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The ASA and Academic Boycotts

I’m starting to think that the American Studies Association has become the Emmanuel Goldstein of our times, the mythical object of the daily two minutes of hate in the novel 1984. The outpouring of denunciations against the ASA, and calls for their suppression for daring to embrace a boycott of Israel, have made them the most reviled scholarly organization in America.

There’s a key problem with all of this rhetorical warfare: the ASA resolution against Israel is not a boycott. The emperor is not wearing a boycott (and is not an emperor). And no matter how much everyone keeps repeating the word “boycott,” that doesn’t make it so. Yet this non-boycott by the ASA, which in no way threatens anyone’s academic freedom, has been met with an angry response that might be unprecedented in the history of higher education: over 100 college presidents have denounced the ASA as an enemy of academic freedom, something that college presidents never do in response to actual threats to academic freedom.

The only threat to academic freedom in this case comes from the attacks on the ASA, not the ASA resolution. New York Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) and Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) announced plans to introduce “legislation that would cut-off state aid to public and private universities who participate in organizations which, like the ASA, discriminate against countries like Israel. The legislation gives colleges and universities 30 days to withdraw their support from organizations that boycott countries like Israel or else lose state funding and bonding privileges.”

According to Hikind, “Under the legislation, schools would also be required to immediately suspend the use of any state resources in support of organizations like the ASA. The legislation would also prohibit employees of New York State’s public universities from participating in conferences or activities sponsored by groups that participate in discriminatory boycotts like the ASA.”

This is a stunning assault on academic freedom.

Top legislators in New York are planning to force public and private colleges to ban any support for the ASA, and to prohibit any scholars at public college from even attending an event sponsored by the ASA or other organizations that supports a boycott of Israel. The “state resources” law could mean that professors at public colleges would be banned from using a university computer to express support for the ASA.

Klein and Hikind actually had the hubris to declare, “Make no mistake: the ASA’s boycott is targeted discrimination against Israel that betrays the values of academic freedom that we hold dear.”

Ah, yes, they hold academic freedom so dearly they wish to smother it with their burning love.
Let me give them a little lesson in academic freedom: when the government threatens to cut off funding to a college unless it bans any affiliation with a group lawmakers don’t like, that’s an assault on academic freedom, not a defense of it. And when you require all professors at public colleges to be banned from conferences held by groups that you don’t like, that is also an attack on academic freedom, no matter what the group believes. To be precise, what Klein and Hikind are proposing is a massive government-forced discriminatory boycott of an academic organization, and an unconstitutional repression of free speech by the government.

Hikind not only wants to punish colleges unless they boycott the ASA, he also thinks the ASA’s support for a boycott of Israel is a crime: “This action by the ASA is a flagrant violation of New York State’s Human Rights Law.” (Fortunately, America still has a First Amendment that should stop such idiocy. In Australia, University of Sydney professor Jack Lynch is being sued for racial discrimination by Israeli academics who claim that his support for the boycott movement harmed them by causing Elvis Costello to cancel a concert in Israel. Lynch has also alleged that a grant to his program was rejected because of his views about Israel.)

Legislators aren’t the only threat to academic freedom in the ASA controversy. The New York Post editorialized how it was an “outrage” that NYU professor (and ASA president) Lisa Duggan is allowed to support the boycott, even though NYU’s top administrators had denounced the ASA resolution.

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie denounced the ASA because “Boycotts such as these have a profound chilling effect on academic freedom, and universities must be clear and unequivocal in rejecting them.” McRobbie then ignored this principle by imposing his own boycott of the ASA. Without consulting with any faculty at Indiana University, McRobbie announced, “Indiana University will contact the ASA immediately to withdraw as an institutional member.”

Any attempt to punish or de-fund a scholarly association because its members voted to express a position on a political issue is, without question, an attack on academic freedom, as I noted when Larry Summers called for college presidents to ban travel funds for faculty attending ASA meetings. You are free to urge scholarly groups not to take political stands (or to avoid stands you don’t like), but you cannot punish an individual or an organization for its politics without endangering academic freedom.

So what exactly is the crime that the ASA committed? It passed a resolution criticizing Israel. But this “boycott” does not mean what virtually all of the uninformed ASA critics seem to think it means.

