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New York State Senate passes bill targeting the American Studies Association

MEMO | February 3, 2014

The New York State Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bill that targets the American Studies Association (ASA) for supporting an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. The bill is due to be discussed this week by the New York State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, and if passed the bill would be voted on by the full assembly shortly thereafter. The governor also has to approve any bill before it becomes law.

Members of ASA voted in December 2013 to endorse the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association also announced its support for the boycott. Both follow the precedent set by the Asian American Studies Association in April 2013.

Al-Jazeera America reported that the New York bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Jeff Klein, passed the state senate by a vote of 56-4 and would “prevent academic institutions from using state aid to pay for membership fees to organisations like the ASA or to reimburse state employees for travel or lodging associated with ASA travel.”

In a statement released by his office, Klein threatened that, “I will not allow the enemies of Israel or the Jewish people to gain an inch in New York.”

The Palestinians calling for the boycott, as part of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, are protesting the on-going Israeli occupation of Palestine.

According to Students for Justice in Palestine, the bill has wider ramifications than just targeting the ASA. The group said in an e-mail that: “If [the bill] becomes law it would prohibit public universities and colleges from using any taxpayer money on groups that support boycotts of Israel. For instance, such funds could not be used for travel or lodging for a faculty member attending a meeting of a group that supports a boycott of Israel.”

Dima Khalidi of the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Centre for Constitutional Rights noted that the bill clearly aims to “discourage expressive activities such as boycotts based on the legislators’ personal disagreement with the content of the expression.” She added that: “Painting the ASA boycott resolution as discriminatory is not only inaccurate, but also distracts from the fact that its purpose is in fact to protest the human rights violations for which Israel is responsible, and the discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli government. These bills would be both a violation of free speech and academic freedom, which the proposed legislation cynically purports to defend.”

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whose Academic Freedom Are We Talking About?

By Lawrence Davidson | To The Point Analyses | January 14, 2014

Part I – An Inevitable Controversy

The controversy that broke out over the American Studies Association’s December 2013 vote to adopt an academic boycott of Israel was inevitable. The ASA’s academic boycott is a just a part of a much larger effort – the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – which has been growing worldwide over the last decade. In fact the movement’s progress in the United States has been relatively slow, but this is changing, and the ASA controversy is an indicator of this shift. That being the case, the reaction on the part of Zionist supporters of Israel in and out of academia came as no surprise.

On 5 January 2014 the New York Times reprinted a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education more or less summarizing the reaction to the ASA move. It noted that “the presidents of more than 80 United States colleges have condemned the vote.” In addition five of these institutions of higher learning “have withdrawn from ASA membership.” The Chronicle piece concludes that the ASA has become “a pariah of the United States higher-education establishment.”

That is a rather premature judgment. There are roughly 4,500 colleges and universities in the U.S. Being condemned by the administrations (which is not the same as the faculties and student bodies) of 80 represents condemnation by less than 2 percent. Over one hundred institutions of higher learning have ASA membership. Losing five is again a small percentage. All of this hardly makes the ASA a “pariah.”

There are also other ways of judging the impact of the ASA action. If one goal of the ASA boycott move is to stimulate debate about Israeli behavior and policies within a society (the U.S.) that has long been dominated by Israeli propaganda, then the move is certainly a success. It has brought to the surface many statements and charges that demonstrate just how decontextualized attempts to defend Israeli behavior are. If insightful counterarguments are spread about because of the ASA resolution, then the “pariah” has done quite well.

Part II – Charges and Responses

Let’s take a look at some of the public charges and possible responses:

Damaging Academic Freedom:

  • Carolyn A. Martin, president of Amherst College: “Such boycotts threaten academic speech and exchange, which is our solemn duty as academic institutions to protect.”
  • Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council of Education: “Such actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom.”

Response: It is hard to argue against the ideal. Everyone associated with higher education does, or should, value academic freedom and the free flow of ideas. The problem is, people such as Dr. Martin and Dr. Broad and many others are directing their criticism at the wrong party. The ASA resolution, which one suspects has not been read by many of its critics, is not directed against individual scholars, researchers or teachers. It is quite explicitly directed against Israeli institutions – institutions that have abetted in the destruction of the Palestinian right of academic freedom for decades. The Israelis have just done this largely out of sight of the American academic community, to say nothing of the American people.

