The American Studies Association Is a Joke
My Israeli colleagues have complained that the American Studies Association's recent boycott of Israeli universities and scholars is a betrayal of Israel by America. Apparently, my Israeli colleagues know little about American studies.
Almost no one on an American campus takes American studies seriously. As direct government subsidies to higher education decline, universities need more and more students paying higher and higher tuition.
But not only do institutions have to lure students; they also have to retain them. So what are you going to do with the sociology and political science majors who cannot get through the simple descriptive statistics requirements? A good history department requires advanced foreign language proficiency. English literature requires an ability to write a fluid paragraph and a facility to think in terms of allegory and metaphor. The business school requires well-honed quantitative skills.
Ergo, studies programs. As everyone on campus knows, studies programs are the great wastelands for the students who cannot or will not. In the warm embrace of most studies programs, you learn a bunch of anti-American, anti-white, anti-male clichés about exploitation, imperialism, marginalization, sexism, homophobia, etc., and repeat them as if they were somehow empirically grounded, theoretical incisions into the workings of society.
For people who could not comprehend the intricacies of simple two-variable statistics, these single-variable answers to complex problems were custom-designed. Why is there an astounding rate of black crime in the inner cities? White racism. Why are there not more women in theoretical physics? Sexism. Why is central Africa engaged in a perpetual cycle of internecine violence? Imperialism. Why is AIDS more prevalent among homosexual men than any other group? Homophobia. Why won't some Republicans support the president's budget? Republicans are racists.
At every level, American studies draws people whose intellect demands simple solutions to complex problems. Consequently, it is not surprising that to these "scholars," the solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict can be found in boycotting Israeli universities. And this policy is adopted even though Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas himself disagrees with it.
But these are not really departments, nor are their "professors" really scholars. They are activists masquerading as teachers, indoctrinating a captive audience of pubescent students -- often demanding of university administrators that their leftist political musings be required for the undergraduate distribution requirement. These are interest groups pretending to be academic departments. They rail against the very system that supports them. In America, we not only follow Lenin's aphorism of paying for our own rope, but we also pay for the vitriol of our erstwhile sinecured executioners.
The Association presents an academic freedom award named after Angela Davis, who during the Cold War was an admirer of Communist East Germany, a regime so repressive that it had to wall in its people. Davis received her doctorate from East Germany's Humboldt University. As a prominent member of the Black Panthers, Davis purchased two of the guns that were used when, in 1970, Jonathan Jackson burst into the Marin County courtroom of Judge Harold Haley as part of a plan to free his imprisoned brother, George Jackson, by taking the judge, the prosecutor, and three female jurors hostage. In an ensuing shootout with police, Judge Haley was killed by a blast from a shotgun Davis had purchased two days earlier; Jonathan Jackson and two of his fellow kidnapers were killed, the prosecutor sustained an injury that paralyzed him for life, and one of the female jurors was wounded. Davis fled, becoming the focus of a nation-wide manhunt. Eventually, she was apprehended, tried, and acquitted, not because the connection between her and the guns could not be proven, but because the prosecution could not establish a connection between her and Jonathan Jackson.
Today, Davis works in the Critical Resistance movement, which argues that all incarcerated African-Americans are political prisoners as a consequence of societal racism. This is another theme that was much in evidence at the American Studies Association 2013 meetings. The meetings' program reads more like a call to activism than that of a scholarly professional meeting. In a large sense, the meetings were a blending of Marx's notion of "praxis," political action, with one-dimensional social theorizing along the worn mantras of racism, sexism, and homophobia.
The boycott resolution itself, upon closer inspection, is not about settlements or the West Bank; rather, it is directed at Israel's very existence, as an illegitimate state that has replaced a Palestine that never existed. This is typical of the left's propaganda that Israel is an outpost of Western imperialism and has no right to exist.
Israelis should therefore not take it too hard that they've earned the American Studies Assocation's ire. This is a fringe group of academic activists who are attempting to rebuild Marx's notion of the unity of theory and practice. They apparently do neither well. They embark on causes such as freeing all incarcerated black people, irrespective of adjudged guilt or innocence, that make themselves look inconsequential when dealing with the truly poignant issues of economic and racial justice. Their boycott has no force under the law. Besides, no respectable scholar, Israeli or otherwise, would want to be numbered among them.