Thank you, American Studies Association #BDS #ASA2013

On 28 May 2006, I sent the following email to the American Studies Association ASA listserv:
Dear Colleagues
As many of you may be aware, there has been a Palestinian campaign for an academic boycott of Israel for a few years now. I would like to suggest that ASA support this boycott, which many Israeli professors support.
My concern about what it would mean for Israeli institutions to be included in such an organization stems from my own sense of how things are for my friends who teach at Birzeit University, Bethlehem University, and Al Quds University. By making a clear statement that supports Palestinian professors and institutions as an organization, I think, will send a vital message. For those who are interested, here is the precise text of the call to boycott, which you can find on Birzeit’s website:

We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:

1.Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;

2.Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;

3.Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;

4.Exclude from the above actions against Israeli institutions any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their stateÂ’s colonial and racist policies;

5.Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;

6.Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

I hope that the American Studies Association will consider engaging with these issues, especially in light of the recent email from the AJS.

I’m sure I was not the first person to suggest such an act of solidarity in that forum. Regardless, the ASA listserv received a flurry of emails in response to mine. The majority of these emails were strongly against my proposal and several executive committee members threatened to quit the ASA if this boycott moved forward. My memory was that this correspondence began during the July war that year, but clearly it began a short while before. 

But not everyone was so closed off. Many people engaged with me privately and publicly and with others. Many of us organized to form panels about Palestine in relation to the U.S., educating our peers about the necessity of solidarity and about educating oneself on the subject. While I was still an academic I participated in these forums. Many of us went on to create the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) which persevered with respect to pushing the ASA to take a stand. 

And all that effort has paid off!

It’s been hard to watch from afar, but so wonderful to see that they achieved success and the after effect of it in academia and in the media. I don’t have the time to share all the details of this historic moment, but I will share links and quotes below for those who would like to read more and who feel inspired to take the ball and run with it in their organization. I never imagined this would be any kind of turning point in the BDS movement, but it certainly seems to be that way given the flood of press from around the world.

First, here is USACBI’s official statement:

December 16, 2013 – The  US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) congratulates the American Studies Association following today’s announcement that its membership has endorsed the Association’s participation in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In an election that attracted 1252 voters, the largest number of participants in such a referendum in the history of the organization, 66.05 percent of voters endorsed the resolution, while 30.5 percent of voters voted no, and 3.43 percent abstained.

Nada Elia, professor and USACBI organizing committee member noted, “This is not only a victory for Palestinians.  It is a victory for all who believe in justice for an indigenous people who have faced ongoing dispossession. It is a victory for global justice, for academic freedom, for freedom of expression, for believing in the power of the people to bring about the much-needed changes that politicians refuse to consider. Through the grassroots organizing efforts of many, we are building a more just world.”

The original resolution, which the ASA Activism Caucus proposed a year ago, was discussed at the 2013 ASA convention in Washington D.C, and modified in response to ongoing discussions. In turn, the ASA National Council adopted it. The National Council opened the question to the entire membership to ensure that the adoption of the resolution adequately represented the association. During the voting process, many academics and groups demonstrated support for the adoption of the resolution through articles and statements, including the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors, and Students for Justice in Palestine – National and local chapters.

Sunaina Maira, ASA Activism Caucus member, added, “Today, we are grateful not just for the ASA membership’s decision to endorse BDS, but also for the process that the ASA National Council chose to adopt, as it created the space and time to learn about the conditions Palestinian students and academics face as a result of Israeli policies and to engage with the serious questions about our responsibilities and methods for bringing about change.”

In response to the Palestinian call for the international community to engage in and utilize the tactics of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, US-based academics and student organizers have brought critical discussions on Palestine, Israel and US complicity to campuses across the country through boycott and divestment resolutions.

This historic vote follows the Association of Asian American Studies endorsement of a boycott resolution in May and numerous student divestment resolution endorsed by student senates in California.

The US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)has organized to challenge growing ties between Israeli and US academic institutions and to challenge the Brand Israel project of normalizing Israel through cultural events.