The fact is that the Israeli government, assisted by many of the country’s academic institutions, runs an illegal occupation that has long impeded education in the Palestinian Territories. One wonders just how aware of this historical fact are those who criticize the ASA. The facts in this regard are not a secret, although one does have to go out and look for them. Just do a thorough on-line search of the subject and all kinds of reports, analyses, and documents show up. For instance, here is a link to a report about the complicity of Israeli universities in maintaining the occupation. Here is another on the impact of occupation on Palestinian education, and yet another on the struggle for Palestinian academic freedom.

It should also be mentioned that the Israeli government is embarked on an effort to enforce its own version of history on Palestinian schools. This may soon appear as an Israeli priority in its ongoing negotiations with the Palestine Authority. And, right now in the U.S., the Zionist student organization Hillel has laid down rules restricting any free discussion about Israel in their chapters on American college campuses. These facts should raise questions about the sincerity of Zionist concern over academic freedom and the free flow of ideas. It is policies and actions such as these, which have multiplied themselves out many fold, that are part of the context of the BDS movement and the action taken by the ASA.

Damaging Institutional Reputations and Solvency:

  • William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University and president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: “Boycotts are a bad idea. … It is dangerous business … for institutions to become embroiled in these kinds of debates. The consequences for institutions are just too serious.”

Response: What might this mean? I don’t think that Dr. Bowen is implying that what the ASA did is “dangerous” because it allegedly put the institution on the wrong side of a moral question. Here is another possible answer:

  • Leon Botstein, president of Bard College: “Calls from alumni to take a stand against the boycott had played a role [in Bard College’s withdrawal of its institutional membership in the ASA]. … I recognize that the American Jewish community is disproportionately generous to American higher education. For the president of an institution to express his or her solidarity with Israel is welcomed by a very important part of their support base.”

Response: Dr. Botstein is suggesting that if one wants to know why “the presidents of more than 80 United States colleges have condemned the vote,” one should follow the money, and not necessarily the ideal of academic freedom.

Promoting Anti-Semitism:

  • Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, on the Charlie Rose show of 10 December 2013: “I regard them [boycott efforts against Israel] as being anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” That is because these efforts “single out Israel.”

Response: Dr. Summers can say this only because he and other Zionists take the position that Israel and the Jews are one. This is factually wrong. There are many Jews in the U.S. (and elsewhere) who do not identify with Israel and, in fact, a good number who publicly oppose Israeli behavior and the notion of a Jewish state. As to the singling out of Israel, it is certainly warranted given the influence Zionist supporters exercise over U.S. politicians and foreign policies and the resulting inordinate amount of aid and assistance given to Israel.

Part III – Conclusion

A lot more has been written about the ASA position, and below I list a small number of articles in support of the academic boycott position by thoughtful Americans.

  1. Henry Siegman, former director of the National Jewish Congress, “There is no bigotry in the boycott.”
  2. M. J. Rosenberg, former longtime aide to various congressmen and  senators, Propaganda vs. History.
  3. Joan W. Scott, scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, N.J., “Changing My Mind about the Boycott.”
  4. Eric Cheyfitz, professor at Cornell University, “Why I Support the Academic Boycott of Israel,”
  5. Sydney Levy, director of advocacy for Jewish Voices for Peace, “Academic Freedom.”

If the academic freedom of Palestinians was not being destroyed as part of an overall policy of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, there would be no need for an institutionally centered academic boycott of Israel. As it is, however, the Zionists in their relentless drive to create a Jewish-only state in historic Palestine have created the conditions for resistance, and the boycott in its many forms is part of that effort. It is not going to go away.

Israel’s future is one of increasing isolation. The Zionists recognize this possibility and that is why they are kicking and screaming. They even want to outlaw aspects of the boycott effort. It might be easier if they joined the twenty-first century by giving up their racist ambitions. However, ideologues rarely give up their ideologies willingly, so we will all have to do this the hard way.

