State Sen. Leach: ASA Israel Boycott Is “Misguided, Irrational”

In a letter to the president of the American Studies Association (ASA), Curtis Marez, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery County) attacked the boycott of Israeli institutions by the Association.

In the letter, that will be publicly released tomorrow (Tuesday), Leach wrote, “you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

“Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his ‘trial’ by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.”

Dear Mr. Marez,

As a former college professor and current Pennsylvania State Senator and member of the Senate Education Committee, I was disappointed (although, sadly, not surprised) to learn of the American Studies Association (ASA)’s decision to boycott academic establishments in Israel.

It is my view that this decision is misguided, irrational, and a slap in the face to the very concept of academic freedom.

Letter continues after the jump.
In your statement attempt the justify the academic boycott of Israel, the ASA said: “The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all,” and that the boycott is warranted because “Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”

Really?

Certainly a case could be made that when it comes to human rights, Israel is imperfect. I would note that the same case could be made in regards to the United States, both in the past and currently.

But you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

To my knowledge, you have call for a boycott of no other nation. This action suggests that Israel is uniquely deficient in its respect for basic rights.

Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his “trial” by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.

Even the Palestinian Authority, which you purport to be fighting for, conducts summary trials and executions and extra-judicial murders by militias of people deemed “collaborators” and has nothing resembling a free press.

Those countries are apparently fine. But you boycott Israel, which:

  • is a democracy;
  • respects the rights of women, who are considered fully equal in Israeli Society;
  • legally recognizes the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens;
  • has an independent judiciary which sometimes strikes down government actions;
  • has the rule of law;
  • has minority voting rights and Arab members of the Knesset; and
  • has a completely free press.

As you may already be aware, more than 100 American universities have taken issue with ASA’s decision, and have themselves decided to reject the boycott. The American Council of Education, the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors have also expressed their opposition.

Further, it has been noted in the media that only approximately 16 percent of the ASA’s 5,000 members actually voted in favor of the boycott. It was troublesome to learn that this decision, which has severe implications, was pushed through with minimal member input and significant public opposition.

Finally, in an examination of your association’s mission statement, is it not a violation of academic freedom and aspiration to target students and professors in a country for reasons beyond their control?

A goal of your organization is to “enlarge [academic] freedom for all”, but does the boycott not actually limit academic freedom, thereby only granting it to some?

I will conclude this letter by reinforcing what was previously expressed to you by Rep. Eliot L. Engel, senior Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when he wrote that he encouraged you to review the most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the State Department.

I would reiterate his statement pointing out that the report says that “there were no government restrictions on academic freedom” apparent in Israel.

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