Backlash Against ASA Boycott Gaining Momentum

When the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to launch an academic boycott against Israel in early December, al Jazeera crowed with a headline, Calls to boycott Israel grow on US campuses.

Actually, what’s really growing is the backlash against the association.

Indiana University is the latest academic institution to announce its withdrawal from the ASA in protest of the boycott decision. Indiana University President Michael McRobbie noted the chilling effect such boycotts have on academic freedom.

The university joins Kenyon College, Penn State Harrisburg, and Brandeis University, which already announced their withdrawal from the ASA. Other prominent institutions of higher learning, including Harvard and Brown, have spoken against the boycott but refrained from moving against it formally.

Perhaps the biggest blow against the ASA, however, came this week in a strongly-worded condemnation from the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities:

“Any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general,” the statement read.

American colleges and universities, as well as like institutions elsewhere, must stand as the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom.”

The statement also asserted that the boycott “clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”

And the backlash is just beginning. The Washington Post published a series of statements from university presidents lambasting the ASA for using its platform for politics over the free flow of ideas.

So while the ASA succeeded in damaging Israel’s image through the publicity generated by the boycott, it’s clear that the association has harmed itself in the process. Hopefully, this episode will ultimately do some good by discrediting the notion of academic boycott entirely, revealing the practice as the very antithesis of academic freedom, both for the boycotted and the boycotter.

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