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Brandeis program cuts ties with US scholarly group that boycotted Israeli academic institutions

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  December 19, 2013 02:22 PM

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A Brandeis University program has cut ties with a US scholarly association that this week joined a controversial boycott of Israeli academic institutions as a form of protest against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The American Studies Program at the nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored university in Waltham announced on its website that it will end its relationship with the American Studies Association.

“It is a with deep regret that we in the American Studies Program at Brandeis University have decided to discontinue our institutional affiliation with the American Studies Association,” the statement said. “We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster.”

“We remain committed to the discipline of American Studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture – freedom of association and expression,” the statement concluded.

The American Studies Association, which says it has 5,000 individual members and 2,200 institutional subscribers, announced Monday that it had voted to join a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The association said it attracted a record 1,252 voters for the election over whether to join the boycott. Two-thirds of voters endorsed joining the boycott; 30.5 percent cast ballots against the proposal and about 3.4 percent abstained.

The group’s leadership said they had been considering “a call from Palestinian civil society” to support an academic boycott of Israel since 2006 and spent the past year in particular closely reviewing the idea before the association’s National Council voted unanimously earlier this month to support the idea before having the full membership vote.

The boycott serves “as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action,” said a statement from the association. “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 association said a boycott is “warranted given U.S. 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 the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.”

The association said the boycott will include refusing 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.”

But, the association said it will not boycott “individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange … The council also recognizes that individual [association] members will act according to their convictions on these complex matters,” the statement said.

The association’s decision to join the boycott of Israeli academic institutions comes after the Association for Asian American Studies became the first US scholarly institution to do so in the spring. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association also decided to join the boycott this week.

But, the boycott has also been sharply criticized.

Along with Brandeis, Penn State University at Harrisburg announced it too will cut ties with the American Studies Association, according to reports from media outlets including Inside Higher Ed.

And, a much larger and more prominent scholarly group, the American Association of University Professors released a statement condemning the American Studies Association’s vote to boycott.

The AAUP, which says it has more than 48,000 members, has as an organization opposed academic boycotts in principle since 2005. The group said it was “disappointed” by the smaller association’s vote because it “represents a setback for the cause of academic freedom.”

Anti-Defamation League director Abraham H. Foxman issued a statement opposing the boycott.

“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,” Foxman’s statement said.

“Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel -- the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish -- is based on a myopic and fundamentally distorted perspective of Israel and the conflict and is manifestly unjust,” he added.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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