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March 30, 2015 / 10 Nisan, 5775
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Members Flee Academic Group Boycotting Israel, May Form New Group

The loss of membership and the launching of a competitor association, along with the legal challenge to the American Studies Association's tax-exempt status, may be the only real legacy of the ASA's boycott of Israel.

After the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israel, the American Studies Department of Penn State University at Harrisburg withdrew from the Association

After the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israel, the American Studies Department of Penn State University at Harrisburg withdrew from the Association

When the American Studies Association decided to spurn Israel because it disagrees with some of its policies, it should have anticipated that some of its own members might do the same and that it would be on the receiving end.

When a majority of the voting members (only one quarter of those eligible voted) of the American Studies Association voted to ratify a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, elation broke out amongst the advocates of the economic warfare movement against Israel known as BDS.  BDS stands for the Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel.

Given the vagueness of the actual terms of the boycott (it doesn’t apply to most individual Israeli professors and it doesn’t apply to American professors who wish to teach in Israel), and of the goal it seeks to achieve (the resolution talks about ending the “Occupation,” but it cites as its inspiration a Palestinian Arab organization which sees the entire Jewish State as the occupier, not just some towns beyond an imaginary Green Line), perhaps the only thing the ASA boycott may achieve is a dissolution of the American Studies Association.

Already two universities have formally withdrawn their membership from the ASA.

PENN STATE’S AMERICAN STUDIES DEPARTMENT WITHDRAWS FROM ASA

Penn State University, whose American Studies Department is located at its Harrisburg campus, was the first to walk out the door.  Dr. Simon J. Bronner chairs his school’s American Studies Department. He was the editor in chief in 2011 of the Encyclopedia of American Studies – an ASA publication. Bronner  issued a statement announcing his department’s withdrawal from the ASA.

The ASA boycott decision, Bronner wrote, will act to “curtail academic freedom and undermine the reputation of American Studies as a scholarly enterprise.” Bronner went further.  He said that not only will his department drop its ASA membership, he “will encourage others to do so.”

BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY’S AMERICAN STUDIES DEPARTMENT SECEDES FROM ASA

The Brandeis University American Studies Department was the second school to secede from the ASA.

Professor Stephen Whitfield has taught American Studies at Brandeis for more than forty years. He is the Max Richter Professor of American Civilization and the author of eight books dealing with the field of American Studies, along with dozens of scholarly articles, as well as ones of public interest.

The Jewish Press asked Whitfield about his department’s response to the ASA boycott. He responded by email that the vote by the ASA

defies the very purposes of the American Studies Association, which is a scholarly organization–not (as the boycott vote suggests) the conscience of humanity.  The members of the ASA are free–as citizens, as individuals–to take any position they wish on the vexing issues of the Middle East and elsewhere.  But the deepening politicization of the ASA, which ought to ensure that its members feel at home as Americanists regardless of their politics, is deeply offensive, indeed repugnant.

The statement on the Brandeis American Studies Department website announced it will discontinue its affiliation with the ASA. It condemns the boycott vote as a “politicization of the discipline,” and scolded that it was “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.

ALTERNATIVES TO AMERICAN STUDIES ASSOCIATION TO FORM?

In an exchange between Penn State’s Bronner and Prof. William A. Jacobson of Cornell Law School, Bronner hinted that alternative organizations for serious scholars in the discipline who want to concentrate on American Studies rather than contemporary politics may be forming.

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. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com


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14 Responses to “Members Flee Academic Group Boycotting Israel, May Form New Group”

  1. i can't help but wonder how much these American Studies geniuses actually know about Israel. As the author of this article has pointed out in earlier pieces, Israel has done more to ADVANCE the cause of scholarship and higher education among Arabs, in the land Israel took in 1967, than had been done by anyone before then. Clearly the American Studies scholars should spend their time on American studies, and leave the Middle East to the Middle Eastern studies departments (a whole bunch of OTHER geniuses, of course, but that's another story).

  2. This is such good news

  3. member's fleeing? Sounds more like snailing/

  4. Good move! Lets rid ourselves of hatred in higher education!

  5. This reminds me of the man who tried to stab a good man in the back only to trip and fall on his own blade. A wise man once said, "When embarking on a revenge mission, dig two graves." When embarking on a mission to destroy Israel, they only need to dig one grave…their own.

  6. Sandra Heer says:

    Some colleges still believe in academic freedom and open inquiry.

  7. Sam Siddiqui says:

    It will be interesting to see which universities flee to support Israeli occupation and which members remain to support nonviolent means of conflict resolution

  8. It's a contradicition in terms for an academic organization to stifle individual freedom for the sake of political positioning. Israel is the most democratic country in the Middle East, affording the highest standard of living to the Arabs living there than anywhere in the surrounding 21 Arab countries. It should be commended for its democratic outreach to the Arab community, instead of being condemned. Clearly, the ASA is ignorant on the subject. Bravo to Brandeis and Penn State at Harrisburg for taking principled positions and withdrawing from the ASA. Others should follow suit in rapid response mode.

  9. Daniel Shapiro says:

    Sam Siddiqui, I would suspect the only Universities who will sever ties to the ASA are those who are honest about the conflict between Israel and the regional arabs who recently (1964) re-invented themselves as "palestinians". Those honest educational institutions recognize that but for Israeli universities many arab women have no alternative to education as they are prohibited from study. They recognize that your mis-characterized "apartheid wall" is in actuality a security barrier, mostly a fence not a wall, which Israel was forced to erect in order to successfully stem terrorist infiltration from the regional arabs to a slow trickle compared to the countless terror attacks on Israeli civilian men, women, children and infants that occurred prior to the erection of the barrier. Those honest universities will have recognized that Israeli Universities and innovators are responsible for more inventions, patents, and scientific achievements than the entire arab world combined. They understand that collaboration with Israeli Universities is good for academia.

  10. GOOD FOR THEM!!! What is the boycott going to achieve anyway. Their shooting themselves in the their own foot. Only proves how pride and stupidity can encompass some intellectuals….common sense is out the window. Eistein said "Intellects solve problems…Genius' prevent problems".

  11. Helen, As usual, I am proud to say you are my friend! Your words on the shameful condemning of Israel should be sent into all the major papers. They are too important for Facebook alone!!

  12. Rick Wice says:

    from your post I am assuming you would not recognize Israel to exist at all.

    Instead of flee to support a occupation they support a country that has tried to make peace with organizations that only want to see Israel annihilated? A country that has Arab citizens and members of its Parliament as opposed to all the Arab states that expelled Jews in 47, 68, etc.

  13. Sam Siddiqui says:

    Does South Africa exist? Did American universities boycott them academically? It is really strange to read comments here which imply that heads of universities would somehow all prefer to support violations of international laws esp the Geneva Conventions and the Apartheid treaty – or doesn't academic freedom extend to Palestinians too?

  14. Bravo and thank you for all who are standing up for democracy, ethics and justice. Obviously, the ASA has decided to side with tyranny, with Palestinians who mistreat even their own, not to mention their willingness to kill for the sake of usurping land. And because Judaism is a morality that the Arabs can't deal with; they are the antithesis of what Judaism stands for and what Israelis do for the betterment of humanity.

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