Striking a mighty blow against censorship, the American Studies Association has voted to boycott just one country over its human rights abuses and contempt for academic freedom.
That country is Israel.
The decision was reached earlier this week; about 60 percent of ASA’s voting members approved the boycott.
“The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” the ASA wrote in a statement.
Though the statement invoked Israel’s lack of “academic freedom” as a valid justification, many ASA professors referenced the political and military conflict between Israel and Palestine as their reason for supporting the boycott.
“American studies as a discipline is really preoccupied with issues of race and racism and colonization and with matters of American foreign policy and so I feel like the resolution is very much in keeping with the sorts of things that a large number of American studies scholars focus on in their research,” said Steven Salaita, an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Critics contend that the boycott is highly political, given that ASA has not endorsed boycotts against a host of much worse human rights abusers — countries like Iran and Russia, where academic freedom is in short supply.
Indeed, as the Jewish magazine Tablet noted, in Zimbabwe all schools are controlled by the government, admission depends upon political loyalty and dissenting professors and students are murdered. Zimbabwe has not been boycotted by the ASA.
In China, loyalty to the state is part of the educational curriculum, and academics who denounce the government are fired or jailed. An ASA boycott of China has never materialized.
ASA is not the only academic organization to boycott Israel. The Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association have also done so.
Support for the boycott of Israel came despite fierce opposition from the American Association of University Professors, which steadfastly opposes all academic boycotts in general. The University of California, San Diego also issued a statement opposing the boycott, and two universities — Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg — have withdrawn from the ASA in response.
The ASA did not respond to a request for comment.