Academic Activism: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Ethics of Boycott

THE ACADEMIC MOVEMENT TO BOYCOTT Israeli institutions has roiled the American university system, polarizing scholars and activists on both sides. The American Studies Association (ASA) voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli universities in December 2013; the Modern Language Association (MLA), after its members spent weeks debating the merits of the ASA’s vote, passed a resolution in January criticizing Israel's restrictive entry and residency policies. These developments have since created a division bell between scholars, university leaders, students and professors alike: a hotly contested debate about one of the major geopolitical, civil rights issues of our time.

There are several questions at the heart of this debate: What role, if any, does the academy have in matters of political and international affairs? Is endorsing a movement — such as the movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) Israel — in the great tradition of academic freedom and discourse, or an example of its degradation? Does an academic boycott of Israel advance, or damage, the cause for peace and human rights in the Middle East?

We facilitated this forum at the urging of David Palumbo-Liu, a supporter of the BDS movement, in the hopes that it would engender a more informed understanding on these and many related questions. We did nothing to constrain or limit the eight participating scholars; nor did we have them read each other's pieces until today. 

We cast a wide net to bring together as many diverse voices and experts as possible, but many declined the invitation, citing the adrenalized tenor of the debate. The eight who agreed to participate, while they might not represent all the perspectives involved, are among some of the most important voices engaging these issues within the American university.  It is our hope that these essays create an opening of visibility  — not simply for this debate, but more importantly, for those most affected by the tragic, ongoing circumstances of the Middle East conflict: Israelis and Palestinians themselves. 

 - Jonathan Hahn, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books 

THE FORUM

The Goal of the Boycott by Russell Berman

The Goal of the Boycott by Russell Berman

"The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel presents itself as a nonviolent and grassroots movement, allegedly based in Palestinian civil society, that promises to achieve a peaceful resolution…"

The Boycott Effect

The Boycott Effect by Colin Dayan

"On December 21, 2008, I sat in the Jewish National and University Library, now renamed 'The National Library of Israel,' across from the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, and the Israel Museum…"

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