Lawrence Davidson

Professor of History
West Chester University
West Chester, PA 19383-2133

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-boycott academics demonstrate lack of excuses in supporting Israel

By Dr Sarah Marusek | MEMO | December 16, 2013

In recent days, a group of American scholars have been debating publicly whether or not to boycott Israel. According to the New York Times, the American Studies Association (ASA) will disclose today the results of its members’ vote on a resolution to endorse an academic boycott of Israel that was approved unanimously by the association’s National Council on 4 December. This follows a decision last April by the Association for Asian American Studies to endorse the academic boycott, which only focuses on institutions, so does not include Israeli scholars as long as they do not represent Israeli universities or the government.

Meanwhile, last week the president of Palestine categorically rejected any boycott of Israel. Speaking to reporters in South Africa, President Mahmoud Abbas stated firmly that, “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” citing the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with Tel Aviv. Instead, Abbas only supports boycotting products made in illegal settlements.

By confining the Palestinian people to a “we” that only consists of the PA, based in the West Bank, Abbas is symbolically ceding East Jerusalem to the occupiers, since under the Oslo Accords the PA is prohibited from carrying out any activities there. In addition, he is turning his back on those Palestinians in Gaza who are suffering under a draconian Israeli-led siege, a fate far worse than any proposed boycott. He is also abandoning the millions of Palestinian refugees who are being denied their right of return, as upheld by UN resolution 194.

Indeed, by placing the relationship that the PA has with Israel above the daily humiliations the Palestinians are forced to endure under Israel’s military occupation, Abbas has clearly put aside the rights of his own people, reaffirming once again his own illegitimacy (his term of office actually expired in 2009).

With these remarks Abbas has illustrated that he is out of touch not only with the Palestinian people, but also with the international community. The world is increasingly supportive of the boycott of Israel as called for by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), launched in Ramallah in 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals, as well as the wider international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005.

Indeed, this week Haaretz cited “new research published by the Molad Centre for Renewal of Democracy”, a progressive Israeli think tank, which “addresses Israel’s standing in the world”. The group’s research findings suggest that “Israel is particularly vulnerable to sanctions and boycotts by Western countries due to the animosity of neighbouring countries, and because 40 per cent of Israel’s Gross National Product is based on exports, primarily to Europe.” The findings, adds Haaretz, also “show that Israeli businessmen, artists and academics are confronting increasing refusal of international agencies and potential partners to collaborate with them.”

But at least Israel still has the support of Abbas, who continues to carry out the charade of a US-brokered “peace process” while Israel carries on building more illegal settlements.

Interestingly, both Abbas and the whole “peace process” share the same framework as those American scholars who have campaigned to reject the ASA resolution to endorse an academic boycott of Israel; this is no coincidence. All those refusing the boycott are employing a “rights-based” framework that seems to recognise the rights of everybody but the Palestinians.

Members of the ASA had until 15 December to decide whether or not to back the boycott resolution; opponents of the boycott have been tireless in making their case against it. Similar to Abbas and the “peace process”, they all end up denying Palestinians their rights, either directly or indirectly.

For example, only two days after the ASA resolution was proposed, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called upon ASA members to vote down the motion. In an open letter, the president and vice president of AAUP argue: “In seeking to punish alleged violations of academic freedom elsewhere, such boycotts threaten the academic freedom of American scholars to engage the broadest variety of viewpoints.”

Of course, the “alleged violations” of Palestinians’ academic freedom include the fact that the occupation authorities place unfair bureaucratic obstacles on Palestinian universities, close institutions by military orders, ban textbooks, and prevent Palestinian students and their lecturers from travelling to and from class. During the 2006 aggression against Gaza, Israel deliberately bombed the Islamic University, as well as 18 schools. Despite this, when efforts are proposed to try to redress these injustices, the AAUP says no because it will infringe upon the rights of American scholars.

Although the AAUP letter also reaffirms the association’s “stand in opposition to academic boycotts as a matter of principle”, it gave active support to the boycott against South Africa’s apartheid regime. As David Lloyd, a professor of literature at the University of California, points out, “That movement did call for individual boycotts of South African scholars, cultural workers, and sports persons,” whereas “PACBI’s call is specifically and exclusively institutional.” So it seems pretty clear that the AAUP’s position is not related to the rights of scholars, but only to the rights of American scholars; it is not a principled stand against boycotts per se, but a stand against the boycott of Israel in particular.