Second, here is the ASA’s official statement about supporting the academic boycott of Israel:

Council Statement on the Academic Boycott of Israel

ASA National Council Votes Unanimously To Endorse Academic Boycott of Israel

One year ago, the Academic and Community Activism Caucus of the American Studies Association (ASA) asked the Executive Committee (EC) to consider a resolution to honor the call from Palestinian civil society to support the academic boycott of Israel. The EC forwarded the resolution to the National Council. Following the deliberative procedures detailed below, the Council unanimously decided to issue a revised version of the resolution, which we now recommend to members of the ASA.  Please follow this link to read the resolution.

The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.

We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.

Our resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the Association in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.

The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication. The Council also recognizes that individual members will act according to their convictions on these complex matters.

The ASA is a large organization that represents divergent opinions. Anticipating strong and potentially divided feelings on this question, the Council unanimously decided to ask ASA members to endorse the resolution by a vote.

Background on the Resolution

The resolution is the culmination of a long history of discussion and debate in the ASA. In 2006, in response to Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, the ASA International Committee (IC), including a former ASA President, discussed the possibility of endorsing a boycott. In 2009, in the wake of Israel’s military assault on Gaza and in response to requests from ASA members, several bodies in the Association again took up the question of a boycott: the IC, the Program Committee for the 2009 convention, and the Executive Committee, which included the current ASA President. The consensus then was that members needed more opportunities to learn about and discuss the issues and so the Program Committee organized two featured panels: “Palestine in Crisis” and “Academic Freedom and the Right to Education: The Question of Palestine.” Scheduled in prime times on Friday and Saturday of the convention, the panels addressed the plight of Palestinian universities and academics and the profound pressures on teaching and research contexts in the U.S. and Palestine where education and intellectual freedom were under attack. The second panel focused in particular on the boycott movement.

In the wake of such discussions, the Academic and Community Activism Caucus (ACAC) met at the 2012 ASA convention to consider a resolution and gather signatures. This resolution was then submitted to the Executive Committee and, in December, posted on the Caucus’ page on the ASA web site. Information about the resolution was also included in the December 2012 ASA Newsletter distributed to all ASA members.

In March of 2013, the Program Committee for the 2013 ASA convention met and discussed ways to create opportunities at the meeting to discuss issues related to calls for boycott. The resulting program included 8 sessions on “Middle East American Studies,” with four focused specifically on United States/Israel/Palestine. At the same time the Ethnic Studies Committee organized two panels about settler colonialism that discussed the Israeli occupation of Palestine, while the ACAC organized a panel called “Boycott as a Non-Violent Strategy of Collective Dissent.”

In May 2013 the Executive Committee met and discussed the proposed resolution submitted by the ACAC at great length. It agreed that it would be in the best interest of the organization to solicit from the membership as many perspectives as possible on the proposed resolution to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making. With the past President and a prominent, senior member of the Association serving as moderators, it held an open session during the November National Convention at which the National Council was present to hear directly from the membership. Members were notified of the open discussion well in advance of the convention and it was highlighted as a featured event in both online and print versions of the program. Additionally, members who could not attend the session or the convention were encouraged to contact the EC directly via email, and many did so.  

The Saturday November 23rd open discussion was attended by approximately 745 ASA members. Members distributed information about the boycott in advance, and the hall was filled with leaflets representing different views. The moderators carefully and clearly articulated the different actions that could be taken and the process for deliberation. To guarantee an orderly and fair discussion members who wished to speak put their name in a box from which speakers were randomly selected. Speakers were limited to 2 minutes, providing the opportunity to hear from forty-four different speakers during the time allotted for the special session. The discussion was passionate but respectful.  Speakers included students, faculty, past Presidents, former members of the National Council, former and current members of the AQ editorial staff, American Studies department chairs, and an ASA member also representing the organization Jewish Voice for Peace. While different opinions were articulated, the overwhelming majority spoke in support of the ASA endorsing an academic boycott.

Remaining in session over the course of 8 days after the open session, Council members spoke and wrote from different perspectives, debated different possibilities, and critically yet generously engaged each other. The resulting resolution reflects, we think, the history and present state of conversations within the ASA, offering a principled position for the Association’s participation in the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions while respecting the unique conditions and diverse positions of our membership on this issue.

