NAS Opposes American Studies Association Boycott of Israel

Peter Wood

The National Association of Scholars opposes academic boycotts in general and in particular the movement promoted by the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  That movement is the U.S. arm of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).  This matter commands our present attention because of a resolution put before the membership of the American Studies Association by its National Council on December 4.  The membership has been asked to vote on the resolution by Sunday, December 15. 

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has published an “Open Letter to Members of the American Studies Association,” which says most of what needs to be said about academic boycotts.  Such actions are antithetical to the free exchange of ideas and undermine academic freedom.  In this case as in many others, proposed boycotts also entail an “ideological litmus test” that has no legitimate place in higher education. 

The AAUP allows that some cases are “so dire as to require compromising basic precepts of academic freedom.”  There may well be such circumstances in which the principle of academic freedom must be matched against competing principles of human decency.  But the situation presented by this campaign to boycott Israel is nothing of the sort.  It is rather a form of political activism on behalf of one party in long-standing dispute. 

The National Association of Scholars does not have a foreign policy and does not take a position on Israeli-Palestinian relations.  We do take positions on academic freedom and on the misuse of academic prestige and authority.  The National Council of the American Studies Association has abused both by its unanimous vote in favor of this boycott.  We applaud the fifty-plus ASA members, including seven past presidents, who signed a letter opposing the boycott as an infringement of academic freedom. 

The ASA’s National Council has also drawn attention to the enervation of the discipline it represents.  As one critic noted, the call for a boycott comes at a time when the liberal arts in American higher education are on the decline and serious scholarship in American Studies has thinned.  Why should ASA in such circumstances “marginalize itself” by striking a position “at the farthest-out fringe of American politics?” 

The proposed resolution may be the febrile response of a faction that has lost its true sense of obligation to scholarship, teaching, and the university. We hope that the members of the American Studies Association rise to the provocation by soundly defeating the motion.  

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