American Studies Association Boycott Resolution – Frequently Asked Questions

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TAKE ACTION: If you are a member of the American Studies Association, it is still as relevant as ever to sign on & support the academic boycott resolution –

The ASA Caucus on Academic and Community Activism has presented a Resolution to the ASA Executive Committee to honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. This Resolution is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for freedom, justice and equality. Here we provide ASA members with answers to frequently asked questions. If you are an ASA member, please sign up and share with other ASA members:

1) What is the BDS Movement?

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions is one prong of a global justice movement that is anchored in international law and universal principles of human rights. This movement aims to end Israel”s violations of Palestinian rights.

On July 9, 2005 – one year after the historic Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which found Israel”s Wall built on occupied Palestinian territory to be illegal – an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society groups and organizations called upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel. These are nonviolent measures similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. Please note that our reference to South Africa is not radical, and should not be seen as controversial: Israel”s legalized system of racial discrimination against the Palestinian people meets the apartheid criteria as defined in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. That is to say, Israel”s legalized system of racial discrimination meets the apartheid criteria as defined under normative international law.

2) What is the Academic Boycott?

The ASA Resolution has been generated in solidarity with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), whose Call for a targeted, institutional – as opposed to blanket – academic and cultural boycott of Israel is widely endorsed by Palestinian civil society and is a key component of the global BDS movement. In 2009, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was established in solidarity with PACBI, and has nearly 1000 endorsements from US academics, and support from leading scholars in American studies as well as other fields (

PACBI advocates a boycott of Israeli academic (and cultural) institutions, given that these institutions are complicit in the multi-tiered system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights. This complicity has been extensively documented, and manifests through direct research and production of military technologies – as with the Israeli Institute of Technology (Technion)”s partnerships with Israeli weapons manufacturers, such as Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Elbit Systems, and Tel Aviv University”s development of weapon systems used by the occupation army in committing grave violations of human rights. This complicity manifests as well through discriminatory treatment of Palestinian students – as in the university administrations” crackdown on (and, at times, banning of) Palestinian cultural events and political protests, the surveillance of Palestinian student activism, and the ban on Palestinian students running for student government office at Safed Academic College.

In addition, there is a close connection between Israeli academe and intelligence/military personnel; campuses are overtly militarized by the presence of armed soldiers. Haifa University and Hebrew University have special programs for military intelligence and training for the Shin Bet (the security service known for its torture techniques), and members of the military and Shin Bet serve on administrative boards of Israeli universities. The Hebrew University”s Mount Scopus campus is partially built on Palestinian land in occupied East Jerusalem (illegally confiscated by Israel in 1968), in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Other Israeli institutions are also built on illegally confiscated Palestinian land. Israeli academic institutions are part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of the Zionist settler-colonial project, and as such are deeply implicated in maintaining the structures of domination and oppression over the Palestinian people.

The depth of the partnership between the academy and the security-military establishment in Israel is best described by one of the proponents of this partnership, TAU Professor Avraham”©Katzir, who argues that the close collaboration between academia and the military in Israel “doesn”t happen elsewhere,” as there is a “disconnect between the [academic] workshops and the army” in the US and Europe.

3) Why, given that ASA has such little contact with Israel or Israeli institutions, should ASA take on an issue some may view as “divisive”?

As an organization with a longstanding commitment to social justice, the ASA has a responsibility to take a position on one of the leading social justice and human rights issues of our time. As Robin D. G. Kelley has explained, “what Israel constitutes is the most blatant example of settler-colonialism existing in the world right now.” As an organization that represents a leading voice in the humanities and cultural studies, and indeed on contemporary issues nationwide, the ASA is in a unique position to articulate its commitment to social justice and its opposition to extant projects of settler colonialism and racial exclusion, and to help lead the way nationally for other institutions to take part in this worldwide solidarity movement. The ASA would be following in the path paved by the Association of Asian American Studies, which in April 2013 endorsed the academic boycott of Israel in affirmation of its commitment to antiracist and anticolonial solidarity.

Moreover, the United States is the largest contributor of military and foreign aid to the State of Israel. While the international community, especially the International Court of Justice, has sought to condemn as illegal the Israeli wall and settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, the U.S., using its veto in the UN Security Council, will not allow any effective international response to Israeli occupation or any attempt to make Israel comply with its obligations under international law. Whether we ourselves take a stand on the question of Palestine or not, our tax dollars are funding a system of occupation, colonization and apartheid that daily violates Palestinian academic and other freedoms. Embracing the academic boycott is one way that we can encourage a non-violent response to our own, as well as Israeli, intransigence on this issue.

