On Dec. 27, CUNY’s Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly released a statement condemning the American Studies Association’s (ASA) decision to support the ongoing U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI.)
On Dec. 4, the ASA – the nation’s oldest and largest association that is devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history – announced that its members had approved a boycott on Israeli academic institutions.
The ASA says this boycott emerges from the U.S. support of Israel, Israeli violation of international law and the “documented impact” the Israeli occupation of Palestine has on Palestinian professors and students.
However, in his statement, Chancellor Kelly wrote, “The free exchange of ideas is at the heart of the academic enterprise.”
CUNY’s chancellor is not the only university representative who has publicly condemned the ASA on their decision to express their political opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to The New York Times, the presidents of 80 other universities have come out against the decision, and institutions such as Bard College and Indiana University have withdrawn their membership from the association. Some have also argued that the ASA’s decision to academically boycott Israel is counter productive and even undemocratic.
The ASA argues that they held a legitimate election that acknowledged individuals varying opinions within their association and did not force anyone to vote in favor of the boycott, or vote at all for that matter, making their resolution a symbolic one and not one capable of being enforced.
Yet, the election drew the largest number of ASA participants in the organization’s history, making their strong political opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict known. From their 5,000-member association, a total of 1,252 votes were submitted from which an overwhelming 66.05 percent voted to endorse the boycott while 30.5 percent voted against it, and a 3.43 percent abstained.
This Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is unprecedented here in the U.S., unlike the U.K. where there has been opposition to Israel’s occupation on behalf of academic institutions for some time. The USACBI originated in California where a number of professors from different institutions began this movement as an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine.
The ASA boycott could mark the beginning of a larger academic movement that could grow even further such as in the case of the campaign against South African apartheid, which is what many of the ASA boycott supporters use as a historical comparison and reference.
Using South African apartheid as a historical comparison and reference is crucial in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role a Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions movement can play within it.
“ASA members condemned apartheid in South Africa and urged divestment from U.S. corporations with operations there.
More recently the ASA condemned anti-immigrant discrimination in Arizona and in other states,” said Curtis Marez, president of the ASA.
“The current boycott resolution responds to a request from the Palestinian people, including Palestinian academics and students, to act in solidarity,” Marez continued. “Because the U.S. contributes materially to the Israeli occupation, through significant financial and military aid – and, as such, is an important ally of the Israeli state – and because the occupation daily confiscates Palestinian land and devastates Palestinian lives, the ASA resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions takes on a particular urgency.”
In response to Kelly’s statement, CUNY chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as other students organizations in New York, published a letter to the chancellor slamming his condemnation for the boycott. The letter reads: “ASA’s endorsement is an expression of academic freedom, whose commitments to social equality, anti-racism and anti-colonialism have been at the forefront of critical transformations in the humanities and the social sciences.”
In the print version of this article published on February 2014, the text for this article, which appeared on page 4 of the print issue, was replaced by the text of the article which appeared on page 3. The headline and byline remained the same despite the body of the article being out of place.
On behalf of the staff, the editor-in-chief (Percy Lujan) would like to apologize for any confusion this may have caused.