Brandeis Department Pulls Out of Group That Backs Israel Boycott

Withdraws From American Studies Association After Vote

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By Hody Nemes

Published December 19, 2013.
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A Brandeis University department withdrew its membership in the American Studies Association (ASA) yesterday, after the group’s controversial vote this week to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

The Brandeis American Studies department’s decision followed a similar move at Penn State on Tuesday, as reported in the Times of Israel.

“We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster,” the Brandeis American Studies department wrote in a statement posted to its website on Wednesday. “We remain committed to the discipline of American Studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture — freedom of association and expression.”

Simon Bronner, coordinator of Penn State Harrisburg’s graduate program in American Studies, also condemned the ASA in announcing his department’s withdrawal. “As a prominent program in American Studies concerned for the welfare of its students and faculty, Penn State Harrisburg is worried that the recent actions by the National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) do not reflect the longstanding scholarly enterprise American Studies stands for,” said Bronner, who is a non-voting member of the ASA’s national council and editor of its “American Studies Encyclopedia.”

“The withdrawal of institutional membership by our program and others allows us to be independent of the political and ideological resolutions issued by the ASA and concentrate on building American Studies scholarship with our faculty, students, and staff,” he said.

The ASA is a national academic society devoted to American Studies, which counts over 5,000 individuals and 2,200 libraries and institutions as members. Its national governing council announced its support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in a December 4 resolution.

“[T]here is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students,” the ASA’s resolution stated.

After passing the resolution, the ASA national council put it to a vote by the ASA’s membership. The measure, which is not binding on members, passed with support from two-thirds of the 1,252 members who voted in the online referendum, which ended on December 16.

John F. Stephens, executive director of the ASA, said he knows of no other institutions which have withdrawn their membership in the association, but eight individual members have resigned since the vote and forty-three have joined, as reported in Inside Higher Ed.

The ASA is one of three American academic associations now boycotting Israel. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association announced its own boycott against Israel this week, and the Association for Asian American Studies enacted a boycott in April.


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