American Studies Association Passes Academic Boycott of Israel

122013_American-Studies-Association1Members of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel almost two weeks after its national council unanimously endorsed a boycott resolution.

The results of the voting, which closed on Sunday, Dec. 15, were announced Monday; two-thirds of the members voted in favor.

The ASA, the nation’s oldest and largest association dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, has about 5,000 members, according to its website. Of those, 1,252 members voted online, the largest turnout in the organization’s history, with 66.05 percent endorsing the resolution, 30.5 percent voting against it and 3.43 percent abstaining.

The association called the resolution, which does not impede collaboration between individual scholars but in an official capacity and between institutions, an ethical decision. According to the ASA website, the move was made in “solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom.”

Rita Freedman (top), the JLC’s acting executive director, and Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network, have both voiced their disappointment with the vote. (Photos provided)

Rita Freedman (top), the JLC’s acting executive director, and Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network, have both voiced their disappointment with the vote. (Photos provided)

“The BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement has the clearly defined goals of ending the occupation, ending discrimination against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and ending forced exile and ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from their homes,” said Curtis Marez, president of the ASA and an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego, via email.

BDS is an international campaign against the Jewish state. Marez said he hopes the resolution leads to ongoing discussion within the ASA; the group has invited Israeli and Palestinian scholars to its 2014 convention.

Organizations such as the Israel Action Network, while disappointed in the vote, said this is not going to reshape the academic environment with regard to Israel.

“It is very troubling,” said Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network. “It does undermine academic freedom, but I think also it’s going to have limited symbolic significance.”

She said the ASA’s process in getting this resolution passed raises issues about open discourse and transparency. She said it didn’t allow membership to hear views opposing the resolution. In addition, Palast was concerned that at the ASA’s recent annual meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only pro-boycott panelists were featured.

According to a blog posted on CiF Watch, an affiliate of CAMERA (the Committee for Advocacy in Middle East Reporting in America), the ASA deleted comments opposing the resolution from its Facebook page; the ASA denied those allegations.

Palast noted that the ASA’s 5,000 members are far outnumbered by the 50,000 members of the American Association of University Professors, which wrote an open letter to the ASA expressing disappointment in the council’s endorsement of the resolution. In that letter, AAUP representatives said they are opposed to academic boycott as a manner of principle.

Eight former presidents of the ASA also wrote a letter to members of the organization urging them to reject the resolution.

“We believe academic boycotts to be antithetical to the mission of free and open inquiry for which a scholarly organization stands,” the letter said.

Palast also noted that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said boycotts of Israel are counterproductive; in an article published by the Times of Israel, Abbas is quoted as telling reporters, “We do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.”

Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said, “Rather than standing up for academic freedom and human rights by boycotting countries where professors are imprisoned for their views, the ASA chooses as its first-ever boycott to boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want.”

“The singling out of the Jewish state for boycott is no different than the many attempts throughout history to single out Jews and hold them to a different standard,” Dermer told The New York Times.

His sentiments were echoed by Harvard University President Emeritus Lawrence Summers, who spoke about the ASA boycott on the “Charlie Rose” talk show. While he opposes academic boycotts on principle, he said a boycott of Israel is worse.

“It is much worse because of all the countries in the world that might have human rights abuses … the idea that there’s only one that is worthy of boycott and that is Israel, one of very few countries whose neighbors regularly vow its annihilation, that that would be the one chosen is, I think, beyond outrageous,” said Summers, who served as the Secretary of the Treasury for President Clinton and the director of the National Economic Council for President Obama. “The choice of only Israel at a moment when Israel faces this kind of existential threat I think takes how wrong this is to a different level.”

The Jewish Labor Committee also issued a statement on Dec. 12 opposing the ASA academic boycott, saying it would hinder the exchange of scientific research, undermine hopes for a peaceful Israeli-Palestinian resolution and discourage an open discussion about the conflict.

“We at the JLC are very disappointed with the vote,” said Rita Freedman, the JLC’s acting executive director. “We hope that the organization reconsiders after having a balanced discussion of both sides of the issues, and we fear that it sets a precedent that may open it up for boycott resolutions by other organizations.”

She added that the resolution undermines the objectivity and stature of the ASA as an institution built on academic freedom and feels the decision will hinder the peace process.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder denounced the ASA’s boycott as well.

