5,000 US Profs Endorse 'Ethical' Boycott of Israeli Colleges

Monday, 16 Dec 2013 10:35 PM

By Cathy Burke

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A group representing 5,000 U.S. professors has endorsed an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities.

The American Studies Association says it voted for the boycott "as an ethical stance."

"It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians," a Dec. 4 statement said.

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According to The New York Times, which reported the boycott Monday, the action — the first time the group has called for an academic boycott of any nation's universities — makes the group the largest of its kind to back a movement aiming to isolate Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.

The academic group said the boycott doesn't apply to "individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange," including conferences, lectures, and research.

It justified the boycott, saying it was "warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel's violation of international law and U.N. resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students"; and "the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights."

"There was an incredible swell of applause and enthusiasm for the speakers who supported the boycott," University of California-Riverside professor David Lloyd told Al Jazeera.

"All expressed in different ways that this [boycott] was a fundamental matter of justice. This event indicates just how much things have shifted within the academy."

Curtis Marez, the group's president and an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego, told The Times that while other nations may have human-rights records worse than Israel's, "one has to start somewhere."

Ex-Harvard president and former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers slammed the boycott on the "Charlie Rose" show, saying the boycott singled out Israel and was "anti-Semitic in effect."

"My hope would be that responsible university leaders will become very reluctant to see their university's funds used to finance faculty membership and faculty travel to an association that is showing itself not to be a scholarly association but really more of a political tool," Summers said on the Dec. 10 program.

The American Association of University Professors, with 48,000 members, is also opposed to academic boycotts, saying they "strike directly at the free exchange of ideas."

Both The Times and Al Jazeera noted the vote appears to reflect a trend on U.S. campuses. Al Jazeera pointed out the specific growth of a group known as Students for Justice in Palestine.

In October, the Anti-Defamation League listed SJP on its list of "Top 10 Anti-Israeli Groups in America."

"SJP is one of those organizations that we feel — in terms of the tactics and messaging —  is hellbent on providing a very biased, non-nuanced version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not conducive to dialogue," Oren Seagal, director of ADL's Centre on Extremism, told Al Jazeera.

Brett Cohen, of the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, said SJP and other supporters of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions "are trying to fight the Middle East war on campus."

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