Editor's Note: The president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Sherrie Savett, sent the following letter to members of the Federation boards of directors and trustees this week in response to the decision by the American Studies Association to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
On Tuesday, Dec. 17, the American Studies Association (ASA) announced its endorsement of a resolution by its national council to institute an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions by the organization. The American Studies Association is the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history. Federation President Sherrie R. Savett responds:
As you may be aware, the American Studies Association (ASA) recently voted to adopt an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. These efforts both seek to delegitimize Israel and undermine the fundamental principle of academic freedom.
Together with the 40,000 member American Association of University Professors (AAUP), we believe in and support the right of scholars to freely pursue ideas without being targeted for repression, discipline or institutional censorship. To echo the AAUP, the ASA vote “represents a setback for the cause of academic freedom.” Further, the executive committee of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an association of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada —including Harvard, Stanford and Yale — condemned the move. “Any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general,” the statement read. “Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it. We urge American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts.”
There are currently efforts underway by academics both in and outside of ASA to call on their universities to withdraw their institutional memberships from the ASA using the message of the endangerment of academic freedom and the singling out of one country for discriminatory treatment. If you are an academic or closely affiliated with the leadership of a college or university, contact them regarding institutional resignation. As of Dec. 22, 55 universities and colleges have made public statements rejecting the boycott, four universities and colleges have terminated or will not renew their institutional membership in the ASA and eight universities and colleges deny that they are ASA institutional members even though they are listed as such by the ASA.
We ask you to join us in the effort to condemn this action and exert influence on universities and colleges that have not yet rejected the boycott by writing to the presidents and provosts of your alma maters, calling on them to make public statements in opposition to all academic boycotts.
Thank you for your leadership.