UC responds to boycott of Israeli academic institutions

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The American Studies Association (ASA), an organization devoted to the studies of American culture and history, recently announced the endorsement of a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The resolution, whose passage was announced on Dec. 16, 2013, has spawned some criticism by a handful of universities across the nation — including the University of California — who have rejected the boycott, fearing that the resolution could subvert academic exchange and speech by scholars.

The ASA cites Israel’s alleged denial of Palestinian basic rights as the motivating factor behind the boycott. The association claims that Israel’s occupation of Palestine has had a negative impact on the educational opportunities and human rights of Palestinians and calls for a boycott of Israeli institutions that are “complicit in discrimination and occupation.” The ASA says it is targeting institutions, not individual scholars and claims that it is in solidarity with students and scholars who are allegedly being deprived of academic freedoms by Israeli occupation.

“Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation … It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” reads part of the resolution.

David Lloyd, an English professor at UC Riverside, was one of the ASA members who participated in drafting and proposing the resolution. He recently spoke with the Highlander and offered a statement regarding the resolution’s passage.

“The main aim of those who advocate for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel … encourage a broadly based civil society movement,” he said. “The ASA resolution may represent a tipping point in that process, as discussion not only of boycott, but also of the realities of daily life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation and colonial settlement, becomes more normal and acceptable publicly.”

Lloyd is one of just a handful of UC professors who have publicly endorsed the boycott. Others include UCR English professor Fred Moten and distinguished professor of history at UCLA Robin D.G. Kelly.

But not everyone is celebrating the resolution’s passage. To date, an estimated 100 universities across the nation have rejected it, claiming it has the power to potentially curtail the freedom of teachers to work with other academic colleagues, and some have called the resolution an example of an unfair double standard against Israel.

UC President Janet Napolitano was one of many university leaders to respond to the resolution. In a press release, Napolitano condemned its passage, stating, “An academic boycott goes against the spirit of the University of California, which has long championed open dialogue and collaboration with international scholars.”

The Highlander also contacted the UCR chancellor’s office for further comment on the matter. A statement from the university read: “Janet Napolitano’s statements represent the UC administration.”

Several UC leaders have also denounced the resolution since, including chancellors from Berkeley, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, also claiming that the resolution can subvert academic freedom and limit the exchange of knowledge between scholars.

In defense of the resolution, UCR professor Fred Moten also argued that the boycott does not target individual scholars. Instead, he said, it actually recognizes their academic freedom. “The boycott, as has been well established, does not bar dialogue and collaboration with international scholars, including Israeli scholars,” he stated.

Professor Lloyd went on to add that he isn’t surprised that academic institutions’ leaders would choose to condemn the boycott. He cited an example from the 1980s where then-UC-President David Gardner also condemned the divestment movement against South Africa, a movement which he says is “now virtually universally recognized to have been a just cause and an effective if partial measure against apartheid.” He added: “It is precisely because neither academic institutions’ leadership nor political leaders will shift on such issues without facing public pressure that the boycott movement is conceived as a broadly based civil society movement.”

The Highlander attempted to contact additional sources for more input and information on the subject, but no responses have been provided as of presstime.

The resolution was conceived by the ASA International Committee in 2006, in response to Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, according the the ASA’s website. In 2012, a resolution was finally drafted and submitted to the association’s executive committee. By Dec. 2013, the resolution was passed with 66 percent of the voting members endorsing it.

 

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