Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has called on the American Studies Association (ASA) to end its boycott of Israeli institutions, reports The Hill.
In a letter to the association’s leaders on Monday, Engel argued that boycotting Israel over its government’s treatment of “Palestinians” is a gross double standard.
“I was surprised to learn that Israel is the first country formally subject to a boycott by the ASA, which curiously has chosen to stay silent on China’s suppression of independent academic voices critical of the Communist Party, the Venezuelan government’s retaliation against opposition-oriented universities, or Zimbabwe’s denial of foreign academics from countries critical of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial government from assuming academic residencies at the University of Zimbabwe,” he wrote.
In justifying its decision to boycott Israel, the ASA said the boycott was “in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.”
The head of the ASA, Curtis Marez, later admitted to the New York Times that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s but said that “one has to start somewhere.”
In his letter, Engel wrote that Marez’s response “only serves to highlight your organization’s bias against Israel. If you must ‘start somewhere,’ than I strongly suggest the ASA turn its attention to Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s forces have indiscriminately shelled universities, killing students even as they sat for exams.”
Engel added, “I have attached several sections from the State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for your review. I would note that under the Israel country section, the report states ‘there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.’”
“If you desire any assistance in further identifying other countries with human rights records of concern, I and my staff stand ready to assist you and the ASA in that regard,” he concluded.
The ASA's boycott decision has been controversial even among its members. No universities have actually come out in support of the boycott and at least four universities have already quit the organization in protest of the boycott.
Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has called on Congress to ban academic boycotts against Israel.
The Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee discussed the boycott decision and its implications for Israel and the world on Tuesday.