A Sad Day for the Academy: The ASA Vote to Boycott Israel

Yesterday, the American Studies Association voted to approve the National Council’s resolution to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. In yesterday’s vote, 66.05% of voters endorsed the resolution, while 30.5% of voters voted no and 3.43% abstained. The relatively small 5000 member academic group is largely composed of leftist or left-leaning academics, and I am not surprised that the small amount who actually voted--1252 out of the entire membership--voted in favor.

The reason that the vote has received so much publicity is because the ASA has become the second American group to join its European counterparts in calling for such boycotts. The even smaller Association for Asian American Studies passed a similar resolution last April, without much publicity.

Yes, as many have pointed out, the vote is largely symbolic. Yet the board members who rammed the vote through without fully announcing its campaign do not seem to even slightly comprehend their hypocrisy. Scores of regimes throughout the world -- including Iran, North Korea, Communist China, Castro’s Communist Cuba, Assad’s Syria, and many others -- lack any rudiment of real academic freedom. Dissenting scholars are simply not hired or, if exposed by informers for the regime, are immediately fired. Yet the ASA has picked on the Middle East’s only existing democracy to protest and call for an academic boycott.

Indeed, Israel has many left-wing scholars who regularly in the press and in their academic works, especially in history and the humanities, freely criticize the government and society in which they live. Hasn't the ASA ever heard of the group long ago dubbed “the New Historians,” whose works challenge Israel’s very legitimacy? Actually, the ASA position is even opposed by the Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas. An advisor and spokesman for Abbas, Majdi Khalidi, told the Times“We are neighbors with Israel, we have agreements with Israel, we recognize Israel, we are not asking anyone to boycott products of Israel.” It’s pretty extreme to be to the left of the very Palestinians the ASA claims to be defending. (I leave it for another time to question Khalidi’s claim that they “recognize Israel.”)

If you go to the list of supporters, directly after the report of the membership vote, you will see the second name. It is none other than the former Communist Party, U.S.A leader Angela Y. Davis. In her statement attached to her name, Davis says:

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.

Davis also was a member of the Black Panther Party and lover of the black terrorist George Jackson, who died in a prison shootout. His younger brother Jonathan took a judge hostage and was killed in a courtroom, using guns he had taken from Davis’ home, for which she was put on trial. The Black Panther Party, which called itself Marxist-Leninist, believed that the heart of the Middle East conflict, as Stephen Norwood reports in an important new book, “was a war between heroic Palestinian guerrillas and ‘Israeli pigs.’” The BPP believed that Jews had no claims whatsoever to Palestine. Ancient Hebrews only lived there for 100 years, while the Arab Palestinians had a “continuous residence in Palestine until they were expelled by the Zionists in 1948.”