For the second year in a row now, the AHA has resoundingly rejected the proposal of Historians Against War to vote against Israel. Last year they proposed BDS and this year “Protecting the Right to Education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” by monitoring Israeli actions.
As IAM noted, Historians Against War is a radical neo-Marxist group which uses the colonial paradigm to present Israel as a colonial, apartheid state. The report presented to the AHA was biased on a number of counts, not least because the group violated its mandate to employ objective observers. Instead, most of the task members were either pro-Palestinian activists or faculty whose neo-Marxist, critical scholarship is easy to docu'ment.
In its decision, the AHA stated that the report was replete with facts that could not be empirically supported. In plain English, the biases of the authors of the reports led them to create a reality that comported with their view of the conflict.
According to the AHA report below "Opponents responded that academic freedom violations are legion throughout the world and that the AHA is already affiliated with Scholars at Risk, a group that monitors violations of academic freedom globally. Some opponents argued that a “yes” vote would be divisive, to which proponents responded that the Association has taken stands on other controversial matters and survived. Members disagreed over whether the occupation was the signal moral issue of our time, as well as whether the AHA has the capacity to do what the resolution would commit it to."
Opponents noted that the AHA should not get involved in issues outside their field of expertise, and that “We should not turn the AHA into a vehicle for a specific Middle East agenda.”
In voting down the BDS proposal the AHA sent a strong signal that professional associations should not get involved in matters that are well outside the scope of their concerns.
Proposed Resolution on Palestinian Academic Freedom Defeated at AHA Annual Meeting
January 10, 2016
At the 2016 business meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta, members voted against a proposed resolution, “Protecting the Right to Education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” by a measure of 111–51.
AHA president Vicki L. Ruiz chaired the meeting, with Michael Les Benedict serving as parliamentarian. The business meeting began with reports from the various divisions of the Association before moving to the proposed resolution. Proponents and opponents lined up at microphones in the center of the hotel ballroom aisle. Debate was civil and efficient, albeit vigorous, with five-minute opening statements delivered by one representative each from Historians against the War (HAW), which submitted the measure in accordance with AHA bylaws in October 2015, and from the main group opposing the resolution, the Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF).
Unlike the resolutions recently considered by other scholarly societies, the proposed resolution did not call for a boycott. Instead, it would have committed the AHA “to monitoring Israeli actions restricting the right to education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” due to Israel’s violations of academic freedom there.
Contrary to wide reports last year that the AHA defeated a boycott resolution, this was the first year a resolution dealing with Israel-Palestine was introduced on the floor of the AHA business meeting. In 2015, some AHA members who wished to introduce a resolution without submitting it before the November 1 deadline moved to suspend the AHA bylaws to enable consideration of their proposal to condemn Israeli policy and actions; that motion was defeated.
For 2016, HAW submitted the resolution in accordance with AHA bylaws, meeting three requirements: that the resolution be signed by at least 100 members (the final total was 126), be submitted to the executive director by November 1 of the previous year, and be no more than 300 words. The proposed resolution appeared in the December 2015 issue of Perspectives on History, the AHA’s newsmagazine. Members thus had a chance to consider the measure in due time, heading off criticisms such as the ones raised at last year’s business meeting. The AHA also provided a special forum for members to debate the issue online. Notably, the print edition of the September issue of Perspectives featured one ad each from HAW and AAF.
Individual speakers were passionate but also eloquent about the resolution, presenting reasoned arguments and counterarguments. The most emphasized point by those in favor of the resolution was that since the AHA was committed to protecting academic freedom, it should take a clear stand regarding Israeli restrictions on student and faculty activities in the Occupied Territories. Opponents responded that academic freedom violations are legion throughout the world and that the AHA is already affiliated with Scholars at Risk, a group that monitors violations of academic freedom globally. Some opponents argued that a “yes” vote would be divisive, to which proponents responded that the Association has taken stands on other controversial matters and survived. Members disagreed over whether the occupation was the signal moral issue of our time, as well as whether the AHA has the capacity to do what the resolution would commit it to.
Anyone anticipating acrimony among business meeting attendees was likely disappointed. Members disagreed strenuously from the microphones, but there were no comments from the audience. The tensest point of the meeting was perhaps when there was disagreement over whether speakers should face the chair or be allowed to face the assembly at large. (From the dais, the chair ruled that speakers could face the assembly; the executive director joked, “No one up here feels the need to be looked at,” to widespread laughter.) Speakers generally kept to the two-minute time limit. No amendments were offered.
