ASA represents equal opportunities
On Tuesday, The Daily Targum published a commentary by a student entitled “Academic freedom should be free and unrestricted,” which addressed the recent vote of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions, referring to the action as “unethical and unwise.”
As an executive board member of the University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which is currently leading the campus campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, I can say that this commentary was, at best, a show of extreme ignorance and naïveté, and at worst, an attempt to completely minimize a humanitarian crisis through twisted half-truths and blatant lies.
The author speaks of the ASA’s boycott restricting academic freedom, but the only academic freedom that exists in this situation is that of Israeli institutions. While citing the small percentage of Israeli undergraduates who are Arab — in a land where Arabs are the majority, no less — the commentary completely ignores the fact that the Israeli government and academic community has done everything in its power to hinder the education of Palestinians. Refusal to give visas to Palestinian students seeking to study abroad, frequent school closures, uncalled-for arrests and imprisonment, and even injury and death is routine in the lives of Palestinian youth. Attempts at restricting discussion on Israeli violations of human rights have also occurred here in the United States with alarming regularity. A famous incident of this is last year’s threat by the New York City Council to cut funds to Brooklyn College after the university president refused to cancel a panel on the BDS movement.
While it is true that many Israeli universities are known for their research, it is also true that some of that research has gone into making life hell for Palestinians. Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, an internationally-renowned research university, has been responsible for developing remote-control bulldozers — a vehicle often used to destroy homes and even kill Palestinians and international activists, such American citizen Rachel Corrie. Technion is only an example of a pattern among Israeli academic institutions in contributing to the occupation. Many universities also give scholarships to students who have served or plan to serve in the Israeli military, the primary means of policing Palestinians. International scholars have been kept from visiting Palestinian universities, and within Israel proper, Arabs are segregated from Israelis into schools with significantly less government funding.
The idea that Palestinians “only stand to lose” if Israel’s research and innovation is impeded is extremely naïve and simplistic. Academic boycott is, by no means, a new idea. The Palestinian BDS campaign was indeed inspired by a similar action taken by activists in the 1980s, which helped to bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Tuesday’s commentary also completely denied and ignored the fact that the call for BDS came from the Palestinian people themselves. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is by no means a representative of the Palestinian people at this point in time. He is a tool of occupation and the Palestinian people are highly aware of this. His opposition of Israeli boycott holds no true moral weight.
I should also reiterate the fact, which the author of said commentary seemed to not understand, that this boycott is aimed at institutions, not individuals. Individual scholars, students and other academic or cultural workers from Israel can participate in ASA activities and conferences or speak at public universities, as per boycott guidelines. It is when such an individual explicitly represents or is an ambassador to the Israeli government or an Israeli institution complicit in the occupation that they become part of the boycotted party.
Far from being commended, our University should be ashamed for rejecting this academic boycott. For the reasons I have demonstrated, the claim that it infringes upon academic freedom is not only false but complete propaganda. The ASA boycott is defending “the free exchange of knowledge and ideas” by standing up to a regime that suppresses it not only in Palestine, but also in our own country where it has very clearly become a punishable crime to question Israeli policies. Rutgers faculty, who are part of the American Studies Association, should be proud of their membership — those who are not should join what is clearly an upstanding organization.
Rutgers University is known for its diversity and for its historic participation in movements for social and global justice. The administration’s deviation from this tradition when it comes to the matter of Israel is both striking and questionable. Academia has never been, and never should be, immune to attempts at social change. This is exactly where it’s supposed to start.
Syjil Ashraf is a School of Arts and Sciences junior, majoring in journalism and media studies and human resource management with a minor in political science.