Commentary Magazine


Topic: BDS

New Harvard Doctrine: Palestinians Matter More than Jews

Some, but by no means all, Palestinians, think that SodaStream, a company that does business in the West Bank, should be boycotted on the grounds that it profits from the “occupation.” I say some but by no means all because the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement does not represent all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians, for example, balk at the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians cooperating. But the BDS movement views such cooperation, unless it is explicitly anti-Israel, as “normalization.” An observer from Reuters describes Sodastream’s West Bank factory this way: “Inside the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees — a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” That’s the kind of thing BDS cannot tolerate, especially if it means that Palestinians are able to earn a higher wage than they could elsewhere.

Read More

Some, but by no means all, Palestinians, think that SodaStream, a company that does business in the West Bank, should be boycotted on the grounds that it profits from the “occupation.” I say some but by no means all because the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement does not represent all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians, for example, balk at the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians cooperating. But the BDS movement views such cooperation, unless it is explicitly anti-Israel, as “normalization.” An observer from Reuters describes Sodastream’s West Bank factory this way: “Inside the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees — a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” That’s the kind of thing BDS cannot tolerate, especially if it means that Palestinians are able to earn a higher wage than they could elsewhere.

Some, but by no means all, Jews consider the BDS movement anti-Semitic because, among other reasons, it calls for an end to the only Jewish state. This group includes some Harvard University students.

Nonetheless, Harvard University has apparently chosen to stand with BDS. According to a Harvard University Dining Services spokesperson, the HDS has agreed “to remove SodaStream labels on current machines and purchase machines from other companies such as American firms EverPure and Crysalli in the future.” Although BDS has a history of claiming victories prematurely, and although HDS has not said why it is removing SodaStream labels from the machines, it is hard to imagine any justification other than the one set forth by Rachel J. Sandalow, a student leader in the pro-BDS Open Hillel movement: “These machines can be seen as a microaggression to Palestinian students and their families and like the University doesn’t care about Palestinian human rights.” The HDS action followed a meeting which included Harvard professors and administrators, and representatives of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee.

Let’s set aside whether Harvard should make policy based on perceived “microaggressions.” What’s striking here is that Harvard cares only about the “microaggressons” perceived by certain groups. One participant at the meeting apparently pointed out that wiping out SodaStream’s name may be perceived as an endorsement of anti-Israeli politics. That participant wasn’t wrong, but insofar as BDS also represents, for at least some Jewish students, anti-Semitism, it could also be perceived by them as an endorsement of anti-Jewish politics. If Harvard is serious about rooting our microaggressions, then they should take the concerns of those students seriously.

Of course, there is no action Harvard could have taken that would not have offended someone, which tells us something about the wisdom of enacting policies simply to avoid offending people. In the end, you have to choose whom you’re going to offend. Harvard shamefully judged it safest to offend the Jews.

Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, has recognized that academic boycotts against Israel are unacceptable. She should also recognize that this mini-boycott is unacceptable and reverse the decision.

UPDATE: Harvard’s provost Alan M. Garber strongly suggests that this decision will not stand. “Harvard University’s procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals’ views of highly contested matters of political controversy,” Garber wrote in an emailed statement in response to the report of the decision shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. “If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now.” President Faust has requested in investigation.

 

Read Less

Librarians for BDS: When Librarians Burn Books

Much has been written here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere regarding the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement, its hypocrisy, and the anti-Semitic attitudes which too often seem to motivate some of its most vocal supporters.

Read More

Much has been written here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere regarding the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement, its hypocrisy, and the anti-Semitic attitudes which too often seem to motivate some of its most vocal supporters.

That too many academics conflate scholarship with politics, and believe free speech trumps academic rigor is old news. There is nothing wrong nor intimidating about outsiders shining the limelight on professors who abuse their positions or on any scholarly ideas that those scholars put forth. After all, if professors’ research has been conducted with rigor, it will withstand criticism. But if it has not, then it should be subject to ridicule. Only in an Orwellian world is free speech synonymous with affirmation. And only to the immature or unprofessional must speech codes or stacked panels prevent disapproval.

Professors should be judged by their research and their teaching. University librarians should be held to another standard entirely. A university librarian’s purpose is to accumulate books, journals, and archival materials ranging the gambit of the field irrespective of their own personal politics, or the popular political directives of the day. Once they acquire those resources, a librarian should organize and ease access to it.

