The American Studies Association (ASA) created a whirlwind of contention on Wednesday, Dec. 4, when it announced a formal boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Just before the New Year, on Monday, Dec. 30, recently elected University of California President Janet Napolitano released a statement repudiating the boycott stating that it “goes against the spirit of the University of California.”
Although the ASA consists of fewer than 5,000 members, Napolitano is not the first university president to respond to the ASA boycott, and it doesn’t appear as though she will be the last. Middlebury College, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, the University of Chicago, and New York University, along with a wealth of other universities and colleges, have denounced the ASA’s decision, and a number of others have cancelled their institutional membership.
According to its website, the ASA is an academic association that is “devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” Founded in 1951, the association sponsors about half a dozen publications and membership is open to both institutions and individuals.
The ASA released its resolution on the academic boycott of Israel with justifications primarily concerned with viewing the United States as a facilitator in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“The United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law,” the resolution states.
With respect to academics, the association stated “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.”
The ASA observes Israeli academic institutions as part and parcel to a system that denies Palestinians their basic rights.
The ASA arrived at this resolution after roughly seven years of discussion and debate in response to Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Gaza in 2006. Last year the Executive Committee of the ASA was asked to consider the call from Palestinian civil society to support the academic boycott of Israel. The Council proceeded to ask ASA members to endorse the resolution by a vote, and the results were unanimously in favor of the academic boycott.
First-year biology major Karen Kaur Sidhu voiced her support of the ASA’s boycott.
“The impact of Israeli propaganda hurts Palestinian students, and it is our duty as American scholars to stop injustice,” Sidhu said. Campus group Students for Justice in Palestine was unavailable for comment about the boycott.
Third-year political science and religious studies double major Kevin Rudolph disagrees with the boycott.
“The ASA boycott neglects to realize that Israeli academics lead the way for peaceful solutions,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph is an active member of the UC Santa Barbara Jewish community and, during his time as an Associated Students senator, dealt with “A Resolution To Divest From Companies that Profit From Apartheid,” which proposed the campus’ divestment from Israeli companies last spring.
“I would say that boycotting is a negative option…invest in the Palestinians, don’t divest from Israel,” Rudolph said.
Referencing his anti-divestment campaign last spring, Rudolph said that he saw it as “putting students against each other in the most hostile manner I have ever witnessed.”
Third-year economics major Ned Tannenbaum, also an avid member of the Jewish community on campus, said that despite the ASA’s mission to further discussion in the American academic community, this boycott effectively increases polarity between the two communities and “stagnates discussion.”
“The solution is not black and white…boycott movements that perpetuate the same decade-long blame game do not belong at UCSB,” said Tannenbaum
In response to the boycott, UCSB’s Chancellor Henry Yang stated that the UCSB community is “committed to maintaining a free and open academic environment,” and that as a member of the Association of American Universities, he strongly opposes the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
“I join with President Napolitano, our AAU colleagues, and other academic leaders around the world in strongly supporting academic freedom and opposing academic boycotts,” said Yang.