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A photo illustration of the Israeli and Palestinian flags, with a rather grimy filter.

Inside Higher Ed

The Critical Ethnic Studies Association has endorsed a boycott of Israel -- including Israeli universities.

While some academics favoring a boycott of Israel have taken care to say that there is blame for all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the resolution adopted by the ethnic studies group repeatedly criticizes Israel and Israeli universities and does not have a negative word to say about Palestinian organizations. The resolution says that "Israel engages in ongoing practices of dispossession, population transfer, illegal settlement, and political incarceration, in the context of continuing settler-colonialism occupation and the blockade of Gaza" and that Israel "engages in systematic discrimination against both its Palestinian citizens and against migrant workers and refugees of color."

The resolution also says that "Israeli institutions of higher education have not condemned or taken measures to oppose the occupation and racial discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, but have, rather, been directly and indirectly complicit in the systematic maintenance of the occupation and of policies and practices that discriminate against Palestinian students and scholars throughout Palestine and in Israel."

The conclusion of the resolution states that the "Critical Ethnic Studies Association highlights how systematized oppression provokes a multitude of practices that resist these systems, and recognizes the Palestinian movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as such a practice of solidarity and resistance," and adds that as a result the association "endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions."

The association describes its goal as being "to develop an approach to scholarship, institution building, and activism animated by the spirit of the decolonial, antiracist, and other global liberationist movements that enabled the creation of ethnic studies, and which continues to inform its political and intellectual projects."

To date the boycott of Israel has been endorsed in academe by the American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

The Modern Language Association has had a long debate during the last year about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not in the context of a proposal to back the boycott, but of a resolution that criticized Israel as an "occupying power" and urged the U.S. State Department "to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities." The resolution was narrowly approved by the MLA Delegate Assembly in January, but when it was sent to the full membership for ratification, it failed to get the backing of 10 percent of membership, which is required for a measure to become association policy.

The American Anthropological Association plans at its annual meeting later this year to consider what role it should play in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The votes to boycott Israel have been condemned by college presidents, politicians and many academics. While criticism from pro-Israel academics is hardly surprising, the boycott movement has also drawn criticism from many who disagree with Israel's policies, but who say that academic boycotts violate principles of academic freedom because they assume that academics back their countries' policies, and impose political litmus tests. Within Israeli society, many of the strongest critics of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians have come from academe.

A spokesman for Hillel International, via email, said of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association: "It is regrettable that this organization's leaders are so blinded by anger that they will not open their minds to the world-leading research of Israeli Jewish and Arab academics."

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO, StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group that has opposed the boycott, issued this statement: "StandWithUs is very disappointed to hear that the Critical Ethnic Studies Association has endorsed the counter-productive boycott movement against Israel. Its clear that the organization is not particularly knowledgeable about Israel, and has become a vehicle for promoting anti-Israel bigoted propaganda. For people who claim to be critical and humanitarian thinkers, their minds have been closed to facts on the ground and are only looking at one side of the story."


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