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Israel frets US scholars forum's boycott may inspire others

Dan Williams
Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 | 8:38 AM ET

* American scholars say seek freedom for Palestinian counterparts

* "Radical" academics aim to erode Israel's US prestige - minister

JERUSALEM, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Israel dismissed as "radical leftist" a group of American scholars that has decided to boycott it but worries that other academic forums in the United States could take similar action, the deputy Israeli foreign minister said on Tuesday.

The American Studies Association (ASA) on Sunday became the largest U.S. academic group to back an anti-Israel boycott in solidarity with the Palestinians. Its vote was mostly symbolic as the group has no power to compel its some 5,000 members or any U.S. institution to heed the resolution.

Still, Israel worried the measure could pave the way for grassroots efforts to isolate it in the United States, its main ally and sponsor of its peace talks with the Palestinians. Anti-Israel boycotts have gained some traction in Europe.

The European Union has taken a stronger line than Washington against Israel's West Bank settlements, demanding they not be eligible for EU academic funds allocated to Israel.

Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin described the ASA as a "radical leftist group" with few links to academia in Israel.

However, Elkin told Israel Radio, "we need to prepare for the danger that it (boycott call) will pass to other, more serious academic forums".

He said that Israeli diplomats and Jewish American groups were "intensively" trying to dissuade other U.S. academics from following the American Studies Association's lead.

The Foreign Ministry, Elkin said, had set up an advocacy group, "Faces of Israel", to "work among those who wield influence exactly in order to prevent cases such as this".

The ASA's resolution backed a recent unanimous vote by its national council to urge U.S. schools not to collaborate with Israeli institutions. But it carries broad exemptions for individual Israeli scholars working with American counterparts.

The association said the resolution was a response to "the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; (and) the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights".

Israel said the boycott campaign unfairly singles it out.

"The ASA chooses as its first ever boycott to boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want," Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, wrote on Facebook.

In May, British cosmologist Stephen Hawking withdrew from a prestigious Israeli conference. Cambridge University said he did so as part of a boycott by some British academics in protest against Israel's occupation of the West Bank, lands the Palestinians want for a future state.

The American Studies Association was the second U.S. scholarly group, after the Association for Asian American Studies in April, to endorse an academic boycott of Israel.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)