A Political Witch-Hunt in the Name of "Academic Freedom": In Defense of the American Studies Association

Wald, Alan
Date Written:  2014-03-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2014
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20379

Wald provides insight into the American Studies Association's decision to boycott Israeli universities and defends the group's decision against the backlash given by the media and academia.



While the elements and extent of the backlash, suggestions for an appropriate response, and thoughts about strengths and weaknesses of a boycott approach are the subjects of this essay, I must begin by stating that the achievement of ASA ought to be fĂȘted by all supporters of Palestinian (and other) human rights. Its passage dramatically shattered what Edward Said called "America's Last Taboo," the prohibition of an open and candid public discussion of the realities of Israeli policy and U.S. support.

The action was also beneficial in consolidating international ties for defenders of Palestinian rights by bringing strong statements of gratitude to ASA from the Middle East and elsewhere by critics of U.S. and Israeli state policy. For those advocates of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) strategy, from which the ASA took inspiration, the victorious balloting was a clear boost for the movement in this country.

The explanation for the astounding reaction to the passage of resolution by such a powerless group as ASA is that BDS, a global non-violent movement demanding compliance with international law and Palestinian rights, is plainly catching on internationally; it now stands as the most effective form of solidarity activity for those who wish to continue the traditions of the U.S. civil rights and South African anti-apartheid struggles, even in these difficult times.

Prior to the ASA vote, only the Association for Asian American Studies had taken a position in support of BDS last April.(19) Afterwards, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association did the same.(20) Next, on January 11, 2014 the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Languages Association (MLA, a 30,000 member organization of literature scholars) approved by a small margin a motion to put pressure on the US government to condemn Israel for alleged arbitrary denials of entry of US academics into Gaza and the West Bank.

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