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Boycott Calls Against Israel
Anti-Israel Academic Boycott, Backlash and Backlash against Backlash: A Brief History (Part I)


Editorial Note
The recent decision of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott academic institutions in Israel has unleashed an avalanche of reactions.  The ASA resolution may be construed as "tipping point" in the decades-long effort to apply the model used against South Africa to terminate its apartheid regime.  
Initial calls to boycott Israel in the 1980s were confined to a small radical core of pro-Palestinian activists, human rights NGOs and academics both in Israel and the West.  The Oslo peace process all but silenced this effort, but the failure of Camp David II and the Second Intifida revived interest in international pressure. The Durban I conference in 2001 put the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on the agenda of more than 1500 NGOs and groups. 
Still, the South African model taught the activists that economic sanctions are hard to impose, especially as corporations can hide behind a complex ownership structure. Imposing an academic, cultural and sports boycott on South Africa was an easier and, in some ways, more efficient method.  Like their anti-apartheid peers, pro-Palestinian activists concluded that the latter could keep the issue of Israel's legitimacy on the "front pages" with little cost accrued by the boycott instigators.
Indeed, Ilan Pappe, then on the faculty of Haifa University addressed the first call to boycott the Israeli academy to British faculty activists in the early 2000s.  In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign  for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) created a clearinghouse for a wide range of academic and cultural boycott initiatives.  The group BOYCOTT! (aka Boycott from Within) organized by a number of Israeli academics and activists along with the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, added muscle to the Palestinian effort.
The British boycott have shown some success; in spite of appeals and legal challenges, the University and College Union (UCU) has successfully defended their annual vote to boycott Israel.  In May 2013 Stephen Hawking cancelled his scheduled appearance at the conference held by Peres, giving the campaign a huge PR boost.  In the United States, on the other hand, up to very recently academic boycott initiatives have not fared well.  In 2006 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) came out against boycott, a stand that still holds.  
But pro-boycott activists in the United States have developed new tactics to overcome the historical reluctance of the AAUP to support overtly politicized academic campaigns.  One successful avenue was to appeal to professional associations - so far, the Association for Asian Studies passed a boycott resolution in April 2013 and the American Studies Association followed in December.  The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association has tabled a boycott proposal and the 30,000 member Modern Language Association is scheduled to discuss the issue during its January 2014 meeting.  
The uptick in academic boycott activity has caught Israel and pro-Israeli advocates in the United States by surprise.   The Knesset Committee for Science and Technology scheduled a hearing on the issue and formed a working committee to tackle the issue.  The responses in the United States ranged from letters by leading academics denouncing the boycott to suggestions for Congress to pass legislation against the academic boycott.   Part II will review the backlash against the ASA and analyze the viability of the various proposals to combat the phenomenon.  Part III will discuss the "backlash against the backlash" including the unofficial, so-called grey or silent boycott.


by  December 5, 2013 1:14PM ET

Organization says Israeli academic institutions 'complicit in  oppression that denies Palestinians rights'

The executive body of the American Studies Association (ASA), the nation’s oldest and largest association of scholars of American culture and history, on Wednesday endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, calling them complicit in a "multi-tiered system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights." The American Jewish Committee (AJC) denounced the boycott decision as "despicable."

The resolution to shun Israeli academic institutions was approved unanimously by the 20-member national council, which has urged the ASA's 5,000 members to adopt it as policy.

“This complicity has been extensively documented, and manifests through direct research and production of military technologies — as with the Israeli Institute of Technology (Technion)’s partnerships with Israeli weapons manufacturers … and Tel Aviv University’s development of weapons systems used by the occupation army in committing grave violations of human rights,” the ASA wrote in a news release.

While the movement to use boycott tactics to pressure Israel on Palestinian rights has considerable support in Europe, it has been largely opposed by major academic institutions in the U.S. until now.

The ASA, in its explanation of the decision, also accused Israeli universities of discriminatory treatment of Palestinian students by cracking down on Palestinian cultural events and political protests and spying on Palestinian student activists.

But the AJC countered that it was the ASA's council that was guilty of discrimination.

“Treating Israeli academic institutions in a way no other universities are treated anywhere else in the world is discrimination pure and simple,” said Kenneth Stern, the AJC’s director on anti-Semitism and extremism.

Stern assailed what he called the "factually inaccurate and vile language" the ASA had used to describe Israel.

“The ASA’s 'Frequently Asked Questions' accompanying the boycott resolution claims Israel practices 'apartheid' and that Israel itself is a 'Zionist settler-colonialist project,'" Stern said.

The campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions is one arm of a global movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which began in 2005 and seeks to rally international pressure on Israel similar to that mustered against South Africa under minority rule. Campaigners have also petitioned musicians to cancel tours of Israel, and to boycott products produced by Israeli companies in occupied territory.

US support for Israel

The AJC said the academic boycott “contravenes the most basic values of academic freedom,” and questioned why an association dedicated to the study of American culture and history would get involved.

For its part, the ASA said on its website that it is supporting the boycott because “U.S. tax dollars fund the occupation, colonization, and apartheid that daily violates Palestinian academic and other freedoms,” and because Washington routinely uses its veto in the U.N. Security Council to international action in response.

The ASA said it is committed to the pursuit of social justice and to the struggle against all forms of racism — including anti-Semitism.

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