American Studies Association
A The flurry of news articles from Israeli apologists about growth of the boycott movement targeting Israeli violations of human rights testify to the significance of this movement. The most recent example of this is the relentless attack on the democratic vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) to support the Palestinian civil society call to action. That 2005 call from came from over 170 non-governmental organizations and asked the international community to engage in boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) until Israel fulfills its international obligations by allowing refugees to return to their homes and lands, ending occupation, and treating citizens equally regardless of religion or background. The call came after the International Court of justice ruled Israeli colonial settlements and the expansion and annexation wall built on Palestinian land illegal and a crime against humanity. It was picked up by thousands of organizations and hundreds of churches and other groups. Churches in particular started to move after Palestinian churches issued the Kairos Palestine document endorsing actions to force Israel to reverse its injustice.
I was a student at the University of Connecticut 1979-1982 when we supported a similar call from South African Civil society. Those who opposed us at the time claimed we were supporting the terrorism of the African National Congress. Ironically, Israel lobbyists included those who were happy about the close military relationship between the two apartheid regimes (we now know also about joint development of nuclear weapons). It is thus not surprising that the African National Congress, South African trade unions, and South African leaders like Desmond Tutu, Ahmed Kathrada, Lindiwe Zulu, Ronnie Kasrils, and others support unconditionally the Palestinian Civil Society call for BDS.
Freedom carries an obligation and a responsibility including not to deny freedom to others. This is recognized in instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. I am an academic living under Israeli brutal occupation and denied freedoms that are enjoyed by most people in the world. I was arrested by Israeli authorities for simply participating in peaceful demonstrations expressing objections to Israeli apartheid policies. Palestinian universities suffer from Israeli occupation policies including lack of freedom of movement and inability to get faculty and students from abroad (Israel regularly denies visas to them). Dozens of military rules try to make education impossible including preventing import of basic educational material. Gaza is even worse as its universities are under siege. A Bethlehem University student was snatched at a checkpoint and sent to Gaza few months before her graduation. Where is academic freedom when Israel bombed universities including the science faculty in Gaza? Where is freedom of speech when 7 million refugees, 60% of them under age 18 and some 20% are university-age, most of them denied normal life let alone ability to attend a university? Israel even closed the two universities where I teach (Bethlehem and Birzeit) for extended periods of time repeatedly lasting in one case for years.
But even in the US, many academics lost their jobs simply for speaking out against the Israel-first lobby. That is why many wait till they get tenure before speaking out (see for example Mearsheimer and Walt). When I was at Yale University, Israel-first lobbyists worked overtime to get me fired because I supported the BDS call and we collected signatures from hundreds of US Academics for that. The lobbyists
inundated the chairman of my department and the president of Yale with letters and even threatened financial consequences. Where was academic freedom then? Where is the freedom of speech that Mr. Roth and those like him in the Israel-first lobby claims to uphold?
Israeli universities and the vast majority of Israeli academics are also directly complicit in colonization, occupation, and repression (details can be found here http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=2024). The few academics who try to raise their voices are persecuted and some eventually leave the country (like Professor Ilan Pappe who moved to England). We work with the few remaining Israelis academics to oppose this system of apartheid and this is not normalizing. There is a joint struggle just like there were whites in South Africa who struggled with blacks against apartheid. Western institutions cannot continue to provide cover for Israeli institutions that are complicit in crimes of ethnic cleansing, racist laws that privilege one religion at the expense of others, or apartheid walls 30 foot high that isolate Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
The ASA joins a list of prestigious academic groups, civil society organizations, trade unions, and churches around the world that decided to act based on human rights. The highly sophisticated, well-funded opponents of BDS want to maintain the status quo of oppression in violation of a number of dozens of UN resolutions and with the protection and funding by the US government. This lobby is what has dragged the US government to a war on Iraq that cost the US $3 trillion and thousands of lives. It is a lobby that pushes now for conflict with Iran and was not happy about the deal reached in Geneva recently and is actively lobbying congress to block it by imposing more sanctions on Iran. It is this lobby that flooded media with articles both before and after the ASA vote. They are consistent in
putting Israel first and that is perhaps why, despite their intimidating efforts the ASA academics who study American society and history voted to reflect what they know is best for America and for humanity. It is time for US citizens to stand up and expose this lobby that is harming ALL. Just like in South Africa, engaging in BDS was pro-human (pro-black, pro-white, pro-colored…). Our BDS call supported by the ASA and people of conscious around the world is no different.