Israel boycott pushback picks up steam

The pushback against a boycott of Israeli colleges and universities by U.S. academic institutions appears to be gaining steam.

The senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday called on the American Studies Association (ASA) to end its boycott of Israeli institutions.

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Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), joined several U.S. universities, including Harvard and Yale, and The Washington Post’s editorial board in weighing in against the decision.

In a letter to the association’s leaders, Engel argued boycotting Israel over its government’s treatment of Palestinians is a gross double standard.

“I was surprised to learn that Israel is the first country formally subject to a boycott by the ASA, which curiously has chosen to stay silent on China’s suppression of independent academic voices critical of the Communist Party, the Venezuelan government’s retaliation against opposition-oriented universities, or Zimbabwe’s denial of foreign academics from countries critical of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial government from assuming academic residencies at the University of Zimbabwe,” he wrote.

About one-third of the American Studies Association’s more than 3,800 members voted on a boycott of Israeli institutions last week.

The ASA’s decision is part of a larger global effort to win boycotts of Israeli institutions over that country’s policies toward Palestinians.

“The ASA condemns the United States' significant role in aiding and abetting Israel's violations of human rights against Palestinians and its occupation of Palestinian lands through its use of the veto in the UN Security Council," it said in a statement.

Israel’s government has criticized the boycotts, as has the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton are among the U.S. universities that have weighed in against a boycott. Brandeis and Penn State have withdrawn from the ASA over the issue.

“Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in a statement late last week.

“The recent resolution of the ASA proposing to boycott Israeli universities represents a direct threat to these ideals, ideals which universities and scholarly associations should be dedicated to defend.”

In his letter, Engel noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said his government does not support boycotts of the universities targeted by the ASA.