University President James W. Wagner released a statement on behalf of the University last month opposing academic boycotts of Israeli academic institutions, saying that such boycotts would violate the right of University faculty to academic freedom.
The statement comes after the American Studies Association (ASA) adopted a resolution to participate in an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The ASA, a national academic organization that supports the study of American culture and history, states on its website that this boycott entails refusing to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions and their official representatives. The ASA will not refuse collaborations with Israeli scholars, students and cultural workers as part of the boycott.
Emory Hillel Program Director Meira Kreuter sent out an email to the group’s mailing list stating the organization’s opposition to the ASA boycott, calling the boycott “misguided at best, and anti-Semitic at worst.”
The email provided a list of 18 Georgia professors and graduate students who reportedly voted in favor of the ASA boycott. However, many of those identified denied being a member of the ASA and Anna Julia Cooper, a prominent African-American scholar mentioned in the email, actually died in 1964.
The membership directory for the ASA is only available to ASA members, and voting records for individual members of the ASA’s vote to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions are not publicly available. However, 16 out of the 18 professors mentioned were listed as endorsers of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) on the organization’s website.
In response to this information, Emory Hillel Director Russ Shulkes said Hillel was forwarded the list of Georgia professors and graduate students from an outside organization and that Emory Hillel would be willing to correct its mistakes. He was not able to be reached for comment about the organization’s name by press time.
“We’re happy to retract wherever we had a wrong professor,” Shulkes said.
In the email Emory Hillel sent to its mailing list, Hillel wrote that it wanted students to be aware of the views of Georgia professors and graduate students. It also said that it encourages students to “be vigilant when choosing what classes to take and whose presence to enjoy.”
“If one is taking a class with a professor, you should realize that the information you’re learning from that person is impacted by the personality of the person,” Shulkes said. “People that specifically feel that [the boycott] is an anti-Semitic act, as Hillel does, would want to take that into consideration that they will be taking a professor that is borderline anti-Semitic.”
College junior Hannah Finnie said she was angry and disappointed when she read Emory Hillel’s response to the ASA boycotts. She said she thought Emory Hillel could have dealt with the situation differently and that the response closed off the option of discussion.
“They were just calling out specific names and telling us not to associate with them and not to take classes with them and whose presence to enjoy and it seemed really ridiculous,” Finnie said. “Within the student body, I’ve been surprised at the lack of response to the email.”
College sophomore and Vice President of Israel Affairs for Emory Hillel Aaron Karas said the ASA boycott came off as a way to “delegitimize Israel’s name.” He said boycotting Israeli academic institutions was a violation of academic freedom, which contradicted the ASA’s motivation behind the boycott.
“Hillel’s statement was really just to educate people and tell them what was going on, and I think they really did a good job of that,” Karas said.
In regard to the list of identified professors and graduate students in Hillel’s email, Karas said he would personally be uncomfortable taking a class with a professor who supported the boycott, although he was unsure of how best to approach the situation. Karas, who is also a member of Emory Students for Israel (ESI), said ESI was fortunate to have the support of Wagner and Hillel, and that no Emory professors endorsed the boycott.
College junior Ryan Gorman said he also did not agree with the ASA boycott, although he sympathized with the motivations behind it. Gorman said discussion surrounding the boycott focused primarily on discrimination against Israelis but failed to bring up the motivations for the boycott, which include in part Palestinian scholars at Israeli universities and those who are affected by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Gorman said it was unfair to punish all Israeli academics and universities, when the issue of stifling Palestinian scholars is not something that can “be placed squarely on academic shoulders.”
“It’s very much fighting fire with fire and if any of the backlash [the ASA] has been experiencing is any indication, it was a very counterproductive thing for them to do,” Gorman said.
Amira Jarmakani, associate professor of the Institute for Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Georgia State University, was named in Hillel’s email as a supporter of the ASA boycott. Jarmakani wrote in an email to the Wheel that she was a member of the ASA and that she did endorse the boycott. A statement on Jadaliyya, an independent online magazine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, signed by Jarmakani called the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement a “legitimate, non-violent tool of resistance by peoples enduring settler-colonialism, occupation and apartheid.”
The Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) also voted to support an academic boycott of Israel. Since the ASA announced its resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, more than 100 universities have opposed the action, including Harvard University, Columbia University and New York University.
The ASA boycott and the USACBI campaign are part of the larger BDS movement. According to the BDS movement website, the campaign calls for economic and political pressure on Israel to end Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory and to recognize and respect Palestinian rights.
– By Harmeet Kaur