As the ASA posted on its website, “The ASA understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.”

Of course, since the ASA in its official capacities has essentially zero collaborations with Israeli universities, this boycott is truly meaningless. In theory, the boycott would mean that an Israeli college that wanted to become an institutional member of the ASA would be rejected, but since that’s never happened before, and institutional membership doesn’t mean anything, it is pointless. Also meaningless is the ban on official “representatives” of Israel colleges from speaking at ASA conferences. According to ASA president-elect Lisa Duggan, this doesn’t prevent any Israeli scholars from speaking at the ASA, even the presidents of universities, as long as they are not speaking as “representatives” of the institution. I doubt if anyone has ever spoken at the ASA as the representative of an Israeli university, or ever will. While I oppose both of these minor consequences of the ASA boycott, I can’t see how anyone would regard them as any kind of violation of academic freedom.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the much-maligned American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel is that it isn’t actually a boycott. This may surprise some people. After all, the ASA says it’s a boycott, perhaps because calling it a “resolution” is deemed too wimpy for academics who like to imagine that they’re doing something important. The ASA resolution is also called a boycott by its supporters in the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement against Israel, who are happy to imagine that someone endorses their work. And the ASA’s words have also been deemed a boycott by its critics, who have gathered in unprecedented numbers to denounce its actions in hyperbolic words.

A deluge of misreporting about the ASA resolution has generated some of the outrage against the group. The New York Daily News reported, “The group overwhelmingly voted to bar Israeli academic institutions from collaborations with their campuses over the country’s treatment of Palestinians.” No, no it didn’t. Not even close.

An AAUP statement against the boycott was one of the few to accurately describe it: “The ASA resolution also limited the boycott to ASA’s own organizational contacts with Israeli institutions, exempting individual scholars.” Unfortunately, the AAUP followed this up with an unproven claim that, “Nevertheless, the vote represents a setback for the cause of academic freedom.”

However, the AAUP statement doesn’t explain how this “boycott” affects academic freedom at all. It goes on to ask questions about whether the ASA will allow Israeli scholars to receive travel funds from their institutions to attend an ASA meeting (the answer is yes), and if the ASA will impose an ideological litmus test on scholars (the answer is no). The very fact that the AAUP had to imagine hypothetical threats that don’t actually exist indicates that there is no real threat to academic freedom posed by the ASA resolution.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) promoted misinformation and terrible arguments about the ASA boycott, claiming that it would violate the academic freedom “not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.” Since the boycott applies to Israeli institutions, not scholars, it’s hard to see how their freedom is violated. But the real problem is here the AAU’s claim that no organization can ever make statements because an individual member might feel pressured to agree (a claim that the AAU doesn’t apply to itself).

I do disagree with the ASA resolution, mainly because I oppose most boycotts in general, and academic boycotts in particular, even in symbolic form like the ASA did. I think that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is deplorable and a violation of fundamental human rights, and that its treatment of Palestinian scholars and students has violated academic freedom (a fact that few of the self-proclaimed defenders of academic freedom bother to mention in their obsession with the ASA). I think that scholarly groups should pass resolutions selectively denouncing Israel’s actions. But a boycott accomplishes nothing (no government cares about whether its colleges are being denounced internationally; politicians are usually too busy denouncing them domestically) while going against academic values of debate and engagement.

On principle, I would oppose the ASA “boycott” and would encourage them to invite Israeli university representatives to speak, if it could ever be relevant to an ASA event. But I cannot imagine how anyone would describe this trivial resolution as an attack on academic freedom. The only attacks on academic freedom have come from those denouncing the ASA.

I think the ASA “boycott” is pure symbolism that accomplishes nothing except for a backlash from the forces of repression and ignorance. But the scholars of the ASA deserve to have the academic freedom to make misguided political statements. They should be subject to criticism, but that criticism needs to be accurate and not followed with attempts by college presidents and legislators to punish them. The ASA has nothing to apologize for; but a parade of presidential pompous fools owe the ASA an apology for smearing them based on ignorance and misinformation.

About John K. Wilson

Author of "Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies."

