Major US Academic Association Endorses Academic Boycott of Israel

  December 16, 2013

Major US Academic Association Endorses Academic Boycott of Israel

Journalist and author Ali Abunimah says that the endorsement of BDS by the American Studies Association (ASA) does not target individuals, only academic institutions complicit in denying the rights of Palestinians
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Ali Abunimah is co-founder of the award-winning online publication The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. His latest book is titled The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Based in Chicago, he has written hundreds of articles on the question of Palestine in major publications including The New York Times, The Guardian and for Al Jazeera.


Major US Academic Association Endorses Academic Boycott of IsraelJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On December 16, the membership of the American Studies Association endorsed the boycott to end Israel violations of Palestinian rights.

ASA is the largest and oldest association devoted to interdisciplinary study of American culture and history. In the resolution, it says, quote:

"We believe that the ASA's endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel's violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA."

Now joining us to discuss all of this is Ali Abunimah. Ali is the cofounder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and author of the forthcoming book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

Thanks for joining us, Ali.


DESVARIEUX: So, Ali, just right off the top, can you just break down what exactly is in this resolution?

ABUNIMAH: Yes. The members of the American Studies Association voted to endorse a Palestinian civil society call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, institutions that are complicit in Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and other human rights abuses.

So what this means on a symbolic level, of course, is that it's a statement of solidarity with Palestinians whose rights are being violated. In practice, it means that the ASA itself will not undertake joint projects and other institutional connections with Israeli universities and other academic institutions and will not accept funding from those institutions. And it advises its members, who, as you mentioned, are 5,000 scholars, among them very prominent American scholars, from doing the same.

What it does not do--and I think this is very important because of the amount of sort of misrepresentation that's being put about--this is not a boycott of individuals. It doesn't stop Israeli researchers from traveling to the United States, from participating in conferences, from conducting their research. And so it doesn't call for a boycott of individuals, except to the extent that any individuals, Israeli or otherwise, are specifically representing Israeli institutions that are complicit or the Israeli government. They do in fact lay all that out in quite a clear statement.

DESVARIEUX: Ali, I want to get to what the critics are saying. You have voices saying that this is not promoting the free exchange of ideas, which is what academia should be all about. What's your response?

ABUNIMAH: Well, that's something a number of scholars who have supported the boycott have responded to. And they said that, you know, I mean, there's nothing that requires people to collaborate with Israeli government institutions in order to promote the free exchange of ideas. People are free to exchange ideas as they see fit. They don't need to work with the Israeli government or with Israeli institutions that are complicit in human rights abuses in order to promote free ideas. The resolution simply doesn't do anything to prevent free exchange of ideas.

And, in fact, what's been so interesting is the amount of debate and discussion that this resolution has generated. As you know, the issues of Israel's abuses of Palestinian rights is really something of a taboo in the United States and in American media. But precisely as a result of this resolution, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of stories in the media discussing this issue. So if anything, it has promoted debate, where before there was a great deal of silence.

DESVARIEUX: Ali, can you speak to specific examples of those Israeli institutions violating or denying Palestinians' basic human rights?

ABUNIMAH: Absolutely. There's really too many, but I can give you a few examples.

Every Israeli University works very closely with the Israeli military that is occupying and confiscating Palestinian land, both in terms of recruitment and training and other activities on campuses, but also, very importantly, in terms of weapons research and research that is used directly, its products are used directly to violate human rights and to violate Palestinian rights.

Tel Aviv University is built on the ruins of several Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed in 1948, and the university has refused even to acknowledge that, refused even to place a historical marker like the historical markers we have in the United States all over the place commemorating historical crimes on this continent. Hebrew University, part of Hebrew University in Jerusalem is built on land confiscated from Palestinians since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank. The IDC Herzliya institute actually directly participates in Israeli government propaganda, setting up so-called war rooms during Israeli attacks on Gaza and encouraging students to post pro-government comments on Facebook and other social media. So those are just a few examples of direct complicity with the Israeli military machine in the occupation.

It's also important to note that none of these Israeli institutions has taken a position against Israel's violations of Palestinian rights.

And I think it's very important, a very important point, and one I hear the American Studies Association making, is that universities are not ethics-free zones. You don't go onto campus and leave your ethics and morals behind. But that seems to be what some of the critics of this resolution are saying, that university professors and faculty and students should not ever consider the ethical consequences of the work they do. And, of course, universities themselves all have very strict ethics guidelines. And I think what supporters of the academic boycott are saying is that we should be applying those kinds of ethics to Israeli universities as well.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Ali Abunimah, thank you so much for joining us.

ABUNIMAH: My pleasure. Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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