American Sociological Association Has Not Yet Come Out Against the Boycott – Open Letter to ASA by Chad Alan Goldberg

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Chad Alan Goldberg, Euston Manifesto Signatory and Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison on the Israel Boycott. The ASA is having its annual meeting in NYC this week.

[Hat tip to Engage]

Dear ASA Council members:

As you are no doubt aware, on May 30, 2007 delegates at the annual meeting of the United Kingdom’s University and College Union (UCU) passed a motion that requires the union to circulate and debate a call to “boycott” Israeli educational institutions. Discussions are to take place for a year, during which time the motion instructs union members to “consider the moral implications of conducting ties with Israeli academic institutions.” Though this measure is misleadingly termed a boycott and is ostensibly aimed only at institutions, it is more accurately described as a blacklist, since its intended effect is to exclude Israeli academics from international academic and intellectual life. Delegates also passed a motion calling for the union’s congress to campaign for “a moratorium on research and cultural collaborations with Israel via EU and European Science Foundation funding until Israel abides by UN resolutions.”

These UCU motions are the latest in a series of such moves by British academic associations. In 2005 the Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott two Israeli universities and to blacklist their faculty. These measures, intended by their proponents as the first step toward a comprehensive blacklist of Israeli academics, were overturned by the AUT’s membership after a month of heated debates. They also received strong international condemnation from a number of important academic associations, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), and the American Political Science Association (APSA) here in the U.S. In 2006 the executive of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) also approved a motion to blacklist Israeli academics, but this decision became moot when NATFHE and AUT merged to form the UCU later that year.

I am writing to ask the ASA Council to issue a statement that (1) urges the UCU’s membership to reject the specific boycott proposal that it is now before it and (2) condemns all attempts to boycott or blacklist individual scholars and/or educational institutions on the basis of their nationality, the policies of their governments over which they have no control, or their political views. In my view, the ASA Council should do so strictly on the grounds that such measures threaten the core principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, without delving into political debates for or against Israeli policies, Zionism, or other such issues.

There are several reasons why the ASA should act – and act now – to discourage the proposed blacklist. The UCU’s decision to discuss the proposed blacklist over the course of a year gives the ASA an opportunity to intervene in and contribute fruitfully to this debate before any final action is taken. Such intervention is warranted by the fact that the blacklist proposal is not merely an internal UCU affair. The proposed blacklist would adversely affect individual ASA members who are affiliated with Israeli educational institutions, either on a temporary or permanent basis. (I count myself among such members.) In addition, it would establish a dangerous precedent of punishing academics for the policies of the governments under which they live. All ASA members have a strong professional interest in opposing such a precedent.

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