’t accuse the people who decide to take up this issue as one-sided. Along those lines, pro-Israel people would say to me when I spoke about the expropriation and exclusion of the Palestinians, “Well, then, why not give America back to the Indians.” I would rub my chin and reply, “Not a bad idea.” And after a pause, continue: “But that’s not what Native Americans are asking for - they’re asking for treaty rights, for justice, for self-determination, to live as equals.” Then people say, what does this have to do with American Studies? The US is deeply involved in supporting the expansion of settler colonialism by Israel - which sees the US’s own conquest of native people as an inspiration. How could the ASA not adopt such a stance?

    So, the counter-arguments will rage, each with a different twist, but the rage is good. People will more and more think - and perhaps they’ll act. I’ve been an outspoken Jewish critic of Israeli policies since the 70s, denounced time and time again as self-hating, etc. But the occupation goes on and on. The settlements keep expanding, and life in the West Bank and Gaza (hemmed in by the Israelis) becomes more and more miserable. Those who object to the BDS movement should come up with alternative strategies to end the occupation. In the 80s it was “mutual recognition”: If only the PLO would recognize Israel all will be worked out from there. And Arafat did just that - and 20 years after Oslo, the colonial machine keeps rolling on. Got an alternative? Offer it and act. Now!

    Hilton Obenzinger
    Stanford University
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    Comment by Hilton Obenzinger on Thu, December 19, 2013 at 12:30 am

     

  26. The ASA has changed from the time when Professor Slotkin joined in 1966. Fortunately, it is a much more open association that includes a diversity of members, who are able to recognize not only the merits of Slotkin’s work, but also the significance of critiquing US policy in the Mid East. I doubt Professor Slotkin needs to be told that the Mid East has become especially important to Am Studies over the last 20 years with the increased direct US involvement in wars in the region. It is unfortunate that a scholar of Professor Slotkin’s stature, who has done so much in other areas, is unable to see how important critiquing US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is for emerging scholars in American Studies.

    The ASA members and leaders who voted for the academic boycott of Israeli universities want to challenge US involvement in the region and understand that US intervention does not only occur through the deployment of troops (in Iraq), but also indirectly through proxies, such as Israel. Historically, Israel has been the most important US proxy in the region. Furthermore, to dismiss the importance of Israel in the field of American Studies, is to overlook the centrality of Israel in so many aspects of American political culture and foreign policy, at least since the 1970s. Consider for a moment the role of Israel in the recent US debate on Iran’s nuclear capacity. No other Mid Eastern country, not Saudi Arabia, not Pakistan, not Egypt, is as tightly linked to US regional policy as Israel. Moreover, no other Mid East country can do what Israel does—from spying on the US to ethnically cleansing historic Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem—and continue to receive the unconditional support of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

    Even if one should agree that an academic boycott will create institutional hardships for some justice-minded Israeli professors, it is the extremism of the Israeli government, notably its unrestrained expansionism, its excessive militarism and its explicit racism, that are the real problem for most Israeli academics and for Professor Slotkin. The boycott will perhaps lead to a solution by activating a greater number of Israeli scholars to challenge their government, shaking them out of their complacent privilege and inciting them to form coalitions with others who seek the liberation of Palestinians. It has already activated a good number of US scholars within the ASA who recognize where justice lies.

    Salah D Hassan
    Michigan State University
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    Comment by Salah D Hassan on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 11:41 pm

     

  27. Professor Slotkin claims, “this boycott is a case of ‘going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ It commits the organization to a partisan position in a political controversy in a foreign country, on an issue not directly related to our work. While some Palestinian and Israeli scholars have welcomed the boycott, Mahmoud Abbas (the leader of the Palestinian Authority) has deplored it; nor have any of Israel’s professional organizations endorsed it.”

    I would like to object to this claim on two of many possible grounds. (1) As many ASA members have pointed out in countless articles and statements in the months leading up to the passing of this resolution, this “foreign country” is directly connected to the United States, to the tune of the $3 billion/year we give in direct aid. Moreover, far from being “not directly related to our work,” many of the ASA’s finest scholars can and do make America’s relationship to Israel and Palestine the very center of their research. Reading the work of these scholars is a good way to understand why Abbas has not publicly supported the boycott. As for the lack of professional Israeli organizations endorsing the Boycott, I think that very well speaks to the need for it. So, too, do the private emails I have received in the past few days, from scholars inside Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. These emails express thanks to the ASA for its resolution and sadness over not being safe to make this thank you public because those inside Israel fear job loss, and those in the oPt fear being arrested or unable to leave the country.

