What Does the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions Mean for the ASA?
1) Who is calling for the boycott?
This boycott is called for by Palestinian civil society, including academics. The boycott is part of a larger movement, BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that the wall Israel built on Palestinian territory was illegal. In 2005, a majority of Palestinian civil society groups and organizations organized together in protest against Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. These organizations have called for non-violent tactics of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israeli academic and cultural institutions. As with South Africa, Israel’s system of racial discrimination, at all institutional levels, constitutes apartheid as recognized by international law under the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The American Studies Association is one of several academic associations that have been asked to participate in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The Association for Asian American Studies already voted in Spring 2013 to support this boycott.
2) Why boycott Israeli academic institutions?
Israeli academic institutions function as a central part of a system that has denied Palestinians their basic rights. Palestinian students face ongoing discrimination, including the suppression of Palestinian cultural events, and there is sanctioning and ongoing surveillance of Palestinian students and faculty who protest Israeli policies. Israeli universities have been a direct party to the annexation of Palestinian land. Armed soldiers patrol Israeli university campuses, and some have been trained at Israeli universities in techniques to suppress protestors.
3) Why is this issue relevant to the American Studies Association?
The ASA is an organization that supports the protected rights of students, scholars, and peoples everywhere to freedoms of expression, thought, and movement. The ASA has long played an important role in critiquing racial, sexual, and gender inequality in the United States. It condemned apartheid in South Africa and urged divestment from U.S. corporations with operations there. It has condemned anti-immigrant discrimination in Arizona and in other states. It has spoken out in support of the Occupy movement, and of the human dignity and rights of the economically disenfranchised.
In addition, the United States is the world’s strongest supporter of Israel, providing the majority of Israel’s military and foreign aid, and providing political support for settlement expansion. As a U.S.-based organization, the ASA condemns the United States’ significant role in aiding and abetting Israel’s violations of human rights against Palestinians and its occupation of Palestinian lands through its use of the veto in the UN Security Council.
By responding to the call from Palestinian civil society for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, the ASA recognizes that 1) there is no effective or substantive academic freedom afforded to Palestinians under the conditions of Israeli occupation; and that 2) Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights. The National Council’s decision to honor the call for the Academic Boycott of Israeli institutions is an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It 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.
4) What does the boycott mean for the ASA?
The ASA understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.
We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences, public lectures at campuses, and collaboration on research and publication. U.S. scholars are not discouraged under the terms of the boycott from traveling to Israel for academic purposes, provided they are not engaged in a formal partnership with or sponsorship by Israeli academic institutions. The academic boycott of Israeli institutions is not designed to curtail dialogue. Rather, it emerges from the recognition that these forms of ordinary academic exchange are often impossible for Palestinian academics due to Israeli policies. We also recognize that there are inherent difficulties in parsing these distinctions, and that ASA members will want to engage in discussion about guidelines for action.
As a large member organization representing divergent opinions, the National Council further recognizes the rights of ASA members to disagree with the decision of the National Council. The Council’s endorsement of the resolution recognizes that individual members will act according to their conscience and convictions on these complex issues. As an association that upholds the principle of academic freedom, the ASA exercises no legislative authority over its members. By contrast, it is a civil offense for scholars within Israel to endorse this boycott.
5) Would Israeli scholars be permitted to participate in the ASA conference or to be invited to my campus to speak in general, even if they relied on Israeli university funding?
Yes. This boycott targets institutions and their representatives, not individual scholars, students, or cultural workers who will be able to participate in the ASA conference or give public lectures at campuses, provided they are not expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or of the Israeli government.
*In accordance with the “yes” answer immediately above, Israeli academics attended our 2014-2016 conventions and are on the program for our 2017 convention. The ASA will not prohibit anyone from registering or participating in its annual conference.
6) Would ASA members be permitted to work with Israeli scholars, Palestinian scholars in Israel, and/or collaborate with Palestinian research institutions in Israel?
Under most circumstances, yes. The academic boycott does not seek to curtail dialogue between U.S. and Israeli scholars. Collaboration on research and publications between individual scholars does not fall under the ASA boycott. However, the boycott does oppose participation in conferences or events officially sponsored by Israeli universities. Routine university funding for individual collaborations or academic exchanges is permitted.
In general, the ASA recognizes that members will review and negotiate specific guidelines for implementation on a case-by-case basis and adopt them according to their individual convictions.
7) What is required for an Israeli university to no longer be subject to the boycott?
The boycott is designed to put real and symbolic pressure on universities to take an active role in ending the Israeli occupation and in extending equal rights to Palestinians. The international boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement has called for a boycott to be in effect until these conditions are met.
8) Is the academic boycott a violation of academic freedom?
Like other academic organizations, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the ASA unequivocally asserts the importance of academic freedom and the necessity for intellectuals to remain free from state interests and interference as a general good for society. Over the years, the ASA has passed several resolutions in support of intellectual freedom. In our view, the academic boycott doesn’t violate academic freedom but helps to extend it. Under the current conditions of occupation, the academic freedom of Palestinian academics and students is severely hampered, if not effectively denied. Palestinian universities have been bombed, schools have been closed, and scholars and students deported. The ordinary working conditions for Palestinian academics and students are severely constrained by restrictions on movement to and from work, on international travel, and by discriminatory permit systems. Israeli scholars critical of their country’s policies also face sanction since it is a civil offense for scholars in Israel to endorse the boycott. The goal of the academic boycott is to contribute to the larger movement for social justice in Israel/Palestine that seeks to expand, not further restrict, the rights to education and free inquiry.