Confronting the ASA boycott of Israel

ASAIn my post about how boycotters justify their antisemitism one of the boycotts mentioned was that of the American Studies Association (ASA).  The proposed boycott was finally ratified yesterday. even though the number of members who voted yes form a minority of the association:

Of note, the total number of votes equals only about one-quarter of the total ASA membership of 5000. Those voting Yes represent approximately 16% of the total membership, yet it will be a vote that will stain the ASA for years to come.

Contrary to previous academic boycotts, this one appears to have hit a nerve, and outraged reactions are being issued from all sides of the spectrum.  Prof. Bill Jacobson at the Legal Insurrection website goes so far as to compare it to the infamous Zionism is Racism UN resolution.

Prof. Jacobson has been following this boycott from its first proposal to its ratification and is now one of the leading voices in the pushback against the boycott.

He first mentions the good people opposing the boycott, and continues with a post on how Larry Summers, former President of Harvard University, calls the boycott “antisemitism in effect”:

This particular academic boycott is much worse, it is much worse because the idea that of all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses, that might be thought to have inappropriate foreign policies, that might be thought to be doing things wrong, the idea that there’s only one that is worthy of boycott, and that is Israel, one of the very few countries whose neighbors regularly vow its annihilation, that that would be the one chosen, is I think beyond outrageous as a suggestion…

[…] the choice of only Israel at a moment when Israel faces this kind of existential threat I think takes how wrong this is to a different level.

In response to the approval of the boycott, Prof. Jacobson proposes challenging the tax-exempt status of the ASA:

As I have previously indicated, I believe the anti-Israel academic boycott resolution of the American Studies Association calls into question ASA’s 501(c)(3) tax exemption.


ASA’s anti-Israel academic boycott resolution calls ASA’s 501(c)(3) status into question for many reasons, including but not limited to the act of engaging in an academic boycott not satisfying the requirements of 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that an organization must be “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable,…or educational purposes…”  An academic boycott, which clearly is a substantial activity of the ASA and will be for the coming years, does not satisfy this test.

In addition, the anti-Israel boycott arguably exceeds ASA’s legal purpose as set forth in its bylaws, among other places, used to obtain that tax exempt status:


The ASA boycott also arguably is unlawful under the NY State Human Rights law, and possibly other anti-discrimination laws, in that it discriminates on the basis of national original and religion.  Indeed, a letter opposing the resolution signed by numerous ASA members including 7 past Presidents notes:

In no other context does the ASA discriminate on the basis of national origin—and for good reason. This is discrimination pure and simple. Worse, it is also discrimination that inevitably diminishes the pursuit of knowledge, by discarding knowledge simply because it is produced by a certain group of people.

Adopting an unlawful and/or discriminatory academic boycott resolution and acting on that resolution calls ASA’s 501(c)(3) status into question under IRS guidelines.


As I stated before, ASA can spew all the venom it wants at Israel, but once it becomes a participant as an organization in an academic boycott of Israel based on unlawful and/or discriminatory grounds, ASA has ceased acting for charitable or educational purposes and is not entitled to the tax preferences that come from 501(c)(3) status.

This is very serious stuff, possibly much more than the radical chic terrorist-loving academics at the ASA ever considered.  Let’s hope that the threat of hitting the ASA in their pockets will bother them more than any accusation of antisemitism.

Kol Hakavod to Prof. Jacobson for not taking the initiative in combatting this boycott and not letting the matter rest. I wish him the greatest success for the sake of all of us.

A scathing article by Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg excoriates the ASA for its boycott of Israel (emphases are mine):

In the matter of the American Studies Association’s just-ratified boycott of Israeli academic institutions, one must be thankful that the organization’s president, Curtis Marez, is something of a dolt. What did Marez — an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California at San Diego — do to earn this designation? He failed to challenge the allegation that he was leading an effort to scapegoat Jews. Savvier scapegoaters know how indispensably important it is to deny singling out the world’s one Jewish country for discriminatory treatment simply because it is Jewish. When asked “Why Israel?” they are ready with an answer: “Because Israel is a uniquely evil country.”

Marez, an earnest but unskilled propagandist, failed this very basic test. When New York Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena asked him why Israel, alone among the countries of the world, was chosen for excoriation and isolation — the ASA has heretofore boycotted no other country — Marez “did not dispute that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, are generally judged to have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s, or comparable.” Marez then compounded his error by telling Perez-Pena, in his organization’s defense, that “one has to start somewhere.”


