In response to the American Studies Association’s decision to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia issued a statement Dec. 23 rejecting the ban and vowing to maintain standards of open dialogue and academic freedom.
DeGioia’s press release emphasized a commitment to free expression and the exchange of ideas, which he believes are central to the university’s mission.
“The recent resolution of the American Studies Association endorsing a boycott of Israeli universities undermines the academic freedom that is essential to the mission of the Academy,” the statement read. “As an academic institution, it is Georgetown’s responsibility to deepen engagement and fosterdialogue between scholars and societies to enhance the entire global academic community.”
The original ASA petition cited Israeli human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories, among other violations of international law, as justification for the boycott.
“The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” the ASA’s letter endorsing the ban stated.
The site reported that over 66 percent of ASA members supported the organization’s decision in a nationwide vote.
Even though Georgetown is not endorsing the boycott, certain members of Georgetown’s faculty are members of the ASA and have publicly expressed support for the decision. In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post published on Dec. 27, adjunct professor Noura Erakat of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies argued that the boycott draws international attention to Israel’s treatment of Palestinian citizens.
“The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement … is a call from Palestinians to international solidarity,” Erakat wrote. “By heeding it, the ASA did not single out Israel; it listened to Palestinians who demand equality.”
In his press release, DeGioia noted that university faculty might have differing positions on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations and made a commitment to supporting ideological diversity among members of the staff.
“I recognize these are matters on which colleagues can disagree,” the statement said. “While the position of our University remains opposed to any boycott, we will certainly defend the rights of those who disagree.”
According to Provost Robert Groves, however, the university administration agreed that the boycott violated free expression and academic dialogue.
“There was absolute unity on the principles that motivated the action,” Groves said. “We are devoted to freedom of ideas and disclosure among opposing viewpoints. That is what universities are about and what Georgetown is about.”
Groves further noted that Georgetown could never endorse any limitation on the free exchange of ideas, which would violate its fundamental academic principles.
“Our basic belief is that the role of Georgetown in a larger context is hearing different viewpoints,” he said. “This statement is evidence of our devotion to the principle, and as an academic institution, we wouldn’t do anything to suppress dialogue.”
Student groups also voiced support for President DeGioia’s rejection of the academic boycott.
J Street U President Jake Sorrells (COL ’16) noted the valuable role academia can play in promoting intercultural understanding and the detrimental effects of restricting it.
“I think that the boycott actually exacerbates a lot of the tensions between the two sides,” Sorrells said. “It allows a lot of the animosity, racism and ignorance that is driving this conflict to fester because the more people aren’t interacting with each other through dialogue, the more misconceptions about the other are really able to thrive.”
Sorrells also noted that while some recent Israeli actions could be viewed as warranting some form of condemnation or criticism, academia is not the appropriate setting for a response to them.
“I agree with the frustration and aggravation that is behind the boycott and that in some ways it is well meaning,” Sorrells said. “But I don’t think it’s the right tactic to go about achieving meaningful change.”
Across the country, over 90 universities have rejected the ASA proposal, including Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth and Princeton, as well as many other Catholic institutions like Trinity College, The Catholic University of America, The University of Notre Dame and Loyola University-Maryland. Catholic University of America President John Garvey issued a particularly strong condemnation of the boycott.