    Professor Slotkin also claims, “Israeli universities are one of the primary loci of opposition to government policies, and of joint projects in aid of Palestinian scholars, students and educational institutions.” Evidence points to the contrary. I quote here from a letter asking scholars to boycott an upcoming conference at Tel Aviv University. You can see the letter and the sources it cites to evidence its claims here: http://donotapplyhebrewu.wordpress.com/boycott-israeli-cinema-and-media-studies-conference-at-tel-aviv-university/

    “Tel Aviv University is complicit in Israel’s unequal treatment of Palestinians (5% of its student population), the majority of whom are citizens of the Israeli state, and the suppression of political dissent; for instance:

    •    Tel Aviv University has chosen to remain silent while the entire population of Gaza has been excluded by the Israeli government from the possibility of enrolling and studying at the university.  Palestinian students from Gaza have a better chance of acceptance at a university in the United States than at Tel Aviv University.

    •    The Tel Aviv University administration restricts the freedom of speech and protest of Palestinian students by honoring the “Nakba Bill,” discriminatory legislation meant to discourage academic discussion and public commemoration of a day of mourning, on the anniversary of the establishment of Israel, for the expulsion by Zionist and Israeli forces of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land, and the massacre of thousands more, during 1947-49.

    •    Tel Aviv University requires potential enrollees to take psychometric exams, a combined aptitude and personality test that has been criticized as culturally biased.  The university likewise administers English language proficiency entrance exams that are structurally biased as a result of Israel’s “separate-but-equal” primary and secondary education system, which prioritizes and promotes Jewish Israeli advancement while under-funding and thus under-developing Palestinian-majority schools.

    •    Like all Israeli universities, Tel Aviv University also adheres to an Israeli law which stipulates that universities must give special treatment to student military reservists—in the form of financial assistance, age restrictions for entry into particular programs, and student housing allotments. This evidences both Tel Aviv University’s complicity in the occupation and its discriminatory practices against Palestinian students, who are not required to serve in the Israeli military.  The university likewise discriminates against the small but significant number of Jewish conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

    •  Tel Aviv University is participating in a settler-run archaeological dig in the “City of David” national park located in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, in violation of international law.

    Tel Aviv University, like most Israeli universities, is built on the land of a Palestinian Arab habitat, in this case, Shaykh Muwannis, a large village whose inhabitants were forcibly expelled by the IDF in early 1948. The story of the expulsion, destruction and erasure of this village is told by Professor Shlomo Sand of the Tel Aviv University Department of History.  Part of Sand’s description details the five decades of silence and denial by the University of the facts of this expulsion.

    Cynthia Franklin
    University of Hawai’i at Manoa
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    Comment by Cynthia Franklin on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm

     

  28. Many things sadden me about the letter written by Professor Slotkin, a scholar whose work has been important to me. Among many, one that others have not mentioned that I would call attention to is the repetition of the truncated “attack meme” 5 word quote the New York Times produced after cutting out Curtis Marez’s explanation, following the 5 words Slotkin cites, that Israel is the biggest recipient of US aid and that AS scholars were responding to Palestinian civil society. After printing a two paragraph quote in the first version of the story the NYT cut it down to 5 words in the second version, and this is the version that has been recycled ad nauseam by Dershowitz, Goldberg, and others to attack the resolution and Marez. SO the 5 word “We have to start somewhere” line became a right-wing meme and it is truly sad to see Professor Slotkin trying to fortify his case by using the same decontextualizing, dishonest attack meme used by these bad journalists.

    Shelley Streeby
    University of California, San Diego
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    Comment by Shelley Streeby on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm

     

  29. The point that Prof. David Polumbo-Liu is important and worth further elaboration. What Messrs. Bronner, Slotkin, and Gross are saying is that academics cannot hold a political position except when it is like theirs.  It is only acceptable to be political when one agrees with dominant discourse, and does not challenge openly racist structures.

