ASA boycott is a threat to academic freedom

In a controversial decision, the American Studies Association moved to boycott Israeli universities last December, accusing Israel of denying academic freedom to Palestinians, according to the Los Angeles Times. Instead, the act seems to be a contradiction; by its very nature, it threatens the academic freedom it claims to protect.

Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan

Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan

The ASA states that its boycott is aimed at Israeli “institutions that have abetted in the destruction of the Palestinian right of academic freedom for decades,” according to its press release. Carolyn Karcher, a member of the ASA, wrote in a L.A. Times column that the ASA resolution addresses that Israel’s “true assaults on academic freedom,” such as the allocation of less funding to the Palestinian schools within Israel, place limits on Palestinian university professors to travel abroad and prevent visits from international faculty. She also stated that Palestinian students “of all ages endure harassment at military checkpoints.”

Ironically, the ASA’s boycott threatens the very freedom of academic expression that it claims to protect. Molly Corbett, president of the American Council on Education, which covers 1,800 institutions, issued a statement saying that “such actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom.”

More than 90 U.S. colleges have issued statements rejecting the ASA’s decision to boycott, according to the Jerusalem Post. Among those colleges are Columbia University, Dartmouth College and Harvard University. Of the more than 90 colleges, at least five have withdrawn from the ASA, according to the New York Times.

Critics of the boycott have also been quick to point out that Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is the only country the ASA has singled out. What about Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, all of whom have committed violations of academic freedom and human rights? It’s incredibly discriminatory to isolate Israel.

In opposing this boycott, discrete measures must be taken. Boycott the boycotters, as Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg did seven years ago during a British academic boycott of Israel, in which they wrote an open letter stating that any boycott of Israel was a boycott on them. That goes to show that boycotting academic “institutions” doesn’t limit the attack on just the Israeli universities. Though ASA supporters maintain that Israeli academic institutions, not individual Israeli scholars, are the sole targets of the boycott, they seem to forget that institutions are collectives of individuals. Academic freedom is about a collective of people — when institutions are singled out, so are the individuals.

There is no easy solution to an issue that entangles two states that share a complex relationship. The academic boycott only complicates things, ignoring the difficult reality of life in today’s Middle East by reaching for a simple solution that is, by its own nature, counterproductive to any progress toward the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.

7 replies
  1. Arafat
    Arafat says:

    Palestinians are being starved to death. But this is not happening in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Nor is it taking place in Israel.
    Rather, this is happening in an Arab country, Syria, while the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the tragedy.
    At least 15 Palestinians have died from starvation since last September in the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
    UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said, “We have received reports over the weekend that at least five more Palestinian refugees in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus have died due to malnutrition, bringing the total number of reported cases (of starvation) up to 15.”

    According to reports from Syria, some 20,000 Palestinians living in Yarmouk face death from starvation as a result of the siege on the camp that began last July.

    Yarmouk has been under siege by the Syrian army after a large number of gunmen belonging to the Syrian opposition found shelter inside the camp.

    Yet it is not only the Syrians who are besieging the camp. A radical Palestinian group called Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which is loyal to Bashar Assad, is also taking part in the siege.
    Human rights activists say the Syrian authorities are refusing to allow aid into the camp, creating a severe humanitarian crisis.

  2. Arafat
    Arafat says:


    I know you’re not really interested in facts, but I thought I’d print the following excerpt for those who do care about truth.


    Globally, the story is the same. Out of the 57 nations which comprise the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, only three rise to the level of flawed democracies, according to the 2010 Democracy Index by The Economist.[7]

    With the exception of communist and former communist countries, Islamic nations impose the highest level of government restrictions on religion.

    Among the predominantly Islamic countries in the middle east and North Africa, 80% have anti-blasphemy laws and 60% of these nations enforce them.[8] Democracy, individual liberty, free speech, toleration, and equality are simply not consistent – or even compatible – with traditional Islamic theology and Shariah law.

    So don’t blame Israel or any other entity for Islam’s inability to lead its people through means other than brute force.

  3. Dan
    Dan says:

    The only thing the ASA Boycott is a threat to is Israel’s ability to keep denying basic human rights to the Palestinian people.

    Everyone should be boycotting everything Israeli just as we did with the Apartheid South African Regime, that is if you believe everyone is created equal in the eyes of God.

  4. Zvika
    Zvika says:

    Isreal is not a pariah state no matter how much you’d want it to be, and there is certainly no holocaust done to the palaestinians. (sorry,but proof by repeated assertion of lies is no proof at all)
    The number of palestinians killed in one decade is far less than the number of civilians killed by the sirian regime every month.
    This number of course includes the palestinians that died while blowing up buses killing thousands of Israelis. So much for holocaust/genocide palestinian/leftist propaganda

    Of course the ASA would not consider boycotting siria or palestinian universities (like Al Quds university) where nazi parades and praising of suicide bombers are performed.

  5. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    South African institutions paid for their part in apartheid so must Israeli institutions. Israel is a pariah state that dehumanizes the Palestinians–something has to be done and a simple boycott is just that: a simple act of protest against a very monstrous society that endorses the actions of the Israeli government towards those it wants to abolish. Someone has to do something to stop this monstrous non-stop holocaust of the Palestinian homeland–that’s right holocaust. It’s undeniable–no excuses acceptable. This is simple straight colonization of Palestine by Israel. The US Government does not have the guts to do anything because of the pressure of AIPAC on scared self-interested members of Congress. The academic community has a long history of not bowing to political pressure that cows lesser leaders. Hats off to this very necessary and righteous boycott.

    • Cliff Berg
      Cliff Berg says:

      The BDS movement and the academic boycott of Israel is counter productive to any real effort for peace. Since Israel was founded her Arab neighbors have threatened to drive the Jews into the sea and another holocaust. Peace can only come from Israel trusting a partner committed to peace. The plight of the Palestinians has been caused by manipulative Arab Governments who use them as political pawns in international politics. Israel has done what it has to to protect it’s citizens from suicide attacks and rockets aimed at women and children. If the academic lefties who voted to boycott Israel had any integrity they would be boycotting Syria, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the fifty other countries we could all name who really do repress their populations. Would Palestinians be “dehumanized” if they were not focused on destroying Israel? Time to wake up and take a page from Gandhi, non violence, not rockets.

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