At 6:11 pm, the resolution went to a vote by general consensus. Members of Council collected ballots, which were counted by AHA staff members. At 6:22, when the vote count was finished, executive director James Grossman addressed the members, saying, “Before the vote is announced, I’d like to echo the words of a young scholar who said from the floor that he was proud to be a member of the AHA. That’s how I feel after the end of this debate. If the press is here, let the record show that the final motion was made by someone on one side of the issue and seconded by someone on the other side. We’re all here because we believe that historians do work that’s worth doing.”
Ruiz then announced the results: 51 in favor, 111 opposed. As her final act as AHA president, she passed the gavel to Patrick Manning, the Association’s new president. The meeting adjourned at 6:24.
Historians Reject Measure Criticizing Israel
Scholars question idea that one country should be "singled out."
January 11, 2016
By Colleen Flaherty
ATLANTA -- Members of the American Historical Association on Saturday voted down, 111 to 51, a resolution “upholding the rights of Palestinian faculty and students to pursue their education and research freely” and committing the AHA to “monitoring Israeli actions restricting the right to education in the occupied Palestinian territories,” among other points. The vote came at the association's annual meeting here.
The association avoided voting on two similar anti-Israel resolutions last year because they were submitted after a key deadline.
This year’s resolution was submitted on time, and Saturday’s vote followed an increasingly heated but civil debate over several alleged factual errors and omissions within the resolution itself, such as the assertion that the Israeli military "routinely invades campuses" in the Palestinian territories, and the resolution's failure to mention unreliable exit and entry points, such as Egypt's Rafah Gate, for Palestinian students and scholars that are controlled by countries other than Israel.
Roger Horowitz, director of the Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library, said he felt “anger” at Historians Against the War, the group pushing the resolution, for the way it framed the issue. He said he is a Jewish person who has long been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but that the resolution amounted to geographical and intellectual “fiction.”
“You presented a terrible resolution, a resolution which does not provide an opportunity for critics of Zionism and critics of the treatment of Palestinians to register a fair vote,” he said. “And you’ve done this by singling out Israel and not providing a proper frame for understanding the crisis in the Middle East and the crisis of opportunity for people in these countries. … It’s just intellectually bankrupt to say that this will be solved by a resolution criticizing Israel.”
Other points of debate included whether the association was equipped to carry out the kind of “monitoring” suggested (one member called it “absurd”), and several others beyond Horowitz asked why Israel was being “singled out” among numerous other countries accused of violating academic freedom.
David Greenberg, associate professor of history at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, said Afghanistan receives more U.S. aid than does Israel and has major educational access problems concerning girls and women. And China, which is regularly accused of academic freedom violations, benefits greatly as a primary U.S. trading partner, he said. Egypt, Venezuela and other countries also have questionable records, he said.
“We should not turn the AHA into a vehicle for a specific Middle East agenda,” Greenberg said.
He and other speakers said they worried that the resolution also would prove divisive within the AHA and tarnish its reputation.
Richard Golden, a professor of history at the University of North Texas, asked, “Why are we considering a resolution that has nothing to do with the great aims of this organization?” He also called the resolution condescending toward Palestinians in that it undermined their own role in their problems, as well as oversimplified the issues. If Canada was sending missiles over the U.S. border, he said, students at the University of Toronto might have issues entering the United States.
Many of these concerns were articulated prior to the vote in a letter to the association’s leaders by the Alliance for Academic Freedom. The alliance describes itself as “self-identified liberals and progressives who have been critical, individually and collectively, of Israeli policies toward the Palestinian people and supportive of national aspirations of both Palestinians and Jews.”
Members of the alliance say they share concerns about obstacles to education for students in the West Bank and Gaza but “reject the all-too-common binary approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that seeks to justify one side or the other as all right or all wrong, and sets out to marshal evidence to prove a case of complete guilt or total exoneration.”
Alliance members also point out that the historical association is already affiliated with Scholars at Risk, a network of institutions that promotes academic freedom and defends the human rights of scholars worldwide.
One association member, William James H. Hoffer, a professor of history at Seton Hall University, said after some 40 minutes of debate that he still wanted to know why Israel alone was in the hot seat. He said he could be wrong but that he suspected -- despite his own serious misgivings about Israel’s actions regarding Palestinians -- “that it’s because it’s a Jewish state.”
Supporters of the resolution rejected the claim of anti-Semitism and said they advocate access to education everywhere. Moreover, some proponents said, they’d likely support resolutions condemning other countries found to have violated academic freedom, if put forward in the future.
In the meantime, some said they held Israel to a high standard due its special relationship with and high levels of aid from the U.S.
“If the U.S. pays for continuing injustice, the U.S. has a responsibility,” said Leena Dallasheh, an assistant professor of history at Humboldt State University and a Palestinian citizen of Israel. “Very, very simply, no other country receives as much consistent support from the U.S.”