And yet, with this statement released by Middle Eastern Studies scholars and librarians endorsing the BDS call and seeking the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, librarians at some major universities are effectively embracing the notion that they will filter acquisitions according to their own political predilections. What librarians such as Mastan Ebtehaj at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University; Blair Kuntz at the University of Toronto; Mahmoud Omidsalar at California State University, Los Angeles; and Anais Salamon at McGill University are effectively saying is that they will not consider acquiring, cataloguing, or making available titles published by such Israeli scholarly presses such as Tel Aviv University Press, or the Truman Institute’s press. That may not literally be burning books, but how shameful it is for university librarians to do the figurative equivalent, filtering knowledge by whether or not they agree with the author or, as BDS demands, whether or not they like his or her nationality or that of the scholar’s publishing company. How ironic it is that librarians—those who should dedicate their professional life to protecting access to knowledge—have read so few of the history books they supposedly guard, for if they did, they might not be comfortable with past parallels to their present actions.

And while librarians might justify affixing their signatures to the statement cited above in being true to their political conscience or even free speech, they should recognize that free speech does not trump or excuse professional responsibility, any more than free speech would absolve a doctor who refused to touch an Israeli patient or who, because of their own personal beliefs, decided to treat cancer patients only with crystals and aromatherapy. Librarians should write what they want, sign what they want, and preach what they want. Professional competence and responsibility are not endlessly subjective. If a librarian at California State University—a state institution—for example, declares openly that he will not fulfill his duty, perhaps then the state should not entrust him with such responsibility. Under no circumstance do librarians who ban books embrace free speech.

Read Less

Putting Lipstick on the BDS Pig

The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel has had more success in the Kafkaesque confines of the modern American university than in the real world. Yet even in the academy, where both the rule of law and basic constitutional rights are heavily curtailed and anti-Semitism is tolerated if not fostered, it has begun to lose battles. That’s because a few principled American academics still support academic freedom, and make their argument convincingly. Yet now another group of leftist academics is offering a way to target Israel while maintaining a façade of academic integrity.

Read More

The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel has had more success in the Kafkaesque confines of the modern American university than in the real world. Yet even in the academy, where both the rule of law and basic constitutional rights are heavily curtailed and anti-Semitism is tolerated if not fostered, it has begun to lose battles. That’s because a few principled American academics still support academic freedom, and make their argument convincingly. Yet now another group of leftist academics is offering a way to target Israel while maintaining a façade of academic integrity.

The group is a leftist organization called the Third Narrative, which seeks to replace the prevailing anti-Israel narrative on the left with their own anti-Israel narrative, which they consider morally superior. It’s as though one Illinois governor is claiming to be less corrupt than one of his predecessors. Fine, but let’s remember just how relative your morality is here.

The Third Narrative’s mission statement criticizes the overheated anti-Israel rhetoric of the left, but still wants the left to take aim at Israel:

The Third Narrative initiative is our response to this situation. We hope to engage people on the left who suspect that it is wrong to lay all blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict at the feet of Israeli Jews…but aren’t sure how to respond to Israel’s most vitriolic critics. Some of what these critics say is true, some of their accusations are justified. Some of what Israel’s traditional defenders say is also accurate. When it comes to this conflict, the truth is rarely black or white; it resides in a gray area where advocates on either side typically don’t like to venture. That is where we try to go with The Third Narrative.

In theory, it sounds good. A less hateful left is still thoroughly intellectually dishonest, but still an improvement. (It’s a low bar.) Once fiercely opposed to BDS, the organization now seems to have been opposed to the form the mainstream BDS movement was taking, especially the anti-Semitic umbrella BDS organization. The Third Narrative apparently thinks there’s a third way between BDS and no BDS, as it explained in an open letter titled “A Time for Personal Sanctions”:

That response, we believe, should not take the form of generalized boycotts and other sanctions that indiscriminately target Israeli society and Israeli institutions. Such measures are both unjust and politically counterproductive. In particular, campaigns for boycotts and blacklists of Israeli academia attack the most basic principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange.

Moreover, a response to Israel’s settlement and annexation policies should not suggest that Israel bears exclusive responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, or that, if pressured, Israel could solve it unilaterally. Achieving a just and durable negotiated solution requires constructive efforts by actors on all sides of the intertwined Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts. However, if the door is to be held open to the possibility of a just, workable, and peaceful solution, one requirement is to prevent actions that would sabotage it. For this reason, we propose targeted sanctions to focus on political actors engaged in such sabotage.

