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A photo illustration of the Israeli and Palestinian flags, separated by a crack between them.

American Sociological Association members will begin voting this month on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | rustamank/Getty Images

About two years ago, the American Sociological Association issued a statement opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nearly 20 years ago, its members passed a resolution opposing the U.S. war in Iraq. Back in the 1980s, the ASA supported U.S. divestment from South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

Now, the association is again being asked to take a position on a geopolitical matter—this time, in the form of a resolution by a large group of members calling “for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza." As with the Iraq War, the ASA Council voted it down—and again, it’s going to association members for a vote.

In the nearly six months since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, American colleges, universities and scholarly associations have struggled with what, if anything, to say, as Palestinian deaths have mounted. The fallout has sharpened debates over whether universities and other groups should take such stands or adopt positions of institutional neutrality, so they don’t create an expectation that they’ll weigh in on all major events.

Now, deep into the war, the ASA—which has also issued statements supporting gay marriage and personal pronouns and opposing the use of “Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport”—is being pushed to take a stand on Gaza.

The association, which has roughly 8,000 regular members, had largely kept quiet on Israel both before and after Oct. 7. On Dec. 22, according to ASA member Heba Gowayed, a group called Sociologists for Palestine delivered to ASA Council a letter signed by 125 sociologists, including six former association presidents, asking it to support an immediate ceasefire.

The association didn’t heed that call. In February, it released a statement expressing “deep concern and dismay regarding the loss of civilian lives in the context of continued violence in Gaza and Israel as well as other contexts of conflict and suffering unfolding across the globe.” It also called “for conditions that will support lasting peace.” After that, the statement focused on defending academic freedom.

In response, Sociologists for Palestine pressed the issue with a resolution asking the ASA to call for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza,” and also to “disclose its financial investments to the membership.” If the group held “investments in defense and military corporations,” the resolution would have the ASA “withdraw investments immediately.” Further, it called for the association to support “academic freedom, including but not limited to defending scholars’ right to speak out against Zionist occupation.”

In an omission that’s drawn criticism from some opponents of the resolution, it did not say that the ceasefire should be contingent on Hamas releasing its hostages.

Last month, the ASA Council rejected the resolution, instead issuing a brief statement saying the group’s members have “a range of backgrounds” and “a variety of perspectives” that the association “strives to reflect.” The Council also re-shared its earlier academic freedom statement, saying it “reiterates its support for academic freedom for all and its call for conditions that will support lasting peace in the context of continued violence in Gaza and Israel.”

Following the Council’s rejection, the “Resolution for Justice in Palestine” backers attained enough member signatures to put the issue directly to members this month. However, before putting it on the ballot, the Council edited out the part of the resolution that called for military divestment.

Joya Misra, ASA’s president, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that the Council, which she sits on, determined that part of the resolution “was an operational issue” that the bylaws prevent members from voting on. Neither she, the group’s vice president nor its president-elect provided an interview for this article.

Sociologists for Palestine has called the Council’s edit “fundamentally undemocratic,” posting on X that the ASA previously divested “from corporations that supported South African apartheid, or that were racist or anti-labor.” But it’s still pushing for passage of the edited resolution in the online vote (members can request a paper ballot).

The vote ends May 20, and the group needs about 800 regular association members to vote. It then needs a majority of those voting to choose yes. Sociologists for Palestine says it already got nearly 600 members to sign the resolution to get it on the ballot in the first place, though it’s unclear how many might vote no in the upcoming election.

“Silence is a position, and staying silent in the face of a U.S. tax–funded genocide is political,” said Gowayed, a City University of New York associate sociology professor, a Sociologists for Palestine organizing group member and an Egyptian American. She said the association’s refusal “to speak here in ways that it’s spoken in other instances … is making a statement, which is that these are not the people, this is not the situation, these are not the lives that it feels that it should stand up for.”

Barry Eidlin, another ASA member who’s on the Sociologists for Palestine organizing committee, said “sociology is fundamentally concerned with a lot of the issues that are at the heart of this conflict,” including racism, colonialism, occupation and war and peace.

