It is hypocritical for President Peter Salovey, in his condemnation of the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions, to invoke the boycott’s suppression of “academic freedom.” While Israeli and American students have the privilege of speaking their minds at their universities, Palestinians are forced to remain silent or face persecution.
The Israeli academy has deprived Palestinian academics the very freedoms that Salovey claims to defend. In fact, Palestinian academic freedom is virtually nonexistent under Israeli occupation. I support the ASA’s boycott on Israeli academic institutions until Palestinians are afforded basic human rights. After all, shouldn’t these “fundamental values of scholarship and academic freedom” be afforded to every human being, not just to Israelis and Americans?
President Salovey’s concern for “academic freedom” overlooks Israel’s blatant and systematic deprivation of basic rights to Palestinians, beyond academic freedom. Indeed, Israeli occupation limits and obstructs access to basic necessities, such as food and water. These fundamental human rights are a necessary precondition for the academic freedom that President Salovey defends, but they are not upheld.
Despite Salovey’s claim, it is crucial to understand that the ASA’s boycott will not necessarily “close off discussion and dialogue.” The boycott is not designed to restrict the freedoms of individual Israeli scholars, academics or students, and does not request that American scholars cease traveling to Israel for their research. The ASA plans to engage with Israeli academics on this topic, inviting a number of them to its 2014 annual meeting. The ASA has said that they only refuse to “enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government.”
This legal, nonviolent form of resistance puts pressure where I believe it is needed — on those institutions that financially support Israel’s occupation of Palestine through the development of armed weapons and political strategies that perpetuate the ongoing conflict. “School closures, limited freedom of movement, violence, visas denied for Fulbright grants and other scholarly opportunities — these are the very real abridgments of academic freedom that the ASA resolution was meant to draw attention to,” explained Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale Professor of American Studies and History.
Yale students who support the ASA’s boycott believe that conversations about academic freedom must include the history of Israeli closures and raids on Palestinian universities, and the hundreds of students detained in Israeli facilities for their opposition to state oppression and “undisclosed reasons.” The ongoing 46-year settler-colonial occupation of Palestine creates fundamental injustices that the ASA’s boycott attempts to address. As ASA President and Professor Curtis Marez has said, “Universities are active participants in, and important enablers of, Israel’s repressive, unjust, and illegal policies toward the Palestinians.”
Contrary to their mission, not a single Israeli academic institution has petitioned their government to protect the Palestinian right to education. The ASA chose not to ignore the call of Palestinians to support the boycott — bringing an overlooked struggle to the spotlight.
Rightly concerned about its complicity as an American institution, the ASA has stated that it “condemns the United States’ significant role in aiding and abetting Israel’s violations of human rights against Palestinians.” The United States is the biggest supporter of the Israeli state, and has the power to change its policies. As a result, American organizations, such as the ASA and Association for Asian American Studies (which voted to boycott in spring 2013), have a responsibility not to be complicit in human rights abuse.
President Salovey’s opposition to the ASA’s boycott is misleading because the boycott does not restrict academic freedom. Yale must take this opportunity to provide leadership in speaking for Palestinians who have been prevented from speaking for themselves. We can remain complicit in Israeli human rights violations on Palestinians or demonstrate our opposition.
Unlike the perpetual wars waged by the world’s military superpowers, the boycott aspires for an endpoint. If Israeli institutions will put an end to the continual violation of Palestinian’s basic human rights, the boycott’s limitations on academic partnerships will be put to an end as well.
Chelsea Faria is a first-year student at the Divinity School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.