In the last several decades, the ASA has welcomed scholarship that critically analyzes the U.S. state, its role domestically and abroad, and that reaches out beyond U.S. borders. Our commitment to cutting-edge and transnational scholarship has been accompanied by the comparative study of borders, migration, and citizenship. The ASA also has a history of critical engagement with the field of Native American and Indigenous studies that has increasingly come to shape and influence the field and the Association, and the Council acknowledged the force of Israeli and U.S. settler colonialism throughout our deliberations. Finally, the resolution is in keeping with the ASA’s continuing commitment to ethical research and the right of scholars to dissent and to take public positions.

The Council believes that the resolution is of particular significance to scholars of American Studies. Together, we endorse it, and recommend that ASA members endorse it as well.

The ASA National Council

Jennifer Devere Brody, Stanford University 
Ann Cvetkovich, University of Texas, Austin 
Jeremy Dean. University of Texas, Austin 
Lisa Duggan, New York University 
Avery Gordon, University of California, Santa Barbara 
Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University 
E. Patrick Johnson, Northwestern University 
J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University 
Marisol LeBrón, New York University 
Karen Leong, Arizona State University 
Sunaina Maira, University of California, Davis 
Martin F. Manalansan IV, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 
Curtis Marez, University of California, San Diego 
Roya Rastegar, Bryn Mawr College 
Chandan Reddy, University of Washington, Seattle 
Juana María Rodríguez, University of California, Berkeley 
María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, New York University 
Nikhil Pal Singh, New York University

Due to a family emergency, Juri Abe, Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan, was not present for the National Council meeting where the resolution was passed. 

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Here are a number of links that have come out about the resolution thus far:

Steven Salaita’s “Why the ASA’s Israel Boycott Won”

Alex Lubin’s “Breaking ‘America’s Last Taboo'”

Benjamin Doherty’s “In a Surprise Move, Opponent Votes to Endorse ASA’s Israel Boycott”

Philip Weiss’s “ASA’s Members Vote 2-1 for Academic Boycott of Israel”

Omar Barghouti’s “On Academic Freedom and the BDS Movement”

Alex Kane’s “American Studies Association National Council Endorses Boycott of Israel”

Lena Ibrahim’s “What Happened There Was Historic: A Report from the American Studies Association Boycott Debate”

Adam Horowitz’s “In Response to ASA Boycott Vote, Lawrence Summers Calls Boycotts ‘Abhorrent’ and then Calls for Boycott of ASA”

Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Students Support the American Studies Association Boycott Resolution”

Judith Butler’s “Academic Freedom and the ASA’s Boycott of Israel: A Response to Michelle Goldberg”

Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s “Declaration of Support for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions”

Keith Feldman’s “Fragments from the Breach: On Anti-Racism, American Studies, and the Question of Palestine”

Philip Weiss’s “Butler: ASA Boycott Resolution Pressures Israeli and U.S. Institutions Supporting Occupation”

Alex Kane’s “Former Israeli Ambassador Calls for Legislation to Impose ‘Penalties’ on Promoters of Academic Boycott”

Harriet Sherwood’s “Major U.S. Academic Body Backs Boycott of Israeli Educational Institutions”

Nora Barrows-Friedman’s “Steven Saialta on How the ASA Boycott Vote Shifts the Rules for Engaging on Palestine”

Steven Salaita’s “Why Logical People Should Oppose the ASA Israel Boycott”

Eric Cheyfitz’s “Why I Support the Academic Boycott of Israel”

Toshio Meronek’s “Palestinian Activism Grows at U.S. Universities”

Eliza Collins’s “U.S. Professors Vote to Endorse Israeli Academic Boycott”

Elizabeth Redden’s “Backing the Israel Boycott”

Richard Pérez-Peña’s “Scholars’ Group to Disclose Result of Vote on an Academic Boycott of Israel”

Yousef Munayyer’s “Boycott a Sting to Israeli Apartheid”

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