To take another example, in an open letter to the president of ASA, Claire B. Potter, a professor of history at The New School, suggests: “Scholars of any nation ought to be free to travel, publish and collaborate across borders; I consider this to be a fundamental human right, and so does the United Nations. We in the American Studies Association cannot defend some of those human rights and disregard others.”

The irony of such a statement is acute. By only granting the right of education to “scholars of any nation” Potter is denying this right to Palestinians, as well as to all stateless persons, whereas the UN insists that “all peoples and all nations” have this right. Thus, her position is actually doing precisely what she warns against – defending the rights of some and disregarding others. Considering America’s history of trampling the rights of Native Americans and African Americans, Potter’s turn of phrase is especially ill-thought.

And although Potter does recognise that there are people who are “suffering under, and threatened by, the exclusions, violence and expulsions that are characteristic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands”, she argues that the proposed boycott would impact on “anti-occupation academics, including Palestinian scholars employed by Israeli institutions.”

While it is nice that Potter is at least trying to think about the rights of Palestinian scholars, a recent Haaretz survey of Israeli research universities “found few Arab scholars in the highest professional level at each university. Hebrew University has two Arab professors at the highest level out of 20 senior faculty members. Ben-Gurion University has 13 Arab professors out of 451, five at the highest level and eight in lower positions. Haifa University has two Arab professors at the highest rung and 10 in lower levels, out of 265 professors.” Tel Aviv University officials said that they have about 25 senior Arab faculty members there. The university boasts a 25:1 ratio of student to faculty, so with 30,000 students this means that it employs around 1,200 professors in total. At “Bar-Ilan University there are two senior Arab faculty members. Ariel University’s 80 professors include not a single Arab.”

Considering that Palestinians comprise around 20 per cent of the Israeli population, and almost 50 per cent of the total population when including the occupied Palestinian territories, these numbers are even more shocking. The opportunities for Palestinian students are almost as limited. According to a special report published by the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, Palestinians make up just 11.2 per cent of all undergraduates, 6.1 per cent of all master’s students, and only 3.5 per cent of all PhD students.

Thus it seems more than a bit unfair to privilege the rights of a few dozen anti-occupation scholars while ignoring the rights of millions of Palestinians, regardless of their politics.

In yet another example of an American scholar using a “rights based” framework to promote the rights of some over others, Mark Rice, a professor of American Studies at St. John Fisher College, says that he opposes the ASA boycott because “the primary role of a professional academic organisation is to advocate for the needs and concerns of its members within their professional lives.” Again, he too is presenting the argument that the rights of American scholars ought to come first, in this case to enhance our own professional careers, thus perhaps raising the tyranny of “rational choice theory” to a whole new level.

Rice also rejects the boycott because he thinks that ASA members will be “discouraged from pursuing Fulbright research or teaching opportunities in Israeli universities, as Fulbright opportunities typically require explicit affiliation with host institutions. That, to my mind, is a restriction of the academic freedom of individual scholars.”

This seems a reasonable concern. That is, until you look at the countries where Fulbright grants are being offered. During the 2014-2015 academic year Fulbright awards will not be available to scholars wanting to study in: “Algeria, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the West Bank, or Yemen.” What Middle East countries are left? Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and the United Arab Emirates; all are current allies of the US government. One can only wonder if Rice has anything to say about that.

Of course, there are also American scholars who are adopting a much cruder framework for completely rejecting any boycott of Israel. For example, Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard University and former US Treasury secretary, suggests simply that targeting Israel is “anti-Semitic in effect”. Furthermore, while he insists ardently that boycotts are against the principle of academic freedom, he also hopes that universities will stop funding faculty participation in ASA if the resolution is passed.

Regardless of whether ASA members choose to uphold the boycott or not, what having this public debate highlights more than anything else is that those who continue to support Israeli apartheid and occupation are quickly running out of excuses.

