The Association for Asian American Studies just made news by becoming the first American academic organization to support a boycott of Israeli universities. In case you were wondering, the AAAS did not also call for a boycott of any other Asian universities located in countries with less-than-stellar human rights records. They seemingly believe that Israel is uniquely reprehensible.
The AAAS’s resolution left little to the imagination: it castigated Israeli universities for supporting Israel’s “violations of international law and human rights,” including its “denial of the right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians.” This language was consistent with former AAAS president Rajini Srikanth’s explanation for the boycott. He compared Israel to apartheid South Africa and argued that working with Israeli universities makes professors abettors of Israel’s “discriminatory practices.”
What’s truly puzzling about this decision is the AAAS’s recognition that “there are Israeli scholars who understand the difficulties that Palestinian academics and students have and speak up in support of Palestinian rights.” This fact alone should undermine the boycott’s rationale. Indeed, why isolate the very people who share their sympathies? The AAAS attempted to skirt this point by specifying that this boycott targets “Israeli institutions and not Israeli scholars” and that they will encourage “partnerships” between AAAS members of pro-Palestinian Israeli academics.
This distinction, however, is utter nonsense. One cannot separate these scholars’ pro-Palestinian scholarship and advocacy from the universities that pay their salaries, provide them with research grants, and lend them institutional legitimacy. The distinction is telling, though. It indicates that the AAAS believes Israel’s institutions are irredeemable. Hence, they support only those Israelis who are willing to undermine these institutions.
It is frightening that the academic boycott of Israel, once limited to European universities, has found such a prominent sponsor in the United States. Given the anti-Israeli rumblings on many of our campuses, we can be confident the AAAS’ resolution will not be the last.