Over the past couple of weeks, one quote by Dr. Curtis Marez, the president of the American Studies Association, has been widely used, generally in order to criticize the academic boycott of Israel. Just five words long, and given in response to the question about why Israel has been singled out for boycott, Marez is reported to have replied, “one has to start somewhere.”
The quote first appeared in the New York Times, in an article titled, “Scholars’ Group to Disclose Result of Vote on an Academic Boycott of Israel,” published on December 15, and it has spread like wildfire in the days since (see screenshot).
Now, a couple of days ago, I posted an addendum to my entry regarding the legal and political scrutiny that the ASA is beginning to face. I posted it at the request of a boycott supporter who wanted readers to know that Marez actually said more than just those five words. Here is the full quote in its context:
The American Studies Association has never before called for an academic boycott of any nation’s universities, said Curtis Marez, the group’s president and an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. He did not dispute that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, are generally judged to have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s, or comparable, but he said, “one has to start somewhere.”
He argued that the United States has “a particular responsibility to answer the call for boycott because it is the largest supplier of military aid to the state of Israel.” While acknowledging that the same could be said of a number of oppressive governments, past and present, he said that in those countries, civil society groups had not asked his association for a boycott, as Palestinian groups have.
In my opinion, the full quote does little to acquit those five words. Indeed, the lengthier passage suggests that Marez may see the situation in Israel as unique, especially in the ambiguous use of the phrase “particular responsibility.” Does “particular responsibility” refer to those who impose boycotts (i.e., the U.S. has more of a responsibility to act than does, say, England), or does it refer to the targets of boycotts (i.e., Israel is more deserving of a boycott by American academic organizations than is, say, Turkmenistan)?
Of course, for those of us who are opposed to academic boycotts in general, it doesn’t really matter which way Marez meant it. The only comfort the quote gives to us–and I’ll admit that it’s a diminishingly small comfort–is that there probably won’t be any elsewhere to follow the “somewhere” where the ASA has chosen to start.
(For another take on the use of Marez’s truncated quote, see this article in The American Conservative.)