Although they single out four Israeli figures to sanction, the point is really to attack Naftali Bennett, the first politician on their blacklist and a rising star in Israeli politics, on the eve of a national election. (Uri Ariel, Moshe Feiglin, and Zeev Hever are the others.)

Signatories to the letter include Michael Walzer (Princeton), Todd Gitlin (Columbia), Alan Wolfe (Boston College), Michael Kazin (Georgetown), and Gershon Shafir (UC San Diego) among others. As you can see from the names, they are not only academics but also writers. And as you might expect from American academics and left-wing journalists, they have no idea what they’re talking about. A read-through of their open letter shows them to be ignorant of basic international law and deceitful about Israeli actions.

They want to sanction Israelis whose opinions they disagree with, but since those Israelis are not professors at Tel Aviv University they can convince themselves they are better than those other BDSniks. This is their version of a kosher BDS. It is nothing of the sort.

Since their concern about political figures getting in the way of the two-state solution is surely genuine, I eagerly await the follow-up open letter detailing the Palestinian figures they’re also sanctioning: figures who support or encourage terrorism, those involved in Palestinian media who fuel incitement; etc.

And why stop there? As they must know, the political figures who do the most to torpedo Israeli-Palestinian peace sit in Tehran. Which Iranian government officials–obviously President Rouhani, but there must be others–will Third Narrative advocate personal sanctions for?

What’s dangerous about the Third Narrative’s supposedly kosher BDS is that it offers the legions of thought police throughout academia an outlet for their anti-Israel fervor that also flatters their unearned sense of academic integrity. But they can put all the lipstick they want on this pig, it won’t make it kosher.

Read Less

BDS Is About Israel, Not Settlements

The campaign to boycott Israel–the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement–is undoubtedly a fringe campaign. But where this small band of anti-Israel extremists have experienced some traction is among those whom they have been able to convince that BDS is only against settlements. The argument goes that a boycott of Israeli settler produce will somehow persuade the Israelis to abandon their security concerns and bring an end to their so-called occupation of the West Bank. Yet one only has to look to how BDS conducts its campaigns in practice to see that this alleged concern with the “occupation” is just one of many disingenuous claims from what is, at its heart, an entirely disingenuous movement.

Read More

The campaign to boycott Israel–the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement–is undoubtedly a fringe campaign. But where this small band of anti-Israel extremists have experienced some traction is among those whom they have been able to convince that BDS is only against settlements. The argument goes that a boycott of Israeli settler produce will somehow persuade the Israelis to abandon their security concerns and bring an end to their so-called occupation of the West Bank. Yet one only has to look to how BDS conducts its campaigns in practice to see that this alleged concern with the “occupation” is just one of many disingenuous claims from what is, at its heart, an entirely disingenuous movement.

Listening to the words of BDS leaders such as Omar Barghouti you soon realize that the end goal of BDS is nothing less than the total elimination of the Jewish state. But unlike Barghouti, most of the BDS movement has the common sense not to state this so publicly. As such, BDS efforts have been ostensibly focused around boycotting settlements; although in practice this still allows campaigners to attack most Israeli companies by making flimsy arguments about guilt by association. So for instance the Israeli national theater company Habima was targeted on the grounds that it had previously performed in settlements. In Europe this argument is beginning to take hold. Supermarket chains, churches, city councils, and now EU diplomats are all coming round to the idea that boycotting the Jewish state outright may be going too far, but boycotting Jews who dare to live on the “wrong side” of a defunct armistice line is perfectly acceptable.

For BDS, SodaStream was the ideal target. This high-profile company, with its popular products and Super Bowl commercials featuring Scarlett Johansson, had one of its factories just to the east of Jerusalem in the West Bank. The fact that SodaStream boasted of being the largest commercial employer of Palestinians in the world did nothing to dissuade BDS from its efforts. Indeed, just a few months back when it was announced that SodaStream would relocate its factory from the West Bank to the Israeli Negev, BDS expressed no remorse for the Palestinian workers losing their jobs, but only exuberance at their own apparent victory.