    The Israeli racist structure is not unknown to many people, but a repressed question by U.S. government complicity with it, and by accommodating and partisan media, and by supposedly “academic” association like the AAUP or NAS, who went out of their way to lobby on behalf of the pro-Israeli lobby concerning the ASA resolution to boycott Israel.

    They have tried everything, including all kinds of tactic of bullying and intimidation prior to the election final date.

    They did not succeed, despite the fact that the debates for boycott at the ASA has been in place for several years, the proposal for the resolution was officially submitted a year ago (2012 ASA meeting), and that the resolution for boycott received overwhelming support as reflected in the petitions, in the open town hall meeting, and in the open discussion meeting on Saturday, where people randomly were selected to speak, and 37 out of 44 spoke in support of the resolution.

    After the ASA NC adopted the resolution reflecting the members view, and while normally that should have been the end of the story, the ASA went out of its way to give room to opposition and put the resolution for all members to ratify. Two weeks later, in the largest participation in ASA history, over 66% of those voting supported the resolution.

    Since then, instead of respecting an extremely democratic process, those who have problems with democracy when it does not fit their agenda have been involved in different tactics of intimidation and threats, while some of them here do not tell about the e-mails they have been sending to their junior and other faculty members in their departments. These tactics in “private” are not professional, ethical, or legal. The tactic that is being used here is also not professional and it is true, it send the wrong message to the students. It is telling the students that democracy is about demagogy. It is telling the students that if the result of an extremely democratic process does not fit their view, they need to work for a coup through different tactics including the tactic of intimidation and threats.

    Of course these tactics won’t work. Living in an illusion is not an answer to how to deal with reality. The special complicity of the U.S. with Israeli racism is not going to be avoided any more. People who really want to know more about the arguments regarding academic freedom and why this resolution was adopted in support of academic freedom, and thus also giving more room for intellectual freedom, if they did not yet, they can look at http://www.usacbi.org in addition to the ASA resolution and its long explanation of how and why the resolution was adopted.

    For more poetic reflection on this resolution, I would like to share with you a poem—The Speech of the “Red Indian,” by the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish
    1
    So, we are who we are, as the Mississippi flows,
    and what remains from yesterday is still ours—
    but the color of the sky has changed,
    the sea to the East has changed.
    O white master, Lord of the horses,
    what do you want from those making their way
    to the night woods?
    Our pastures are sacred, our spirits inspired,
    the stars are luminous words where our fable
    is legible from the beginning to end
    if only you’ll lift up your eyes:
    born between water and fire,
    reborn in clouds on an azure shore
    after Judgement day…
    Don’t kill the grass any more,
    it possess a soul in us that could
    shelter the soul of the earth.
    Tamer of horses, teach your horse
    to ask forgiveness of nature’s soul
    for the way you’ve treated our trees:
    O Sister tree,
    look how they’ve tortured you
    the way they’ve tortured me;
    never ask forgiveness
    for the woodcutter whose axe felled
    both your mother and mine…

    2
    The white man will never understand the ancient words
    here in spirits roaming free
    between sky and trees.
    Let Columbus scour the seas to find India,
    it’s his right!
    He can call our ghosts the names of spices,
    he can call us Red Indians,
    he can fiddle with his compass to correct his course,
    twist all the errors of the North wind,
    but outside the narrow world to his map
    he can’t believe that all men are born equal
    the same as air and water,
    the same as people in Barcelona,
    except that they happen to worship Nature’s God in everything
    and not gold.
    Columbus was free to look for a language
    he couldn’t find here,
    to look for gold in the skulls of our ancestors.
    He took his fill from the flesh of our living
    and our dead.
    So why is he bent on carrying out his deadly war
    even from the grave?
    When we have nothing left to give
    but a few ruinous trinkets, a few tiny feathers to
    embroider our lakes?
    All told,
    you killed over seventy million hearts,
    more than enough for you to return from slaughter
    as king on the throne of a new age.
    Isn’t it about time, stranger,
    for us to meet face to face in the same age,
    both of us strangers to the same land,
    meeting at the tip of an abyss?
    We have what is ours and
    we have what is yours of the sky.
    Yours air and water, such as we have.
    Ours pebbles, such as we have,
    yours iron, such as you have.
    In the shadow domain, let us share the light.
    Take what you need of the night
    but leave us a few stars to bury our celestial dead.
    Take what you need of the sea
    but leave us a few waves in which to catch our fish.
    Take all the gold of the earth and sun
    but leave the land of our names to us.
    Then go back, stranger.
    Search for India once more!