It seems, though, that one might want to start with China, where a prominent economist, Professor Xia Yeliang, was recently dismissed from Peking University; one state-run paper charged him with arguing for “freedom and democracy.”


Is it a coincidence that these academics are singling out the world’s only Jewish-majority country for boycott? Only to those who know nothing of the history of anti-Semitic scapegoating. This is not to say that Professor Marez and his colleagues are personally anti-Semitic. Larry Summers, a past president of Harvard University, told Charlie Rose that he considers boycotts of Israel “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.”


The ASA is also facing an unlikely opponent in its anti-Israel campaign: Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, supports the boycott of settlement-made goods, but he has come out against broad anti-Israel boycotts. The ASA is more Palestinian, in other words, than the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Still, this vote by the ASA marks something of a turning point — this is the second time this year that a U.S. academic organization has called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. I assume the ASA won’t be the last group to do so. And I believe that we will one day see groups such as the ASA call for the boycott of American institutions and individuals who support Israel. Such a campaign would represent a logical extension of the boycott ratified this weekend. Yes, a boycott of businesses owned by pro-Israel American Jews would have a special odor about it, but really, doesn’t the ASA boycott have something of the same smell?

The onslaught on the ASA continues with another scathing article at CiFWatch by Jon from DivestThis! who explains How ASA Became RASA (Racist American Studies Association):

As with any BDS debate, many questions regarding why a boycott was being directed at one country and one country only were met with well-rehearsed answers that never got to the real reason why the ASA was ready to abandon the principles of academic freedom in order to punish Israel and Israel alone.

And that reason is that there is a worldwide propaganda campaign directed at the Jewish state by dozens of wealthy and powerful countries who have corrupted organizations such as the UN in order to ensure global censure is directed against their enemy while the human rights spotlight never highlights the fact that Israel’s accusers represent the worst human rights abusers on the planet.


ASA President Marez told the New York Times that Israel was chosen to be the group’s human rights pariah because “you have to start somewhere.”  But the chances that the organization will continue from this starting point to act on human rights issues regarding other countries is nil since, as noted above, the ASA’s leaders are not human rights activists but anti-Israeli partisans first and last.  And given that they have forced the organization to throw academic freedom on the pyre in the name of their cause, I think it’s fair to say they should no longer even be considered scholars.


So what are we supposed to do about it?

Well first of all, we need to stop referring to this organization as the ASA.  For those who have destroyed the organization on Sunday should not have carte blanche to trade on its name and reputation on Monday.  I have chosen to refer to them from now on simply as RASA with the “R” standing for either “Rump” or “Racist” (take your pick based on your level of generosity).


But we can do more than that.  Real American Studies scholars who decide to remain in the organization should quadruple down on their relationship with real Israeli scholars and demand the RASA reject joint papers and joint presentations at conferences and publish the organizations communications on the subject for all to see.  They should show up to next year’s conference wearing a yellow star with a Z in the middle of it, or all manner of paraphernalia from every boycotted Israeli college and university they can find.  And maybe someone can publish a scholarly American Studies paper on the corruption of civic organizations within the US using ASA as their case study.

And most importantly, the misery the RASA leadership has visited upon the organization – the rancor, recriminations, resignations and condemnations by genuine scholars – should be held up to every other academic organization in the land as an example of what happens when a scholarly groups decides to stop being scholars to participate in a BDS program that demands self-immolation as an entrance fee.

Strong words indeed but Jon is absolutely right. I hope the sane minds in the ASA take heed of his suggestions.

The question remains, why is there this hatred for Israel on the left of the political spectrum? An interesting op-ed by Allan Goldstein in today’s Algemeiner declares that Israel has the right to exist and the Left needs to defend it as much as the Right:

When a tiny nation faces mortal peril—and Israel always faces mortal peril—it needs a solid, impregnable defense, from the right to the left. Today, the right wing looks strong. But the left flank is bristling with enemies, and its few liberal defenders are overwhelmed, virtually disarmed.

‎Israel is fighting for its right to exist with one hand tied behind its back. The left hand.


… One needn’t travel far from the center of conventional liberal opinion to find anti-Israel sentiment—even virulent anti-Israel sentiment—on the left.

