How to stop the Israeli occupation: An answer to Corey Robin

Corey Robin asked the following about the ASA’s recent pro-BDS resolution:

For the last month I’ve been responding to critiques and challenges of BDS. Now I have a question for its opponents and critics. What do you propose as an alternative strategy?

I am not sure I am entitled to answer since I have not written any critique of the ASA resolution, but I think you have to ask a prior question. If you are an American academic association and you want the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to end, what tactics are most likely to work? (No guarantees; history obviously shows coercion can work for a very long time.)

In others words, what is more effective, the ASA endorsing “a boycott of Israeli academic institutions” or the ASA doing something else? I pick something else.

If I were counseling the ASA, I would suggest the following:

1. You are, I imagine, mostly* residents of the United States. If that is the case, the best thing you can do is lobby the US government to change its policy toward Israel-Palestine. However limited, you have access to US halls of power that a Palestinian in Nablus does not. Change your own government. So pass a resolution condemning current US policy. Write. Call. Visit. Donate. Form a PAC. Organize. Vote.

2. Focus on the denial of academic freedom to Palestinian academics and universities. Work to break it down. Hold conferences and workshops with Palestinian professors. Engage in joint projects. Given the difficult travel policies they face, allocate funds to bring them for scholarly exchanges. I do not know what the MLA will ultimately do, but a draft text I saw went more in this direction. A related variant: formally support Israeli academics who oppose the occupation.

3. Publicize and support on-the-ground Palestinian efforts based on non-violent change. People should know about movements in Bil’in and Budrus and Nabi Salih and Sheik Jarrakh and the like.

Make that list the operative part of the resolution, and the ASA will still get a lot of pushback. But the ASA will also have a better chance of effecting meaningful change.

(For the sake of discussion, I set aside the Middlebury objection. That’s a prior issue the ASA has to address.)

* Please correct me if “mostly” is inaccurate.

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One thought on “How to stop the Israeli occupation: An answer to Corey Robin

  1. These are good suggestions for strategy. Of course, none of them are antithetical to, or incommensurate with, the resolution that the ASA did pass; the ASA could engage in each of these activities in addition to its boycott resolution.

    It’s also worth noting that the documents put out by the ASA in support of its resolution indicate plans to do most of what is listed under your #2, including hosting Palestinian scholars as well as Israeli scholars at its conference. Indeed, there were Palestinian scholars at the last conference. Individual members of the organization have worked on projects with Palestinian scholars. I agree that it is incumbent on the organization in the near future to expand such developments, and I like the idea of developing a fund to support the academic freedom and travel of Palestinian scholars. I also think #3 makes sense–BDS is not the only form of nonviolent activism in Palestine.

    I’m no lawyer, but I think #1 might be problematic if taken up institutionally. Though some have argued that the boycott threatens the organization’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, it is clear that the restrictions on such an organization’s political activities do not apply to international politics. It is also clear that such an organization working for a political candidate would violate the terms of its tax-exempt status. Lobbying on foreign policy is probably legally OK too, but it would be wise to be cautious about it. It may be surprising, but–at least on my admittedly unprofessional reading of the laws on 501c3 organizations, the boycott is the safest legal ground it can stand on.

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