The American Studies Associated announced the move Monday after a heated debate over both the particulars of an Israeli boycott and a larger debate over the merits of academic boycotts at all.
While acknowledging the measure is largely symbolic because the colleges and universities where ASA members teach have not signed onto the boycott, the group's leaders voted unanimously to put the measure to a full membership vote. From there, about one quarter of members voted online, with a 2-to-1 result favoring the move.
The boycott would not prohibit individual professors from Israel from joining the group as long as they are not representing their country specifically. It would also place no barriers on members of any nation working in Israel or collaborating with Israeli counterparts.
Supporters say alleged human rights violations by Israel and tight controls on inter-school activity between Israeli and Palestinian academics prompted the decision.
Detractors charged anti-Semitism played a role, noting Israel is not generally considered to have a worse record on human rights than many other countries in the Middle East, but the group has never boycotted other nations.
The New York Times said several other academic professional groups are considering whether to take such symbolic steps -- and whether they're actually hurting the human rights campaigns they're designed to support.
The American Association of University Professors, which claims a significantly larger 48,000 members, repeated its stance against academic boycotts, arguing they stifle precisely the kind of dialogue that can help foster greater understanding and apply pressure on forces of oppression. The group noted it sided with economic boycotts of South Africa during the apartheid era but opposed academic ones.