UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake has joined other academic administrators in rejecting a resolution by a history professors association that calls for a boycott of Israeli higher-education institutions.
Drake, of course, knows all about campus controversy involving the State of Israel.
The Muslim Student Union (MSU) for years has presented Israel Apartheid Week that features speakers at UCI damning Israeli government policies and crackdowns against Palestinians. And by the time the smoke cleared from a controversial speech at UCI by the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. in February 2010, several MSU students had been convicted of misdemeanors for disrupting the address.
Against that backdrop and similar rancor at other campuses around the country, the American Studies Association (ASA) recently approved the resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli higher-education institutions.
"In an election that attracted 1,252 voters, the largest number of participants in the organization's history, 66.05 percent of voters endorsed the resolution, while 30.5 percent of voters voted no and 3.43 percent abstained," claims a statement from the ASA National Council, whose Dec. 4 support for the academic boycott spurred the membership-wide vote.
The National Council vote had been requested a year earlier by the ASA Executive Committee, which itself had been asked to consider a resolution from the ASA's Academic and Community Activism Caucus.
"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," states the National Council. "The ASA's endorsement of the academic boycott emerges from the context of U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel's violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and finally, the support of such a resolution by a majority of ASA members."
However, as part of "the ASA's commitment to academic freedom," the association plans bring Israeli and Palestinian academics to its 2014 national convention in Los Angeles, the National Council notes.
The resolution has spurred a debate within the academic community that has resulted in some scholars supporting the resolution and others withdrawing their ASA membership in protest, according to a UCI statement on Chancellor Drake's rejection.
"UC Irvine strongly opposes any boycott of academic institutions," continues the release. "While we support the right to free expression, we believe the ASA resolution interferes with academic freedom. We stand behind the position recently announced by the Association of American Universities, which was signed by Chancellor Michael Drake as a member of AAU's Executive Committee."
It goes on to mention UCI's partnerships with educational institutions throughout the world, including those in the Middle East.
"Our students, representing a mosaic of diverse cultures, religions and political perspectives, established bonds with students in Israel and Palestine through the Olive Tree Initiative," reads the statement. "These first-hand relationships lead to greater understanding and empathy, helping us break through the barriers of prejudice and highlight the power of education for all people. A boycott, on the other hand, narrows our world view and stifles the intellectual exchange that is central to our mission."
Actually, the Olive Tree Initiative was a source of controversy for UCI in 2011.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) called on UCI to end–and the Jewish Federation of Orange County to stop funding–the Olive Tree Initiative because Irvine students and staff members met secretly with Aziz Duwaik on a 2009 trip to Israel.
Recognized internationally as a leader of the Palestinian people, Duwaik has been linked by the ZOA and others to the militant side of Hamas. Duwaik maintains he only has ties to the political side of Hamas and has said the idea some members hold of a completely Palestinian state without Israel is "a fantasy."