ASA Boycott not about Palestinians

As most are aware, in early December, the American Studies Association (ASA) ratified a proposal to boycott Israel academic institutions due to some alleged human rights violations perpetrated by the Israeli government. The ASA contends that Palestinians in the occupied territories were restricted from academic freedom and therefore, a boycott of Israel was somehow in order. And as most are aware, the backlash to the ASA’s announced boycott has been severe, with former presidents of the organization condemning the action and over 50 universities speaking out against the ASA decision.

The threat of a boycott of Israel in any shape or form is nothing new. This kind of attack on Israel’s right to exist has been going on since the country’s creation. Oil embargos, Zionism is racism, etc. The methodologies against Israel may have changed, but the game is still the same. And the game is this – as long as Israel exists, there will be some action taken against her to promote her destruction. It has nothing to do with the plight of Palestinians, concern for human rights, or moral obligation.  It has to do with the fact that the Jews have their own country and some people find that unacceptable.

The ASA supposedly has a whole slew of PhDs in their organization, but apparently, not too many of them understand the purpose of a boycott perpetrated against a country. It is to change a country’s government policy. Not to destroy the people that live in the country. That’s what makes the ASA action all the more repugnant. The ASA claims the purpose of the boycott is to change Israeli government policy, however, by using common sense, we can see that it is painfully obvious that the ASA action is an attack on Israel’s right to exist.

But how can that be? We’re talking an academic boycott of Israeli institutions and not people to force change in government policy. So the boycott must be legitimate, isn’t it? The problem with this rationale is that it does not look at the context from which the boycott was introduced and passed by the ASA. Think for a minute. Who is supposed to be helped by the ASA’s boycott? The Palestinians of course! Otherwise, why even discuss the issue? The problem for the ASA is that they don’t care for the Palestinians. They care about being obsessed with Israel. And I’ll show you why.

If the ASA is concerned about Palestinians and their welfare, why hasn’t the ASA expressed any concern for those Palestinians living in squalor refugee camps in Lebanon or Syria? Since Israel’s creation, Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) have been living in refugee camps in various Arab countries. In Lebanon, Palestinians cannot become citizens.  In fact, 60% of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants do not have citizen rights in the country they currently live in. And apparently, in countries where there is a conflict, Palestinians tend to be on the receiving end of a disproportionate amount of hardship. According to the UNRWA, in the recent Syrian civil war, about 250,000 Palestinians have been displaced, making them refugees two times over. Other reports suggest that as many as 44,000 Palestinian refugee homes have been destroyed in the civil war. And also, in recently reported news articles, over 1,800 Palestinians have been killed this past year in Syria.  Compare that to the two military conflagrations between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in which according to human rights groups, a sum total of about 1,500 Palestinians were killed. When Israel was at war with Gaza, the UN wanted a fact finding mission to occur to investigate ‘war crimes’. With Syria (and the UNRWA keeping tabs on the situation), there’s no fact finding mission for ‘war crimes’ perpetrated against Palestinians. Where is the ASA, or for that matter, any organization that purports to care about Palestinians? Why no fact finding missions? Why no calls on helping the Palestinians in Syria? Does the ASA realize that Jordan and Lebanon are not allowing Palestinians shelter from the war in Syria?  Where’s the outcry by the ASA? Are they only vocal when Israel is involved?

Obviously they are. One of those who voted for the boycott, Professor Carolyn Karcher of Temple University, in a post she wrote for the Los Angeles Times on December 27th, [LA times ], Karcher said she voted for the boycott because of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. She cited that she had met, get this, one Palestinian that had been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship but was denied an exit visa by Israel. She did not meet scores of Palestinians with such hardship, but one nameless Palestinian. Assuming this Palestinian even existed and that the story  he told Professor Karcher is true, this was one of the main reasons for her to vote for a boycott of Israel. But why hasn’t she looked at what’s happening to Palestinians in Syria, and holding governments such as Jordan and Lebanon to account for allowing even more unacceptable harship on these Palestinians? Using the same justification that Karcher used to arrive at boycotting Israel, I’d expect much more discussion by Karcher (and others within the ASA) about Palestinian hardship and specifically those hardships that are going on in Syria.

Keeping this in focus, when Israel was in confrontation in Gaza back in 2008, the news press all over Europe was unfavorable towards Israel.  There were street protests in the thousands in European cities. In the Syrian civil war, where atrocities perpetrated against Palestinians is at the very least, equally unacceptable, to date, there have been no street protests in Europe. The reality is exposed. No one really cares about Palestinians unless Israel is somehow involved. Or perhaps that’s a bit too harsh. People care about Palestinians the way we’d expect people to care. However, when it’s Israel that is the focus of criticism, all of a sudden, we need fact finding missions and protests in the thousands in Europe for the Palestinians. Does this make sense? It only can, ironically, when we take Palestinians out of the equation and throw Jews into it. And that’s the way the ASA behaves as well.

The bottom line with the ASA boycott is that it’s just another extension of hating Israel. There is no legitimate concern for Palestinians and their restrictions on academic freedom. The PhDs that claim a moral compass and demand we hold Israel accountable for human rights is just a smoke screen. If the ASA wanted to put the plight of Palestinians front and center in discussions, we’d hear more about Palestinians and less about Israel. And rightfully so. Palestinians aren’t the innocent victims that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) organizations wish it to be. The Palestinians and Arabs have had at least 6 opportunities for the creation of a Palestinian state starting way back in 1937. All of which have been rejected by the Arabs. Just in the last week, Palestinian snipers in Gaza shot and killed an Israeli man near the Gaza border. Near Tel Aviv, a bomb was placed on a bus with the intent of murdering dozens.  Rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. All this, while peace talks are supposedly going on between Palestinians and Israelis. And all this, in one week. Those in the boycott movement need to paint Israel as the bad guy and the bad guy only. They will never talk about the bomb on the bus, or Hamas’ goal to ethnically cleanse all of Israel of its Jews.   That way, Palestinians can be innocent victims. And as we are seeing, it makes for better propaganda in boycotting Israel, when we take Palestinians out of the discussion. And by taking Palestinians out of the equation, you lose the real issue that needs to be solved.

So to me, if the ASA really wants policy change in Israel, and really cares for the Palestinians, they know boycott would not work. What they would need to do is group up with organizations already established in Israel that are like minded and fight for changes in policy. For sure groups like the New Israel Fund and the Abraham Fund Initiative are much better options to the ASA in bringing change to Israel policy than the dubious call for boycott. But what troubles me the most is that a group of PhDs in the ASA already know about these organizations. They just want the boycott because as I’ve said, it’s not Palestinians they are concerned about.

About the Author
Simon describes himself as a professional musician with a brain.