Pennsylvania state senator Anthony Williams (D-8) is condemning as anti-Semitic the American Studies Association’s recent decision to boycott Israeli academics. Williams introduced a resolution into the Pennsylvania legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 6, in which he calls out the ASA and calls on all colleges and universities in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to reject antisemitism and refuse to participate in the ASA’s boycott of Israel.
“I’ve been greatly disappointed by recent actions taken by people lauded as ‘scholars,’ and particularly offended by them as someone who fights for equal justice for all. The only glimmers of hope I’ve seen in this debacle are the rigorous and principled retorts and rebukes of the ASA boycott by academic leaders in our area, across Pennsylvania and across the country,” Williams said in a statement released to the public on Jan. 6.
“The rationale offered for this boycott is flimsy at best; intellectually dishonest at worst, and seems to indicate an encroaching anti-Semitic sentiment that was shameful a century ago, but even more so as we enter 2014. Intolerance will not lead to acceptance or understanding. An exchange of ideas, even conflicting ones, will bring us closer to that desired outcome, which once was the goal of higher education. Let’s hope it will be again.”
In Williams’ Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 279, the background of and the backlash to the ASA Israel boycott is laid out clearly. Important facts, such as that a mere 16 percent of the ASA’s membership voted in favor of the boycott, and that so many presidents of leading universities and academic associations have condemned the ASA boycott, are spelled out.
To date, 145 college and university presidents have condemned the ASA boycott, including the president of every Ivy League institution and nearly all of the top ranked schools in America.
What is emphasized most strongly in the Resolution is that Israel is a Jewish democratic nation which promotes academic freedom and free speech and educates students from around the globe.
The Resolution Williams introduced concludes that the “practical effect of the American Studies Association Israeli boycott is a resurgence of anti-Semitism.”
If passed, Williams’ anti-boycott resolution will represent the full Pennsylvania Senate’s condemnation of the ASA’s boycott of Israel “in the strongest possible terms.”
THE RESOLUTION HOLDS THAT THE ASA BOYCOTT IS AN ‘ANTI-SEMITIC, BASE FORM OF BIGOTRY’
The resolution, if passed, will represent the Pennsylvania legislature’s view that the ASA boycott is an “intolerable, anti-Semitic, base form of bigotry and hatred” which is “unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”
The Resolution was sent to the Education Committee. The Jewish Press will track its progress.
Although his district – Pennsylvania’s 8th – does not have a large Jewish population, Senator Williams has long been a stalwart friend of Israel and of the Jewish community. He introduced legislation last year, PA Senate Bill 47, which would mandate Holocaust education in Pennsylvania public schools for grades six through twelve.
ASKED PENN PRESIDENT NOT TO HOST BDS CONFERENCE, THEN CAME AND SPOKE OF HIS REJECTION OF BDS TO JEWISH STUDENTS
In the winter of 2012, the University of Pennsylvania played host to a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference. Williams opposed the university playing host. This is what he wrote to Penn president Amy Gutmann:
While an ardent supporter of free speech, [I believe] hate speech remains an exemption from this privilege,” he wrote. “Based on prior evidence brought to my attention, that is to what BDS amounts. I would no more support this event than I would a Klan rally, a homophobia convention, a ‘birther’ march, or an Islamophobia assembly on the Penn Quadrangle.
When Penn chose to host the conference anyway, Williams showed up at Penn’s Hillel building to speak with Jewish students and express his solidarity with them.
REJECTED JVP’S CALL FOR WILLIAMS TO REJECT ZOA AWARD
At this year’s annual gala dinner of the Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia District, held on Oct. 9, Williams was honored with the Friend of Zion Award.
Senator Williams not only gladly accepted ZOA’s award, he rebuffed a public overture made to him by Jewish Voice for Peace and other cloyingly named anti-Israel groups which urged him to decline it.
Those groups warned Williams that the ZOA is a “fringe right-wing group” which supports “the illegal – and chronically violent – settler movement,” condemns “Palestinian expressions of national rights,” and even had the temerity to “endorse Knesset legislation that could revoke the citizenship of Palestinian citizens for alleged ‘disloyalty.’”
The anti-Israel Jewish groups threatened Williams. They warned that if he went to the ZOA event and accepted its award, they would go to the media and explain that Williams was intolerant to the Muslim community, which comprises a portion of his own district.
Williams responded to JVP both in deed and with words. The Pennsylvania state senator not only accepted ZOA’s award to him, he gave a ten minute speech about why he did. The video of that speech can be seen at the end of this article.
Williams told the crowd that “forty years ago the Jewish community and the African American community locked arm in arm and fought to provide civil rights for all citizens. So when you challenge me on the integrity of my friends, the only thing I can resort to is that you are not my friend.”
In one of many statements Williams made that brought the crowd to its feet, Williams thundered,
There is a state of Israel not just because Jews wanted it, but because the world demanded it. Israel is not a mistake, it is not an affront it is not a robbery, it is a contribution in a region that sometimes is not only sexist and racist but also ignorant about democracy.
Williams concluded his remarks by acknowledging that his appearance at the event and acceptance of the award would likely be a talked-about chapter in his political history. But, he said, “I am proud to carry this award, I am proud to be a part of this event. Shalom.”
Watch his entire speech here:
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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