Eidlin said his father’s side of the family is Jewish, but he’s not himself. He’s an associate sociology professor at Canada’s McGill University who’s a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. “We have an obligation to do what we can to stop the ongoing killing,” he said—especially when it’s being funded with American money.

But other ASA members have criticized the resolution as being offensive to Jews and Israelis. The debate within the ASA appears to be just revving up, and it’s only the latest dispute over the issue among scholarly associations.

Shifting Statements

Like universities, scholarly groups have varied in what they’ve said about Israel and the conflict since Oct. 7—and in whether they’ve said anything at all.

One of the groups that has spoken out early and emphatically against Israel’s actions is the National Women’s Studies Association. It endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel back in 2015. And on Oct. 11, four days after the Hamas attack, it called for a ceasefire. It followed that up with an Oct. 29 statement opposing “the genocidal war on Gaza.”

Other groups have seen a shifting history on the subject. In 2016, American Anthropological Association members declined to endorse an academic boycott of Israel by a margin of just 39 votes out of the roughly 4,800 members who participated. But when the issue returned last summer, members voted to boycott Israel’s academic institutions, saying in a resolution that these universities were “complicit in the Israeli state’s regime of oppression against Palestinians, including by providing research and development of military and surveillance technologies used against Palestinians.”

Then, on Oct. 30, after the war began, the association issued a statement that members didn’t pass in a vote, but was posted “after being reviewed by the president, the Executive Board and key members with knowledge of the issue.” That statement said “there can be no justification for what took place” Oct. 7, while adding that “anthropological literature has empirically demonstrated” for decades the “violence imposed by the Israeli government on the Palestinian population.” The statement said that a “humanitarian catastrophe is well underway” in Gaza—but it didn’t explicitly call for a ceasefire.

While the currently proposed ASA statement would call for a ceasefire, critics have taken issue with what it says, and doesn’t say, beyond that line. A Jerusalem Post opinion piece called the resolution supporters “Radicalized sociologists on the warpath.”

Ezra Zuckerman Sivan, a professor who co-founded the doctoral program in economic sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, wrote a Substack essay last month offering multiple reasons why sociologists should vote down the resolution. He told Inside Higher Ed that it is “super politicized” and “morally problematic.”

The resolution includes one line saying “support of the Palestinian people and opposition to their colonization, containment, and murder is often misrepresented as anti-semitic,” and another “defending scholars’ right to speak out against Zionist occupation.” Zuckerman Sivan, who is Jewish, said it would’ve been possible to mention that antisemitism allegations can be politically weaponized, while also noting antisemitism is a “major problem,” but the resolution doesn’t. Regarding the call for a ceasefire, he said the resolution doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge that “there are two parties in this war, and what’s preventing a ceasefire are decisions made by each of those parties.”

Zuckerman Sivan said the resolution signals “a lack of empathy, a lack of respect and a lack of value of” various groups in the ASA, starting with Jews. But he said it also sends “a message of alienation to anybody that doesn’t have the politics of the framers of the resolution.”

Barbara J. Risman, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, objected to the resolution’s language about colonization and Zionist occupation. Risman, who is Jewish, said she thinks the resolution downplays the existence of increasing antisemitism and “can be read as implying that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist.” She also noted it “makes absolutely no reference to the hostages [Hamas has taken], as if the ceasefire could happen with no release of the hostages.”

Gowayed noted that the resolution doesn’t mention Islamophobia, or racism or other issues, but is instead focused on “justice in Palestine.” She said “we’re in a moment where there are over 30,000 people who have been killed, they are being killed through our tax money, and we’re just asking for a statement of an end of violence … this really should not be a complicated stance to take.”

It has been a complicated stance for scholarly associations to adopt, however. And as the war in Gaza rolls on—and even afterward, in whatever future Palestinians, Israelis and Americans negotiate for the region—issues in the region will likely continue to bedevil disciplinary groups, universities and academe writ large.

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