Last month, the American Studies Association (ASA) took a giant step backwards in the global fight for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas by boycotting Israeli academic institutions.
While we believe that academic boycotts of any kind are shortsighted, some are more defensible than others.
If the ASA had chosen to boycott nations such as China, Iran, or Russia – just three of the many countries that perpetrate human rights atrocities and stifle all dissenting debate – there may be a legitimate argument validating their decision.
But the ASA chose to institute its first-ever academic boycott against the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. They chose to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Rather than boycott Saudi Arabian universities, which refuse to hire women or gays, the ASA chose to boycott the only Middle Eastern nation that affords full rights to women and has become a place of refuge for gays exiled from surrounding Arab nations.
When asked why the ASA singled out Israel for an academic boycott, the organization’s cowardice president Curtis Marez naively explained that “one has to start somewhere.”
But by singling out the Jewish state, known for its liberal universities and affirmative action program aimed at recruiting Palestinian students to its universities, Marez has played into the centuries-old atrocity of singling out the Jews.
Former Harvard president Larry Summers explained that Marez, and others who support the boycott, are “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.”
Marez and the hundreds of ASA members who voted in favor of the boycott, took it upon themselves to create a more “pro-Palestinian” policy than the Palestinians themselves advocate.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas supports a boycott only of products produced in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories, but has spoken out against a broader boycott of Israel.
The ASA’s decision to boycott Israel is abhorrent, bigoted, and academically indefensible.
The pro-Israel community at Union College did not sit back and watch this play out. Instead U for Israel, Union’s Pro-Israel group on campus, contacted President Stephen Ainlay and urged him to condemn the ASA’s decision and to stand with the dozens of university presidents, the American Association of University Professors [AAUP] and the Association of American Universities [AAU] who have already condemned such boycotts as an assault on academic freedom.
President Ainlay responded quickly and stated that he has been working with fellow presidents of the institutions that make up the New York 6 (Union, Skidmore, Colgate, Hamilton, St. Lawrence and Hobart and William Smith) on a joint statement opposing the boycott.
We commend President Ainlay for issuing a statement condemning the boycott and for acknowledging that the resolution is “a setback for the cause of academic freedom.”
Furthermore, we call on all members of the Union community to cut off ties with the intolerant and prejudiced organization.
Israel isn’t perfect and there are many legitimate criticisms of it. We also recognize that anti-Israel rhetoric is not necessarily synonymous with anti-Semitism.
But when Israel is held to an objectively higher standard than any other nation world-wide, it is hard to justify any other explanation.