Among otherwise sensible liberals, the question of an entire nation’s existence is an acceptable subject of polite conversation.

‎That state of affairs would be shocking if we weren’t so used to it. But, as a liberal, I will never get used to it, because it is a perversion of everything liberalism stands for.

‎The natural home of the left is with Israel, not its enemies. Because Israel, as a real, live country, embodies everything the left purports to believe in.


In all of the Middle East there is only one state that enshrines freedom of conscience and religious choice in its laws, and strives mightily to practice those ideals within its borders. That state is Israel. The other nations in the Middle East trample on the rights of their religious and ethnic minorities with murderous glee.


Large parts of the left are anti-Israel. The question is what do we do about it?

‎Some on the right say give liberalism up. According to them, anti-Israel sentiment is just more evidence of how wrong-headed liberal philosophy is: If you want to support Israel you must become a conservative.

‎I reject that dangerous idea, and so should even the staunchest conservative. Israel needs all the friends it can get. Shouldn’t we, at the very least, reinsure ourselves by having a loud, clear voice unapologetically advocating for Israel on the left?

‎I know this isn’t a forlorn hope because I am one. I’m an unshakable defender of Israel and progressive political values, both at the same time. There is no contradiction in those positions; they are mutually reinforcing. Many of my fellow liberals feel the same way.


I’m just saying we need to engage the liberal/leftist half of humanity with all the energy and passion we can muster. Right now our enemies hold that field by default. Liberal supporters of Israel—and don’t kid yourself, we are legion—are mostly scared into silence by the perverted peer pressure of a high-decibel minority, full of rage and wrath as only those possessed by an irrational, unsupportable, political fetish can be.

‎Pro-Israel liberals, when they do find the courage to come out of the closet, are timid in their support, even apologetic. That condition reaches its nadir with Jewish liberals, the so-called self-loathing Jew. They don’t loathe themselves for being Jewish; they loathe themselves for not having the guts to stand up against the aggressive, bellicose fragment of the Israelophobic left that dominates the conversation, and them. And they allow the most outrageous lies and defamations that infest the liberal press and blogs to pass unchecked, not because they believe them, but because they don’t have the strength to fight back.


But a better case for Israel can be made from the left than from the right. The deepest values of liberalism and the cornerstones of liberal philosophy achieve their ascendancy in one place in the Middle East, one place in all of Asia: Israel.

‎All the left needs is the political, philosophical, and moral firepower to fight, and win, that existential argument. But the only place a liberal can find those weapons is on the left.

Well said Mr. Goldstein. I wish you great success in your endeavour and I’m sure you will find many supporters if you manage to amplify your voice loudly enough.  Although I am not of the left I give you my whole-hearted support and look forward to full cooperation between the Left and the Right in supporting and defending Israel.

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26 Responses to Confronting the ASA boycott of Israel

  1. Reblogged this on danmillerinpanama and commented:

    A conservative, I like to consider myself a “liberal” in the old fashioned, classical sense. My favorite undergraduate history professor, John Morton Blum, was a liberal in that sense. He was open to considering opposing views and to acknowledging the merits of those he found fact-based and rational. He was also open to considering and rejecting those he considered fantasy-based or irrational.

    A Democrat, Mr. Blum introduced Senator Barry Goldwater — “an articulate and charismatic figure during the first half of the 1960s . . . known as “Mr. Conservative”– to our lecture class one day back (as I now recall) in 1961 or ’62. Senator Goldwater was warmly welcomed as he entered the auditorium with Mr. Blum and was given substantial applause when he spoke. Mr. Blum’s undergraduate lecture class was the most popular at the university and sessions had to be held in the largest auditorium there, seating about three hundred. 

    Several years ago, I began referring to the current herd of so called “liberals” as “libruls” – those with closed minds and empty heads, not given to independent thought. They are far removed from classical liberals, now apparently an endangered species in academia.

    As the article demonstrates, the ASA RASA boycott of Israel is neither fact-based nor rational; it is the opposite of both. The article observes that

    the total number of votes equals only about one-quarter of the total ASA membership of 5000. Those voting Yes represent approximately 16% of the total membership, yet it will be a vote that will stain the ASA for years to come.

