The American Studies Association — the oldest and largest group of teachers and researchers studying American culture and history — became the second U.S. research body to boycott the Israeli regime when it announced its participation in an academic boycott.
The first group of U.S. academics to boycott Israeli universities was the Asian American Studies organization, which began its Israeli boycott this past April.
ASA’s 5,000 members voted in a two-thirds majority on Monday to participate in the international Israeli boycott, which was launched to bring awareness to and financially protest Israel’s 40-year occupation of Palestinian territory.
Though the boycott movement was started by Palestinian civil society groups, the effort has since been endorsed by several academic and human rights organizations around the globe. Specifically, the ASA’s boycott includes asking U.S. universities and academic groups to not work with Israeli institutions, citing violations of academic freedom.
“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 U.N. Security Council,” the American Studies Association said in a statement.
Although the vote and following boycott is largely a symbolic gesture to the Palestinians, the group’s decision to join the international boycott movement is seen as another sign the Americans are upset with its closest, and arguably most important ally.
“The reason this is so significant is that it’s a victory within the United States within a mainstream academic association and it was overwhelmingly supported,” said Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American human rights attorney who is a member of the American Studies Association.
But not every ASA member is on-board with the boycott. Kenneth Stern of the New York-based American Jewish Committee called the ASA’s decision to boycott Israel “abhorrent.”
Talking to CBS News, Stern says he was particularly disturbed by the language used in the ASA’s statement, which likened Israeli policies to South Africa’s apartheid and used the terminology “Zionist settler-colonial project.”
However, many ASA members such as Eric Cheyfitz, the Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell University, who identified himself as a Jew, said he favored the boycott because “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.”
Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita at UC Santa Cruz, agreed and said “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.”
Still, whether the boycott will be effective remains to be seen, since the American Association of University Professors, a larger academic organization with 48,000 members, opposes an Israeli boycott.
And some, such as World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder argue that the boycott illustrates more of an anti-semitic attitude than anything, since the boycott only affects one Middle Eastern country.
But since renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking opted to not attend a conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres, citing an academic boycott, the movement may prove to be successful.