Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wide renunciation of American Studies Association Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

A wide array of American university presidents has renounced the recent call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions by the American Studies Association.  Some academics, like Judith Butler a UC Berkeley philosopher, defend the Palestinian movement for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).  But the American Association of University Professors and a broad array of university and college presidents have deplored the ASA resolution, as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has chronicled.

Personally I am very skeptical of such boycott calls.  As someone interested in the development - and hopefully improvement - of China's legal system I have opted for engagement.  There is certainly much reason to renounce Chinese government policy - its widespread use of executions, for starters and its intolerance of criticism whether at home or abroad (e.g. its blocking of internet access to the New York Times, and threatened refusal to renew visas of Times and Bloomberg reporters; and the incarceration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo).   
Supporters of the Palestinian boycott movement assert that their protest is directed not at individuals but at "institutions" which represent the Israeli government.  That seems unrealistic to me.  For scholars to exchange views they need the support of their universities and their governments.  I have had the good fortune to go to China four times - thrice supported by the State Department (Fulbright and Rule of Law programs), and the fourth by my school - Fordham.  In each case I was hosted by universities run by the Chinese government and Communist Party.  On every occasion I presented the strengths (and some weaknesses) of our legal system.  In my view such engagement and exchange is the way to go.

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