American Studies Association chickens out on boycott resolution

For the past 12 days, I have been in Australia, drawn by an invitation to speak at the Australia and New Zealand History of Education Society meeting in Brisbane (whose pronunciation rhymes with “Fizzbin”). It’s been a marvelous opportunity to learn more about the history of another country, especially since I had friend and retired historian Craig Campbell guide me through the eastern bush of inland New South Wales.

One of the features of modern institutional life in Australia, and even moreso in New Zealand, is an acknowledgment of Aboriginal history and traditional ownership of land. An example of the type of reconciliation statement I’ve read in the past two weeks is that of the Queensland University of Technology, which hosted the ANZHES meeting. So when I heard that approximately 20% of the American Studies Association membership voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli institutions, my first thought was disappointment at the violation of academic freedom principles.

But on second thought, my reaction right now is dominated by the fact that it’s relatively easy for U.S. and European scholars to call for a boycott of Israel. It’s like a suggestion from you that your friend go on a diet, your “volunteering” colleagues for an unwanted assignment, or McDonald’s budget guidelines for its low-paid workers. Oh, yes, and you’re watching too much television — can you turn it off before dinner, at least?

If the American Studies Association membership and national council really wanted to take a stand on behalf of people whose lands have been taken, where there has been remarkably little movement towards the type of acknowledgment and reconciliation you can see in New Zealand, they would not have targeted Israel. But they never have passed and I really do not expect to see the following motion pass in the near future.

American Studies Association Resolution on Academic Boycott of Israel the United States

Whereas the American Studies Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-semitism, discrimination, and xenophobia, and to solidarity with aggrieved peoples in the United States and in the world;

Whereas the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine Native American lands and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians Native Americans, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians Native Americans;

Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian Native American students and scholars under conditions of Israeli U.S. occupation, and Israeli United States institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian Native American scholars and students;

Whereas the American Studies Association is cognizant of Israeli United States scholars and students who are critical of Israeli state policies and who support the an international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement under conditions of isolation and threat of sanction;

Whereas the American Studies Association is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression, and military violence, and in keeping with the spirit of its previous statements supports the right of students and scholars to intellectual freedom and to political dissent as citizens and scholars;

It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli United States academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine Native American conditions and the history of occupation and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.