12 comments on “The ASA and Academic Boycotts

  1. Hank Reichman
    January 3, 2014

    John takes a rather strange position on the ASA resolution. On one hand, he claims to oppose the resolution because he opposes boycotts, especially academic boycotts. On the other hand, he takes great pains to argue that the ASA resolution is not a boycott. But why then does he oppose it? In fact, what John really demonstrates is not that the ASA is not condoning a boycott but that for the ASA the boycott is largely an empty gesture. On that he is right, but he misses a much larger point. Few of those who have opposed the ASA’s action expect it to have much impact. The ASA has no institutional relations with Israeli universities to speak of and relatively few with individual Israeli scholars. But both supporters and opponents of the resolution are reacting not to its limited practical impact, but to its political resonance. If this is not an academic boycott, why are the major advocates of an academic boycott of Israel claiming, in Omar Barghouti’s words, that the ASA resolution marks a critical “turning point?” The ASA leaders may well be calling their action a boycott simply out of a sense of self-importance, but the fact that they have clung to this word despite widespread criticism of the boycott concept is hardly irrelevant. They are making a statement not simply about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but about academic boycotts and academic freedom. And no matter how impotent they may be, the statement is wrong.

    Curiously, while John is eager to dismiss concerns about the ASA’s language, he is equally eager to condemn as major threats to academic freedom several blusterous but essentially meaningless threats from the other side. As John knows, I have already criticized the foolish proposal by New York legislators Hikind and Klein that he labels “a stunning assault on academic freedom.” But reprehensible as it is, the Hikind-Klein proposal is just that — a proposal — and one that is probably as unlikely to be adopted (and if adopted, survive an inevitable legal challenge) as the ASA resolution is unlikely to have a serious impact on the middle east. As for the New York Post’s editorial, well has John ever read that rag? It is hardly news that they will pander to the basest instincts. I don’t understand how the impotent rage of right-wing editorialists and the cynical posturing of publicity-seeking legislators (who may well know their proposal will likely go nowhere) are major assaults on academic freedom, but the equally political posturing of an academic association (however ineffective) is not?

    The reality is that neither the ASA boycott resolution nor the kinds of threats made on the other side that John denounces are likely to meet with much success. But insofar as the ASA resolution advances the idea of an academic boycott as a legitimate strategy of political protest, it will endanger academic freedom. And insofar as opposition to the resolution leads some university administrators to deny academic freedom and due process to boycott supporters, the AAUP and other supporters of academic freedom will need to speak out and act. This was the thrust of my own post on this subject, which is here: http://academeblog.org/2014/01/02/how-not-to-oppose-the-academic-boycott-of-israel/

    I must finally ask where John found “AAUP’s claim that no organization can ever make statements because an individual member might feel pressured to agree?” We have made no such claim. The phrase John cites that leads him to this bizarre conclusion refers not to any statement but to the very nature of a boycott. Of course, organizations make statements that some of their members disagree with all the time. And had the ASA simply passed a resolution condemning Israeli policies, or denouncing alleged violations of academic freedom at Israeli universities, or even denied the right of Israel to exist, the AAUP would have remained silent. We have no foreign policy; our concern is limited to the implications for academic freedom of academic boycotts, no matter how ineffective they may prove to be. And we have not called on individual ASA members to boycott the ASA or take any action other than what their individual consciences call upon them to do. AAUP also recognizes that our own members do not agree with everything we do or say. John’s own post is a fine example of that.

  2. John K. Wilson
    January 3, 2014

    Reichman wonders why I oppose the ASA resolution if it’s not a boycott. I oppose the pretense of a boycott that really isn’t one rather than the honesty of a resolution. And I oppose the very minor boycott actions of the ASA because they are contrary to academic values of open engagement, even though they don’t violate anyone’s academic freedom.

    Reichman argues that the ASA resolution is a violation of academic freedom because it expresses support for an academic boycott which could threaten academic freedom, even if the particulars of the ASA resolution do not seem to violate academic freedom. But the AAUP typically only condemns actions that violate academic freedom, not opinions that are deemed to support ideas hostile to academic freedom.

    The problem here is that the AAUP, and all of the presidents who denounced the ASA, simply assumed that anything called an “academic boycott” is a violation of academic freedom. But that hasn’t been shown to be true in this case. Any academic boycott must be judged on whether it actually violates academic freedom, and Reichman has admitted that the ASA “did attempt to water down their notion of what a boycott would be.”

