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.

(page 2 of 2)

“They are organized and there are quite a few of them on campuses,” Simon Bonner, a professor of American studies at Penn State Harrisburg, said of academic activists who favor BDS.

Campus pro-Palestinian groups are energetic, Bonner said, and because of their single-issue focus they are likelier to get attention than Jewish student groups that are more diffuse in their activities, such as Hillel. In addition, he noted, Jewish groups tend more toward dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian issue than toward activism.

“Despite the stereotypes of Jewish power, if there is a Jewish position, it is one of dialogue,” Bonner told JTA.

The majority of speakers at Saturday’s event painted a different picture, saying their pro-Palestinian campus advocacy was likelier to result in retribution — although aside from hate mail, no one described how such retaliation was manifested.

Whatever the case, for an hour-and-a-half academics favoring boycotting Israeli universities exulted in a mirror image of the Washington in which pro-Israel often is pre-eminent. A number of the speakers, particularly Palestinians, said the American Studies Association and the field it represents is a refuge from what they describe as an American society that is uninterested in their viewpoint.

“The boycott would represent a form of cultural divestment that is perfectly in keeping with the materialist politics of much of the methodology in American studies,” said Steven Salaita, an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech.

Supporters of the resolution said its warm reception at the conference was a signal of a shift in public opinion.

Prior to the session, backers of the resolution gathered around a large table and welcomed passers-by with glossy pamphlets; opponents were barely visible. Two handouts topped by a handwritten note saying “Opposed to Boycott” sat on a table otherwise crowded with an array of conference literature.

“The ASA’s open meeting was a clear indication that the time of fear and of the blockade on debate may be over — and that there is a new climate in which critical discussion of Israel’s policies towards Palestine will no longer be taboo,” David Lloyd, a professor of English at the University of California, Riverside, wrote on the Electronic Intifada website.



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