The head of the American Studies Association (ASA), which voted Monday to approve an academic boycott against Israel, has admitted that many countries have human rights records that are worse than that of the Jewish state.
Curtis Marez, an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego admitted in a conversation with The New York Times that the ASA has never before called for an academic boycott of any nation’s universities.
He also did not dispute that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, are generally judged to have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s or comparable. At the same time, Marez declared, “one has to start somewhere.”
In justifying the boycott, the ASA said in a statement it was “in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.”
The statement cited “Israel’s violations of international law and U.N. resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights,” and other factors.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said the vote "shows the Orwellian anti-Semitism and moral bankruptcy of the American Studies Association," according to the AFP news agency.
He criticized the move as unfair and biased in the wider context of the Middle East, where civil war in Syria and uprisings in a number of Arab countries have left tens of thousands dead.
"The American Studies Association singles out the Jewish state, the one Middle Eastern country that shares American values, for opprobrium? No wonder many Americans dismiss the academy as deeply biased and disconnected with reality," Lauder said.
Israeli academic officials reacted sharply to the boycott. “We oppose all types of academic boycotts, and we ask our colleagues members of academic staff at institutions around the world, to act against these boycotts,” the Israel Academic Association said.
“Academic research is based on cooperation between institutions, untarnished by politics or ideology. Imposing an academic boycott on any academic institution has serious consequences for academic freedom,” the group added.