President David Hodge has formally opposed the American Studies Association’s (ASA) recent boycott of Israeli academic institutions in an agreement with university presidents of the Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC), an educational association of Ohio public universities, and the presidents of many other colleges and universities across the nation.
The ASA is a group dedicated to the study of American culture and history. Its boycott of Israeli academic institutions, according to the editors of its website, is in support of scholars and students, namely Palestinian, who are denied academic freedom as a result of the Israeli government’s military occupation of Palestine and numerous violations of human rights and international agreements.
Beginning in 1948, the Israeli military occupation of Palestine has raised international concern for decades. Human rights violations and disregard of international agreements, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, which sought to protect Palestinians from occupation, continue to color the actions of Israeli leadership toward Palestinian Arabs.
Among other abuses, Israel discriminates against Palestinians through security checkpoints, segregated roads, arrests and land confiscations. The Israeli military has also killed Palestinians living in the West Bank and destroyed Palestinian homes. Israel and Egypt’s blockade on Gaza, starting in 2007 and still in place today, places economic strain on Palestinians living there.
Matthew Gordon is a history professor at Miami University who specializes in Islamic and Middle East history. The history of the Middle East region and the issues there are complicated, he said.
“Israel has subjected the Palestinians to the humiliation and violence of military occupation for many decades,” Gordon said. “This is a basic fact to which academics, both in Israel and the United States, the human rights community and many political movements across the world have been responding for years with deep dismay.”
ASA’s decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions is part of a broader movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it addresses the problems and complies with international law. The BDS movement began in Palestine, but has since spread to organizations like the ASA.
Much of the problem, according to Gordon, rests in the occupation of the West Bank of the Jordan River and Gaza.
“The fundamental fact is military occupation since 1948 and particularly 1967, when Israel and the Arabs fought the Six-Day War during which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza,” Gordon said. “Since 1967, with the introduction of military occupation, the building of large Israeli settlements and the basic colonization of both areas, the idea of a two-state solution, once considered a viable solution to the conflict, has become more and more remote.”
According to Gordon, the U.S. has provided support to Israel despite Israel’s role in perpetuating the conflict.
“There are many observers who believe Israel has done an insufficient amount to achieve the two-state solution,” Gordon said. “This relates particularly to the large and growing settlement movement on the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership shares much of the blame, of course, but it is vital for us, as Americans, to recognize Israel’s detrimental role as well and the extent to which the United States has thrown its considerable support to Israel despite this role.”
These settlements are an obstacle to the creation of two states. They are also regarded as illegal based on international agreements.
Israel is left with three options, Gordon said: remaining a military occupation state, becoming an apartheid state with a separate but unequal situation where Palestinian Arabs are second class citizens or giving up its identity as a Jewish state in order to absorb the Palestinian population.
Hodge said his decision to reject the ASA’s boycott was not a political statement, but rather a firm belief in academic freedom.
“There are certain things that are so important, and one of those is the freedom of academic inquiry,” Hodge said.
Hodge’s decision does not represent Miami University as an institution or any particular political stance, but rather a personal belief shared by fellow university presidents across the country, he said.
Charlotte Newman Goldy is the director of the Jewish Studies Program at Miami. She said ASA’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions is not the right action to take to make a symbolic statement in support of Palestinians.
“A boycott of a country hopes to isolate it economically,” Goldy said. “But that’s not what a boycott by an academic organization does. I don’t know what an academic organization hopes to accomplish by trying to boycott another institution. Israeli universities, like American universities, are filled with debate. That’s where the biggest debates are going on about the treatment of Palestinians.”
Goldy said the boycott of Israeli academic institutions targets the wrong people in this issue.
“The universities have students who are Palestinian, including some who live in the territories,” Goldy said. “[And] those are issues that are being debated in the universities themselves. So for any academic association to boycott another academic association where there is freedom of speech and debate, to me, it sends the absolute wrong message of what academic institutions are all about.”
Goldy said she supported Hodge’s decision to reject the ASA’s boycott.
“I very much support [Hodge’s decision] because it does send a message to faculty, staff, students and prospective members that we support academic freedom,” Goldy said. “It is not saying anything about the politics or taking sides in any policy in Israeli territories, but it is saying the university is a safe place whether you’re Jewish or Muslim, left or right, or on a particular side of this particular issue, you’re welcome to come here. We support academic freedom and civil debate.”