A call to boycott Israeli academic institutions gained traction in the American academic community this week, but Penn and the Association of American Universities continue to stand adamantly against a potential boycott.
The National Council of the American Studies Association announced on Wednesday that it has unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The council urged its members to vote to make the boycott the official policy of the Association.
Almost 700 people gathered at the ASA’s Nov. 23 annual meeting to discuss the resolution, officially titled “Honor the Call of Palestinian Civil Society for a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.”
The following day, the petition had received over 500 signatures on Change.org.
The ASA is “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” according to its website. It publishes and distributes the American Quarterly, a journal covering key issues in scholarship of American studies, and has several online publications. The ASA has more than 5,000 member institutions.
“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 issued on Wednesday.
However, many academics have expressed stark opposition to the resolution, including seven past presidents of the ASA, arguing that such a boycott would conflict with principles of academic freedom.
Leo Charney, a spokesperson for the Provost’s office, said, “The University’s position remains the one stated in 2007 by President Gutmann and also by the Association of American Universities, of which she now serves as Vice Chair.”
“This proposed boycott represents a direct assault on a core principle of academic freedom. University scholars must be free to produce and disseminate knowledge and understanding, without threat of interference or penalty, regardless of the policies of their national governments,” the 2007 statement, issued by Gutmann, said.
“Indeed, it directly threatens the moral foundation of each and every university. I join my fellow university presidents in adamantly opposing this effort to ostracize Israeli academics and universities from the global community of scholars of which they are an important and highly respected part,” she added.
The Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee shares Gutmann’s sentiment.
“It is in our interest as Penn students to support the US-Israel relationship and to collaborate with Israeli universities,” Josh Adler, PIPAC’s Campus Coordinator and College senior, said. “Israel is a powerhouse of science, technology and innovation, and its universities have produced some of the world’s brightest minds.”
Penn Boycott Divestment and Sanction and Penn for Palestine did not respond to requests for comment from the Daily Pennsylvanian.
The resolution was brought to the ASA’s National Council, a body of 20 elected representatives within the organization, approximately one year ago. Supporters of the resolution urged the council to pass it without a vote from the ASA’s general members. Nevertheless, the resolution, which was revised from its original version, will now go to the ASA’s general members for a vote, which began on Wednesday and will continue until Dec. 15.
The resolution was endorsed by the current president and the president-elect of the ASA. According to Inside Higher Ed, the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions has “considerable support” in Europe, but has been “largely opposed” by American universities.
If the ASA votes to endorse the proposed boycott, it will be the second major American academic association to do so. The Association for Asian American Studies passed a resolution supporting the boycott in April.
If the resolution passes the general vote of the ASA, it will be the official stance of the Association, but members will not be required to take any action.