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Pennsylvania Legislators Slam Academic Boycott of Israel

January 8, 2014 By:
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Pennsylvania State Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (left) and State Sen. Anthony H. Williams spoke about the importance of Holocaust education as part of a memorial ceremony in Center City in April.

State Sen. Anthony Williams has introduced a resolution condemning the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli universities.

The Democrat, who represents West Philadelphia and part of Delaware County, linked the boycott to anti-Semitism and called on all of the state’s public and private higher educational institutions to reject it.

The boycott, which was endorsed by the ASA in December, has already encountered significant opposition from schools and academics in Pennsylvania and nationally. Penn State Harrisburg withdrew from the ASA. Drexel University, Dickinson College, Haverford College and Lehigh University issued statements rejecting it, as did the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Universities, whose executive committee includes University of Pennsylvania president Amy Guttman.

A Temple University faculty member, Miles Orvell, professor of English and American studies and a former editor of the encyclopedia put out by the ASA, also said he opposes the boycott.

Roya Rastegar, a Bryn Mawr College professor, is a member of the ASA national council that voted unanimously in support of the measure, but the interim president of Bryn Mawr issued a statement in opposition to the boycott.

Williams, who at a Yom Hashoah ceremony in April spoke about how growing anti-Semitism on college campuses scared him, said the resolution is not just about the boycott but “part of a continuum of the things that I’ve been concerned about for a number of years, which is openly anti-Semitic behavior.”

There is no logical reason for an organization that "theoretically" includes the "highest thinkers" to "be involved in clearly anti-Semitic activity,” Williams said in an interview. “There are a number of other countries that they could have done this to.”

State Sen. Daylin Leach of Upper Merion, who is running to replace U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, sent a letter to the ASA president stating that he was disappointed by the boycott.

“To my knowledge, you have called 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” and Russia.

State Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Northeast Philadelphia who is also running for Schwartz’s seat, also issued a statement on the boycott.

“While a boycott of specific professors for espousing lies—– such as Holocaust deniers who continue to spread misinformation under the guise of academic discourse — is certainly understandable,” stated Boyle. “I stand opposed to any blanket boycott.”

The ASA’s move was preceded by a similar boycott vote by the Association for Asian American Studies in April, and was followed by one from the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. The Modern Language Association is hosting a panel on the boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement at its conference, which starts Jan. 9 in Chicago, and will also consider a resolution calling on the U.S. State Department to oppose the “arbitrary denials of entry” to American academics seeking to teach or conduct research at universities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Information from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was used in this report.

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