Elliot Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams' blog "Pressure Points" here.
The American Studies Association has voted for an academic boycott of Israel.
The best comment on this move came from former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, who criticized "the idea that of all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses, that might be thought to have inappropriate foreign policies, that might be thought to be doing things wrong, the idea that there's only one that is worthy of boycott, and that is Israel."
There are 200,000 dead in Syria and millions of refugees, zero academic freedom in China ... well, why go on; none of these matters seems worthy of notice by the ASA. It is illuminating that one of the endorsers of this move (actually, it is the second name that appears) on the ASA website is Angela Davis, former Communist Party candidate for national office and now a distinguished professor emerita of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She, like the ASA, has long been blind to human rights abuses -- except in Israel.
This move by the ASA will not harm Israel, but it is enlightening for anyone with children attending or soon to be attending college that this group of academics harbors such an extraordinary bias. The much larger American Association of University Professors has opposed this and all academic boycotts, but that is only partial comfort. The AAUP opposition means that ASA members had a principled and academically defensible basis for voting against the boycott of Israel, yet they voted for it. Those votes express not only bias against Israel, for the reasons Summers notes, but a bias as well against the spirit of free inquiry that is supposed to infuse American academia.
The AAUP position is worth quoting: "The AAUP has been committed to preserving and advancing the free exchange of ideas among academics irrespective of governmental policies and however unpalatable those policies may be viewed. We reject proposals that curtail the freedom of teachers and researchers to engage in work with academic colleagues, and we reaffirm the paramount importance of the freest possible international movement of scholars and ideas."
From "Pressure Points" by Elliot Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.