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The ASA Responds to its Critics

Evidently stung by over seventy statements of opposition by college and university presidents to their boycott resolution, and the loss of some of its institutional members, the American Studies Association has issued a plea for support. As Yair Rosenberg says, it’s like they’re not even trying.

To be precise, the statement comes not from the ASA’s National Council, which voted unanimously to endorse the resolution and to have ASA members vote on it, but from the ASA Academic and Community Activism Caucus, which originally put it forward. As I explain here, the ASA, although it includes members who have vigorously opposed the resolution, has a long history of radicalism and politicization. The ASA Academic and Community Caucus represents the constituency within the ASA that thinks the group is not radical or political enough. These are the people to whom the defense of the boycott has apparently been left.

The Activism Caucus is engaged in propaganda rather than debate. Consider its call to defend the “right of the association to act according to the will of the membership.” When it proposed the resolution, the Caucus did not call for a general membership vote and indeed, boycott supporters “overwhelmingly urged the [National Council] to immediately act and approve the resolution—any delay, they argued, was a tactic for defeat.” The pro-boycott leadership  then presided over a rushed discussion, in which it refused to share any arguments other than its own with the general membership, and vote. The Caucus is a late convert to democracy.

The Caucus also complains that the ASA Facebook page has “been subject to a barrage of inflammatory attacks.” It is true that the ASA comes in for some harsh criticism on the page, which also includes assertions that the mainstream media is controlled by Zionists. But the comments on the page—see for yourself—are hardly distinguishable from what you would see in the comments section of a typical article on a sensitive issue. Nonetheless, we are told, “tactics of intimidation may be illegal.” The Caucus’s “legal team” (they have a legal team!) is on the case.

The Facebook page is also worth looking at in the context of the Caucus’s insistence on “the right of the ASA to develop independent political positions based on the scholarship and research of its members.” In fact, the only work relevant to the boycott posted by administrators is from the Electronic Intifada and Al Jazeera America. While the Caucus is able to name six “internationally renowned scholars” who support the boycott, not one of them is a scholar of the Middle East. Admittedly, Richard Falk is a scholar of international law, but he is also, as Rosenberg is the latest to document, a 9/11 truther who once posted “a cartoon of a yarmulke-wearing dog urinating on Lady Justice while chewing on a bloody skeleton.” The citation of Falk, whose words are actually quoted and incorrectly attributed to “the United Nations” in the original resolution, leads Rosenberg to wonder, tongue in cheek, whether the Caucus has been infiltrated by Zionist operatives.

The Caucus is able to quote one “well-known scholar of Mid-East politics,” “Professor Henry Siegman,” who also helps the ASA’s “some of my best friends are Jews!” defense by being a “former director of the American Jewish Congress.” Professor Siegman, though he has, indeed, written a great deal on the Middle East, lists as his sole scholarly credential a bachelor’s degree from the New School for Social Research.

I am no snob, so I do not think that lacking an advanced degree in a subject means that you cannot become an expert in it or, for that matter, know more about it than people who hold advanced degrees. Moreover, the Caucus would have had no problem, had they taken the trouble to look, finding advanced degree holding professors of Middle East Studies, like Mark LeVine of the University of California-Irvine, who support BDS. But the Caucus’s choice of Siegman and Falk as the closest thing they could find to experts in the area the boycott covers is telling. Far from developing “independent political positions based on the scholarship and research of its members,” the Caucus cannot be bothered to Google its way out of the bubble from which it issues its pronouncements.


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