Still, now that SodaStream is relocating from the West Bank BDS will be dropping the boycott, right? Wrong! As if proof was needed that fleeing the settlements will do nothing to appease those who simply hate the Jewish state in its entirety, BDSniks have said that they will continue to boycott SodaStream. Now the pretext for boycotting is the allegation that the new factory will be based “close to” a town being built to provide local Bedouin with housing. And supposedly this renders SodaStream “implicated in the displacement of Palestinians.” One can scarcely believe that the movement’s leaders believe such claims, but then these are the feeble excuses of bigots trying to hide and justify their unacceptable agenda.

The true character of BDS is becoming increasingly apparent as the boycotters shift their attention toward targets that even they can’t bracket in with settlements and “stolen land,” except of course for the fact that BDS clearly considers all of Israel stolen land and any Jewish enterprise on that land to be a pollution. Israeli-Arabs are of course exempt from boycotts. Because at its core BDS is a movement that makes ethnicity the dividing line that determines who is to be boycotted and who isn’t. As such, it comes as no surprise that BDS activists in the UK have launched action against Sabon, an Israeli cosmetics company that has always been based within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Sabon opened its first luxury cosmetics store in London at the beginning of November and BDSers were demonstrating outside within just four days of its arrival. Over the weekend activists staged a particularly aggressive gathering, in which one of the ringleaders was heard employing the most shameless blood libel language, barking coldly down the megaphone: “you don’t want to be going into this shop, buying beautiful smelling lotions to smear over your body, because if you do you will be smearing yourself in the blood of Palestinians.” And yet this particular Saturday morning protest appears to have been spearheaded by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, the extremist fringe of an already extremist sect.

As can be seen in the video, the activists are few in number and their efforts have consistently failed to persuade consumers to reject Israeli products. Yet by standing in front of the entrance of Israeli owned stores, intimidating shoppers from stepping inside, it only takes a handful dedicated fanatics to get a stranglehold on a small store. Just a few streets over from the new Sabon outlet is the storefront that was once home to London’s Ahava Dead Sea spa. But in 2011 BDS activists succeeded in hounding Ahava out, not by persuading customers with their arguments, but rather by creating so much noise and disturbance on the salubrious Covent Garden street that–under pressure from surrounding businesses–the building owner eventually discontinued Ahava’s lease. The protesters now seek to do the same to Sabon simply because it, like Ahava and SodaStream, is owned by Israeli Jews.

A few years ago the fierce critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein attacked some on his own side, calling BDS “a cult.” It is a cult, but more than that, it’s also a fundamentally racist movement, and that is what the world needs to be hearing about BDS.

Read Less

An Insider’s Account of Open Hillel

Holly Bicerano is no friend of ours. In her Times of Israel blog, she has defended the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.’s) indefensible divestment vote, denied that Israel’s most recent Gaza incursion was “self-defense,” and complained that Israel is sabotaging Palestinian democracy. It therefore is telling that, for this former member of the Open Hillel Steering Committee and Jewish Voices for Peace, Open Hillel is too dishonest and malicious to command her allegiance.

Read More

Holly Bicerano is no friend of ours. In her Times of Israel blog, she has defended the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.’s) indefensible divestment vote, denied that Israel’s most recent Gaza incursion was “self-defense,” and complained that Israel is sabotaging Palestinian democracy. It therefore is telling that, for this former member of the Open Hillel Steering Committee and Jewish Voices for Peace, Open Hillel is too dishonest and malicious to command her allegiance.

Open Hillel was founded in 2012 at Harvard University. (Aiden Pink’s account of the organization is worth reading in its entirety.) Harvard’s Hillel had refused to co-sponsor an event with Harvard’s Palestinian Solidarity Committee, which supports the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel. According to Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership,” a Hillel will not “partner with, house, or host” organizations that support BDS. The Open Hillel movement encourages campus Hillels to defy that standard.

Because Open Hillel claims to stand for “inclusivity and open discourse,” and it is hard to be against those things, it has attracted some support. Vassar College and Swarthmore’s Hillel organizations have officially rejected the Standards of Partnership and declared themselves Open Hillels. But Jonathan Tobin and Ben Cohen have warned in these pages that Open Hillel’s talk of inclusiveness is a ploy. The intent of Open Hillel is a hostile takeover of as many Hillels as its members can gain influence over, with a view to turning Hillel, the central Jewish organization in American campus life, into an instrument of the campaign to turn Israel into a pariah state. Bicerano, an insider, says that Open Hillel’s critics are absolutely right.

