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Flatiron Hot! News | January 17, 2018

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The American Studies Association Disgraces Itself With Attack on Israeli Universities

The American Studies Association Disgraces Itself With Attack on Israeli Universities
Eugene Kaplan

By Eugene Kaplan, PhD. Author, Axinn Distinguished Professor of Conservation and Ecology Emeritus, Hofstra University

The American Studies Association is “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” In short, it is an organization that is concerned with American culture.

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Why, then, did its administration send around a questionnaire asking members if they should boycott Israeli institutions? Out of the blue, they disseminate a politically oriented issue-related questionnaire about an issue in the Middle East. Why, with the entire region embroiled in sectarian violence, have they chosen to target Israel?

The American Association of University Professors, the major organization of American scholars, did not disseminate such a questionnaire. Why did this group of specialists in American culture do it? Do they see themselves as representatives of scholars-at-large? What percentage of the organization’s members accept this opinion?

The ASA is a comparatively small organization of teachers and specialists in a particular discipline (as is the comparable British organization boycotting Israeli institutions). AAUP has 40,000 members and ASA has 5,000. Why did no comparable disciplinary organizations throughout the world propose this sort of boycott if Israel’s actions are so uniquely worthy of condemnation?  Every discipline has its own membership, most larger than the ASA. Why does an obscure group take it upon themselves to plunge into an international political issue based on this premise:  “…solidarity with the (Palestinian) scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom”?

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Anyone familiar with the issue knows that Israel does not seek to curb the academic freedom of Palestinian educational institutions. It does not interfere with the dissemination of anti-Israel (and antisemitic) texts in the elementary schools in Gaza, the West Bank (documented by UNESCO) or the international community. It does not interfere with publications produced by Palestinian universities sent to peer-reviewed journals. In fact, there are substantial numbers of Palestinian students in all Israeli colleges, medical schools and universities, especially University of Haifa and Ben Gurion University (including a substantial program aimed at the Bedouin). They are free to express themselves in the only democratic country in the Middle East.

Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University and Simon Bonner, Chair of American Studies at Pennsylvania State University, among many others, have taken the time to condemn this oddly suspicions position taken by a relatively obscure group of academics specializing in an unrelated field.

As any scholar knows, the free flow of ideas and researchers is essential to the intellectual process. It is extraordinary how a supposedly scholarly group displays this flagrant lack of academic integrity. Every intellectual should be horrified by the ASA’s disregard for the thought process that lies behind research and the dissemination of research. It is not just the clear political bias exhibited in this boycott that disgraces the ASA. It is the ignorance of the basic protocols of research.

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The ASA has become infamous as the result of its ill-conceived blunder into politics. Let us hope that its mistake does not cause a de facto boycott of the organization by the world’s intellectuals.