'American Studies' group to boycott Israel
The American Studies Association (ASA) is suddenly grabbing headlines for voting to support an academic boycott of Israel. Why a boycott? Because ASA wants to be known as a paragon of human rights and views Israel as a gross violator of same. ASA believes the worst about Israel's treatment of Palestinians - whether it's actually so or not.
But aren't there somewhere on this planet other countries that are far more egregious human-rights violators, including some in close vicinity of Israel? Well, that may be so, concedes Curtis Marez, ASA's president and associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego, "but one has to start somewhere." So why start by flogging Israel? Marez explains that the reason ASA decided to blacken only Israel is that Palestinian groups asked that it join the anti-Israel boycott, but no such request came from any other country.
This is what parades as logic and fairness in academe today.
So what or who exactly is ASA. Well, its membership consists of fewer than 5,000 professors of American history and culture. ASA should not be confused with the far bigger and more prominent American Association of University Professors, with a membership of 48,000 - about 10 times as large as ASA's. In direct opposition to ASA, the AAUP has opted to oppose academic boycotts because they "strike directly at the free exchange of ideas" ("Scholars' Group to Disclose Result of Vote on an Academic Boycott of Israel," NY Times, Dec. 16, page A12, by Richard Perez-Pena)
What it comes down to is that ASA canvassed its relatively puny membership, with only about one fourth bothering to vote. Of those 1,200 some ASA members who actually voted, about 800 voted for and about 400 voted against endorsing the academic boycott.
Still, ASA's decision to line up on the side of anti-Israel groups was bound to make a big splash in leftist media. And the New York Times didn't disappoint, happily giving support of an academic boycott against Israel maximum coverage.
But there also have been a few sane voices to point out that ASA's pro-boycott decision is a direct attack on academic freedom The Anti-Defamation League called it "shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest."
Larry Summers, who tangled with similar misguided academic issues as president of Harvard University, was struck by the "idea that of all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses, that might be thought to have inappropriate foreign policies, that might be thought to be doing things wrong, the idea that there's only that is worthy of boycott, and that is Israel?"
Sheer malicious madness in academe.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers