When the American Studies Association (ASA) launched its infamous academic boycott of Israel in December, it could not have foreseen the scale of opposition it would come up against. And the unintended consequences of its decision are still being played out.
Hundreds of university presidents have already declared academic boycott to be an abrogation of academic freedom, effectively discrediting the idea. More significantly, a steady flow of legislation threatens to deny state funding to institutions practicing academic boycotts.
Some form of legislation triggered by the ASA boycott has appeared in New York, Florida, and Kansas, and was recently defeated in Illinois.
Just this week, the ASA published an urgent call to supporters to fight a measure currently in discussion in Maryland, where legislators placed anti-boycott measures into the state’s proposed budget:
The anti-boycott language was inserted into the House version of the budget bill as an amendment (which no one voted on since it was accepted as “friendly”), along with other amendments not in the version of the budget passed by the Senate. The two versions of the budget bills, including the various amendments, now must go to a conference committee. That committee is charged with deciding on the final language of the budget bill, which will then be voted on by both the Senate and the House with no further changes allowed.
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Even better, Electronic Intifada tells us that the measure includes a definition of anti-Semitism that references hate directed at Israel:
The amendment condemns the ASA boycott, affirms the State of Maryland’s commitment to cooperation with Israel and alleges that “anti-Semitism is an intolerable and ugly form of bigotry, prejudice, and hostility directed toward individuals of the Jewish faith and the State of Israel, often based on ethnic, cultural, or religious identity.”
So if the budget passes along with the amendment, the ASA will have contributed to the barring of state funds to institutions that support the ASA’s measures against Israel along with the codification of a definition of anti-Semitism that could include the type of double standards against Israel that typify much of the BDS movement.
No wonder the ASA was alarmed by the legislation. It’s singularly responsible for all of it.
The ASA’s call to boycott succeeded in raising the profile of BDS and spreading awareness of the movement. But the backlash it triggered, especially in the area of legislation, may have long-term effects it never imagined.