December 16, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ASA Summit Promotes South-South Ties, Regional Integration

Venezuelanalysis | March 1, 2013

The signing of twenty-seven new economic and social agreements between the nations of South America and Africa was the product of three days of meetings held between representatives of more than 60 countries in Equatorial Guinea last week.

The Third South America Africa Summit (ASA) took place just outside the capital of Malabo, where heads of states and high-ranking officials outlined ways to improve commercial, technological and transportation collaboration between the two continents.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as well as Bolivia’s President Evo Morales were in attendance on Friday as were the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Suriname and Cape Verde, among others.

“We are here to contribute with our experiences together, always thinking about the liberation of our countries in Africa as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean”, said President Morales on Friday.

During his speech, Morales drew attention to the need to take back the natural resources that have been “looted” by the United States and Europe, highlighting the gains that have been made as a result of such policies in the Americas.

“We began to take back our resources and the result has been a change in the economic and financial history of much of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”, the Bolivian head of state asserted.

“Unity for the dignity of our peoples, unity for equality, and, above all, unity for our liberation”, he added.

This sentiment of economic and political independence was echoed by the majority of ASA representatives including Nigerian Foreign Minister, Viola Adaku Onwuliri.

“Let’s show our ability to make tangible decisions that will lead to economic development and the integration of Africa and South America.

With true political will, we will be able to achieve it, just a s we have already been able to overcome the burdens of colonialism and racism”, Onwuliri said.

For his part, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua read a letter written by Hugo Chavez who apologized for his inability to participate personally in the conference.

“I truly lament, in the deepest of ways, my inability to be physically present with you and I reiterate once again…my most irrevocable commitment to the cause of union between our people”, the Venezuelan President wrote.

In his missive, Chavez hailed the “indivisible historic ties” that bind the regions and which have obliged the two continents “to walk together until the very end”.

“I will never be tired of saying it: we are one people. We must find each other, beyond the formalities and the speeches, in the feeling of unity.”

“In this way we will take our people out of the labyrinth where they had been cast by colonialism and, in the 20th century, by neoliberal capitalism”, the head of state said.


Apart from the commercial accords inked on Saturday, participating countries also expressed their support for Argentina in its territorial dispute with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands.

A further resolution saw the condemnation of the more than 50 year-old US blockade on Cuba and a declaration calling for Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations.

Many countries expressed their desire for the expansion of the ASA alliance, advocating the inclusion of all of Latin America and the Caribbean, not only those members belonging to the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) bloc.

President Nguema of Equatorial Guinea described the absence of these nations as “unjustifiable” given the important commonalities that exist between Africa and the developing nations of the Americas.

“The history of our continents, largely exploited by other countries, compels us to take measures of South-South cooperation which will allow us to emerge with liberty, independence and coexistence in this globalized world of confronting interests”, Nguema said.

Following this line, the President of the Spanish-speaking African nation proposed that ASA be incorporated into the recently established Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) alliance that includes all countries in the Americas except the United States and Canada.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jaua reported that Nguema’s proposal has received the support of many allied Latin American nations and that “what needs to be done is to discuss [the proposal] with Unasur and then with CELAC”.

Jaua additionally informed that there will be an encounter between the leading members of ASA next month in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas to guarantee the materialization of the agreements signed last weekend.

“On April 26, there will be a meeting of the Follow-Up Commission which is made up of Nigeria, Brazil, and Equatorial Guinea to see through the accords that have been solidified in this third summit,” the Venezuelan Minister said.


The tri-annual ASA first took place in Abuya, Nigeria in 2006 and was followed by a second encounter in Margarita Island, Venezuela in 2009.

While many member nations agree that more needs to be done to strengthen the alliance, trade between the continents has grown from $7.2 billion in 2002 to $39.4 billion in 2011.

Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino explained that relations between the two regions have not been easy over the years “because we don’t know each other very much and we don’t have much work experience together.”

At the same time, Patino affirmed that there are great possibilities for collaboration and that the two continents “have much to offer one another” in ways that go beyond pure commercial relations.

Ecuador is slated to host the next ASA summit in 2016.

March 1, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Leave a comment