Standing for Academic Freedom

  • Team Schusterman

January 2, 2014

  • Jewish Community

This month, the American Studies Association (ASA) adopted a resolution that calls for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, a measure that finds its place among the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeted at Israel. This is the only time the ASA—the country's largest association dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history—has chosen to boycott foreign academic institutions.

We are deeply disappointed to see that efforts to de-legitimize Israel continue to scale the walls of our academic institutions, infiltrating a sector of our society meant to champion integrity, the free flow of ideas and information and the value of working together in the pursuit of knowledge.

Opportunities to learn about Israel in a rigorous, balanced fashion at colleges and universities are a vital component of higher education and critical to creating fair, thoughtful public discourse about Israel in our country and around the world.

We are joined by many in both the academic and Jewish worlds who oppose the ASA boycott, and we stand in full support of those who are working to combat this harmful and counter-productive measure.

To date, more than 100 universities have rejected the ASA boycott, including Harvard and Yale. Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon Cofdllege and Penn State Harrisburg have all chosen to terminate their ASA membership.

"Brandeis University values its many relationships with Israeli academic institutions. We will not allow the ASA’s action to undermine those relationships or the principle of academic freedom," writes University President Fred Lawrence.

The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) and Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life are also collaborating to speak out. Looking ahead to another possible boycott by the Modern Language Association (MLA) protesting Israeli academic policies, the organizations released a statement calling on the MLA to "hear a far more diverse set of perspectives on the issue of academic freedom in Israel and nearby countries."

The organizations have also arranged an alternative panel on academic freedom in Israel during the MLA’s annual convention this month. Sponsored by the ICC and Hillel, the panel will feature MLA members who oppose a draft MLA resolution condemning Israel.

Long-term efforts to strengthen and expand Israel Studies are also underway. Leading the way is the Israel Institute, which supports exemplary teaching, scholarship, research and public education that promise to generate a more informed, sophisticated and multi-faceted understanding of Israel, in the United States and the broader global community.

By supporting those expanding the study of modern Israel in the United States and around the world, helping students on campus engage with Israel in meaningful and relevant ways and introducing established and emerging leaders to Israel, we hope to counter the darkness of lies, distortions and misinformation with the light of better facts, deeper knowledge and firsthand experience.

Through the work of many partners in our community, we believe we will see a time when Israel will be a natural, positive part of academic discourse; when Israel will be taught from diverse perspectives by growing ranks of outstanding and exciting scholars; when every major institution of higher learning in this country will offer courses related to Israel; and when tens of thousands of students will appreciate Israel as the Jewish homeland, a key ally of the United States and a full and legitimate modern state.

Want to get involved? Contact your alma mater to encourage them to consider institutional resignation from the ASA and a public statement opposing all academic boycotts, including those aimed at Israel.