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.

Read Rabbi Block’s full article, BDS: Biased, Dishonest, Self-Defeating on the Huffington Post website.



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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

About Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the URJ. See his full bio and other writings on the URJ website.

4 Responses to “ASA’s Boycott Should End ASAP”

  1. avatar

    while I can’t actively support the ASA stand for a boycott, as a Jew who was actively engaged in the Civil Rights movement here in the US, I’m deeply disturbed that Israel has buses where women are segregated to the back (where’s the Rosa Parks of Israel) and are assaulted for praying at the “men’s” section of the wall. And yes Arabs are allowed to vote but settlements continue in the West Bank. I lived in Israel, love Israel but shame on Israel for it’s intolerance for viewing women as full class citizens.

    • avatar
      Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman Reply December 27, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Yishar kochah, Rick, for your stand and statement. Both you and Rick Block hsve set an important path. We must confront the Boycott and Divestiture movement now, take it on and do our best to minimize its support. It gives significant credence and legitimacy to our crtiticisms of certain present Israeli government policies by clearly offering an open and balanced view. Our prior silences over the decades have positioned us at times as critics and only critics. This places us clearly as loving supporters of Israel, concerned about security and justice, fairness and balance.Again, kol hakavod!

  2. avatar

    I’m happy to say there are now over 50 Universities which have publicly rejected the boycott, and the number keeps growing.

    Vajra, please note that gender segregated public busses are illegal in Israel. There are now signs to that effect in busses, and drivers are not allowed to enforce such segregation.

  3. avatar

    Very well put. The state of moral blindness in American academia today is shameful. However, we must keep in mind that anti-Semitism is an enduring feature of world discourse. People have always hated Jews and they always will, even in the days of Moshiach (may he come quickly). What is important to remember is that G-d runs the show and the best way for us to strengthen the Jewish people is through Torah study and developing our own connection and commitment to our fellow Jews, our families, and our Jewish institutions. Too much of this has fallen by the wayside as we respond to external conflict, conflicts over which we have less control than we perceive.

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