In awesome letter, Catholic U. prez denounces academic boycott of Israel

Robby Soave Reporter

The president of Catholic University issued a strong statement denouncing the Academic Studies Association’s boycott of Israel, becoming the 100th university leader to do so.

Though Catholic University President John Garvey is hardly the first university president to criticize the ASA for voting to join the academic boycott of Israel a few weeks ago, his statement was notable for its harsh, unapologetic tone. Garvey hopes–in no uncertain terms–that the boycott fails:

The American Studies Association’s recent call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is lamentable. The Association has appointed itself as a kind of inept volunteer fire department, aiming to put out the Israeli-Palestinian conflagration by throwing gasoline on the fire. That’s not exactly right. It has decided to pour gas not on the source of the fire but on bystanders, some of whom are trying to extinguish the flames. No good can come of punishing academic institutions for the shortcomings, real and perceived, of their nations’ leaders and policies.

Rather than restricting academic freedom to advance political causes, academic organizations like the ASA should be working to foster dialogue with their foreign interlocutors, perhaps especially those they disagree with. The academy – universities, faculties, and satellite institutions – is a place where research, open discussion, and creative thought can lead to reforms and new approaches to longstanding problems. I hope the ASA’s call for a boycott produces just the opposite of its intended result – a proliferation of U.S. linkages with Israeli universities and other universities in the Middle East.

Exactly 100 universities–including public ones, those with Jewish or Israeli ties, and private or other religious institutions–have condemned the ASA’s boycott, which was approved on the recommendation of 60 percent of the organization’s voting members in December, according to Legal Insurrection. The Association of American Universities and the Association of American University Professors also opposes the boycott.

The ASA claims to be standing up for academic freedom–apparently under threat in Israel–by agreeing to the boycott. But critics have pointed out that the climate for academic freedom at Israeli universities is generally good, and other countries with far worse human rights records than Israel have not been boycotted, such as Iran, China, Russia and Zimbabwe. An American academic organization singling out Israel for special condemnation is a transparently political move pushed by people who oppose Israeli’s policies with respect to Palestine, many critics have argued. (RELATED: Professors boycott Israel, but not China, Iran, Russia or Zimbabwe)

If it’s a political move, it is one that may cost the ASA in the long run. Several universities have announced plans to disassociate themselves from the organization.

An ASA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment as to whether the group regrets joining the boycott.

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