ASA votes to boycott Israeli academic institutions by more than 2:1

December 19, 2013
Sarah Benton
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ASA Members Vote To Endorse Academic Boycott of Israel

By Jadaliyya Reports
December 17, 2013

[The following announcement was released by the American Studies Association on 16 December 2013.]

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. Please see the ASA website for a collection of supporting documents.

One year ago the ASA Executive Committee was asked to consider a resolution from the Academic and Community Activism Caucus of the Association. The EC then forwarded the resolution to the National Council and, following a lengthy period of careful deliberations, the Council unanimously voted to draft a revised resolution and to recommend members endorse it.

The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians. The ASA’s endorsement of the academic boycott emerges from the context of US military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN 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 finally, the support of such a resolution by a majority of ASA members.

The National Council engaged and addressed questions and concerns of the membership throughout the process. During the open discussion at the recent convention, members asked us to draft a resolution that was relevant to the ASA in particular and so the Council’s final resolution acknowledged that the US plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Members asked for clarification about how the resolution would affect the ability of ASA members to engage with colleagues in Israel, and the Council developed guidelines specifying that collaboration on research and publications between individual scholars does not fall under the ASA boycott. Members asked us to deliberate carefully and consider diverse opinions and the Council thus deliberated for 8 days. Members asked that we create spaces for discussion and the Council established a lively Facebook page. Finally, members asked the National Council to put the resolution to a vote and the Council listened.

The ASA National Council thanks all who took seriously the task of debating and discussing the resolution. As the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, the Association’s mission includes the ongoing study and discussion of pressing issues faced by the US and the world. As part of that process and in keeping with the ASA’s commitment to academic freedom, we are thus pleased to announce plans to bring Israeli and Palestinian academics to the 2014 national convention in Los Angeles.

At the same time we look forward to continuing the Association’s other work such as further supporting graduate student travel to the conference. Most important, we are making plans to add a regular DuPont Circle-based staffer who will organize a joint task force with the members of the Departments, Programs and Centers Committee to provide support for programs under review or experiencing other challenges.


The ASA National Council


Eric Cheyfitz, Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters, Cornell University
Office: (607) 255-3546

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

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

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

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

—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 and Director of American Studies, 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
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

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

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

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

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:

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

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.


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.

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?

This is a difficult question to answer. 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. (See )

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.

Notes and links

What is the American Studies Association?

The ASA is not a professional body for American academics but an organisation for people engaged in the study of America. Below is their ‘what we do statement.’

What the ASA Does

The American Studies Association is the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.

Chartered in 1951, the American Studies Association now has 5,000 individual members along with 2,200 library and other institutional subscribers.

* Together these members represent many fields of inquiry, such as history,  literature, religion, art and architecture, philosophy, music, science, folklore, ethnic studies, anthropology, material culture, museum studies, sociology, government, communications, education, library science, gender studies, popular culture, and others.

* They include persons concerned with American culture, such as teachers, researchers, and other professionals whose interests extend beyond their specialty; faculty and students associated with American Studies programs in universities, colleges and secondary schools; museum directors and librarians interested in all segments of American life; public officials and administrators concerned with the broadest aspects of education.

* They approach American culture from many directions but have in common the desire to view America as a whole rather than from the perspective of a single discipline.

The American Association of University Professors issued a statement on December 16th, 20§3, stating its opposition to the ASA decision ‘as a setback to academic freedom’. It opposes all academic boycotts for the reason. Its statement can be read here, pdf file. Its Journal of Academic Freedom devoted its September issue to Israel and academic boycott. We reposted several of the articles in Should intellectual products be exempt from boycott?

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