BEIRUT: Members of a U.S.-based scholarly group redoubled their support for an academic boycott of Israel at a conference held by the American University of Beirut this week amid intense controversy and criticism from pro-Israel groups. Last month, the American Studies Association’s membership voted overwhelmingly to reject “formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.”
Since then, the organization has been forced to defend itself from a barrage of highly vocal critics who have accused the ASA of everything from anti-Semitism to threatening academic freedom.
At the conference this week, however, many ASA members reiterated their strong support for the motion.
“The boycott is also about the vision of a right to education for people; it’s about a right to democratic participation of all people and it’s about the right to land,” said Alex Lubin, a professor at AUB and ASA member.
Despite efforts to publish op-ed pieces explaining the ASA’s position, Lubin said the organization had “effectively been blocked out of [the] U.S. press.”
The reason, he said, was “donor dollars that come to them [the publications] from the Israel lobby.”
Lubin also said many Americans took issue with the comparison between the treatment of Palestinians and Native Americans.
“Americans don’t like to talk about their country as a settlement. To name Israel as a settlement is to talk about America as a settlement,” Lubin said.
Steven Saleita, also an ASA member, was undeterred by the criticism the organization has faced from the presidents of some universities who have condemned the boycott.
“University presidents follow money and they follow power. It’s actually a good gauge,” he told The Daily Star. “If you’re getting the blessing of university presidents then you’re probably not doing anything productive.”
While some institutions have withdrawn their support from ASA in light of the boycott, several new universities have registered for membership in recent weeks.
“We believe the ASA resolution has broken the taboo of standing against Israeli policies in the United States, joining international public opinion in condemning Israeli policies, and supporting Palestinian rights,” wrote several members of the American University of Cairo’s faculty in an open letter of support for the boycott.
ASA’s actions are part of a larger international movement known by its acronym, BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Since 2005, BDS has advocated tactics reminiscent of the international movement against apartheid South Africa in an effort to pressure businesses, governments and institutions to cut ties with the Israeli state over its treatment of Palestinians and flagrant breaches of international law.
“The BDS Movement is rapidly growing across the globe, and Zionists understand it as a threat to the status quo of Israel’s settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid,” said J. Kehaulani Kauanui, a member of the ASA National Council. “The ASA resolution is an important ethical stand, one that contributes to the refusal to normalize Israel.”