The American Studies Association (ASA) adoption of a BDS resolution in December 2013 garnered a significant backlash from over 250 American university presidents and academic umbrella organizations announcing their rejection of the ASA boycott resolution.
Additionally, more than 130 lawmakers in the House of Representatives signed a bipartisan letter condemning the ASA’s "blatant disregard for academic freedom." New York State assemblymen have proposed a measure that would forbid state funding to academic institutions that "support boycotts, resolutions or any similar actions that are discriminatory and limit academic opportunities."
These measures indicate a strong political consensus in opposition to the ASA and the idea of boycotts, even if their ultimate disposition is uncertain. Of course, shortly after passing the resolution, the ASA bemoaned what it labeled a "campaign of intimidation against the ASA" and of course blamed the "Israel Lobby" for orchestrating the negative reactions.
Despite the criticism the ASA received since they voted on their BDS policy, not to mention the lack of critical self-examination by individuals who pride themselves on true inquiry as to why support the boycott of Israeli scholars and institutions, now the ASA is now adding insult to injury with their recent fund raiser entitled the American Studies Middle East Initiative Fund.
According to their website, "The ASA International Initiative has represented the Association’s desire for greater interaction with international scholars. The Association’s decision to endorse a Palestinian-led boycott of Israeli academic institutions underscores in particular the need for a deeper engagement with the constitutive history of US policies and practices not only in Israel/Palestine but also across the entire region, including Iraq and Syria. This Fund will defray the cost of travel for scholars across the Middle East to attend our Annual conference, as their participation is invaluable to our understanding of the US and the region."
To summarize, the ASA seeks "deeper engagement" across the Middle East but advocates boycotting Israel and Israeli scholars. The ASA sees the need to examine "constitutive history" but has effectively removed Israel from the Middle East and Middle Eastern history. This is glaring hypocrisy.
The stated aims of the BDS movement are nothing short of the dissolution of Israel and its replacement with a bi-national, majority Palestinian entity. That the BDS movement and its supporters, endorsed by the ASA, continue to embrace to a platform to single out Israel as absolutely the worst society on earth is distressing and is nothing less than a "ready-made conclusion" of the extreme sort.
On the positive side, some in the ASA’s own membership, such as the Eastern American Studies Association (EASA) and its California counterpart, have rejected the general call for boycott within the ASA. Members of the ASA will continue to stand up against the polemists in the organization.
One has to wonder what kind of outcry would have erupted from the ASA and their Middle East Initiative Fund had a small minority of their membership called for Palestinians to be boycotted on the basis of their racist, homophobic and misogynist society, or Syria, because of its murderous totalitarianism, or Turkey for its century-long repression of Kurds and unacknowledged extermination of Armenians. The outrage would have been immense and entirely proper.
The EASA got it right when they made it clear that "above all, EASA is an inclusive organization, open to scholars from all over the world. For this reason, the Eastern American Studies Association will not comply with and does not support the American Studies Association’s Council Resolution on Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions" endorsing "a boycott of Israeli academic institutions."
Before the ASA starts creating funds under the guise of "constitutive history," it should look inward and demand the kind of inclusiveness it supposedly calls for.
Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and co-author of "Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).