From Mondoweiss - When the final history of the academic boycott against Israel is written, 2014 will likely have a prominent chapter.
The first union in the U.S.–UAW 2865, which represents University of California student workers–voted to boycott Israel. The Critical Ethnic Studies Association and African Literature Association endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. And earlier in the year, the membership of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted in favor of the academic boycott of Israel, setting off a firestorm of protest among pro-Israel advocates and lawmakers.
But 2015 is also shaping up to be a big year for the academic boycott. Anger over Israel’s continuing occupation, and its assault on Gaza last summer, is driving the discussion.
Two more prominent academic associations, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), could consider the academic boycott. Both associations are already embroiled in debate over boycotting Israel. In early January, the American Historical Association voted down the opportunity to consider resolutions that were critical of Israel because proponents did not submit materials on time.
Passage of pro-boycott resolutions at 2015 conferences would raise the profile of the BDS movement in the U.S, though its impact would be largely symbolic.
That prospect has people like Cary Nelson, the professor emeritus at the University of Illinois and a prominent opponent of BDS, warning that the movement has the potential to become a powerful political force. (Nelson did not answer requests for comment on this story.)
For now, the debate is about the debate. At the AAA’s conference in December 2014, a resolution condemning BDS was overwhelmingly voted down, paving the way for future discussions on academic boycotts and, potentially, a resolution for BDS.
“This is a huge win for keeping both Palestine and academic boycott on the table within the association and signals a significant shift in the public discourse – the first time Palestine is put front and center in anthropology,” J. Kehaulani Kauanui, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at Wesleyan University, told me in an e-mail.