She called the resolution a simple one, noting above all that U.S. educators believe Palestinian students and scholars in Palestine should enjoy the freedoms they do.
Andrew Zimmerman, a professor of history at George Washington University, turned the “singling out” argument on its head, calling it “specious.” Whereas it’s hard to disagree with a resolution affirming the right to education for any group of people, he said, opponents criticized it merely because it pertained to Israel.
“If you oppose this, give us a logical reason to oppose it,” he said.
Carolyn Eisenberg, a professor of history at Hofstra University, said she was old enough to remember when the association debated taking a stand against the Vietnam War. There were similar concerns then about the move being too divisive, she said, but the organization did eventually come out against the war -- and survived.
Listening to the debate, Eisenberg said she also was struck by the fact that no one arguing against the resolution disputed the idea that Israel interferes in the academic freedom and access of Palestinians.
“This is a moral issue and this organization should be proud to take a stand in defense of academic freedom,” she said.
In the end, though, members voted against the resolution by a significant margin. That’s in contrast to attendees at the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting, who in November voted overwhelmingly to support the boycott movement against Israel. That vote is being submitted to the full membership for review. Other groups that have backed the boycott include the American Studies Association and theNational Women's Studies Association.
It’s important to note that the proposal rejected historians Saturday was not a call for an academic boycott of Israel, but rather a condemnation of sorts. But they’re one and the same to Danny Orbach, a postdoctoral fellow in history at Harvard University who said after the vote that the failed resolution was merely a “watered down” version of other boycott, divestment and sanctions proposals.
“This is a victory for us, not only Israelis and pro-Israelis but everyone who values academic decency and academic freedom,” he said. “My personal view, going back to the idea that the AHA should support a particular political agenda, is that that’s the most dangerous thing for scholarship.”
Orbach added, “I see this organization as a platform for everyone. People with different political views or opinions will debate history using reasoned arguments. And they can come from all over the spectrum.”
Marc Becker, associate professor of history at Truman State University and co-chair of Historians Against the War, said he was disappointed at the evening’s outcome, but that it was nonetheless a “victory that it came up, that it was discussed, because it’s an important issue that doesn’t go away.”
Becker said he thought the debate -- except for what he called the “unjustifiable” claim of anti-Semitism -- was civil and “healthy.”
Still, he said, echoing Eisenberg, critics of the resolution seemed to be “dodging” its merits. Becker said the issue for him came down to Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force against Palestinians, who are living in what he and others called the world’s largest open-air prison.
Going forward, he said, Historians Against the War will regroup and talk about how best to convey its message. No word yet on whether the group will submit another resolution next year in Denver.
James Grossman, executive director of the historical association, said following the vote that he was impressed with his colleagues and the level of debate. “We’re all here to accomplish the same things, and we may see the organization different ways at different times, but we’re all here because we think historians do things that are worth doing.”
US historians’ group rejects anti-Israel resolution
For second year in a row, American Historical Association votes down proposal to condemn Israel
BY ERIC CORTELLESSA January 10, 2016,
WASHINGTON — For the second year in a row, an anti-Israel measure was voted down at the American Historical Association’s annual conference, a gathering of the oldest and largest organization of historians in America, which took place in Atlanta, Georgia this weekend.
On Saturday, a resolution that accused Israel of limiting Palestinian academic freedom and called on the AHA to “monitor Israeli actions” was rejected by a vote of 111 to 50, confirmed AHA executive director James Grossman.
The resolution, which had 126 signatories, was brought by Historians Against the War, a group that has publicly endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and often advocates for its agenda.
Last year, HAW proposed a similar resolution but failed to submit it by the November 1 deadline. The AHA allowed a vote to suspend the regular rules and bring the resolution up for a discussion, but HAW failed to amass the needed two-thirds majority to do so, losing 144 to 51.
This year, HAW filed the petition properly, enabling its consideration at the business meeting Saturday. After 45 minutes of debate, which included a five-minute introduction from two AHA members — one in favor of the resolution and one opposed — the resolution was overwhelmingly defeated.
According to Jeffrey Herf, a history professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and an AHA member, his colleagues were “not convinced of the truth of the resolution and didn’t think it was appropriate for the organization.
“They understood that this was part of a political campaign and an attempt to use the American Historical Association for political purposes, and they rejected that,” he told The Times of Israel. “The members of the AHA have very high standards. They were not going to vote for a resolution like this that was making factual assertions that they couldn’t verify themselves.”
Herf, one of the leaders of the opposition to the resolution, had previously argued that its political nature was outside the purview of the AHA and that it would be inappropriate for historians to make a series of allegations outside their field of expertise.
No members of Historians Against the War responded to requests for comment.