Editor’s Note: In response to Michelle Goldberg’s post about the American Studies Association’s proposed boycott of Israel, we have convened a variety of responses. Ari Kelman writes in opposition to the boycott below, and you can read Alex Lubin in support of it here.
I want to make three things clear from the outset.
1. I am a proud member of the American Studies Association, and a proud holder of a PhD in American Studies (NYU, 2003, if you’re interested).
2. I am as troubled as just about anyone by many of the current and past policies of the Israeli government with respect to its ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
3. I’m as frustrated as just about anyone by the stunted peace processes that I regularly hope will help create a long lasting, sustained, and, most of all, just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
That said, I oppose the American Studies Association resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israeli institutions for the following reasons:
1. I got into the academic business because I treasure the fundamental value of intellectual freedom. It allows those of us fortunate enough to call scholarship our profession to do the work we do. A boycott of Israeli intellectual and cultural institutions seems to run counter to this basic premise of academic life and the commitment to increasing, not limiting scholarly conversation and engagement.
2. Boycotting universities, as places that host scholars and our work, seems like cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Instead of building transnational coalitions between scholars, a boycott unilaterally seems to foreclose such options. Instead, let me point to a few articles that demonstrate the kinds of work that Israeli universities support. These are not kind toward Israel or its policies. Nevertheless, these examples of scholarship are products of Israeli scholars of different ethnic backgrounds. They demonstrate some of the work that is possible at Israeli universities, and suggest that a more responsible response to the Israeli Occupation and the entrenched political stalemate is to leverage our positions as scholars to foster such work. In other words: let’s use our positions as scholars to do better scholarship in partnerships that cross political lines. Now that would real academic activism.
3. I understand the inherent political imbalance of my previous point, namely: that Palestinian scholars and students are often excluded from Israeli universities or prevented from travel that would allow them to participate in conferences and research. Those realities, combined with the closure of Palestinian universities, speak to fundamentally unequal ways in which academic freedom plays out on the ground in Israel and Palestine. But a resolution to support our Palestinian colleagues and advocating for their rights to academic freedom is a very different statement than a boycott of Israeli universities. I wholeheartedly support the former because I believe that it could advance our collective efforts, while I believe the latter to work in direct opposition to the value of academic freedom, good scholarship and critical intellectual discourse.