“While Open Hillel’s stated aims are open dialogue and inclusiveness,” Bicerano explains, “the organization in actuality has something else in mind. The people who claim that Open Hillel’s main objective is to garner support for the BDS movement may not realize just how right they are.” First, leaders of Open Hillel voted to form a committee to explore an “anti-normalization” campaign “to end joint discussions and programs between Jews and Palestinians unless they subscribe to the BDS movement.” Although the committee allegedly was created to foster “open discussion” about anti-normalization, it has in fact, according to Bicerano, stacked discussions in favor of the campaign.

Moreover, Open Hillel never publicly announced the formation of the committee, presumably because any fool can see that one does not “create open dialogue by empowering people who are against it.” Bicerano concludes, based on her experience on the steering committee, that Open Hillel “has fallen into the hands of anti-normalization activists.”

Second, Bicerano has apparently just noticed that students involved in the BDS movement have no interest in inclusiveness or dialogue. “Bringing pro-BDS groups into Hillel,” she has realized, “will not mean more open dialogue and inclusiveness. From disrupting pro-Israel events to blocking Birthright tables, these groups regularly employ tactics that create a hostile atmosphere for pro-Israel students.” Bicerano even concedes that “anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism often go hand in hand.”

Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership are not perfect. For example, Hillel will not host speakers who hold Israel to a “double standard.” This maddeningly vague guideline would seem to rule out liberal Zionists who adamantly oppose BDS but think that the Jewish state should indeed abide by higher standards than most states. But as Bicerano points out, this guideline has been applied in such a way that advocates of a settlement boycott are “already permitted to speak at Hillel.” It is tolerably clear to a fair-minded observer that what Hillel seeks to prevent is not criticism, even harsh criticism, of Israel, but the use of its name to further the destruction of Israel. Bicerano’s insider confirmation that Hillel is, if anything, understating the extent to which Open Hillel is out to destroy it, is welcome.

Note: Legal Insurrection’s account, of which I just became aware, is here and worth reading.

Read Less

MESA Resolution Shows What’s Wrong with Academe

Martin Kramer has already written about his experience at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), both past and present. This year’s meeting ended with members voting on a resolution which:

Read More

Martin Kramer has already written about his experience at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), both past and present. This year’s meeting ended with members voting on a resolution which:

Affirms that 1) calls for institutional boycott, divestment and/or sanctions are protected free speech and legitimate forms of non-violent political action; 2) the right of MESA members to engage in open discussion of the BDS movement at the Annual Meeting and other forums and 3) the right of the membership of other organizations to discuss, debate, and endorse or not endorse the BDS campaign;

Deplores intimidation directed against organizations who have adopted BDS resolutions, such as the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies;

Urges MESA to organize discussions at its Annual Meeting and for the MESA Board to create opportunities in 2015 to discuss the academic boycott and consider an appropriate position for MESA.

So rare it is that such a short resolution says so much about an organization. Academics love to embrace free speech in order to defend their work. And, certainly, free speech should be sacrosanct. But MESA members, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of this resolution, misunderstand free speech in two very important ways.

First of all, free speech was never meant to be a substitute for professional competence. Steven Salaita may be provocative; racists, anti-Semites, and anyone who expresses hatred for a class of people usually are. But provocation is not synonymous with path-breaking research. If a tenured professor of astronomy declared the world flat, or if a biologist claimed oxygen had no role in life on Earth, they might claim it to be their right to say what they want, but that doesn’t mean that they can say bluster without having done the work to prove their case. Salaita, of course, wrote an entire book on Israel without speaking or reading Hebrew, and penned a book on Palestinian literature without discussing poetry, arguably the most important element of the Palestinian literary canon. The scandal isn’t so much that the University of Illinois rescinded its preliminary tenure offer after learning about Salaita’s incitement on twitter; rather, it’s that he was seriously considered in the first place.

More importantly, however, the MESA resolution reflects the mindset and thin skin of the academic community. It declares discussion of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning (BDS) Israel to be a right of academics. Honestly, I have no problem with academics discussing whatever the heck they want. But then it continues to suggest that criticizing academics or organizations for embracing the BDS movement is out of line. That is what the statement “Deplores intimidation directed against organizations who have adopted BDS resolutions” means.

