The US Congress should act to quell the movement to boycott Israel academically, former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren argued Friday, in the wake of the American Studies Association’s (ASA) decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
The 5,000-member association, which describes itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” announced on Monday that it had endorsed and would participate in a boycott of Israeli universities and academic institutions. Another small North American academic association – the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association – followed suit two days later, declaring a boycott of its own against Israeli academic institutions.
Officials in Jerusalem have downplayed the significance of the boycott, which has been widely condemned by Jewish groups. Oren, however, writing in an opinion article published in Politico, argues that unless the boycott is fought back against, more organizations could follow suit.
Oren, who finished his 50-month tenure as Israeli envoy to the US in September, said that Congress should pass laws which would quash the boycott, as it did in 1977 in response to the Arab economic boycott of Israel.
“Laws could be passed withholding federal or state funding from any academic program that knowingly blacklisted Israeli scholars or institutions or cooperated with associations that did,” Oren argued.
“While an organization like ASA might prefer punishing Israel to receiving government funds, other academic bodies—including universities—most likely will not. At the very least, lawmakers on the local and national level can go on record expressing their unequivocal opposition to such boycotts,” he added.
While Oren’s successor, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, called the ASA boycott “a travesty” and hinted that it constitutes anti-Semitism, the response in Jerusalem was more subdued.
Diplomatic officials cautioned against “playing into the hands” of boycott activists looking to stir up debate over Israel.
“That a small, radical academic union votes to boycott Israel is not a state affair that necessitates a formal response from the government,” one Foreign Ministry official said. That the tough response came from Washington, not Jerusalem, seemed designed to convey that message – that Israel views this as a localized incident.
“The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement is not a strategic threat to Israel,” the official added, noting that occasionally the movement would have a success that garnered disproportionate media attention. “Every once in a while they will have a celebrity, like [singer] Roger Waters or [physicist] Stephen Hawking, who will speak up for them, but that doesn’t mean this is a wave or a widespread phenomenon.”
The Foreign Ministry official said that while actions like these were an “annoyance,” they were blown out of proportion.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
View original Jerusalem Post publication at: http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Oren-calls-on-US-Congress-to-quell-movement-to-boycott-Israel-academically-335715