Israel and Jewish groups leveled harsh criticism at the American Studies Association on Monday, after it announced that its members have endorsed a boycott of Israeli academia. In a statement, the ASA, which has 5,000 individual members and 2,200 institutional subscribers, said that 66 percent of its members voted in favor of the move.
"The [ASA National] Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as 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," the ASA said in a statement.
"We believe that the ASA's endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel's violation of international law and U.N. resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA," the statement said.
"Our resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the association 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, or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.
"The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication. The council also recognizes that individual members will act according to their convictions on these complex matters."
The ASA's executive committee, which promoted the move, has six members. According to The Wall Street Journal, five of them had previously endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and four of them signed a 2009 letter to U.S. President Barack Obama that described Israel's treatment of the Palestinians as "one of the most massive ethnocidal atrocities of modern times."
ASA President Curtis Marez was quoted by The New York Times as admitting that the organization had never before endorsed a boycott of any kind against any other nation's universities.
According to the report, Marez did not dispute the fact that other countries, including some in the Middle East, have far worse human rights records, saying, "One has to start somewhere. … There is a particular responsibility to answer the call for boycott because [the U.S.] is the largest supplier of military aid to the State of Israel."
The ASA is considered a somewhat small and radical organization. The largest academic association in the United States -- the American Association of University Professors, which has 47,000 individual members, over 500 local campus chapters and 39 state organizations -- adamantly opposes any academic boycott on Israel.
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri denounced the decision, saying, "The ASA's decision fails to differentiate, and even combines, political opinions and scientific work. It is an unworthy act that disrespects the association and its members. The main victim here is science -- the one thing that can, at all times, bring together people from different countries, nationalities and politics."
Deputy Education Minister MK Avi Wortzman (Habayit Hayehudi) slammed the decision as a "despicable attempt to intervene in Israel's internal policies under the guise of an academic dispute. The State of Israel offers all of its citizens equal academic opportunities and encourages the integration of minorities in academia. I'm sorry to see the ASA turn itself from an academic organization into a political one."
The Association of University Heads in Israel said in a statement: "We call on our colleagues, the heads of all universities worldwide, to denounce this boycott and call for its end. Imposing an academic boycott of any kind has severe ramifications on academic freedom and on collaborations that are vital for the promotion of teaching and research. It is the antithesis of the most basic principles of science."
The Anti-Defamation League called the vote to endorse the boycott "manifestly unjust," saying: "This shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom by the American Studies Association should be soundly condemned by all who are committed to the ideal that open exchange of ideas is the most effective way to achieve change."