Criticism is not intimidation, and false cries of intimidation in order to avoid defending arguments are dishonest. Perhaps MESA members don’t like the fact that some donors might withhold funds. But donations are not an entitlement. Avoiding true diversity of opinion and intellectual challenge really has become the norm rather than the exception in academe. When Salaita brought his tour to Brooklyn College, Professor Corey Robin effused about the quality of the resulting conversation, never mind that Salaita, his fellow panelists, and Robin himself were all of the same mind. In academe, “conversation” and, for that matter, “teach-ins,” have become synonymous with one-sided declarations; debate is shunned as intimidation.

The MESA resolution confirms the narrowing of the academic mind, the prioritization of politics above competence, and the shunning of real debate in favor of group affirmation of the politics of the day.

Academics often complain policymakers do not listen to them. This is not true. What academics say is heard loud and clear. They scream free speech, but have forgotten what free speech was meant to protect: a desire to improve and advance knowledge; not limit and confine it to conform to the precepts of the day.

Read Less

Philosophers Behaving Badly: Brooklyn College BDS Edition

Steven Salaita, the professor whose University of Illinois job offer was rescinded earlier this year over his inflammatory comments about Israel, is now on a road show, talking about how people like him are not allowed to talk. So far, he has discussed this silencing at, among other places, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Princeton, the New School, and Rutgers University. His determination to keep speaking until he is allowed to speak took him on Thursday night to Brooklyn College.

Read More

Steven Salaita, the professor whose University of Illinois job offer was rescinded earlier this year over his inflammatory comments about Israel, is now on a road show, talking about how people like him are not allowed to talk. So far, he has discussed this silencing at, among other places, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Princeton, the New School, and Rutgers University. His determination to keep speaking until he is allowed to speak took him on Thursday night to Brooklyn College.

More than a year ago, Brooklyn College made news because its department of political science sponsored what amounted to a rally for the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel. So faculty members there have had a long time to reflect on the question of whether academic departments should sponsor anti-Israel activism. The philosophy department of Brooklyn College, presumably using the tools acquired in the course of many years of philosophic training and practice, recently delivered an answer: absolutely!

Samir Chopra, a professor of philosophy at BC, has described the arguments that won over his colleagues. First, the event would be good for students. They’d get to hear a “debate” about academic freedom and other issues raised by the Salaita case. Salaita, after all, did not have the stage to himself, but shared it “with a law professor” and a moderator, a “political theorist” (who also teaches Constitutional Law).”

Chopra does not mention that the “law professor” in question, Katherine Franke, is a boycott advocate, a leader in the effort to reinstate Salaita, and an adviser to Salaita’s legal team. The political theorist and “moderator,” Corey Robin, has “turned his blog into a Salaita war room.” One Salaita advocate adds that “we’ve all looked to him as a central source of information about new developments.” That advocate’s name, by the way, is Katherine Franke. I am sure the debate over who loved whom more got heated.
Say what you want about Students for Justice in Palestine. At least they forthrightly admitted that students were being invited to witness a “conversation” about “the constant push by Zionists to silence academic discourse relating to the Palestinian struggle and criticisms of Israel.” It’s not strange that the SJP, which is engaged in a propaganda campaign against Israel, would try to draw as many people as possible to an event that would further their delegitimization efforts. But it’s remarkable—and suggests that their department possesses not only philosophical acumen but also pedagogical creativity—that the philosophers of Brooklyn College saw SJP’s event as a great learning opportunity, worthy of support.

Just in case his colleagues, being professional philosophers, were not floored by his first argument, Chopra made another. He “analogized our sponsorship decision as akin to the inclusion of a reading on a class syllabus.” Now I am a long way from my philosophy degree. But although I was not surprised when a professor had us read excerpts from Mein Kampf in our class on Western Civilization, I would have been surprised had I learned that he voted to sponsor a panel of neo-Nazis. Yet the philosophers voted with Chopra. Perhaps they deferred to him because—drum roll please—he began his academic career as a logician.

In many academic free speech cases, we defend the principle and distance ourselves from the speaker. You would think that even those who believe Salaita’s speech was not grounds for withdrawing his job offer would take this stance about a man who said, in response to news of the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing,” especially in the face of evidence that this statement was not an outlier.

But Salaita’s sponsors, including the trained philosophers of Brooklyn College, aren’t distancing themselves. They’re holding Salaita close, quite as if they like what the man has to say.

Read Less

Best Boycott Ever

Many readers will know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently rescinded a job offer it had made to anti-Israel professor Steven Salaita, after Salaita, among other things, condoned the kidnapping of Israeli teens. This episode, which has left both Salaita and his spouse out of a job, is sad, but the aftermath has not been without its share of comic relief.

