Two more universities have withdrawn their membership from the American Studies Association (ASA) in protest of decision to support an academic boycott of Israel.
In a statement on his blog on Monday, Kenyon president Sean Decatur clarified, “I cherish the concept of academic freedom, and I oppose the ASA boycott of Israel.”
“One can look at the course offerings at the American Studies Department at Tel Aviv University and find courses similar to what one would find at Kenyon, including, for example, ‘The Age of Thoreau’ and ‘African-American Literature.’ And I am certain that the readings and topics of these courses stimulate discussions that are simultaneously similar to those at Kenyon, but, due to the context, fundamentally different,” he added.
“As the leader of an academic institution, I consider this an excellent example of the potential transformative power of the liberal arts, raising questions and generating discussions that both transcend time and place and also brightly illuminate current issues,” wrote Decatur.
“This is among the most powerful arguments in opposition to the decision of the ASA to boycott institutions from Israel. Regardless of one’s views on the political solutions to Israeli/Palestinian relations, the cultural transformation needed to find peace in the region will depend on these types of discussions, which in turn require strong academic institutions with free and unfettered exchange of ideas with scholars from around the world,” he said.
Decatur noted that “as the president of a College with an unwavering commitment to the liberal arts and the concept of academic freedom, I reject the notion of a boycott of academic institutions as a geopolitical tool. I concur with the decision of our American Studies program to withdraw as an institutional member of the ASA.”
Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie said in a statement Monday that “Indiana University joins other leading research universities in condemning in the strongest possible terms the boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel as proposed by the American Studies Association and other organizations.”
“Boycotts such as these have a profound chilling effect on academic freedom, and universities must be clear and unequivocal in rejecting them,” he added.
“Indiana University values its academic relationships with colleagues and institutions around the world, including many important ones with institutions in Israel, and will not allow political considerations such as those behind this ill-conceived boycott to weaken those relationships or undermine the principle of academic freedom in this way,” said McRobbie, who stressed that “Indiana University will contact the ASA immediately to withdraw as an institutional member.”
In justifying its decision to boycott Israel, the ASA said the boycott was “in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.”
The head of the ASA later admitted to the New York Times that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s but said that “one has to start somewhere.”
Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has called on Congress to ban academic boycotts against Israel.
“By banning interaction with fellow scholars, the ASA is undermining the very academic freedom it purportedly represents,” Oren wrote in an op-ed which appeared in Politico magazine.
“Moreover, by singling out Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and a country renowned for its liberal universities, by ignoring the Palestinian Authority’s opposition to such a boycott, and overlooking vast human rights abuses in many other countries, the ASA is guilty of prejudice,” he added.
“In 1977, Congress passed a series of laws making it illegal for U.S. companies to cooperate with any boycott of Israel and imposing stiff penalties on those that did. The boycott, Congress concluded, was not only racist against Israelis but all Jews,” Oren noted.
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