The great center of American Jewish opinion has weighed in on the American Studies Association’s Dec. 16 vote to boycott Israeli universities and has found it to be a hostile, hypocritical and offensive decision. We agree.
What unites center-right and center-left against the resolution — which incorrectly claims that there is “no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation” — is that it treats Israel and the territories as a single entity. In so doing, the ASA is eliminating the opportunity for a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As we have said many times, the alternative — a single state of Israeli Jews and Palestinians — would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
One might wonder why ASA chose to direct its attention toward Israel, since there are many and much larger countries whose egregious human rights violations pale in comparison to the allegations leveled against Jerusalem. When asked by The New York Times why ASA singled out Israel, the group’s president, Curtis Marez, blithely responded, “One has to start somewhere.”
That casual dismissal of Israel smells to some like anti-Semitism. “A campaign that starts with Israel, I fear, will end with Israel,” Jeffrey Goldberg wrote on Bloomberg.com. “One starts with Israel because one can.” Former Harvard president Larry Summers said he considers boycotts of Israel “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.”
The ASA’s statement speaks broadly of “Israeli occupation of Palestine,” wholly blurring the distinction between Israel proper and the territories and raising the question of whether the ASA believes Israel should exist at all. In a debate about the resolution last week on Democracy Now, Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors, which opposes academic boycotts, drilled down to the essence of what’s wrong with the ASA’s position:
“It’s not fundamentally about academic freedom. It’s not even fundamentally about boycotting Israeli universities,” he said. “This effort within the ASA is part of a long-term effort to delegitimize the State of Israel.”
“This is the fundamental problem,” agreed Peter Beinart on The Daily Beast. The ASA is “denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one.”
For that reason, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has come out against such boycotts. As a proponent of a two-state solution, Abbas opposes boycotts of Israel proper. And while center-left and center-right may disagree on how best to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, for both sides the legitimacy of Israel is unquestioned.
Those behind academic boycotts do the academy, the free exchange of knowledge and the Palestinian cause no favors. What they have accomplished, whether naively or cynically, is an attack on Israel’s legitimacy. And for that, the ASA receives a flunking grade.