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SU rejects ASA boycott against Israeli universities

Syracuse University has joined a list of several universities that are rejecting the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott against Israeli universities.

In a statement issued Jan. 7, then-Interim Chancellor Eric Spina said SU does not support the boycott because it goes against open exchanges of knowledge, ideas and perspectives. Spina said he believes open dialogue is a foundation that will hopefully lead to peace and understanding in the Middle East.

“It is clear that scholars and academic institutions on all sides, in all countries and territories, and of all viewpoints are central to this discussion and debate, and we hope that all will be welcomed and encouraged to engage in this dialogue,” Spina said.

The ASA, the nation’s oldest and largest group dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, released a statement Dec. 4 saying its national council voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions as an “ethical stance” due to the country’s treatment of Palestinians.

“It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” the statement said.

The ASA’s statement also said that endorsing the boycott is “warranted,” and listed several reasons, including Israel’s violation of international law and United Nations resolutions and the effect the country’s occupation has on Palestinian scholars and students.

Since the ASA’s announcement, many university presidents across the nation have spoken out against the organization. Cornell University President David Skorton was one of 10 university leaders who signed an Association of American Universities statement opposing the ASA boycott.

Although SU is not a member of the ASA, Spina said many members of the SU community asked him about the university’s position on the matter. He said he supports the individual right to express opinions on both sides of the issue, but SU as an institution is against the boycott.

Spina discussed the boycott with SU faculty prior to releasing his statement, said Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science, in an email.

Elman said a meeting was held at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs between Dean James Steinberg, Senior Associate Dean Michael J. Wasylenko and Maxwell faculty during which they discussed the boycott. Elman said Maxwell faculty members who could not attend the meeting were able to share their opinions via email. Everyone’s feedback was shared with Spina before issuing the statement.

Elman said she was involved in several meetings on the boycott, adding that she commends Spina and other administrators for reaching out to SU faculty on the issue.

“It should be noted that at other universities, faculty were not always consulted in advance and faculty were not in all cases involved in their administration’s deliberations regarding whether to issue a statement of non-support, or how such a statement should be worded,” she said.

Opponents have raised several arguments against the boycott. Elman said one of the biggest criticisms is that it will not help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The boycott actually prevents a resolution from happening because it limits institutional interaction and exchanging ideas between Israelis and Palestinians, she said.

To foster more co-existence in the global community, Elman said, conflicting groups should be exposed to each other’s viewpoints and engage in discussion.

Amos Kiewe, a professor of communications and rhetorical studies, said in an email that Spina’s statement stresses the need for all sides in the conflict to have a voice. Boycotting one side of the conflict does not make sense, he said.

“If there is one group of professionals whose freedom of speech is essential for open deliberation and intellectual inquiry,” Kiewe said, “it is academics.”

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