    How many opposed the resolution? The quote provided above suggests that 25% minus 16% or about 9% probably voted against it. How about the rest of those who were opposed? Did some of them abstain because ashamed to present politically incorrect views differing from those of a more vocal minority? Or did they simply not care enough to bother? To recognize the organization as “liberal,” as they prefer, distorts the word grossly.

    Although Mr. Blum died three years ago, I am confident that if still alive he would be ashamed of his fellow academics at RASA and would speak firmly and loudly against their absurd views.

    • anneinpt says:

      Dan, thank you for the reblog and your commentary. The academic background that you give is extremely interesting. As you say, it is hard to imagine such real classical liberalism occurring today.

  2. naftali says:

    Letter I sent to ASA Leaders today

    Hello Curtis and Lisa.

    So, you passed this Boycott Israel Resolution. Now comes the hard part, a boycott that is not enforced has no value. So, being the child of Holocaust survivors myself, I want to know what we should expect and how to behave under your guidelines. Not for me of course, but for the college and university age children of Jews.

    You see, all we know about the previous boycott of Jews is pictures of Nazis with signs in German saying “Don’t buy from Jews” We also see pictures of Jews wearing a Yellow Star with the word Jude on them. Apparently there were very strict rules about the size of the star, the material, and where it was to be placed on the clothing.

    So my questions to you are aimed at making sure we all get this right to avoid unpleasant misunderstandings.

    Will it be a Yellow Star with the word Jew on it we are supposed to wear, or perhaps a more modern version of this identifier? (Kind of important as you need to be able to identify us in order to boycott us, and with our intermarriage rate, it can be hard) Believe it or not, many Jews don’t even look Jewish!

    Does it have to be sown on or can it just be an iron-on patch? Can we purchase these online at the ASA site? Will there be a family discount? (We’re Jewish after all, we have to ask)
    Do we have to wear this on every clothing item or just the jacket? If it’s winter, do we wear it on the jacket and on the shirt or blouse? Left side or right?
    What about when in the pool? (Assuming we are allowed in the pool) I know, maybe we should have a tattoo identifier, that does not go away and it’s good even in sunny weather.

    Forms of address. So, if we are being boycotted, I assume that students who are Israelis or support Israel should not attend any classes offered by ASA members? If they attend, is there designated seating in the back for them?
    Will grading be the same, or given that they are members of a race that supports genocide, apartheid and denies academic freedom, the grading would automatically start at C and go down from there? Can these students speak in class, or they must appoint a Judenrat to communicate with the teaching staff?

    I just thought of another question. Eric Cheyfitz whom you trotted out as your resident KAPO,oops, I mean supporter teaches at Cornell which has a major collaboration with the Technion. Shouldn’t he be boycotting his own University then?

    I saw that you posted a lot of information on your site about this boycott resolution advising your members how to deal with the fallout. Will you be sending the details of what we are expected to do to our Judenrat? the email address by the way is

    Naftali Muenz

    • anneinpt says:

      Excellent letter Naftali. Thank you for sharing it with us. Let us know if you get a reply and what they have to say in their defence.

      • cba says:

        My prediction for their reply: “Shut up! Stop trying to silence us with false accusations of antisemitism! You’re not allowed to say things like that!”

  3. Pingback: » Confronting the ASA boycott of Israel | Anne’s Opinions Let's Get Political

  4. So anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government and its actions towards the Palestinians is anti-semetic?
    That makes as much sense as saying anyone who thinks Mugabe is a murderous dictator is a racist.

    • anneinpt says:

      Don’t be ridiculous. We are not talking here about simple disagreement. You’re being completely disingenuous. You know perfectly well that criticism of the Israeli government is widespread, loud, persistent and acrimonious. No one is silencing such criticism. Just open the New York Times, the Guardian, or listen to the BBC, NBC, NPR, CBC… Israelis themselves disagree with their government’s actions.

      The ASA wants to disagree with Israel’s government? Go ahead! Arrange debates, discussions, write protest letters, whatever.

      But what we are talking about here is a discriminatory boycott. This goes way beyond mere criticism and disagreement. I’m sure the ASA disagrees with the actions of many governments around the world, for example China, Saudi Arabia, even Russia. But I don’t see them boycotting those countries’ academics. In fact I don’t even see them protesting against them. And if they don’t disagree with those awful human-rights-abusing countries, why not??