    3
    Our names: branching leaves of divine speech,
    birds that soar higher than a gun.
    You who come from beyond the sea, bent on war,
    don’t cut down the tree of our names,
    don’t gallop your flaming horses across
    the open plains.
    You have your god and we have ours,
    you have your religion and we have ours.
    Don’t bury your God
    in books that back up your claim of
    your land over our land,
    don’t appoint your God to be a mere
    courtier in the palace of the King.
    Take the rose of our dreams
    and see what we’ve seen of joy.
    Sleep in the shade of our willows
    and start to fly like a dove—
    this, after all, is what our ancestors did
    when they flew away in peace
    and returned in peace.
    You won’t remember leaving the Mediterranean,
    eternity’s solitude in the middle of a forest
    rather than on the edge of a cliff.
    What you lack is the wisdom of defeat,
    a lost war, a rock standing firm
    in the rush of time’s furious river,
    an hour of reverie for a necessary sky of dust to
    ripen inside,
    an hour of hesitation between one path and another.
    One day Euripides will be missing
    as well as the hymns of Canaan and Babylon,
    Solomon’s Song of Songs for Shulamith
    and the yearning lily of the valley.
    What you white men need will be the memory of
    how to tame the horses of madness,
    hearts polished by pumice in a flurry of violins.
    All this you will need,
    as well as a hesitant gun.
    (But if you must kill, white man, don’t slay
    the creatures that befriended us.
    Don’t slaughter our past.)
    You will need a treaty with our ghosts on those
    sterile winter nights,
    a less bright sun, a less full moon
    for the crime to appear
    less glamorous on the screen.
    So take your time
    as you dismember God.

    4
    We know what this elegant enigma conceals from us:
    a heaven dies.
    A willow strays, wind-footed,
    a beast establishes its kingdom
    in hollows of wounded space,
    ocean-waters drench the wood of our doors with salt,
    earth’s a primordial burden heavier than before
    but similar to something we’ve known since the
    beginning of time.
    Winds will recite our beginning and our end
    though our present bleeds
    and our days are buried in the ashes of legend.
    We know that Athens is not ours
    and can identify the color of the days
    from puff clouds or rising smoke.
    But Athens isn’t yours as well,
    yet we know what mighty iron is preparing for us
    for the gods that failed
    to defend the salt in our bread.
    We know that truth is stronger than righteousness,
    and that times changed
    when the technology of weapons changed.
    Who will raise our voices to the rainless clouds?
    Who will rinse the light after we’re gone?
    Who will tend our temples,
    who will safeguard our traditions
    from the clash of steel?
    “We bring you civilization,” said the stranger.
    “We’re the masters of time
    come to inherit this land of yours.
    March in Indian file so we can tally you
    on the face of the lake, corpse by corpse.
    Keep marching, so the Gospels may thrive!
    We want God all to ourselves
    because the best Indians are dead Indians
    in the eyes of the Lord.”
    The Lord is white and the day is white.
    You have your world and we have ours.
    What the stranger says is truly strange.
    He digs a well deep in the earth to bury the sky.
    Truly strange, what the stranger says!
    He hunts down our children, as well as butterflies.
    O stranger, what promises do you make to our garden,
    zinc flowers prettier than ours?
    Fine.
    But do you know that a deer
    will never approach grass that’s been
    stained with our blood?
    Buffaloes are our brothers and sisters, as well as
    everything that grows.
    Don’t dig any deeper!
    Don’t pierce the shell of the turtle that carries our grandmother
    the earth on its back!
    Our trees are her hair,
    and we adorn ourselves with her blooms.
    “There’s no death on earth,”
    so don’t break her delicate formation!
    Don’t bruise the earth, don’t smash
    the smooth mirror of her orchards,
    don’t startle her, don’t murder the river-waisted one
    whose grandchildren we are.
    We’ll be gone soon enough.
    Take our blood,
    but leave the earth alone:
    God’s most elaborate
    writing on the face of the waters,
    for His sake and ours.
    We still hear our ancestors’ voices on the wind,
    we listen to their pulse in the flowering trees.
    This earth is our grandmother, each stone sacred,
    and the hut where gods dwelt with us
    and stars lit up our nights of prayer.
    We roamed naked and walked barefoot to touch
    the souls of the stones
    so that the spirit or air would unfold us in women
    who would replenish nature’s gifts.
    Our history was her history.
    To endure our life
    go away and come back.
    Return the spirits,
    one by one,
    to the earth.
    We keep the memory of our loved ones in jars,
    like oil and salt, whose names we tied
    to wings of water birds.
    We were here first,
    no ceiling to separate our blue doors from the sky,
    no horses to graze where our deer used to graze,
    no strangers bursting in on the night of our wives.
    O give the wind a flute to weep for the people
    of this wounded place,
    and tomorrow to weep for you.
    And tomorrow to weep for you.

