Boycott Israel illustration.
Boycott Israel sign (illustration) Photo by Dreamstime
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The American Studies Association’s membership has voted decisively in favor of an academic boycott on Israel, the association announced Monday.

The organization said that 1,252 of its approximately 5,000 members had cast electronic ballots over the last several days, a rate of participation it termed an all-time high. Of these, 66 percent supported the boycott motion, which was approved unanimously by the ASA’s national council 10 days ago. The supporters included several Jewish scholars.

The decision made ASA the largest American academic organization thus far to support an anti-Israel boycott.

But the association stressed that the boycott does not prevent its members from engaging in research cooperation or joint publications with individual Israeli scholars. Rather, it bars the ASA as an organization from “formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government."

“We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA,” the national council said in a statement announcing the decision.

In an earlier statement issued after the council approved the boycott 10 days ago, it said it viewed the academic boycott “as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians."

ASA President Curtis Marez said at the time that “The boycott is the best way to protect and expand academic freedom and access to education. Palestinian academics are frequently impeded by Israeli occupation authorities, schools and universities have been bombed by U.S.-supported Israeli military forces, and the Wall blocks educational access for thousands of students. As an association of scholars and educators, the ASA has an ethical responsibility to act."

Lisa Duggan, a professor at New York University and the association’s president-elect, added that discussions of the boycott have been going on for about a year. She voiced pride in what she termed the dedication to open discussion and the democratic process that the organization had demonstrated through its vote.

ASA is the second American academic association to adopt an academic boycott of Israel, after the Association for Asian American Studies did so in April. The journal “Inside Higher Education” termed the ASA decision a big victory for the anti-Israel boycott movement, which has long had wide support in Europe, but not hitherto in America.

The Anti-Defamation League condemned the ASA's decision, calling it a "shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom." A statement issued by ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said: "Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel - the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish - is based on a myopic and fundamentally distorted perspective of Israel and the conflict and is manifestly unjust."