Bigotry Questions About the ASA’s Boycott of Israel

  • by:
    • Mark Onofrio
  • December 31, 2013

With the flurry of condemnations issued by university officials and academic associations against the American Studies Association’s vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions, much of the focus has, of course, been on how the boycott suppresses basic principles of academic freedom and stifles the free flow of ideas. Less attention, however, has been paid to the other deeply disturbing element of the boycott - - targeting Israel for such unfair and harsh treatment by the ASA.

Jeff Robbins, a former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and current Board Chairman of ADL’s New England Region, examines the bigotry embedded in these important aspects of the ASA boycott in an op-ed for the Boston Herald. Mr. Robbins rightly concludes that the resolution was motivated by something other than facts-on-the-ground and a sense of academic moral responsibility, and points out the troubling role that bigotry plays when Israel is singled out for boycotts.

The following is an excerpt from Mr. Robbins’ piece titled “Israel Boycott Raises Bigotry Issues”:

In the case of the American Studies Association boycott of Israel, however, the problem is not unfamiliarity with the facts. It is the disregard of them. For the ASA boycotters, as for those urging that the Modern Language Association endorse a similar boycott, it is not that they are unaware that the Israelis have repeatedly had their offers rejected by the Palestinians, or that acceptance of these offers would have ended the conflict. It is that these facts are quite immaterial to them.

Confronted with the question why his organization has never proposed a boycott of institutions any place other than Israel, yet alone places with human rights records far less admirable than that of Israel, ASA head Curtis Marez offered this disingenuous reply: “One has to start somewhere.”

But Israel is where the boycotters start, and also where they finish.


Mr. Robbins goes on to point out the gross human rights violations by Hamas in Gaza, the restrictions on basic freedoms imposed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the disturbing human rights infringements in Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  He notes: “The ASA would never dream of a boycott against the government-run universities in Gaza.  There is no boycott of institutions in the West Bank.  American universities such as Georgetown and George Washington receive significant Saudi Arabian funding. This, too, is apparently undeserving of a boycott.”

He quotes Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, who called the boycotters “phony progressives.”

He ends with this important observation: “They are that, to be sure. But the singling out of the Jewish state legitimately raises the troubling question of whether they are bigots as well.”

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