    5
    Tending our last fires
    we fail to acknowledge your greetings.
    Don’t write commandments
    from your new steel god for us.
    Don’t demand peace treaties from the dead.
    There’s no one left to greet you in peace,
    which is nowhere to be seen.
    We lived and flourished before the onslaught of
    English guns, French wine and influenza,
    living in harmony side by side with the Deer People,
    learning our oral history by heart.
    We brought you tidings of innocence and daisies.
    But you have your god and we have ours.
    You have your past and we have ours.
    Time is a river
    blurred by the tears we gaze through.
    But don’t you ever
    memorize a few lines of poetry, perhaps,
    to restrain yourself from massacre?
    Weren’t you born of a woman?
    Didn’t you suckle the milk of longing
    from your mother as we did?
    Didn’t you attach paper wings to your shoulders
    to chase swallows as we did?
    We brought you tidings of the Spring.
    (Don’t point your guns at us!)
    We can exchange gifts, we can sing:
    My people were here once, then they died here…
    Chestnut trees hide their souls here.
    My people will return in the air,
    in water
    in light…
    Take my motherland by the sword!
    I refuse to sign a treaty between victim and killer.
    I refuse to sign a bill of sale
    that takes possession
    of so much as one inch of my weed patch,
    of so much as one inch of my cornfield
    even if it’s my last salutation to the sun!
    As I wade into the river wrapped in my name only
    I know I’m returning to my mother’s bosom
    so that you, white master, can enter your Age.
    Enter your brutal statues of liberty over my corpse.
    Engrave your iron crosses on my stony shadow,
    for soon I will rise to the height of the song
    sung by those multitudes suicided by their
    dispersion through history
    at a mass where our voices will soar like birds:
    Here strangers won
    over salt and sea mixed with clouds.
    Here strangers won
    over corn husks within us
    as they laid down their cables for
    lightning and electricity.

    Here’s where the grieving eagle
    dived to his death.
    Here’s where strangers won over us
    leaving us nothing for the New Age.

    Here our bodies evaporate, cloud by cloud, into space.
    Here our spirits glow, star by star, in the sky of song.

    6
    A long time will have to go by before our
    present becomes our past, just like us.
    We will face our death, but first
    we’ll defend the trees we wear.
    We’ll venerate the bell of night, the moon
    hanging over our shacks.
    We’ll defend our leaping deer,
    the clay of our jars, the feathers
    in the wings of our last songs.
    Soon you’ll raise your world over ours,
    blazing a trail from our graveyards to a satellite.
    This is the Iron Age: distilled from a lump of coal,
    champagne bubbling for the mighty!
    There are dead and there are colonies.
    There are dead and there are bulldozers.
    There are dead and there are hospitals.
    There are dead and there are radar screens
    to observe the dead
    as they die more than once in this life,
    screens to observe the dead who live on after death
    as well as those who die
    to lift the earth above all that has died.
    O white master, where are you taking my people
    and yours?
    Into what abyss
    is this robot bristling with aircraft carriers and jets
    consigning the earth?
    To what fathomless pit
    will you descend?
    It’s your to decide.
    A new Rome, a technological Sparta and an
    ideology for the insane…
    but we’d rather depart from an Age
    our minds can’t accept.
    Once a people,
    now we’d rather flock to the land of birds.
    We’ll take a peek at our homeland through stones,
    glimpse it through openings in clouds,
    through the speech of stars,
    through the air suspended above lakes,
    between soft tassel fringes in ears of corn.
    We’ll emerge from the flower of the grave.
    We’ll lean out of the poplar’s leaves
    of all that besieges you, O white man,
    of all the dead who are still dying,
    both those who live and those
    who return to tell the tale.
    Let’s give the earth enough time to tell
    the whole truth about your and us.
    The whole truth about us.
    The whole truth about you.

