Academic Boycott Vote Worries Foreign Ministry

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) - Israel dismissed as “radical leftist” a group of American scholars that has decided to boycott it, but is concerned that other academic forums in the United States might follow suit, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said on Tuesday.

The American Studies Association (ASA) on Sunday became the largest U.S. academic group to back an anti-Israel boycott in solidarity with the Palestinians. Its vote was mostly symbolic, as the group has no power to compel its some 5,000 members or any U.S. institution to heed the resolution.

Still, Israel worried the measure could pave the way for grassroots efforts to isolate it in the United States. Elkin described the ASA as a “radical leftist group” with few links to academia in Israel.

However, Elkin told Israel Radio, “we need to prepare for the danger that it [the boycott call] will pass to other, more serious academic forums.”

He said that Israeli diplomats and Jewish American groups were “intensively” trying to dissuade other U.S. academics from following the American Studies Association’s lead.

The Foreign Ministry, Elkin said, had set up an advocacy group, “Faces of Israel,” to “work among those who wield influence exactly in order to prevent cases such as this.”

The ASA’s resolution backed a recent unanimous vote by its national council to urge U.S. schools not to collaborate with Israeli institutions. But it carries broad exemptions for individual Israeli scholars working with American counterparts.

Israel said the boycott campaign unfairly singles it out.

“The ASA chooses as its first-ever boycott to boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want,” Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, noted in a statement.

The American Studies Association was the second U.S. scholarly group, after the Association for Asian American Studies in April, to endorse an academic boycott of Israel.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said, “This vote to boycott Israel, one of the most democratic and academically free nations on the globe, shows the Orwellian anti-Semitism and moral bankruptcy of the American Studies Association.

“The Middle East is literally filled with dead from governments’ reaction to the convulsions of the ‘Arab Spring,’ but the American Studies Association singles out the Jewish state, the one Middle Eastern country that shares American values, for opprobrium?”

Lauder praised the American Association of University Professors, a much larger academic group, for expressing its opposition to such boycotts.