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/17/american-studies-association-backs-boycott-israeli-universities#ixzz2pNefKmgp

    But the AAUP continued to condemn the ASA resolution, apparently based on the mistaken belief that a boycott would apply to Israeli scholars funded by their institutions. Now that this misimpression has been corrected, I hope that the AAUP would reconsider its opinion.

    Instead of entirely condemning the ASA, the AAUP should at least acknowledge that the ASA’s limited approach does not threaten academic freedom as most other academic boycotts do. While the AAUP would prefer to have no academic boycotts at all, surely it is better to have very narrow academic boycotts that do not endanger academic freedom. At the very least, in light of all the attacks and calls for repression, the public deserves to know the differences between what the ASA actually did and what they’ve been falsely accused of doing.

    My apologies for misattributing a quote to the AAUP that was actually from the AAU, due to misreading a New York Times article that mentioned both groups. (I’ve corrected that quote in the article.)
    (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/27/education/academic-leaders-denounce-israel-boycott.html?_r=0)

    • Hank Reichman
      January 3, 2014

      The AAUP did not condemn the ASA resolution “based on the mistaken belief that a boycott would apply to Israeli scholars funded by their institutions,” although an article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education argues effectively that the institution/individual distinction evoked by the ASA is a false one. We condemned the resolution because the association and its supporters have repeatedly argued that it is an academic boycott. That the ASA watered down its proposal (to obtain approval?) and that the ASA is largely irrelevant to the Middle East may well minimize the impact of that boycott — a fact that our statement clearly acknowledged — but that doesn’t change the fact that the resolution’s intent is clear and its political resonance obvious. Moreover, the AAUP only censures universities for their actions, but we disagree with and criticize opinions all the time, as does Wilson in his own post. And where those opinions involve a potential threat to academic freedom, however empty, we reject them. That is all we have done. The AAUP is not responsible, of course, for what others have said or written about the ASA and its statements or actions. And, once again, where appropriate, we will defend boycott supporters if and when their own academic freedom to advocate for their views may be threatened.

  3. Evan
    January 3, 2014

    All boycotts are largely symbolic: the ASA’s is not “purely symbolic” primarily because Israeli academics occasionally have participated on the same basis as other scholars, but now may participate only if they agree not to represent their institutions. It’s a barrier. Among the other reasons people oppose the ASA’s resolution is that they sincerely oppose such a barrier as policy of an American scholarly association rooted in American universities.

    What does it mean to be a member, individually or institutionally, of an organization claiming a boycott–a majorly controversial boycott one declines to endorse as an individual or as an institution? Where are the precedents? On what grounds can we fault Indiana U. or any institution whose reaction by default is to withdraw its institutional membership in an association making highly provocative foreign-policy decisions? Does every scholarly association with institutional members get to set the foreign-policy agenda of all its members?

    Of course some barriers are worse than others. One particularly troublesome kind poses as the embodiment of purely good faith while casting its opposition as lacking any.

    • John K. Wilson
      January 3, 2014

      Let me explain what “represent” means in academic terms: it is being an official spokesperson for a college. No scholar ever does that at an academic conference that I have ever heard of. In fact, an archaic AAUP rule allows faculty to be punished for speaking on behalf of their institution without authorization. No Israeli scholar will be asked not to “represent” their institutions because none of them do. So this is literally not a barrier at all.

      To answer your question, the ASA is imposing absolutely nothing on any members, institutional or individual. They are all perfectly free to do or so whatever they want regarding a boycott. So, because the ASA resolution imposes no obligations and no possible harm on any members, we can criticize administrators who withdraw membership in a group merely for making controversial statements.

      As for those posing as pure goodness while denouncing the opposition, I have to say that I don’t even know which side you’re talking about, since everybody in this case seems to be doing that.

  4. Evan
    January 4, 2014

    Like any extremely provocative foreign policy, the ASA’s boycott has real costs. The boycott’s benefits may well outweigh the costs, but if so, it should be easy to confront and consider some of the costs. Why then all the insisting that there are no costs?

