The Real Problem With the American Studies Association’s Boycott of Israel
By Peter Beinart
December 17th 2013, The Daily Beast
It’s OK for the American Studies Association to judge the country with a double standard. Denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state is another story.
On Monday, the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli universities. I think such a boycott is dead wrong. Unfortunately, the most common criticisms of it miss the point.
Since the decision was announced, the primary line of attack has been that boycotting Israel constitutes a double standard. In Tablet, Liel Liebowitz even created a handy little chart of countries that violate academic freedom more than Israel, and yet aren’t being boycotted by the ASA. Jeffrey Goldberg and Larry Summers claimed that applying a double standard to the Jewish state represents anti-Semitism, whether the ASA’s members recognize it or not.
I find this deeply unconvincing. Of course Israel isn’t among the world’s worst human rights abusers. Of course boycotting it—and not China or Iran—constitutes a double standard. But so does most political protest. In the 1970s, American Jewish groups picketed the Bolshoi Ballet to demand freedom for Soviet Jews.
Were there actions illegitimate because they weren’t also protesting Idi Amin and Pol Pot, who were at the time committing far worse crimes? In 2010, dozens of cities, performers and professional groups boycotted Arizona because of its draconian immigration law. Were their actions immoral because they didn’t first boycott Zimbabwe? In the mid-1990s, the United States waged humanitarian war in Bosnia and did nothing in Rwanda, where the slaughter was worse. At the time, United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali suggested that this constituted a double standard, perhaps even a racial one, and he was right. But I’m still glad America stopped genocide somewhere.
For the global left, imperialism is the great sin of the modern world and only the West can commit it.
People are morally inconsistent. Some forms of injustice bother them more than others. The roots of this inconsistency may be irrational, even disturbing, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t act against the abuses they care about most.