Over break, Case Western Reserve University President Barbara R. Snyder released a statement to all university members via email, which denoted that both she and Provost W.A. “Bud” Baeslack III oppose the American Studies Association’s (ASA) academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
According to the group’ s website, the ASA is the “nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” Open to both individuals and institutions, the organization is 3,853 members strong. However, less than a third of the association’s members participated in the 10-day online referendum that called for the boycott of Israeli universities and other higher education institutions, but not individual Israeli scholars.
The rationale behind the ASA’s resolution was the lack of “effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation,” calling Israeli academic institutions “a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”
66.1 percent of the 1,252 members who voted endorsed the boycott, while 30.5 opposed it, and 3.4 abstained.
This boycott is part of the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign created in 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations who seek to pressure Israel through economic and political means to end the Israeli occupation of Arab land.
The Association of American Universities, an organization made of 62 of the leading research universities in the United States and Canada, of which CWRU is a member institution, issued a statement opposing such sanctions believing that such action violates “academic freedom”.
“Efforts to address political issues, or to address restrictions on academic freedom, should not themselves infringe upon academic freedom,” its Executive Committee emphasized in a press release. Later, it added “The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”
Dr. Gary Coleman, Executive Director of Cleveland Hillel Foundation, was happy to hear about Snyder’s position on the boycott, calling academic boycotts “counterproductive.” He noted that a university is supposed to be a “marketplace of ideas,” and that while Israel isn’t perfect it is being singled out in such actions.
“We believe that Israel as a democracy is the wrong country to be boycotting in the Middle East,” Coleman noted. “It seems to be that Israel is always the country that is brought up even though according to everyone’s standards it is the most democratic country in the region.”
Coleman believes that a two-state solution is necessary, but the “whole BDS movement is clouding that reality from happening” and that Israel shouldn’t be considered the sole cause of of all the problems.
There are no explicitly pro-Palestinian advocacy groups funded by the Undergraduate Student Government.
In a conference with college journalists, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki noted that the State Department does not have an official view on the ASA boycott but did offer the following statement.
“Israel is feeling the pressure internationally from countries or, it sounds like, institutions, who are making statements about what they want to see moving forward,” she said.
The United States Secretary of State John Kerry is currently attempting to broker peace talks between Israeli government and Palestinian Authority officials.