    7
    In rooms you build,
    the dead are already asleep.
    Over bridges you construct,
    the dead are already passing.
    There are dead who light up the night
    of butterflies,
    and the dead who come at dawn
    to drink your tea
    as peaceful as on the day your
    guns mowed them down.
    O you who are guests in this place,
    leave a few chairs empty
    for your hosts to read out
    the conditions for peace
    in a treaty with the dead.
    October 1992 (From: Eleven Planets. Translated by Sargon)

    Magid Shihade
    University of California, Davis
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    Comment by mshihade on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 7:45 pm

     

  30. At the risk of repeating myself.  The comments of Professors Slotkin, Gross, Bronner are noteworthy but belated.  If you were truly concerned about the nature or possible effects of this resolution it would have behooved you to place your considered opinions before the ASA membership.  As diligent members of the organization you, I am sure, read the conference program and saw that Friday there was a full panel that discussed this issue and on Saturday there was a long open town hall where everyone was invited to speak.  Those of your persuasion would have been heartened to hear you speak up.  If you did not there are ample and easy-to-use resources on the internet (which you used to post your comments).  You could have gone to the news media, etc etc.  But you did not.  Why?  Did you in fact vote? Did you lobby your colleagues and present your arguments to them?  It is beyond belief that you would want to now abort the democratic process and have a second chance.  As they say in the US, wait for the midterm elections?  You speak of the message this resolution sends to our students.  What sort of message do you think it sends to encourage them to disregard democratic process, to say that open and deliberate votes don’t count, that it is possible to wave aside democratically-arrived at resolutions because you don’t like them but you don’t like them enough to lobby actively against them during the democratic process?

    David Palumbo-Liu
    Stanford University
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    Comment by David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

     

  31. I have to agree with Richard Slotkin on the points he made and would add that this resolution has hurt the reputation of American Studies as a scholarly enterprise and has alarmed students who want to claim American Studies as their discipline. Besides the public ridicule that American Studies has suffered for an anti-intellectual statement related to the resolution, students are concerned that this organization is perceived to be taking a party line they must follow or else are assumed to hold because of their association with it. That is unfair to them, insensitive to the legacy and purpose of American Studies, and damaging to those of us in programs, departments, and centers. On the latter point, you are hearing comments from Turpie Award winners and program heads because they have to answer for American Studies and they are on the front lines of building American Studies as a serious scholarly inquiry. The resolution has done damage to that effort on campuses, and in fact, has undermined the reformist agenda based upon research that many Americanists value.

    Simon J. Bronner
    Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg
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    Comment by Simon Bronner on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm

     

  32. I disagree with Richard Slotkin’s claim that the boycott is related to a foreign country and not related to our work.  The alliance between the Israeli state and U.S.-led war and empire building in the Middle East is more clear than ever before so it is almost absurd to discuss Israel as a foreign country disconnected from the U.S. or our work in American Studies. Bringing this issue even closer to home,  U.S. support for Israeli greatly impacts U.S. academia and scholars in American Studies…scholars teaching in ways that challenge the status quo on the U.S. and Israel receive an additional layer of scrutiny when it comes to the content of their scholarship and course materials. Many of these scholars (especially those of Muslim heritage or Arab descent) are regularly targeted…some are denied tenure, some are never hired, some have their courses and course material monitored…many receive hate mail and regularly intimidated by students, campus groups, and Zionist organizations external to their universities—and there are little to no institutional structures to support them against these undemocratic tactics in U.S. universities. I have witnessed many cases where other faculty who might otherwise support them have remained silent out of fear of being similarly bullied or intimidated.