    Almost every scholar represents their institution at a conference by listing their institution under their name in the program and on their nametag. The new policy clearly prohibits Israelis from doing so or planning to do so at ASA. In response to the ASA’s new policy, some scholars would like to invite scholars from Israel to join a proposal for a session at the next annual meeting: we now are duty bound either to decline to invite them, or to tell them that by rule they cannot participate on a level playing field.

    “We deplore Israel’s policies” or “we deplore Israel” are examples of statements. But it was a speech-act when the ASA officially said that Israeli scholars may “participate in the ASA conference or give public lectures at campuses, provided they are not expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or of the Israeli government.” It enacted a policy.

    The policy matters–it enacts foreign policy–because it raises a new bar for travel. If you’ve not already done so, you may benefit from speaking to scholars from any national universities with experience at traveling abroad to conduct or present research. Certainly one’s sponsor takes no responsibility for the content, but in my personal experience, when the immigration officials question one’s entry, it puts one at a considerable disadvantage if forthrightness requires one to say that the purpose of the trip is *not* to represent one’s national government.

    Why does the ASA policy purport to govern “lectures at campuses”? How can you say university administrations should face the policy as a mere statement?

    The denouncement of the ASA by a hundred college presidents and the withdrawal by Indiana U. are not a negligible costs to the ASA–even if the presidents and the U. were entirely in the wrong. Sometimes an institution’s moral choice calls for it to damn such consequences. But what sort of moral choice calls for uncritical, unfounded dismissal of the weight of such costs?

    I’ve been pondering this question and so far the only answer I’ve come up with is “all out war.” Sometimes some people are willing to lay down everything and cannot afford to admit the faults of their position. There’s no shortage of such people on both sides of the boycott debate, unfortunately.

    • John K. Wilson
      January 4, 2014

      No, no, no. Listing affiliation is absolutely not the same as representing an institution. That’s 100% clear. As the ASA explained, “We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences, public lectures at campuses, and collaboration on research and publication.”

      ASA policy does not govern lectures at campuses. But it was trying to explain the BDS movement to its members, and guide them about what it would mean if they chose to personally implement a boycott. So they were saying it doesn’t include Israeli university scholars speaking on campus.

      You are correct to distinguish between speech-statements and speech-acts. The ASA made a speech-statement (endorsing the academic boycott of Israel) and then implemented it with a speech-act (banning Israeli institutional membership and representatives at ASA conferences). I disagree with the ASA speech-statement but defend their right to make it. I oppose the ASA speech-act but argue that it is so limited that it is purely symbolic and therefore not an actual limitation on academic freedom.

      My primary point in this long argument is to point out that all of the critics of the ASA (including this commenter, and the AAUP) misrepresented the ASA’s speech-act because they assumed that the ASA speech-statement implied an endorsement of the most extreme speech-acts of others in the BDS movement. This was a false assumption. If you want to attack the ASA for their speech-statement, fine, but don’t malign the ASA by inventing speech-acts that they never endorsed.

      Now, there is also a secondary argument I’ve been having with Hank Reichman and the AAUP leadership: I believe that the AAUP should condemn only speech-acts that actually implement a boycott that threatens academic freedom, and not mere speech statements that endorse a boycott that does not necessarily endanger academic freedom. The AAUP’s statement against academic boycotts (http://www.aaup.org/report/academic-boycotts) was driven by the British AUT’s speech-act of a “comprehensive” academic boycott of Israel, one that only excluded “conscientious” scholars who agreed with the AUT. This is the origin of the AAUP’s false implication that the ASA might impose a “litmus test” in its boycott. But the ASA’s speech-act was a “minimalist” academic boycott that is essentially symbolic and does not threaten academic freedom.

      I don’t expect that AAUP to endorse any academic boycott (and I don’t, either). But I think they must at least recognize the differences between comprehensive boycotts that threaten academic freedom (and therefore must be condemned) and minimalist boycotts that do not. The AAUP should encourage the BDS movement to follow the lead of the ASA with a minimalist boycott even while the AAUP continues to oppose all academic boycotts. But when the AAUP continues to treat the ASA’s speech-act as a grave threat to academic freedom, without paying attention to the actual facts of what the ASA did, it is in danger of being used as a pawn by those who want to punish the ASA for daring to criticize Israel.

