ASA’s Boycott Should End ASAP
Like many of you, I have been disturbed by the American Studies Association’s (ASA) vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions. As outraged as I am about the ASA’s decision, I am gratified by the many strong and clear reactions from the academic community. As of today there are 33 U.S. universities that have made public statements rejecting the ASA’s boycott, which is in addition to American Association of Universities, the umbrella organization for 62 major universities and university-systems, and the Association of American University Professors, both of which reject the boycott.
One of the delights of my job as a rabbi is to engage with young people, especially on college campuses. I have seen clearly what these prominent academic institutions see in rejecting the boycott. One’s college years are a time of inquiry and debate, a time to read and learn and exchange ideas, to learn about the other, to test your own ideas and those with whom you disagree in the free marketplace of ideas. Academic boycotts are not only counter-productive, but profoundly counter to the very premise of higher learning.
The ASA’s act of demonizing one country out of 194 countries in the world—and a vibrant democracy at that— is a case study in intellectual dishonesty and moral blindness. To suggest that Israel should be barred from providing its rich contributions to academic scholarship is a notion based on a distortion of political reality, for Israel remains a democracy for all of its citizens—Jewish and Arab, a nation maintaining its democracy while facing daunting challenges in the face of many denying its right to exist, a nation where world- class academic research is conducted and open inquiry is encouraged. The Reform Movement is proud to engage with Israeli institutions of higher learning. We are encouraged that so many academic institutions feel likewise.
Our Movement has long engaged in thoughtful debates regarding Israel’s challenges and encourages others to do the same, but a boycott is antithetical to such debates. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians will be resolved through negotiation, not by prohibiting academic interchanges between American and Israeli universities.
I want to share the following essay by my friend and colleague Rabbi Rick Block, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and a member of the URJ Oversight Committee. Rabbi Block speaks compellingly on this issue.
Deciding to boycott Israeli academic institutions, the American Studies Association has aligned itself with the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, disinvestment, and sanctions against Israel. The ASA resolution, approved by voters who received only pro-BDS materials and no opposing viewpoints, illustrates the moral and political bankruptcy of this approach to one of the world’s most complex conflicts.