      And this is why the ASA is antisemitic. Out of all the countries in the world, the one country that they are boycotting happens to be the one sole Jewish country in the world. It is also the country with the best human rights record in the region if not the world. Now tell me that this is not antisemitic.

      Furthermore, are they going to boycott Arab academics who are citizens of Israel? Yes, I know. Thinking about that might make their heads explode. And yours.

      • Brian Goldfarb says:

        And he can’t even write “antisemitic” properly.

        Get an education, man! Or at least a dictionary/spellchecker.

        • anneinpt says:

          A typical modern “intellectual” in other words.

          I should have mentioned in my reply to him that I also take huge exception to the implied conflation between Israel and Robert Mugabe. But I was writing in a temper and couldn’t keep track of every insult he made.

  5. Naftali says:

    Annie, it’s wasted breath with these people. It’s like my late Mother trying to reason with the Nazis who pushed her into the cattle car to Auschwitz, and who sent her extended family to the gas chambers.

    Ghetto Jews still try to find favor with our haters, to figure that common sense, facts and the truth will win out. Israel is about no more apologies, no more justifying our existence. You want to live with me in peace like any other human being? Great, nothing we want more. You want to attack me? I’ll destroy you. שיקפצו לי

    • Brian Goldfarb says:

      Naftali, it’s not necessarily these idiots that we’re trying to communicate with (and they’re often quite easy to demolish, as they usually have nothing that passes for evidence to substantiate their assertions), but the others who aren’t quite sure about this – which is why we keep going – and, equally important, those who are looking for arguments next time they come up against these…people at a social gathering. They won’t ever comment, but they are there. I know, I have friends who follow us (the collective us).

      This topic has aroused interest elsewhere: has two articles on this very topic by the founding editor, David Hirsh, for example. He’s actually being very polite to his interlocutor. Perhaps he’s hoping that they won’t notice the knife sliding in between the ribs, intellectually speaking!

      • anneinpt says:

        Very interesting articles on Engage, thanks Brian. I take issue with David’s description of how Israel’s “occupation” has caused racism to permeate Israeli society. I feel that is unfair and incorrect.

        • Brian Goldfarb says:

          Anne, I understand why you take issue with David, but at least he is for the existence of Israel in peace and security and against antisemitism/anti-Zionism. Just what the best solution is is another matter.

          He is, after all, part of the sane Left. He must be, given all the flack he’s taken since 2004 and the founding of the engage website. After all, he and the late Norman Geras had a lot in common (other than, I suspect, Marxism), but both believe(d) in Israel. That their “ideal Israel” might differ from yours doesn’t make them any the less allies.

          I believe that each of you would, in the clutch, keep the other’s back! As would I.

          • anneinpt says:

            I agree with you there Brian. Certainly David Hirsh has done formidable work in countering the academic boycott and he is obviously strongly Zionist.

            It’s just that although he is obviously perfectly entitled to his opinion, I just wish that he and similarly minded colleagues wouldn’t always use the caveat of “but the occupation…”. when arguing with anti-Israel propagandists. I feel it just gives them more ammunition against Israel.

    • anneinpt says:

      As Brian below says, we must answer the antisemites’ accusations for the sake of “passing traffic” – those people who haven’t formed an opinion on the subject but are interested in learning more.

      But I agree with your general opinion that we’ll never convince the haters, not by arguing with them and not by playing nice. We have to look after ourselves because no one else will.

  6. Brian Goldfarb says:

    We are not alone!! tells us that Penn State Harrisburg & Brandeis University have withdrawn from membership of the ASA.

    Those American colleges got guts!

  7. Dave Whippman says:

    The whole point about most of the BDS movement is that it is anti-Semitic, disguised as concern for the Palestinians. Right-wingers, if they’re racist, have no qualms about admitting the fact. Left wingers pretend to be non-racist, so they cover up their bigotry against Jews by slandering Israel. Leon Williams’s comment above is a good example. He avoids the key question: WHY does Israel provoke such condemnation, when it’s all too obvious that much worse acts are being done by so many other countries?

  8. Naftali says:

    Now that new evidence has surfaced that it was in fact Palestinians who blew the PanAm plane out of the air at Lockerbie, the ASA will redouble their efforts to blame the Technion

  9. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Here’s a comment I posted on Simply Jews, courtesy of Snoopy the Goon; more of an article really. Reposted here with the agreement of Anne.

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