Washington, D.C. – Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, penned a letter to Mr. Curtiz Marez, the President of the American Studies Association (ASA), regarding the Association’s recently enacted boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In his letter to Mr. Marez, Rep. Engel noted that the boycott is another example of the unfair double standard Israel is regularly and unfairly subjected to by organizations such as the ASA. Noting that the ASA has thus far remained silent on the threats to academic freedom in countries such as China, Venezuela, and Syria, Rep. Engel included in his letter a copy of relevant sections on academic freedom from the State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
The text of the letter follows:
December 23, 2013
Mr. Curtis Marez
American Studies Association
1120 19th St NW, Suite 301
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Mr. Marez:
I noted with great dismay the decision of the American Studies Association (ASA) to launch a boycott targeting Israeli academic institutions. I believe such action by the ASA is another example of the unfair double standard Israel is regularly and unfairly subjected to by organizations such as yours. I could not help but notice that the American Association of University Professors condemns such boycotts as violations of academic freedom, and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas himself made clear that his government does not support boycotts of the institutions that the ASA is now targeting.
I take great issue with how supporters of the ASA’s misguided actions draw a distinction between boycotting individual Israelis and Israeli academic institutions, which the ASA has termed “party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights.” Simply put, I fail to see how cutting off ties to Israeli universities furthers the interests of peace and coexistence. Does your membership really believe the institutions such as the Walter Lebach Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence Through Education at the Tel Aviv University, the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, or the Jewish-Arab Center at the University of Haifa contribute to the purported Israeli assault on human rights and academic freedoms?
Further, I was surprised to learn that Israel is the first country formally subject to a boycott by the ASA, which curiously has chosen to stay silent on China’s suppression of independent academic voices critical of the Communist Party, the Venezuelan government’s retaliation against opposition-oriented universities, or Zimbabwe’s denial of foreign academics from countries critical of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial government from assuming academic residencies at the University of Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, your response that “we have to start somewhere” when queried about this contradiction only serves to highlight your organization’s bias against Israel. If you must “start somewhere,” than I strongly suggest the ASA turn its attention to Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s forces have indiscriminately shelled universities, killing students even as they sat for exams.
I have attached several sections from the State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for your review. I would note that under the Israel country section, the report states “there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.”
If you desire any assistance in further identifying other countries with human rights records of concern, I and my staff stand ready to assist you and the ASA in that regard.
ELIOT L. ENGEL