Tithi Bhattacharya and Bill V. Mullen write: Since the American Studies Association (ASA) voted overwhelmingly to boycott Israeli academic institutions in December, more than one hundred and fifty U.S. University Presidents have come out in support of Israel and condemned the ASA’s vote. Some of these administrators, such as the Presidents of IU and Kenyon College, have withdrawn their institutional membership from the ASA, and all of them have made their public pronouncements without any consultations with their faculty or elected university bodies.
More recently, bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives titled “The Protect Academic Freedom Act” would, if passed, strip all federal funds from any institution of higher education that boycotts Israel.
The bill follows close by legislation put forward by the New York State and Maryland State legislatures that would punish individual academics for engaging in political boycotts. New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver in announcing the bill explained that the ASA boycott was a “blatant assault on the academic freedoms that New York and its students have come to hold dear.”
What the University Presidents and legislators also have in common in this joint enterprise is a total silence about Palestinian human rights and academic freedom, the basis of the ASA resolution. The ASA Resolution was premised in part on the well-documented fact that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”
Supporting documentation for the resolution detailed how bombings, school closures, visa restriction, restricted movement in and out of Palestinian territories, and Israeli control of funding for Palestinian universities all significantly erode both human rights and academic freedom for Palestinian scholars.
Given the American state’s well-established “special relationship” to Israel, how can we best understand this ideological convergence between the heads of academic institutions and the US Government?
In this essay, we argue that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has helped to expose the historical complicity not just of Israeli Universities with an illegal, militarized occupation, but of American Universities in the supportive exercise of U.S. military and political power in the Middle East. Specifically, we argue that the U.S. university since 9/11 and under neoliberalism has leaped to project American imperial power in the Middle East and across the world. The ASA Boycott has been confronted by this reality, and confronted it, head on. The success of the BDS movement against Israel does, however, present new opportunities for challenging this militarization not just of Israel’s occupation and U.S. universities, but the wider social arena under capitalism. [Continue reading…]