Kudos to University of California President Janet Napolitano and UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi for their statements opposing the recent resolution of the American Studies Association boycotting Israel. They join the heads of about 90 other universities nationwide who have issued similar statements.
There are two reasons why the ASA’s resolution is profoundly wrong. One, it conflicts with the core values of higher education. “Academic boycotts are inimical to the principles of free speech and academic freedom that are the bedrock of teaching and scholarship,” Katehi and Provost Ralph Hexter write (Dec. 28).
Two, as applied to Israel specifically and only Israel, the resolution is discriminatory and misinformed. By international standards — and certainly compared to universities elsewhere in the Middle East — Israeli universities are open in their personnel and practices. Their staffs and students include many Arab Israelis, Christians as well as Jews.
As Katehi and Hexter note, “… we draw attention to serious violations of academic freedom in other countries that do not allow students to study in their own languages, penalize students and faculty for voicing their opinions, and use violence to suppress dissent on university campuses.”
Where is the ASA outrage directed to Iran, North Korea, Syria and other exemplars of truly despicable academic practices? When asked about his organization’s focus on Israel, the ASA president reportedly replied, “you have to start somewhere.” To those of you waiting for the follow-up — don’t hold your breath!