A prestigious US education group has backed a boycott of Israeli universities.

The American Studies Association endorsed its national council’s call for the boycott, following a two-thirds majority rule within the 1,252 members that had voted by yesterday’s deadline.

The body as a whole has nearly 4,000 members, most of which did not cast a ballot. But the 1,252 figure was an unprecedented number—it was the largest turnout for a vote the ASA has ever seen.

The vote itself was opened at the bequest of members that opposed the boycott. Originally, ASA’s 20-member national council was to determine whether or not a boycott would be endorsed, and that council passed the motion unanimously.

Protesters said the issue was too sensitive to leave to the smaller body, and requested the matter be opened up to all members.

“The National Council engaged and addressed questions and concerns of the membership throughout the process,” an ASA statement said.

“During the open discussion at the recent convention, members asked us to draft a resolution that was relevant to the ASA in particular and so the Council’s final resolution acknowledged that the US plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

The boycott applies to ASA as a whole, not to individual members, which can decide for themselves whether or not to support the ban.

This week Jewish groups condemned the move, with AJC director on anti-Semitism Kenneth Stern saying, “This abhorrent action is blatant discrimination against Israelis…Why are Israeli academic institutions the only universities in the world to be shunned? Well, as ASA President Curtis Marez said, ‘One has to start somewhere.’”

ADL National Director Abe Foxman added: “This shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom by the American Studies Association should be soundly condemned by all who are committed to the ideal that open exchange of ideas is the most effective way to achieve change. Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel — the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish — is based on a myopic and fundamentally distorted perspective of Israel and the conflict and is manifestly unjust.”

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