    The process leading to this boycott has illustrated how the boycott challenges these patterns within U.S. academia and American Studies contexts. The discussions that have happened opened up broader spaces in American Studies for voices that are systematically silenced in U.S. academia and they have sent a message to people who have had little to no space to articulate their views out of fear of being denied tenure, marginalized, or politically targeted that ASA is a space that will not allow such tactics anymore. We have also learned from the opposition to the boycott. The question, for instance, why not boycott Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, China has been repeated over and over whenever supporters of Israel respond to critiques of Israeli-state violence. This tactic shifts the focus away from Israel to other countries and avoids addressing the realities of Israeli state violence and the role of theU.S.-state and U.S. and Israeli academia in these violations. In addition, the claim that Slotkin has written to “program chairs, and other former winners of the Turpie Award”... is a good example of the reliance on authority and power in argumentation.  This is indeed the type of language that crushes academic freedom and it troubles me that someone would use language that would create an intimidating context for junior scholars, students, and others who occupy still precarious positions in American Studies.

    Nadine Naber
    University of Illinois, Chicago
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    Comment by Nadine N on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm

     

  33. The Time for Intimidation is Over

    It has come to our attention that there are some who are getting hate mail, threatening mail. We are also learning that some from outside the academy are threatening with legal actions against the ASA. Others from within the academy are threatening for example to cut funds for faculty who want to attend the ASA in the future. Some senior faculty have explicitly and implicitly intimidated junior faculty from voicing their support of the boycott.

    If you face any of that, please let us know. Send an e-mail to the ASA Academic and Community Activism Caucus at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Please report also these threats to your university administrators, not just the chair of the department, the local police if needed, and keep record of these threats, and share it with us.

    Our stand and the resolution for boycott is legal. Tactics of intimidation are illegal.  We will expose those academics and administrators who participate in this undemocratic, unethical, and illegal behavior, and we will take legal action.

    Intimidation and frivolous legal arguments against boycott are part of a long-standing history of repression of Palestinian human rights activism in the United States.

    The time for bullying is over. Silencing tactics won’t work. We are huge group of students, junior faculty, senior faculty, prominent scholars, and have network all around the country, Europe and beyond, and we are supported by a large legal team.

    There is no return, only forward, and no one will succeed in crushing our voices or destroying this landslide victory in support of human rights and justice.

    Magid Shihade
    University of California, Davis
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    Comment by mshihade on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm

     

  34. I agree with Professors Palumbo-Liu and Salaita: Professor Slotkin’s anti-democratic call to rescind a resolution passed by 2-1 majority in an open election mocks the careful deliberation and study given to the resolution by thousands of ASA members during the period of debate.  His misguided call to reverse democracy would also undermine the ASA membership’s clear and striking agreement that commentary and discussion on Israel/Palestine IS relevant to their professional work.  More than 800 ASA members and its National Council affirmed:  “It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

    Bill Mullen
    Purdue University
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    Comment by Bill Mullen on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

     

  35. I agree with David Palumbo-Liu.  This seems to me after-the-fact remonstration.  The process was extremely democratic, much more stringent than a typical ASA action in order to hear from as many voices as possible on the issue. 

    Also, there is an ominous tone to Richard Slotkin’s message.  While supporters of the resolution have clarified time and again how the resolution actually PROTECTS rather than limits academic freedom, Slotkin’s post indicates that he intends to undermine both the ASA process and academic freedom by urging people in positions of power to undermine a legal and widely-supported resolution.  What, then, would this mean for junior scholars who work with or under those award winners and department chairs?  What kind of governance would result from the sort of process Slotkin proposes?  Would it not look terribly different than the North Korea he considers “hell on earth”? 

    Finally, did a pioneer of the field of American Studies really just complain about “ideological bias”?  Did Professor Slotkin stop following the work of the field in 1974?

    Steven Salaita
    Virginia Tech University
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    Comment by salaita on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm

     

  36. With all due respect to those who are asking the ASA to rescind its vote—the moment to down turn the resolution was during the vote, no?  The boycott issue has been in the works and publicly discussed for years; the NC vote discussed at an open town hall at the convention; and a week later the decision was left to the membership at large.  So why did you who were against it not mobilize, op-ed, letter-write?  That’s the way the political process in an American democracy works, correct?

