Dumbing Down Discipline (American Studies Association BDS Israel)


Now that the American Studies Association National Council has decided to endorse a boycott of Israeli universities, the proposal goes to the membership for a vote. Suddenly, the argument about boycotting Israeli academic institutions is no longer academic.  You begin to see what the reality of a boycott might look like, its actual institutional physiognomy,  as it  were, and you can compare that to the theoretical arguments made to advance what ends up to be a political intervention into Israel-Palestine partisan politics. I’m not going to argue here that university work is non-ideological.

The question relates to the relative openness or narrowness of this or that particular ideological lens.  My own more liberal non-value-neutral ideological leaning is one that opens up discourse and debates to consider the complexity of multiple positioning and counter-positioning. I do not see how the proposal to boycott Israel is not going to impose and reflect a blinkered view upon the Israel-Palestine conflict.  I think what we will begin to see now is how it does so by forcing a decision and closing off discourse.

That everything is political does not mean that there are good politics and bad politics. Viewed one way, at issue is not about what’s good or bad for Israel or Israeli universities, or even for what is good or bad for Palestine, and it has nothing to do with Zionism, one way or the other. Let’s also agree for the sake of argument that the proposal to boycott Israeli universities has nothing to do with apartheid and nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

I think it comes down to this, instead. Just because Palestinian civil society is calling for a boycott of Israeli universities doesn’t mean that this is not going to be bad for American Studies. The ideological posture in question is a politically lock-step one that will limit perspectives open to the membership of the American Studies Association. Based on a rigid distinction between friends and enemies, the decision will dumb down the discipline into a set of read-made clichés about a complex cultural, historical, political, and social reality.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to Dumbing Down Discipline (American Studies Association BDS Israel)

  1. Ed Mooney says:

    Here’s a letter I wrote before the vote:
    As an Emeritus Professor from Syracuse now teaching American Studies at Tel Aviv I’d urge you to speak in the strongest terms against any attempt at the November ASA meetings to boycott Israeli faculty who teach in American Studies. Cutting off Israeli academics from doing valuable work in American Studies does nothing to change policy in Jerusalem, and hurts some of Jerusalem’s strongest critics. American faculty who deplore Israel’s Palestine policy have many avenues of protest. Shutting down association with Israeli American Studies faculty utterly (and tragically) misses the mark.

    A boycott serves as a blanket condemnation of Israeli Americanists as outright collaborators in evil. European writers in the 1850s did not boycott Melville, Thoreau, and Emerson on the grounds that they collaborated with evil. Israeli scholars, because they despise the American prison system, don’t boycott American archeologists preventing them from work in Galilee. American academics did not boycott German professors — including Hitler’s critics — in the mid-30s.
    Why make Israeli faculty pay, as a group, for Israeli national policy?

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