Proposed ASA boycott of Israeli academics is a guaranteed moral fail

The fifth guest post by Jon from DivestThis! on the proposed ASA boycott of Israel

Perhaps it is the sheer number of pathologies on display that forced me out of hiatus to comment on the recent BDS outburst having to do with the American Studies Association’s upcoming vote on an academic boycott.

First, you’ve got the usual breathless “This time for sure!!!” BDS bombast radiating out from the Israel-hating press, regardless of the fact that practically no one outside of the field of American Studies had even heard of ASA before they put themselves on the map by announcing their intention to flush the organization’s commitment to academic freedom down the toilet in order to strike a political pose.

Then you’ve got the convoluted arguments that try to explain why imposing academic bans on other scholars represents a commitment to vs. an attack on academic freedom (arguments helped along by the participation of Judith Butler, who specializes in 25,000 word essays proving that night is day).

Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti at Brooklyn College event
Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti at a pro-BDS event at Brooklyn College

And then you’ve got the usual sociopathic behavior so familiar to those who have the pleasure of dealing with anti-Israel partisans, including their infuriated insistence that each and every one of their accusations be addressed immediately (“Violation of sixty-million international laws! Open air prison!! White Phosphorous!!!) coupled with a disciplined refusal to acknowledge countervailing facts or answer any human rights question directed at them.

But what makes this particular BDS fight unique is the behavior of the leadership that has decided this boycott must go through by any means necessary.  Generally, when BDS partisans take over an organization and decide to corrupt it for their own ends, they just hijack the committees needed to set policy, and then interpret (or rewrite) the rules to allow their executive vote alone to set policy.  But for some reason (perhaps the need to bring enough people along to get the original boycott measured passed unanimously), this decision ended up going to the membership for a vote.

Now I’m not going to get into why the vote of a majority of voters vs. a majority of members is all that is needed to let the global BDS network (most of which is not made up of American Studies scholars) to speak in the name of every member of ASA.  But once a vote was called, you would think an organization allegedly dedicated to scholarship and trying to support claims that they were fighting for the cause of academic integrity would at least make a pretense of impartiality. 

But instead they decided that all communication to the membership would consist only of arguments in support of the boycott (including texts pulled from supporters inside and outside the organization).  And when the contempt this strategy showed to the membership started to trigger complaints, they opened up a Facebook page (without telling anyone about it), then eight days later sent word that it was the place anyone could participate in discussion and debate.  And with just a few days left before the vote deadline, they chose to ghettoize everyone who wanted to have a say into a single Facebook thread which, surprise surprise, is now larded up with crazed anti-Israel accusations with the ASA itself opting out of “dialog” in order to post and repost the same material that is the only allowed discourse radiating out from ASA Central Command.

The only response I can discern from the Boycott or Bust Brigade is a complaint lodged by the ASA itself that insists anyone claiming the organization is not being open is “bogus,” along with yet another convoluted explanation regarding why critical material is being denied to the membership (allegedly because it is inaccurate) while ASA continues to pump out the lies and fantasies of Electronic Intifada to the organization unimpeded.

I’ve already noted how a leadership cadre that gave itself months to come to “consensus” on this issue has only given the membership 15 days (during finals season no less) to cast their votes.  While such turnout minimalization tactics are familiar in the world of rough-and-tumble politics (at least they didn’t automate the system to only accept votes between sundown Friday and Saturday), what does it say about an organization claiming that their power of their boycott rests on the reputation of scholarship for honesty and impartiality when the people who have forced this boycott on the organization acts with such complete dishonesty and partiality?

What it says is that if a vote goes through, it will be a vote of an organization that has discredited itself, even before the rest of the academy marginalizes them still further by pointing out that white is in fact white and an academic boycott is the opposite of academic freedom.  Speaking of which, given that ASA is insisting that condemnation by an academic organization turns someone into a pariah devoid of moral worth, what does that make an ASA that’s already been condemned by the American Association of University Professors, an organization that represents a hell of a lot more scholars does the ASA?

And so we’re in another situation where the boycotters’ deck-stacking sets them up for failure regardless of how the vote they concocted turns out.  For a Yes vote that takes place with ASA leaders having placed so many thumbs on just one side of the scale can be easily dismissed as resulting from the membership being manipulated rather than convinced.  Alternatively, if the members vote No despite ASA’s embargo on the information they need to make a fair decision, this will mean that even a group of academics not know for having a lot of Tea Party members in their ranks knows enough to recognize BDS for its toxic stench and understand that – despite what their betters at the top of the ASA hierarchy are telling them – boycotting fellow scholars is not their only moral choice.

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