Thursday, April 25, 2013

Did an American academic group vote to boycott Israel? (updated)

From  Inside Higher Ed:
The general membership of the Association for Asian American Studies has unanimously approved a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities, making it the first scholarly organization in the U.S. to do so, according to the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

About 10 percent of the association’s membership was present for last week’s secret ballot vote, which was open to all members and took place on the final day of the AAAS annual conference in Seattle. The resolution raises a number of concerns about the impact of Israeli policies on Palestinian students and scholars – including restrictions on travel and the forced closure or destruction of schools as a result of Israeli military actions – and describes Israeli academic institutions as “deeply complicit in Israel's violations of international law and human rights and in its denial of the right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians, in addition to their basic rights as guaranteed by international law."

“Be it resolved that the Association for Asian American Studies endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” the resolution reads in part. “Be it also resolved that the Association for Asian American Studies supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

The AAAS president, Mary Yu Danico, confirmed the resolution was approved and directed questions to the association’s past president, Rajini Srikanth, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Srikanth likened the academic boycott to that which was levied against South African universities to protest apartheid, and emphasized that the boycott is of institutions, not individual academics.
Something here does not smell right.

First of all, there is nothing about this resolution on the Association for Asian American Studies website. The only place this vote has been publicized are on rabid anti-Israel sites like the "U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel."

The Word document that shows the full resolution was written by David Lloyd, a USC professor who is one of the founders of the USCABI and a profound hater of Israel.

The past president of the AAAS quoted here, Rajini Srikanth, is also an academic anti-Israel ideologue.

But even with such members in the organization, is it plausible that a vote like this would be unanimous? Not a single academic standing up against the boycotting of other academics?

This seems even more unlikely when you look at the full schedule of the AAAS conference. Not a word is said about Palestine or Israel. In fact, not a word is stated about any resolutions or voting whatsoever, on any day of the conference, let alone the Saturday that this was supposed to have occurred. Saturday was a full conference day, with some 52 sessions throughout the day non-stop from 8:15 Am to 4:15 PM. There was literally no time for all the members to get together to debate or discuss any topic, let alone one as controversial as this, unless it was done Saturday evening - when most attendees would be itching to go home.

I don't have absolute proof that this appears to be a manufactured victory for BDS, but at best this appears to be a secret resolution rammed through using irregular procedures using hand-picked members only to "vote." At worst, this is a fiction being created by a small anti-Israel contingent of a relatively obscure academic association, purely to generate the impression of a wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Amerian academia.

Either way, this needs to be investigated. The integrity of the organization is at stake. If they really followed procedures correctly, the idea that an American academic group is filled with people who support boycotting Israeli universities without a single dissent is amazing. If, as I suspect, this was done under the table, then this needs to be exposed and the people behind it shamed - and probably expelled.

Was the membership at large of the Association for Asian American Studies aware of this resolution, and was each member given an advanced copy of the resolution in order to vote? This appears unlikely, but if anyone knows any member of this organization, feel free to ask them - or have them contact me.

UPDATE: In a private communication, Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, confirmed that "The association itself confirmed the facts of the story - that the AAAS did this".

What we still don't know is how this was done and whether the AAAS members at large were made aware of the vote.

One member who was at the conference did write to me saying that "I did not attend the membership meeting and would not have voted for this, if it is true." So the question remains - how do the actual members of AAAS feel about this, as opposed to the few who seem to have attended this meeting?

I did confirm that in general, the AAAS general membership meetings do occur on the Saturdays of their annual conference.