    David Palumbo-Liu
    Stanford University
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    Comment by David Palumbo-Liu on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm

     

  37. As one of the recipients of the Turpie Award (2001) to whom Professor Slotkin wrote, I endorse his call for the ASA to rescind the boycott resolution. In my view, his statement makes a compelling case for this action.

    Robert A. Gross
    James L. and Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History
    University of Connecticut
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    Comment by Robert A. Gross on Wed, December 18, 2013 at 11:03 am

     

  38. I’m writing to protest the call for a boycott of Israeli universities dated December 4, 2013.

    I’ve been a member of ASA since 1966, and in 1995 received the Mary Turpie Award of the ASA, in recognition of my work in teaching and program building in American Studies. My scholarly work has focused on the racism and predilection for violence arising from America’s origins as a settler state. I am myself strongly opposed to the Israeli government’s policies in the Occupied Territories, and (in other forums) support a call for “disinvestment” by universities as a way of directly pressuring the Israeli government.

    But this call for boycott is wrong in principle, politically impotent, intellectually dishonest, and morally obtuse.

    The boycott is, first and foremost, a violation of the principles of academic freedom, free association and open inquiry that are the essence of scholarly life. The AAUP has rejected academic boycotts (however delimited) because they “strike directly at the free exchange of ideas.” They do not affect the oppressive governments, but instead impede the forming of relationships and the exchange of ideas that build support for the protection of human rights. For that reason AAUP backed the economic boycott of apartheid South Africa, which directly affected the interests of the government and its supporters, but refused to impose an academic boycott.

    The principle at stake here has nothing to do with the merits or fallacies of arguments about Israeli policy. A professional organization is supposed to foster and protect individual scholars in critical and analytical pursuits that may be far more radical than the discourse of ordinary politics allows. Such an organization has every right to take a political stand on matters that directly affect the freedom of faculty, scholars and students to study, teach, and pursue scholarship. But the ASA cannot credibly accuse Israeli universities of systematically violating the canons of academic freedom. Israeli universities are one of the primary loci of opposition to government policies, and of joint projects in aid of Palestinian scholars, students and educational institutions.

    Instead, this boycott is a case of “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” It commits the organization to a partisan position in a political controversy in a foreign country, on an issue not directly related to our work. While some Palestinian and Israeli scholars have welcomed the boycott, Mahmoud Abbas (the leader of the Palestinian Authority) has deplored it; nor have any of Israel’s professional organizations endorsed it.

    I would ask those who sponsored this resolution to consider what their reaction would have been if, in 2002, the ASA had voted to declare the Bush administration’s war in Iraq a just and necessary war, and had called for a boycott of universities in those Western countries who refused to join the so-called “coalition of the willing.” The political content of these two positions may be different - but the principle at stake is the same. If the members of the ASA let this boycott stand, they can make no principled objection if, when the political winds have shifted, a later generation adopts some ideologically repugnant position.

    Finally, the boycott is morally obtuse. Asked why Israel is singled out, when so many other states are worse violators of human rights and UN resolutions, ASA President Curtis Marez answered “one has to start somewhere.” So Israel - not Bashar Assad’s Syria, or Khamenei’s Iran; not the People’s Republic of China which commits cultural genocide in Tibet; or Cuba, which remains a police state and persecutes dissidents and homosexuals; not even North Korea, most people’s notion of hell on earth. The choice seems either arbitrary, or a reflection of ideological bias.

    I have written to a number of colleagues, program chairs, and other former winners of the Turpie Award, asking them to join me in seeking the rescinding of the boycott resolution.

    Sincerely,
    Richard Slotkin
    Olin Professor of American Studies, Emeritus
    Wesleyan University
    Middletown, CT
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    Richard Slotkin is the author of an award-winning trilogy on the Myth of the Frontier in American culture: Regeneration Through Violence (1973), The Fatal Environment (1985), and Gunfighter Nation (1992), and was twice a finalist for the National Book Award.

    Comment by Richard Slotkin on Tue, December 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm

     


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