American Studies Group Backs Israel Boycott

Academic Conference Turns Into Political Bash-Fest

It’s Academic: Boycott Israel proponents are taking their movement from the fringes, like this 2011 organizing conference, to mainstream academe. And they are having success.
It’s Academic: Boycott Israel proponents are taking their movement from the fringes, like this 2011 organizing conference, to mainstream academe. And they are having success.

By Ron Kampeas

Published November 27, 2013.
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(JTA) — For 90 minutes in a packed hotel conference room in the heart of Washington, Israel was the colonizer, the settler state, the perpetuator of apartheid.

As the annual meeting this weekend of the American Studies Association demonstrated, participants who favored boycotting Israeli universities far outnumbered those opposed.

Of 44 speakers, 37 supported the resolution, in which the association would endorse and “honor the call of Palestinian society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” The preamble to the resolution accused Israeli universities of complicity in the occupation.

The session Saturday evening was not determinative, however; it was an open invitation to the body’s membership to influence the association’s 20-person national council. The council was supposed to take up the resolution on Sunday morning, but by Tuesday evening it had not announced a decision.

“The national council meeting to discuss a resolution calling for the association to endorse a boycott of academic institutions in Israel remains open and deliberations are ongoing,” Curtis Marez, the group’s president, told JTA in an email.

Pro-Israel groups active on campuses were watching the session closely. Until now, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — known as BDS — has made few inroads into American academe. One exception is the Association for Asian American Studies, which in April passed a resolution in favor of boycotting Israeli academic institutions.

Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network, which organizes pro-Israel activism on campus, said the American Studies Association meeting, which attracted a crowd of some 250 people, was expected to be another victory for the BDS movement in part because the American studies field is dominated by left-leaning academics who tend toward tough critiques of what they see as U.S.-enabled imperialism.

“My concern about some of these smaller academic associations is that they get amplified out of proportion,” Palast said.

Some opponents of the resolution said that however unrepresentative the session was of broader American society, it represents a growing trend on campuses toward endorsement of the BDS movement.


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