As I have noted here, the American Studies Association considered, at its annual meeting last month, a resolution to boycott Israel. As Ben Cohen explained earlier today, ASA’s National Council has now voted unanimously to endorse such a resolution and has put it up for a vote. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are rightly declaring victory. But in assessing this “BDS win,” we ought to consider how the resolution was put through. In an otherwise balanced story at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik largely accepts the disingenuous story the Association is telling about the Council’s decision.
According to the ASA’s statement, this decision was the product of long deliberation. “In May 2013 the Executive Committee met and discussed the proposed resolution submitted by the [Academic and Community Activism Caucus] at great length. It agreed that it would be in the best interest of the organization to solicit from the membership as many perspectives as possible on the proposed resolution to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”
In fairness, the National Council did deliberate for a much longer period than expected, and it did conduct a debate at the national meeting, during which opponents of the boycott spoke. But it is dishonest to present the Executive Committee and National Council as neutral opinion gatherers, looking to discern the ASA’s will.
Consider the Executive Committee. Five of its six members had endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) as of May 2013. Those members are Curtis Marez, the outgoing president of ASA, Lisa Duggan, the incoming president, Karen Leong, who was among the proposers of a similar boycott by the Association for Asian American Studies, Nikhil Pal Singh, member of a scholar’s delegation that has called for a boycott, and Chandan Reddy. Four of the six signed a 2009 letter to then president-elect Obama, describing Israel as the perpetrator of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.”
The National Council is only a little more balanced. Ten of the eighteen members who voted on the resolution had endorsed the USACBI as of May 2013 and seven signed the 2009 letter to Obama. One other Council member is part of a Queer Solidarity with Palestine effort to promote a boycott. One, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, is a member of the USACBI’s advisory board, and another, Sunaiana Maira, is part of the USACBI’s (I’m not making this up!) “Organizing Collective.”
As far as I know, not one member of the Council has been on record as raising a question about, much less opposing, a boycott. It is therefore hard to believe that a diversity of perspectives were needed “to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”
Jaschik reports that backers of the resolution argued at last month’s meeting that “the council should not hand the decision to the full membership for a vote. The Council has called a vote anyway, but is evidently not confident that members will fall in line if they have time to deliberate. So they have opened the vote for just ten days, when members who have not been following the issue will be occupied with finals and other end-of-semester chores. I hope the Council is right to worry. Certainly, as the Inside Higher Ed piece indicates, there is an opposition to the boycott within ASA, and several have spoken up. But I suspect the Council has simply miscalculated. In its eagerness to ram through the resolution, it will have shown the people of good sense who remain in ASA what the future of the organization looks like.
They should leave, and take their credibility with them.