Univ. of Haifa sending representative to controversial American Studies confab

The American Studies Association is in the news again for its controversial policy regarding the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The American Studies Association (ASA), which in late 2013 had voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, returned to the forefront of Jewish media coverage last week over its 2014 annual meeting, to be held Nov. 6-9 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

The ASA conference had a stated policy of excluding Israeli academics. That policy was then amended after the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) civil rights group contacted the Westin with a letter informing the hotel that the ASA policy could violate the state of California’s civil rights laws.

Now, the amended policy will be tested harder than conference organizers likely anticipated, as the University of Haifa announced that it is sending an official representative to the conference.

“We expect that there will be no interference in our representative’s full participation in the ASA conference,” the Israeli university said. “Home to several prestigious programs in American Studies, including the Center for the Study of the United States and the Ruderman Program for the Study of American Jewry, the University of Haifa is considering expanding its presence in the field. Consequently, the Rector of the University, Professor David Faraggi, has appointed a representative to attend the ASA conference.”

“We are sure that our representative will return from the ASA conference with important new insights about American society and culture and new contacts that can serve as a basis for collaborations,” Faraggi said.

Upon earlier examination of the ASA conference program, the gathering’s initial participants already included at least three Israelis: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Neve Godon and Ahmad Sa’di, both of whom are critical of Israel, and Mohammed Wattad of Zefat College School of Law, an Arab academic who in the past has spoken out against a boycott against Israel and the classification of Israel as an “apartheid state.”

Samantha Rose Mandeles, editor-in-chief of CAMERAonCampus.org for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, told JNS.org that “as is common for BDS supporters, the ASA did not honor their own boycott policy—they invited several Israelis to participate in the conference, showing that, yet again, Israel BDSers will only abide by their own injunctions when it suits their needs.”

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the Israel education group StandWithUs, said, “Thankfully, the ACLJ has forced the issue into the open and placed ASA in this position where they cannot defend themselves, because there is no defense. Time and again, when held up to practical reality, the boycott movement against Israel has proven to be incapable of sustaining itself.”

The Washington Post reported that the ASA has also placed unusually heavy restrictions on the presence of journalists at the conference. One higher education reporter said that although he passed the criteria for admittance, he found the vetting requirements extremely heavy as compared to what he is accustomed to with other academic conferences.

How will the ASA welcome the unexpected guest from Haifa? That remains to be seen.

Posted on October 29, 2014 .