The announcement this week that the ASA, a respected national academic organization, has decided to boycott Israeli universities, is yet another example of the bizarre and unbalanced way that the world at large views the Israeli-Paletinian conflict. Much has been written over the last few days about how out of kilter, short sighted, and unbalanced the ASA’s position is (read articles by Wieseltier (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115961/american-studies-association-boycott-israel-travesty), Dershowitz (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.563920) , and in today’s NY Times, David Brooks (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/opinion/brooks-the-tragic-situation.html?ref=international&_r=0). Each article is well written, acknowledges that Israel does make mistakes, and points to the challenge of fully understanding a situation that has a tremendous amount of moral ambiguity, all messages the ASA obviously needs to hear.
My challenge to the ASA would come from another perspective – that of their own academic integrity. There is a classic philosophical structure used to examine an issue – one side proposes a thesis, the other an antithesis. The two sides compare views, argue their points, and ultimately come up with a final position that reflects both original positions called the synthesis. One would expect that academics are familiar with this exercise. One would also expect that academics would thoroughly familiarize themselves with any issue they are preparing to ‘publish’ on. Would any academic with integrity publish a paper on a topic without researching the topic in a serious way? Hard to imagine. And yet that is exactly what the ASA has done here.
So it is surprising that a group that prides itself on academic rigor, on a connection to the world of the mind, thought, logic, and knowledge, produced a position about a complicated and multifaceted issue without doing their homework. That Israel is not perfect we all know and admit. But to believe that Israel is entirely immoral, that the Palestinians (and other Arab countries) have no culpability, that this is not a two way street, that tragedy is not experienced on both sides of the equation, is simply ignorant.
Academics should know better. Next time they should do that homework. After all, that is what they demand of each other in the Ivory Tower. Why leave those standards behind when they walk out into the real world and weigh in on an issue that truly matters?