- Taking Risks, or The Question of Palestine Solidarity and Asian American Studies
In April 2013 the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) became the first academic organization in the United States to pass a resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.1 As an important act of solidarity, it is worth briefly elaborating the history that led to this momentous decision. The AAAS academic boycott resolution highlights academic freedom—a principle not always afforded to students and scholars in Palestine. The resolution condemns the curtailment of freedom of movement and the violence of Israeli occupation as a settler colonial state, and those academic institutions complicit with the systematic discrimination of such racist policies and practices. By December 2013 the American Studies Association adopted an academic boycott resolution that closely followed the AAAS resolution with a similar critique of racism and settler colonialism, and a clear commitment to social justice and academic freedom. Following the AAAS and ASA academic boycott resolutions, a number of US-based academic organizations passed similar resolutions, with the earliest coming from associations connected to ethnic studies.2
These resolutions have not been without their risks. For example, the backlash to the AAAS resolution included a well-organized e-mail campaign by nonmembers and other organizations that called on AAAS officers to reconsider the membership vote.3 In response to the ASA decision in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) call, widespread media coverage sparked a heated national debate and even more virulent attacks. In a proactive response, the ASA leadership made the hate e-mails to the ASA public in a website called “BDS Love Letters.”4 More recently as part of the context of these academic boycott resolutions and the work of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Steven Salaita lost a tenured position at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign because of his use of Twitter to criticize the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, and the pro-Israeli AMCHA [End Page 1027] Initiative tried to fire Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University for leading a delegation of scholars to Palestine (Junaid Rana, one of the authors of this essay, was a participant).5 These attempts to stifle dissent and the critique of Israeli settler colonialism and occupation have pushed scholarly debate and institutional responses out into the open regarding solidarity with Palestinians and the movement for decolonization and liberation. In American studies in particular, the subject of Palestine has emerged as an important emphasis connecting scholarship to activism in the context of the US role in the global War on Terror that has reinvigorated the ethnic studies praxis of solidarity and political commitment.
In the most straightforward sense, the AAAS resolution resulted from a democratic process: a member-based vote outlined in the association bylaws. But more than simply a vote, the support for the academic boycott has come from intellectual and political spaces that are informed by social movements, students, and scholarship. These three S’s, as the hallmark of Asian American studies since its founding, highlight how critical inquiry and scholarly debate are interwoven with pedagogy and research, student activism, and social justice struggles. That the AAAS academic boycott draws on numerous histories of political engagement and critique is not a surprise given the principles from which ethnic studies is grounded, namely, critiques of militarism, colonialism, racism, heteropatriarchy, and power. Heeding the 2005 call of Palestinian civil society to join in the BDS movement speaks to the roots of the AAAS in Asian American social movement history. While not new for ethnic studies, the conjoining of activists, students, and scholars in collective struggle has shifted over time. With the changing contours of the neoliberal and imperial university, the waning commitment to local communities and the pressures of professionalization and institutionalization of American studies and ethnic studies have often yielded mixed results, while also leading to a renewal of scholarly political and ethical responsibilities.6 As with AAAS, the work of the ASA and American studies scholars in support of the academic boycott signals an important move from the intellectual critique of...