“This vote to boycott Israel, one of the most democratic and academically free nations on the globe, shows the Orwellian anti-Semitism and moral bankruptcy of the American Studies Association,” Lauder said in a statement.

“Clearly this is part of a strategy, and there’s going to more of it, and so everybody needs to be on the alert,” said Maryland Del. Dan Morhaim, who helped strike down a similar resolution in the American Public Health Association, an organization of which he is member.

At the group’s annual meeting, Morhaim found a resolution entitled “Improving Health in Occupied Palestinian Territory” among many resolutions that members had proposed. He said that not only did it condemn
Israel and urge the American public health community to divest from the country, but it was also factually inaccurate and selectively used sources.

Morhaim began contacting other members of the organization, which number more than 25,000, and spearheaded an effort that resulted in the defeat of the resolution.

A statement in opposition to the APHA resolution said it focused on one aspect of a broader problem, risked politicizing the organization and ignored several facts, such as Israel’s efforts to protect the health of Gaza residents, the fact that Hamas puts Gaza residents and Israelis at risk and that Israeli and Palestinian public officials collaborate on health-care issues in the West Bank.

Morhaim said it is important to be alert.

“You never know where these things will pop up,” he said.

On a local level, Chana Siff, associate director of Israel and government affairs for the Baltimore Jewish Council, said, “While no one would claim the situation in Israel is perfect, Israel is a vibrant democracy, where minorities are a large part of society. Attacking institutions and organizations that openly include minorities is ineffective.”

Siff said it’s important for the Baltimore community to keep up with the issues and understand the arguments and discussions at local and national levels.

Kidney Foundation Gift Challenge

A generous supporter has approached the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland (NKF-MD) with a matching gift challenge. If NKF-MD raises $200,000 by Dec. 31, the supporter — a private foundation with ties to a local kidney transplant recipient —will match that figure dollar for dollar, providing $400,000 in vital funds for the Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia kidney community. One out of every nine Americans has chronic kidney disease, and most don’t know it. One in three Americans are at risk of developing kidney disease, and that risk increases to one in two over the course of a lifetime.

Media Works Expands

Media Works, a Baltimore-based marketing and communications agency, is proud to announce the addition of four new clients: Chase Brexton Health Care, the Healthways’ SilverSneakers program, the University of New Hampshire and the College of Saint Rose. These four new clients came on board shortly after Media Works, Ltd., won the Maryland Lottery business earlier this summer.

Biova Gets Kosher Certified

Biova LLC, the global leader for water-soluble egg membrane ingredients, announced that it has received both kosher certification and halal certification for its entire line of branded ingredients, as well as for its production facilities. IFANCA certifies halal food products in more than 50 countries around the globe.

MVLS’s Malinowski Honored

Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service (MVLS) is pleased to announce that Carolyn Malinowski, managing attorney of MVLS’s Adult Protective Services and Guardianship Review Board Project, has been selected to receive the Benjamin L. Cardin Distinguished Service Award from the Maryland Legal Services Corporation.
The Benjamin L. Cardin Distinguished Service Award recognizes outstanding public interest attorneys who are regularly involved in providing, promoting or managing civil legal services.

UMD Medical Merges With Upper Chesapeake

The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and the board of directors of Upper Chesapeake Health (UCH) have announced that the merger of UCH into UMMS has been completed. The two health-care organizations began working together four years ago under a strategic affiliation agreement.

WPM Named To Top 5 Workplaces

For the second consecutive year, WPM Real Estate Management has been named one of the Top 5 Workplaces in the Baltimore area. WPM employs nearly 500 workers and manages more than 17,000 residential properties while also working with commercial, retail and industrial clients.

Spokes Expands, Hires

The Spokes Agency, a digital marketing advertisement firm based in Mount Washington, has announced the acquisition of Suburban Digital LLC and Mobile Scoops and the appointment of digital marketing expert Jason Cohen as vice president of digital services.

Formerly president of Rockit Digital, a company he founded to focus on digital marketing in the mid-Atlantic, Cohen brings more than 20 years of experience as a marketing manager and consultant. Cohen managed marketing campaigns for Pizza Hut, Sony, RJ Reynolds, MTV, Pepsi, M&M Mars, Comcast and the University of Maryland system, among others.

