U.S. Historians to Vote on Anti-Israel Resolution

anti-Israel BDS
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Historians Against the War (HAW) will present its anti-Israel resolution at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting this Saturday, the Times of Israel reported.

The four-day gathering of the American Historical Association (AHA), American’s largest and oldest such organization, will conclude with a presentation by HAW petitioning for the group to “protect the right to education in the occupied Palestinian territories” by “monitoring Israeli actions.”

HAW tried to pass a similar resolution at last year’s AHA meeting but failed to meet the submission deadline.

Signed by 126 historians, the resolution condemns Israel for obstructing “universal access to higher education” by restricting freedom of movement for students and faculty in the West Bank and Gaza, restricting foreign academics from lecturing at Palestinian universities, preventing Gazan students from pursuing education abroad, and assaulting institutions of higher learning during the summer of 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Jeffrey Herf, a member of AHA and professor at the University of Maryland College Park, insists that his peers, as historians, do not have the qualifications to make the accusations outlined in the resolution.

“These historians are all the sudden experts on how Israel treats Palestinian universities? Excuse me? You work on the Renaissance? You work on Asian history? Now you know all about Birzeit University and Israel’s security situation? That’s very interesting,” Herf told the Times of Israel.

In a memo presented to the AHA by Herf, the Israeli embassy in Washington denied that Israel restricts the freedom of movement for faculty, students, and visitors in the West Bank, denied that Israel restricts foreign academics from visiting Palestinian universities, and asserted that Israeli military forces enter Palestinian universities only when they deem it necessary for the sake of security. It also stated that, in 2014, the IDF bombed the Islamic University in Gaza because it was being used by Hamas as a weapons cache and a launch pad to fire rockets at Israeli population centers.

Herf asserts, “As historians we have neither the knowledge nor expertise to evaluate conflicting factual assertions about events in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.”

“Historians spend years in archives or at their desks trying to figure out whether something happened,” he said. “Resolutions like this are asking people to make a decision about whether something is true or false without the same level of scrutiny. As a historian, it’s really not possible to do that and retain your self-respect.”

“This is a scholarly organization, not a political organization,” he added. “This resolution essentially wants the AHA to become an NGO.” Herf said the resolution could mean that the AHA will lose its “tax exempt status” for engaging in political activity.

William Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School, contends that the nature of the resolution is in violation of the American Historical Association’s constitution.

“The constitution has a statement of purpose, and deciding to get involved in political matters is not one of those stated purposes,” he told The Times of Israel. “There is an argument that resolutions that go beyond the purpose of an organization can give a member of the organization a corporate law claim for exceeding the authority of the corporation by allowing that resolution to become binding on the organization.”