On the Boycott of Israeli Universities, the Good Guys Are Winning

The American Studies Association certainly deserves to be on the defensive when it comes to its efforts to organize a boycott of Israeli universities. If it does not want to be on the defensive, perhaps it will reconsider its absolutely terrible and deleterious policy regarding the issue. Until then, it deserves the opprobrium it gets. The following may be my favorite passage:

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and a boycott opponent, said calls from alumni to take a stand against the boycott had played a role. “As an active member of the Jewish community, I recognize that the American Jewish community is disproportionately generous to American higher education,” he said. “For the president of an institution to express his or her solidarity with Israel is welcomed by a very important part of their support base.”

Mr. Botstein, who has faulted his fellow presidents for not speaking out more on issues like income inequality or declining government support for higher education, said the decision to oppose the A.S.A. boycott was easy because the group’s resolution was “clumsy and offensive.” Taking a position against the boycott, he added, “doesn’t show courage, it shows common sense.”

I for one am quite happy to see that American Jews are fighting back against the boycott, and I am also happy to see Botstein declare the obvious; that fighting back against the boycott “doesn’t show courage, it shows common sense.” Lots of people try to deny such obvious truths, so I guess that someone has to verbalize them.

And then there is the following excerpt, which leaves me gobsmacked:

Curtis F. Marez, president of the American Studies Association, said its critics’ assertions that the boycott threatened academic freedom were misplaced, because the boycott was directed at Israeli institutions and their representatives, not individual scholars or students, and would not affect routine scholarly collaborations and exchanges.

There is, of course, no way whatsoever that a boycott of “Israeli institutions and their representatives” won’t affect “individual scholars or students” and won’t set back “routine scholarly collaborations and exchanges.” But try telling that fact to some members of the American Studies Association. As I say, some people are determined to deny the obvious.