Eye on the Middle East Mar/Apr 2014
When members of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions in December 2013, they probably had no idea their plan would backfire. Instead of hurting Israel, ASA “scholars” exposed themselves as anti-Semitic, morally bankrupt, and most unscholarly.
The ASA said its 2-to-1 vote was in “solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom.”1 The organization chose to boycott the only Jewish state in the world, the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only country in that region with a positive track record for human rights.
In a New York Times interview, Curtis Marez, ASA president and associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego, revealed the group had never before called for an academic boycott of any nation’s universities. And he agreed that many nations have worse human rights records than Israel. His explanation for boycotting Israel? “One has to start somewhere.”2
Although the organization is small and the boycott mostly symbolic, the ASA is trying to legitimize with “scholars” the singling out of Israel as the problem in the Middle East.
Response was swift. On PBS’s Charlie Rose television show, former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers said it is “beyond outrageous” to think “there’s only one [country] that is worthy of boycott, and that is Israel.”3
The American Association of University Professors, with its 48,000 members, reiterated its stance against academic boycotts. Cornell University law Professor William Jacobson said he would challenge the ASA’s tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service:
ASA’s anti-Israel academic boycott resolution calls ASA’s 501(c)(3) status into question for many reasons, including but not limited to the act of engaging in an academic boycott not satisfying the requirements of 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that an organization must be “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable,…or educational purposes.”4
An academic boycott, he said, “does not satisfy this test.”5
Also against the boycott is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We do not support the boycott of Israel,” he said, leading Bloomberg.com columnist Jeffrey Goldberg to note, “The ASA is more Palestinian…than the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.”6
Freedomhouse.org lists the world’s most repressive societies. Israel is not on the list. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cites 15 nations where abuse of religious liberty is “systemic, egregious, and ongoing.” Israel is not on that list either.
And it’s no wonder. Israel has led the way in showing compassion. Ask the Haitians about the Israel Defense Forces, which were the first to set up triage centers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Ask the Japanese which nation helped them for more than a year after a 9.0 earthquake struck their eastern coast. Ask Gaza citizens who, in December, suffered through six-foot-plus floodwaters, prompting Hamas—which regards Israel as its sworn enemy—to ask for help. And Israel gave it.
Ask Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh about Israeli doctors who treated his one-year-old granddaughter for an intestinal infection. She was one of thousands of Palestinians who were treated in Israeli hospitals last year. Ask the Syrian mother who fled her own war-ravaged country to give birth in Israel. “I really don’t feel like I’m in an enemy country; everyone is helping me and caring for me,” she said.
Israel consistently models human compassion to friend and foe alike; and it appears the ASA vote created more supporters of Israel than it did enemies.
- From the Editors, “Council Statement on the Academic Boycott of Israel,” December 4, 2013 <tinyurl.com/ASAonIsrael>.
- Jeffrey Goldberg, “Some Lessons in Effective Scapegoating,” December 16, 2013 <tinyurl.com/bloombergASA>.
- William A. Jacobson, “Lawrence Summers: Academic boycott of Israel is ‘anti-Semitism in effect,’” December 13, 2013 <tinyurl.com/JacobsonOnASA>.
- William A. Jacobson, “Tax-Exempt Status of American Studies Association to be challenged if Israel boycott resolution passes,” December 15, 2013 <tinyurl.com/LIJacobson>.