Over at Commentary, Jonathan Marks has a worthwhile essay on the American Historical Association’s rejection of an anti-Israel boycott resolution at its annual meeting on Saturday. Of particular interest is Marks’ observation that the resolution, which has been passed in various forms by a growing number of academic social science organizations, could not have been defeated without the support of many liberal and progressive historians:
Scholars on the left deserve credit for their work against these sorts of resolutions … Conservatives are greatly outnumbered in the humanities and social science fields in which these resolutions have been taken up. Associations like the AHA would long ago have been lost to the determined efforts of anti-Israel activists were it not for the willingness of scholars on the left to engage, year in and year out, in a strenuous and unpleasant fight against the ongoing campaign to use their organizations to delegitimize Israel.… Conservatives should not give up on our colleges and universities. It does not typically make headlines when teachers and scholars demonstrate their integrity. But as the vote at AHA suggests, there is more integrity to appeal to than a reader of the headlines might guess.
This vote is a reminder that the problem with academic political culture is not that it is “too left-leaning,” though there might be benefits from having a more politically diverse professoriate. Rather, it is the way that academia has allowed a political agenda to penetrate into spaces that are supposed to be strictly scholarly—as evidenced, for example, by the tendency toward speech codes, linguistic revisionism, and officially encouraged ethnic segregation. Israel boycotts by academic organizations also fall into this category: As Jeffrey Herf has written in these pages, BDS resolutions considered by academic organizations represent an effort by activists “to collapse the distinction between scholarship and politics.” It’s encouraging to see that the distinction held, even at the left-leaning AHA. Here’s hoping that it can be rediscovered and strengthened in other academic institutions.