Health Fix

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the O’Malley administration is moving  forward with all hands on deck to fix the state’s health-care website  and enroll more Marylanders in insurance plans. (Marc Shapiro)

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the O’Malley administration is moving forward with all hands on deck to fix the state’s health-care website and enroll more Marylanders in insurance plans. (Marc Shapiro)

State officials say fixing Maryland’s flawed heath-care website and increasing enrollment is their No. 1 priority.

“I am frustrated and disappointed with how the launch of the website has gone,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said at a recent news conference.

He and Gov. Martin O’Malley announced a variety of steps Monday to boost enrollment and fix the site. Brown also promised an investigation into what went wrong with the site launch “once the exchange is running at full capacity.”

“The decision to launch was a good one notwithstanding that the launch was not a success,” Brown said.

O’Malley and Brown announced Tuesday that the deadline for Marylanders to enroll in health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act in order to have coverage on Jan. 1 has been extended to Dec. 27. Open enrollment lasts until March 31, 2014.

Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the governor’s Office of Health Care Reform, was named interim director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE). Her appointment comes after Rebecca Pearce resigned on Dec. 6; she was facing questions about taking a vacation to the Cayman Islands while there were technical issues with the website.

Two other states, Hawaii and Oregon, have had to replace their state exchange heads amid technical issues.

The MHBE brought in Columbia-based Optum/QSSI, a health-care IT company and general contractor that the government hired to improve HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange.

Isabel FitzGerald, secretary of the Maryland Department of Information Technology, is leading the IT effort and has since addressed nine technical issues O’Malley outlined in time for the mid-December deadline the governor promised.

At a news conference on Dec. 10, Brown reported that nearly 22,000 Maryland residents were on track to obtain coverage, 5,200 having enrolled in private insurance plans and 17,000 in Medicaid. That week, the state experienced its highest enrollment numbers, with 1,400 private insurance enrollments and 3,200 Medicaid enrollments.

The first weekend in December, the exchange converted 87,000 people enrolled in the state’s Primary Adult Care program for low-income uninsured adults without children to Medicaid.

Brown said the state’s original goal of enrolling 150,000 people in private insurance plans by the March deadline remains. Maryland’s uninsured population is estimated to be 800,000 people, about 14 percent of its 5.8 million residents.

Larry Burgee, chair and associate professor at Stevenson University’s Department of Information Systems, said regardless of the technical issues and fixes, people have lost trust in the website.

“People are worried they’re going to put all this personal information in and it’s going to get lost in the vacuum somewhere,” he said. “If you don’t establish trust up front … people are going to run for the hills and run for the competition, and unfortunately here, there’s no competition.”

Laslo Boyd, managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors and a political columnist, said the technical glitches, while disheartening to those seeking insurance, might not permanently turn people off.

“People who are discouraged [now] but discover the website is working easily have every incentive to come back to it,” he said.

To increase enrollment, Brown announced additional call center hours and outreach to those who have begun the application process but not completed it through emails, regular mail and robocalls, in addition to the December deadline extension.

Burgee said the push now needs to be on a non-political marketing effort, as well as addressing the technical issues.

“You’ve got to get people to buy back into it,” Burgee said. “Everybody keeps being told that all the stuff is going to be better, and yet, you had a lot of people who weren’t complaining about [insurance] they had.”

The extra resources follow a variety of issues that preceded and followed the launch.

Two carriers, Aetna and a subsidiary, Coventry Health, withdrew from the exchange in August when rates were set to be lower than what Aetna requested.

When the site launched on Oct. 1, Marylanders looking to sign up for insurance found a slow website, had trouble enrolling in plans and were dismayed at the amount of personal information they had to enter in order to get quotes.

Brown said he had indications that there would be problems with volume, as well as unique cases such as Native American families and larger families seeking insurance, but those problems were “nothing that amounted to what we saw on Oct. 1,” he said.

Marylanders were dealt another blow in November when the Maryland Insurance Administration was notified by carriers that 73,000 residents will lose their current insurance plans due to new federal requirements for comprehensive coverage.

While President Barack Obama promised a one-year extension on plans that were to be dropped, experts say he and Congress might not have the power to enforce that, and it is mostly in the hands of the insurance companies.

Experts such as Burgee hope the website gets fixed, and uninsured Marylanders get the coverage they need, but they aren’t feeling optimistic about the numbers.

“I really hope it works, but I am very skeptical,” Burgee said.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter
mshapiro@jewishtimes.com