After a majority of the members of the left-leaning American Studies Association voted to support BDS and boycott affiliations with Israeli universities and academics, two universities have dropped their institutional affiliations with the organization. The Harrisburg, PA campus of Penn State University was the first, and Brandeis University was the second.
In its resolution, the ASA denounced the “Israeli occupation of Palestine” (note, the ASA mentions Palestine, not specific areas such as the West Bank of the Jordan, but rather the whole area of land that is now the State of Israel), and “the systematic discrimination against Palestinians,” (meaning people who identify as Palestinian, whether they reside in the West Bank, Nazareth, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Israel, or any other place).
Dr. Simon J. Bronner, Chairperson of Penn State Harrisburg’s American Studies doctoral program, opposed the ASA’s resolution. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of American Studies, an affiliated publication of the ASA. Professor Bronner, a distinguished professor of american studies and folklore, issued the following statement, “In the wake of the passage of the resolution by the ASA to boycott Israeli institutions, which programs and departments such as Penn State Harrisburg’s program in American Studies consider to curtail academic freedom and undermine the reputation of American Studies as a scholarly enterprise, the chair of the American Studies program at Penn State Harrisburg plans to drop its institutional membership and will encourage others to do so.”
He added, “As a prominent program in American Studies concerned for the welfare of its students and faculty, Penn State Harrisburg is worried that the recent actions by the National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) do not reflect the longstanding scholarly enterprise American Studies stands for. The withdrawal of institutional membership by our program and others allows us to be independent of the political and ideological resolutions issued by the ASA and concentrate on building American Studies scholarship with our faculty, students, and staff. There might be alternative organizations forming in the future that better represent the field of American Studies. When and if that occurs, we will re-examine our independent position. In the meantime we view this move as one intended to protect students and faculty from opprobrium as a result of the ASA’s claim to represent scholars of American studies.”
The American Studies Program at Brandeis University posted the following, “A Statement from the American Studies Program on the recent move by the American Studies Association to boycott Israel: It is a with deep regret that we in the American Studies Program at Brandeis University have decided to discontinue our institutional affiliation with the American Studies Association. We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster. We remain committed to the discipline of American Studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture– freedom of association and expression.”
Len Saxe, Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute said, “It was clear to everybody this [the ASA boycott] is not about opening conversations. It’s the opposite. It’s about delegitimizing Israel and doing so in a way that is counter to the norms we share as scholars.” Saxe added, “That [the ASA] are choosing to focus on the issue of Israel rather than the serious problems in America of violence, prisons and violation of the human rights of immigrants is to me, despicable.”
Professor Emeritus Samuel M. Edelman of California State University at Chico said the ASA boycott is not only an attack on Israel, but that it is an attack on academic freedom in universities. Edelman said, “They are not concerned with peace, if they were they would be fostering discourse and dialogue and bringing Israelis into the discussion. Rather, they are censoring, they are closing the door.”
Some of the schools affiliated with the ASA are:
*Penn State University, Harrisburg
Bard Graduate Center
Brigham Young University
California State University, Fullerton
California State University, Long Beach
College of Staten Island, CUNY
CUNY Graduate Center, American Studies Certificate Program
George Washington University
New York University
Rutgers University, New Brunswick
Stanford University, American Studies Program
Trinity College, Hartford, CT.
University of California, San Diego
University of Notre Dame
University of Texas, Austin
Yale Professor Matthew Jacobson, a past ASA president and current member of ASA’s National Council which unanimously voted to put the boycott vote to the entire membership, said that the vote was “much more symbolic” and that it would have little practical impact on academic ties with Israel since it concerned ASA ties. He felt it was morally important to adopt. But then again, some say Jacobson sees imperialism everywhere he glances, even among his breakfast foods.
What should one expect from an organization that gives out an Angela Y. Davis Award?
Lawrence H. Summers, the former Harvard University president and former U.S. Secretary of Treasury, disparaged “the idea that of all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses, that might be thought to have inappropriate foreign policies, that might be thought to be doing things wrong, the idea that there’s only one that is worthy of boycott, and that is Israel.” Summers called for a reverse boycott; universities should reconsider paying for faculty members to belong to the ASA or to participate in its events.
Earlier this year, the Association for Asian Studies passed a similar resolution against Israel. Curious, though, that the 8,000 member organization, which will hold its annual meeting in March 2014 in Philadelphia, has not called for any boycotts against China or any Asian country with poor human rights records.
The obscure Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA.org) decided this week to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Professor Chadwick Allen, president of the association and coordinator of American Indian studies and Associate Dean at Ohio State University, wrote on the association’s website that the move followed a “member-generated” petition asking that the group “formally support the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural Institutions that was initiated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.” Allen added, “If NAISA members feel it is appropriate, we can discuss the Declaration, the Boycott, and related issues during the NAISA business meeting scheduled for the upcoming 2014 NAISA conference in Austin, Texas.” Allen is a specialist in post-colonial literature and the works of indigenous peoples. Although not an enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Allen (who should not be confused with the actor Chad Allen) traces Chickasaw ancestry through his maternal line.
In a related event, John Podhoretz, walked out of a panel discussion on Israel at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan this week. The event, titled “What Does It Mean to Be Pro-Israel in America Today?,” featured a panel of speakers that included Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary; David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee; and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street. Asked when the panelists thought of the ASA vote to boycott Israeli universities, Mr. Ben-Ami criticized the boycott, but said that in his view, Israeli policies made it difficult for some Americans to believe that Israel sincerely wanted peace. Mr. Podhoretz then accused Mr. Ben-Ami of blaming Israel for the boycott. Some members of the Y audience responded by booing. Mr.Podhoretz suggested that the immature booers also hiss. Podhoretz then left the stage. Jane Eisner, the moderator for the event, and an editor of The Jewish Daily Forward, wrote that Mr. Podhoretz had wagged his finger at Mr. Ben-Ami in a threatenig and condescending manner. (Anyone who is shocked or pretends to be shocked by Podhoretz’s actions either is not aware of his past behavior or doesn’t watch enough NY1-news.) Podhoretz dismissed the evening as possibly “the least significant tempest-in-a-teapot in the history of world Jewry.”