Several readers and a prominent young Jewish journalist wrote me over the holidays to ask why Brigham Young University, a member of the American Studies Association (ASA), has not joined over 100 universities in denouncing the ASA’s recent vote to support an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Although I very much oppose the inane ASA decision and would love for BYU to publicly denounce it, I’m not troubled by my alma mater’s silence on the issue so far. Here’s why:
1) BYU has been educating students at its Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies on Mount Scopus for 25 years. The center’s not going anywhere.
2) As a former diplomat, I have no idea why anyone would look to groups of liberal professors for guidance on geopolitics. If I have readers who do, I should note that much more influential academic groups like the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Universities have come out against the boycott.
3) According to ASA’s official Facebook page, “[T]he ASA recognizes that members will review and negotiate specific guidelines for implementation [of the boycott] on a case-by-case basis and adopt them according to their individual convictions.” That leaves BYU and other member universities considerable leeway when dealing with Israeli institutions.
4) While Jewish institutions are used to speaking out on the issues of the day, Mormon institutions are not. Moreover, for better or for worse BYU has always adopted a neutral public position on the Israeli-Arab conflict. If it were to issue a statement opposing a boycott of Israel that is supported by a small group of university professors, it might then feel obligated to issue statements in the future whenever one side or the other feels that it needs help from universities.
When it comes to the LDS Church and Israel, we should always look to actions, not the absence of formal statements, to gauge the church's level of support for Israel and the Jewish people. I'm predicting with confidence that the ASA's insignificant boycott will have zero effect on this special relationship.
A happy 2014 to all of my readers.