Barry Mills on the ASA Boycott of Israel

Barry Mills signature

In a controversial move, the American Studies Association, a group of about 5,000 scholars devoted to the interdisciplinary study of U.S. culture and history, has called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

President Barry Mills has released a statement expressing disagreement with the ASA’s stance. “Rather than stifling discussion and the free exchange of ideas,” says President Mills, “Bowdoin seeks to serve the common good through direct and open engagement with and collaboration between researchers, scientists, teachers, and artists across the globe.” Read President Mills’ statement in its entirety.


  1. Jed Lyons.'74 says:

    Good for you, Barry. Thanks for standing up to the ASA.

  2. Sanford Cohn says:

    Thank you, President Mills, for your courageous stand on this issue, reflecting the integrity that I have come to expect from you and from Bowdoin.

  3. Martin Gray (1959) says:

    I want to express congratulations to President Mills for his statement on the ASA’s “boycott” of Israeli academics and Israeli institutions. The BDS movement, of which the ASA has chosen to become partner to, has contributed nothing to furthering a possible peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians and only serves to harden attitudes on both sides of the negotiating table even as Secretary Kerry attempts to bridge the positions of Israelis and Palestinians. The ASA’s vote is an empty and hypocritical gesture ignoring countries whose human rights records are truly horrendous. Without going into a list of those countries, one has to wonder why the ASA chose to begin its boycott with Israel ignoring a very long list of other countries where ethnic cleansing, genocide, brutal murder of innocent civilians, use of chemical weapons against civilian population, torture, mass civilian displacement, forced hunger, rape and denial of basic human rights are a common practice. Skepticism of the ASA’s motives would be a healthy place to begin.

  4. Todd Feinsmith says:

    Well done! I applaud the college’s promotion of a ‘marketplace of idea’.

  5. Todd Feinsmith says:

    Well done! I applaud the college’s promotion of a ‘marketplace of ideas.’

  6. joel b. sherman says:

    I appreciate Barry Mills’ strong statement rejecting the ASA’s boycott of Israeli academics and institutions.

  7. Eric Weis '73 says:

    Congratulations to President Mills for taking a stand against BDS and in support of the free flow of information which makes academia a bastion of liberalism and democratic values. Bowdoin, born from the cauldron of Hugenot refugees, has a moral obligation to espouse all human rights. That includes Israelis and Palestinians, the huge majority of whom all desire peace. In this season, we should reward and support the peacemakers.

  8. Although I suspect that he is doing this to save face with wealthy alumni or to reassure donors, I don’t think Barry Mills knows what he is talking about. I’m thankful that, unlike most people arguing his position, he does not repeat hasbara vocabulary verbatim. Also notably missing from Mills’ statement is any mention of ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinians’, or the fact that the ASA is not inventing this boycott, but agreeing to support Palestinian civil society call for the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. He talks about the academic boycott as if it is a given that it stifles discussion and the free exchange of ideas, without qualifying it whatsoever. Is he denouncing and opposing this nonviolent resistance out of reasoned thought and consideration? Or out of his own political convenience?

    Direct and open engagement and collaboration between researchers, scientists, teachers, and artists around the globe is not contrary to the boycott whatsoever. The boycott specifically targets institutions, institutions that are funded and complicit in the occupation. The boycott does not prevent any Israeli academic from teaching or espousing ANY opinion or belief. NO academics are prevented from communicating with Israeli academics. NO Israeli academics are prevented from presenting or attending conferences. As for the state of academic freedom in Israel… Checkpoints in the West Bank regularly prevent Palestinian children and teachers from getting to school. Israeli universities give admissions priority to soldiers. In 2009, Israel literally bombed schools and universities in Gaza.

    These are the guidelines for the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, in case anyone who denounces it hasn’t read it first:
    1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
    2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
    3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
    4. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
    5. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.”

  9. Well done! Your position truly reflects Bowdoin’s ideals and intellect.

  10. John Isaacs '68 says:

    As always I am proud of Bowdoin and President Mills.

  11. H. Paul Gardner '61 says:

    Barry Mills is to be congratulated for his condemnation of the vile initiative by ASA. There is enough of this disgusting nonsense already afoot in the European academic community. In a small way one might consider that Bowdoin has a unique relationship with Israel. It is my belief that former roommates at Bowdoin once found themselves both serving as Ambassadors to Israel. One from Germany and the other from the USA.

  12. curtis webber says:

    So how, then, do you suggest that citizens express their disagreement with the threatened expansion of the settlements which could undermine the peace negotiations?

  13. Michael Fortier says:

    The citizens of the USA must stand up to Israeli governments that act without regard to the common good. It takes courage to stand up to the Israel lobby. It may not be good for fund raising but the Bowdoin community should not ignore Israeli transgressions.

  14. Sinead Lamel says:

    As a current Bowdoin student, I ensure my reader that Barry Mill’s statement does not reflect the opinion of the entire Bowdoin community, and ironically makes silent many voices in the purported defense of open communication and academia.

    How are we, as an American institution, defending Palestinian children’s right to education when billions of American tax dollars are being funneled into the Israeli military? The ongoing occupation has made many aspects of civilian life difficult for Palestinians, including access to education. For example, the dividing wall running through occupied Palestine makes traveling to school difficult for many Palestinian children, without even speaking to the difficulties of keeping a school open in a refugee camp. As Jozo said earlier in this thread, in 2009 Israel bombed universities in Gaza. The consequences of an academic boycott for Israeli students cannot overshadow the struggle Palestinians have faced for decades trying to keep schools open and accessible under brutal Israeli occupation. When America is providing these bombs, allowing for this ongoing oppression to continue, how can American academia ignore this?

    How do the decades of peaceful negotiations speak to the decades of Israeli expansion, the 121 illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, the millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide? With America’s financial support, there is a serious power imbalance in Israel’s favor which is why there is a call for boycott. It forces the discussion to acknowledge the injustices against Palestinians that many Israeli (and American) institutions normalize.

    Barry Mills seems to be privileging the academic freedom of Israeli students over that of Palestinians, and therefore loses sight of the reasons for the academic boycott. The Bowdoin administration becomes squeamish when something politically divisive is brought to the table, yet we sing lofty praise about the “common good”. It often takes divisive action to expose oppression and make positive changes on a societal level. We must speak up against institutions supporting ideologies which allow for systemic racism to persist and oppress. Voicing one’s support of peace and open communication does little to improve the situation for Palestinians and their right to education.

  15. Zohran Mamdani says:

    While not surprised, I am deeply disappointed by President Mills’ statement. It misunderstands the academic boycott, ignores the rights of Palestinians as well as the voices of those in solidarity with them, and overlooks Israeli academic institutions’ notorious active and passive complicity in the crimes of both the Israeli military and the Israeli government. How can such a statement serve the College’s purported desire to seek the common good?

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