Letters the Week of Jan. 2, 2014


Local leader Sam Katz shares his outrage on the American Studies Association's decision to pass a vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

What Were Those ‘Academics’ Thinking?
Jewish organizations and voices, including the Jewish Exponent, (Editorial: “Taking a Stand on BDS,” Dec. 26) have rallied to counter the boycott of Israeli universities advanced by the American Studies Association. I joined them in the following letter emailed to ASA’s officers:
To the officers of the American Studies Association:
The ridiculous and anti-Semitic position that your organization has adopted calling for a boycott of the universities of the State of Israel over your opposition to the policies of its government with respect to the presence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is embarrassing, uninformed and totally hypocritical. I wonder whether any of you might have strong disagreements with any of the policies of our nation’s government that would cause you to call for a boycott of the University of California-San Diego, New York University, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University, Arizona State, the University of Washington or any of the colleges and universities represented by your membership.
All of these schools receive an enormous amount of federal funding. Surely you must find it unacceptable that our foreign policy looks the other way in respect to human rights violations in Russia, China, the African continent and so many other nations that also are homes to universities? No doubt you are having a tough time swallowing American willingness to sit idly by while North Korea and Iran, each of whom has threatened their neighbors, develop nuclear arsenals.
Since you know so little about Israel, you might be surprised to learn that in 1948, 1967, 1973 and through multiple intifadas, Israel’s Arab neighbors have initiated wars against it. That Israel has determined that it doesn’t want to be destroyed sounds like a great reason for the ASA to condemn it. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the accords reached at Camp David or Oslo and how the security of 6 to 7 million Jewish citizens of Israel surrounded by 1 billion Islamic neighbors was weakened after these “important” international agreements. Is it too much to ask that an organization with the name “academic” in its title might be relied on to actually conduct some due diligence resembling academic rigor before venturing beyond its zone of knowledge and understanding.
The adverse and widely critical reaction to your position will hopefully isolate the ASA and make it even more irrelevant than it appears to be today.
That you chose to boycott the universities of a democratic nation, which permits free speech, has an advanced system of law and justice, promotes academic freedom (where, by the way, many of its professors speak out freely against the policies of its government), which has opened its doors to immigrants from nations that persecute religious (Jewish) minorities, and that leads the world in developing solutions for major global health and environmental challenges, only further undermines the lack of insight your call for a boycott reflects.
But I guess you “had to start somewhere.” (As stated by the ASA president.)
Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution for the ASA would be to work on a factually based focus that keeps your attention on issues that you might actually know something about. Academics is clearly not on that list.
Sam Katz | Philadelphia


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