Condemnation of ASA boycott pending in state legislature

Condemnation of ASA boycott pending in state legislature

The state Legislature is considering companion resolutions condemning the Academic Studies Association for its recent votes to boycott Israeli universities.

House resolution 627, which is co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R-Jefferson), Reps. Dan Frankel and Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) and Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), was referred to the Rules Committee.

Senate Resolution 279, introduced by Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), was referred to the Senate Education Committee. There are no co-sponsors.

Neither resolution will be taken up until March when the lawmakers return from their budget hearings recess.

“We’ll do everything here to get it done,” said Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, the lobbying arm for the state’s federations.  

The identical resolutions brand the ASA boycott as an “intolerable, anti-Semitic base form of bigotry and hatred.”

They further request the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the State System of Higher Education, in cooperation with the state-related universities independent college and universities “to acknowledge the serious problem of anti-Semitic conduct, the creation of hostile learning environment worldwide and that any such institutions not participate in the academic boycott.”

Members of both parties are lining up behind the resolutions.

“I am pleased to see the resolution moving forward in the House,” Frankel said in a prepared statement. “We have the opportunity to send a clear, bipartisan message that the ASA boycott does not reflect the views of most Pennsylvanians.”

With 1,252 of its members casting ballots, the ASA this past December, voted 66 percent to 30 percent, with 4 percent abstaining, to institute the nonbinding boycott. The question carried with only 16 percent of the organization’s members.

In an earlier vote, the 20-member ASA governing council unanimously endorsed the boycott.

In defending the votes, ASA President Curtis Marez, told The New York Times his organization endorsed the boycott, even when it hasn’t addressed far worse human rights situations around the world, because “one has to start somewhere.”

Larger groups, such as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Universities (AAU), have rejected the idea of academic boycotts.

The ASA is an academic organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.

Pennsylvania is not the only state legislature taking action against the boycott.

The New York State Assembly last week passed a bill to halt government funding to academic institutions supporting a boycott on Israel. The vote passed 56-4, according to

Locally, Kenneth Service, vice chancellor for communications at the University of Pittsburgh, said Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg supported an AAU statement that strongly opposed the ASA boycott and urged “American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts. 

“Chancellor Nordenberg is a member of the AAU’s Executive Committee, was a signatory to the Committee’s statement, and strongly supports the position that it advances,” Service said in an email to the Chronicle.

Carnegie Mellon University issued its own statement after the ASA vote opposing the boycott, or any other “that aims to punish our colleagues in Israel.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at

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