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  6. Evan
    January 4, 2014

    Why insist that the ASA did no more than criticize? Here is the ASA’s official word: “The ASA understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.” The ASA then makes an exemption that is, I find, unclear: “We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences.”

    Does this mean the ASA in its official capacities never considered presentations at ASA conferences to constitute formal collaborations between the ASA and the individual scholars? When I worked for a national university abroad, for ten consecutive years I petitioned my employer for leave to present at ASA as if I myself and the ASA collaboratively were formally sponsoring my presentations. Was I mistaken? Let’s say I was not mistaken. Now I’m sincerely inclined to invite a few Israelis to present at ASA. But the grey zone is a significant hindrance.

    This hindrance doesn’t necessarily mean the boycott’s unjustified–only that it has force, force that of course includes actual would-be presenters.

    Here’s the rub: the disclaimer of collaboration does, as a speech act, technically have force insofar as would-be collaborators understand the basic convention in play, and its rules. That is, if an Israeli scholar claims to be collaborating formally and officially with the ASA, then her claim now should not have force, because one may not collaborate with a party against its stated will.

    Does the exemption of conference-presenting have greater force? I’m sure actually (speech-actually) it has less force, because the convention in play here (exemption from a boycott) is not well understood, nor are its rules. So any inviter of Israeli would-be presenters should fairly say “You face not a boycott per se by the ASA, but a grey zone in which the ASA disclaims official, formal collaboration only with you Israelis as representatives of your institutions or nation.”

    The question of what Israelis represent is at issue. Their own identity, as would-be presenters, usually has been up to them. Like any international scholars, to some degrees some of them have considered that as presenters they represented, e.g., the University of Haifa, in formal official collaboration with the ASA. Now they should not.

    • John K. Wilson
      January 4, 2014

      There is no grey zone, and no hindrance, and it’s absolutely clear. I’ve never heard a scholar refer to a conference presentation as a “collaboration” with the scholarly association. But it’s certainly not a collaboration between the scholar’s university and the ASA. It just isn’t, and the ASA clearly says there is no boycott of individual scholars.

      • Evan
        January 5, 2014

        You lack any grounds to declare that the resolution is “absolutely clear,” posing no grey zone and no hindrance, unless you claim privileged access to unmediated meaning; or claim that thousands of university professors who’ve read the actual resolution are either mistaken or interpreting it in bad faith.

        Again, here it is: “The ASA understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law. We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences.”

        The claim that the boycott does not apply at all to any individual scholars is patently false. Also patently false is the claim that scholars in Israel (or anyone inclined to invite any of them to ASA) should understand the bounds of the exemptions.

        The question of whether conference organizers or presenters in the U.S. ever say “we are collaborating with the ASA” is not necessarily relevant to the question of whether we and the ASA mutually have viewed our conference work as official collaboration. So the ASA’s disclaiming of collaborative action has some force.

        The claim that the resolution “is so limited that it is purely symbolic and therefore not an actual limitation” contradicts the fact that the resolution is a speech-act: because a speech-act, by definition, accomplishes an act.

        Curiously, some members of the ASA’s executive counsel have been making the same claim: the ASA’s boycott doesn’t actually boycott anyone or anything. In “How to Do Things With Words,” Austin gives examples of speech acts lacking in force: notably, if I am not the appointed christener of a ship but anyway break a bottle of champagne on the prow of the ship and say “I christen this ship, ‘The La Salle,’ then actually the ship remains unchristened. Congruently, the ASA sometimes argues that its boycott doesn’t apply to any actual people or institutions because there’s no collaborations over which it actually has such authority.

        Another of Austin’s examples is that if you challenge me to a duel, I can shrug off your challenge, and then the duel is not in effect. The ASA’s framing of its own resolution strongly suggests that it shrugs off its own boycott, and moreover expects others to shrug it off too.

        Somehow the ASA is disclaiming its own authority to enact the boycott it has enacted, and then blaming every critic who supposes that the boycott has force.

        It’s a dangerous world full of impulses to punish others. When we resist such impulses and resist collective punishments, we often do well. But sometimes not.

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