Editor’s note: In last week’s issue, Jan. 31, Charles Morone’s piece was not run correctly in print due to a mishap during the production process. Below is the entirety of his piece, and this is a formal apology for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Last Dec. 6 the American Studies Association (ASA), founded in 1951, voted to pass a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions and scholars, who would be denied participation in scholarly meetings and conferences in the United States. The Native American Association and Indigenous Studies Association have since joined the boycott. The ASA claims to justify their actions on the grounds that Israel has violated international law and United Nations resolutions. As ASA’s resolution directly states, Israeli universities have been targeted because they are “party to state policies that violate human rights.”
The main impetus for this boycott is the perceived treatment of Palestinian scholars by the Israeli military and government, and the desire to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Clearly, however, this boycott of Israeli institutions is a step backwards in the intractable search for a peaceful resolution to the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The main premise of the boycott is in retaliation for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. But if the main problem is the way a state treats its occupants, why in the world single out Israel? There are so many countries in the Middle East with far worse human rights records. In response to a query along these lines, Curtis Marez, the current ASA President replied “You have to start somewhere.” The obtuseness and ethically convoluted reasoning in his answer is mind-boggling. Yes, most observers agree that the Palestinian people have endured long heartaches, but at what point does “starting somewhere” become blind to suicide bombings and shelling of innocent civilians on the border towns of Israel? Why is no proportional attention brought to the maltreatment of Palestinians in other Arab countries, where they are kept in perpetual poverty and desperation?
Why in fact do we know so much about the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli police and the military? Because Israel has the most free press in the region and a very lively, critical public sphere, all of which are woefully lacking in most Arab countries in the region. Israel not only tolerates free discussion about its conflict with Palestine, but has political parties and organizations that support the Palestinian claim of statehood.
The boycott has triggered an understandably intense backlash. Even inside the organization, the last eight presidents of the ASA have opposed it, claiming that it is “antithetical to the mission of free and open inquiry for which a scholarly organization stands.”
Over one hundred and eighty academic institutions and universities have criticized the boycott, accompanied by bipartisan condemnation of fifty congressmen. Since only one-third of the ASA’s membership voted for the boycott, one can justifiably ask what percent of the ASA’s own members agree with this action to begin with? Given this widespread and justified outrage over a misguided and indeed pernicious boycott, the question for us is, why has USF not raised its own objections? Why are we standing on the sidelines in the face of an obviously unjust, discriminatory action that should shame us deeply? When academic organizations drop all pretense of academic objectivity and join a political cause, a grave and important line has been crossed.
If we as students and citizens really wish to “change the world from here,” it will not happen by condemning Israeli academics, with whom we share so much more culturally and intellectually than with the butchers and criminals of this world, who truly are deserving of our moral outrage.