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Group urges academic boycott over Israel's treatment of Palestinians

The American Studies Assn. seeks to draw attention to the effect of Israeli laws on Palestinian academics and students.

December 16, 2013|By Becca Clemons and Jason Song

A group representing nearly 5,000 U.S. educators has voted to back an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities to protest that country's treatment of Palestinians.

The American Studies Assn. announced Monday that the results of an online vote — in which about one-quarter of its members participated — overwhelmingly supported the effort intended to draw attention to the effect of Israeli laws on Palestinian academics and students.

"People who truly believe in academic freedom would realize protesting the blatant and systemic denial of academic freedom to Palestinians, which is coupled with material deprivation of a staggering scale, far outweighs concerns we in the West might have about our own rather privileged academic freedoms," David Palumbo-Liu, a Stanford University professor, said in a statement.

The boycott calls for allowing visiting Israeli scholars to collaborate with American professors and attend conferences but discourages U.S. academics from participating in conferences or events sponsored by Israeli universities.

"We want to create more space in public discourse for critical thinking for Israeli practices," said David Lloyd, a UC Riverside English professor.

Other education organizations, however, had urged against taking such a stand, saying it could stifle the free exchange of ideas.

"Members of the [American Studies Assn.] who oppose Israeli policies are, of course, entitled to their views and to act on them, but they should find other means … to register that opposition," a letter from the 48,000-member American Assn. of University Professors said last month.

Academics were not the only ones critical of the move.

"This shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom by the American Studies Assn. should be soundly condemned by all who are committed to the ideal that open exchange of ideas is the most effective way to achieve change," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement Monday.

An organization of Asian American studies scholars in April voted to endorse a similar boycott.

Supporters have said they hoped the move would spark conversation and persuade colleges and university officials to stop investing in companies that do work for the Israeli government.

Angela Y. Davis, a professor emeritus at UC Santa Cruz, said Israel's actions toward those living in the Palestinian region were similar to Jim Crow practices.

"It should be clear that a mass movement in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is long overdue," she said in a statement.

But Lawrence H. Summers, the former Harvard University president, said last week that it was unfair to single out Israel for its policies..

becca.clemons@latimes.com

jason.song@latimes.com

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