The academic boycott of South Africa, which was ultimately supported by academic associations and institutions around the world, was also “divisive” and “controversial” for decades, as it challenged an oppressive regime that had its own powerful supporters and beneficiaries who defended it under various pretexts. Still, that did not prevent people of conscience, including artists and academics, to take a moral stand in solidarity with the oppressed and in defense of their basic rights.

4) Would Israeli scholars be able to participate in the ASA conference in general, even if they relied on Israeli university funding?

Yes. This boycott aims at the practice of institutions and their representatives, not at individual scholars, students or artists. PACBI”s call strongly affirms the right of individuals to academic freedom and holds institutions responsible to protecting those rights irrespective of nationality, race or religion. It targets institutional behavior rather than the individual right to opinion. In doing so, it sets an important and consistent standard for institutional protection of academic freedom as a universal right that is in harmony with other human rights, not a nationally or ethnically determined right that excludes some on the basis of their national, ethnic, religious or any other identity.

5) Does the boycott resolution prevent me from working with or inviting Israeli scholars, Palestinian scholars in Israel, and/or collaborating with Palestinian research institutions in Israel?

Again, the PACBI guidelines focus on institutions, not individuals. The boycott opposes participation in conferences or events held at or sponsored – even if partially – by Israeli universities, given their complicity in Israel”s violations of international law and human rights. If the collaboration or event is not funded or sponsored by an official Israeli body or complicit institution, and does not violate any of the above criteria, in the absence of official Israeli or other complicit institutional sponsorship, the work of an individual Israeli academic per se is not boycottable.

For more information on the specific guidelines for boycott, see the extensive sheet of questions, available here:

6) Does the boycott resolution unfairly single out Israel? After all there are many unjust states in the world?

The boycott resolution responds to a request from the Palestinian people, and Palestinian academics and students, to act in solidarity. Because the U.S. contributes materially to the Israeli occupation, through significant financial and military aid – and, as such, is an important ally of the Israeli state – and because the occupation daily confiscates Palestinian land and devastates Palestinian lives, there is some urgency to act now while there is still time to imagine a peaceful and just solution. Moreover we are all implicated in this political issue through our inaction, which sanctions US support for illegal occupation, and through our tax dollars that enable this decades-old regime of occupation and apartheid. The boycott resolution makes a powerful statement that we reject business as usual and allows us to modestly offset the adverse effect of our government”s abuse of our tax dollars.

7) Wouldn’t academic boycott be a violation of academic freedom?

Under the status quo, the academic freedom of Palestinian academics and students is severely hampered, if not altogether denied, by the Israeli state and its complicit institutions, including universities and research centers. Palestinian universities have been bombed, schools have been closed, scholars and students have been deported, and in some cases killed. Palestinian scholars and students have their mobility and academic careers restricted by an apartheid system that limits freedoms by selectively awarded permits, residential location, last names, and license plates. Many Palestinian scholars cannot travel easily, if at all, for conferences or research because they are forbidden from flying from the Tel Aviv airport. In this situation of grave injustice, by doing nothing we give sanction to the negation of Palestinian academic freedom, particularly if our own government is the main enabler of this injustice. As Marin Luther King, Jr. once said, boycott is basically about “withdrawing support for an evil policy or system.” Academic freedom cannot exist under occupation and apartheid. When the occupation is ended, when Palestinian refugees are allowed their UN-sanctioned rights, and when Palestinians in Israel are extended equal rights, we will have produced the conditions for affirming academic freedom in the general context of respect for human rights for all humans, irrespective of identity and origin.

In addition, as Palestinian, Israeli and other scholars have noted, Israeli academic freedom is often invoked to rebut arguments for a boycott that seeks to extend academic freedom to Palestinians. This rationale only helps to perpetuate the settler-colonial regime, and perverts the meaning and intention of academic freedom itself.

Finally, if academic freedom is understood as the exclusive right of a privileged group, then, as in the case of South Africa, the right to live in dignity and freedom is superior to maintaining such privileges of a segment of the colonial society. Some scholars, like Israeli-British academic Oren Ben-Dor, argue that an academic boycott of Israel would in fact promote academic freedom that is currently curtailed by the state when it comes to the most profound issues related to this colonial conflict.

In defending Stephen Hawking”s decision to boycott a conference in Israel, a Boston Globe editorial indirectly defends the BDS movement, saying:

“[Stephen Hawking”s] decision to withdraw from a conference is a reasonable way to express one”s political views. Observers need not agree with Hawking”s position in order to understand and even respect his choice. The movement that Hawking has signed on to aims to place pressure on Israel through peaceful means. In the context of a Mideast conflict that has caused so much destruction and cost so many lives, nonviolence is something to be encouraged.”



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