The decision by the American Studies Association on Dec. 16 to boycott Israeli academics is proving to be a bad deal for the boycotters -- and a good lesson in why conservatives should pay closer attention to what supposedly nonpolitical groups are doing to higher education in America.
A growing number of universities are reassessing their ties with ASA, which purportedly is "devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history." Four have canceled their institutional membership in the group, including Indiana University, whose president, Michael A. McRobbie, called the boycott "dangerous and ill-conceived." Some 90 others have issued statements denouncing it. So has the Association of American Universities.
|Parents are paying tens of thousands of dollars so their kids can listen to people dedicated to indoctrinating them into hating America's history and culture.|
The negative publicity generated by the boycott has brought to light just how far the ASA has degenerated from a group of scholars to a narrow-minded, intolerant clique of tenured radicals who reject anything that doesn't fit their leftist worldview.
"The United States has been fundamentally shaped by European dreams of possession and plunder," Matthew Frye Jacobson, a Yale University professor, told the group's 2012 annual meeting in his presidential address, which defined the limits of scholarship in American history and culture as the study of U.S. imperialism. The meeting, held in Puerto Rico to emphasize that point, also featured an "anti-imperialist" film festival.
It was in that spirit that the association's leadership proposed the academic boycott of Israel. The United States, it was averred, "plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians."
The group's current president, Curtis Marez of the University of California, San Diego, was recently asked by the New York Times why Israel was singled out as its first-ever boycott target when there are other nations with egregiously worse human rights records. After initially being evasive, he responded: "One has to start somewhere."
Putting aside the obvious possibility that picking Israel was motivated by the virulent anti-Semitism common among academic leftists, the boycott raises the question of whether the ASA itself has become too politicized to be trusted with the task of preserving scholarly integrity and academic freedom.
The ASA's hyperpoliticized outlook is polluting the intellectual atmosphere of classrooms where students are supposed to be learning the essential facts of their history and culture. In reality, their parents are paying tens of thousands of dollars so their kids can listen to people dedicated to indoctrinating them into hating America's history and culture.
Indiana University has it right, and other schools should follow its example. The ASA once fostered scholarship, but the group has outlived its usefulness. There should be no place on any American campus for propagandists masquerading as scholars.