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It is a too sensitive topic not to attract a lot of attention and even criticism – the American Studies Association’s endorsement of an academic boycott of Israel was met with strong resistance and critique from every possible side. Following last month’s confirmation of ASA members to sever any form of academic cooperation between ASA itself and Israeli academic institutions (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, December 2013), a number of other American higher education associations as well as universities and colleges issued statements which were highly critical of ASA’s decision.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) also denounced ASA’s boycott endorsement. According to ACE President Molly Corbett Broad, “[s]uch actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom”. Among more than 90 US American universities and colleges, Harvard University also publicly stated that academic boycotts would represent a threat “to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars”. ASA’s boycott endorsement has even led some of its members to withdraw their membership.
ASA’s decision to take part in the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement was in fact preceded by the Association for American Asian Studies in April 2013, which however did not draw as much attention and media coverage due to its smaller size. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association is going to vote on a similar boycott endorsement during their upcoming annual conference in May. In addition, following a discussion on the BDS movement in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Modern Language Association with almost 30 000 members has decided not to take part in boycott measures but to condemn “Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by U. S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.”