It is not surprising that the recent vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) to promote a boycott of Israeli universities was quickly denounced by academic leaders across the country. It will do nothing to advance peace and goes against longstanding principles of academic freedom. It is premised on the faulty logic of the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, which appears to believe that demonizing Israelis, raising the level of hostility, and blocking efforts to normalize relations through positive contact between Israelis and Palestinians will somehow promote peace. The BDS agenda is not supported by the facts, does not reflect the reality of shared responsibility for the peace process, and has become a hindrance to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
A sharp backlash to the ASA boycott has developed, and over 100 universities have condemned and rejected the ASA boycott endorsement. In addition, the boycott has been opposed by numerous ASA members including seven past presidents of the ASA. A recent New York Times article provides a good summary of the reaction to the ASA boycott from the academic community. To the best of our knowledge, not a single American academic institution has come out in support of the ASA boycott. Several universities have, in fact, terminated their institutional memberships in the ASA. It is important to note, as the New York Times article does, that ASA is a very small group. In contrast, large, very prominent higher-education organizations, including the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education, and the Association of American Universities have denounced the boycott efforts. In a written statement, the president of the Council of Education, Molly Corbett Broad, called the boycott actions “misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom.”
What occurred at the recent ASA meeting reflected long-established tactics of the BDS activists. Members of influential committees were lobbied intensely to support boycotting Israeli academic institutions. The general membership, consisting mostly of well-intentioned people with limited knowledge of Israel/Palestine, was subjected to a series of one-sided workshops and presentations depicting Israelis as cruel and ruthless oppressors and Palestinians as innocent, non-violent victims. A concerted effort was made to block opposing voices from being heard. No mention was made of Palestinian factions, most notably Hamas, which openly call for the destruction of Israel and violence against Israeli civilians.
The Presbyterian Church (USA), along with several other Christian religious denominations, is a major recruitment target of the international BDS movement activists. In spite of consistent rejection by general assemblies over the last 10 years, BDS advocates will be back this summer at the Presbyterian General Assembly meeting in Detroit, recycling the same flawed materials and arguments. We as Christians are called to act as peacemakers, focused on bringing parties in conflict together in an atmosphere of mutual respect, dialogue, and reconciliation. We are encouraged by the overwhelming response of the American academic community in opposition to the ASA boycott, and hope the Presbyterian community will do the same at the GA meeting this summer.