Read More

Many readers will know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently rescinded a job offer it had made to anti-Israel professor Steven Salaita, after Salaita, among other things, condoned the kidnapping of Israeli teens. This episode, which has left both Salaita and his spouse out of a job, is sad, but the aftermath has not been without its share of comic relief.

Predictably, Salaita and his allies claim that his case is just one of many examples in which “external pressure” is used to “silence faculty and students on campuses across the country for speaking in support of Palestinian human rights.” Salaita has not only written of his silencing in the Chicago Tribune but also spoken of it at, among other places, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, De Paul, the University of Rochester, and Syracuse University. In November, he has eight gigs at California universities, including UC-Berkeley and UCLA. Memo to all-powerful Israel Lobby: I am available for silencing.

But the award for inadvertent comedy goes to the graduate student planning committee for the UIUC History Department’s annual Women and Gender History Symposium. In solidarity with other academics who have pledged to boycott the University of Illinois until it hires Professor Salaita, the committee has canceled the 2015 symposium. The symposium was to be organized “around the theme of Dissent and Empire as a means to critique our university’s historical investment in empire, particularly in its refusal to eradicate ‘Chief Illiniwek’ from this campus.” The university parted ways with its mascot in 2007, but the university has failed to suppress students and alumni who want to keep the chief’s image alive. This failure, along with the Salaita affair, proves the “university’s stake in the project of settler colonialism.”

So the planning committee is punishing UIUC by refusing to hold a conference condemning it. They cannot “in good faith hold an event which would endorse, tacitly or otherwise, our university’s position.” Moreover, they “cannot and will not contribute to the university’s profits, which the trustees have proven is for them paramount above all things.” Not just paramount, mind, but paramount above all things. No doubt the trustees are feverishly trying to figure out what new cash cow they can turn to, now that the Women and Gender History Symposium, that Bruce Springsteen concert of academic symposiums, has been denied them.

In fairness, the graduate students on the planning committee are merely following in the footsteps of their elders, like Columbia professor Bruce Robbins, who refused to bring his anti-Israel road show to the University of Illinois, to strike a blow against the University’s alleged caving in to pro-Israel donors.

Vive le boycott.

Read Less

Columbia’s Slippery Boycotters

In a post in late August, I asked whether Columbia University’s federally-funded Middle East Institute was boycotting Israeli institutions of higher education. Why? Its director, anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, has signed a pledge by some Middle East studies academics “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions.” Did that personal pledge extend to the Middle East Institute, a Title VI National Research Center under her direction?
Read More

In a post in late August, I asked whether Columbia University’s federally-funded Middle East Institute was boycotting Israeli institutions of higher education. Why? Its director, anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, has signed a pledge by some Middle East studies academics “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions.” Did that personal pledge extend to the Middle East Institute, a Title VI National Research Center under her direction?

I posed the question to David Stone, executive vice-president for communications at Columbia, and received this reply from him:

If an individual faculty member chooses not to participate in events involving Israel, that is a personal choice that has no effect on the programs of the Middle East Institute or the rest of the University. The Institute itself is home to a broad range of teaching and research including a number of fellowships and grants that support faculty and student research and study in Israel; and its faculty members are engaged in a variety of projects with Israeli scholars.

Alan Luxenberg, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, posed the same question directly to Abu-Lughod, and received this reply:

My decision does not affect the Middle East Institute where we welcome distinguished scholars and students from all over the world, fund language training for students in all Middle Eastern languages, support study abroad in all the region’s universities, and support, modestly, summer research for students in all the countries of the region, including Israel.

The Middle East Institute serves the Columbia community. It does not have any institutional partnerships with other universities, whether in the US or abroad.

I’m not surprised (or persuaded) by these answers. I think it’s telling that Abu-Lughod has not issued a public statement of her position, which might be deemed an unacceptable compromise by the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) cult. After all, if you really believe that Israel is South Africa (or worse), why not demonstrably abjure any administrative role in academe that compels you to treat it equally? What’s the worth of a boycott if it doesn’t mean sacrificing your access to something to advance a cause—whether it’s a home soda maker or the coveted directorship of a Middle East center?

But that’s neither here nor there. The taxpaying public has the right to expect that every signatory of the boycott pledge who runs a Title VI National Research Center issue an assurance that the boycott doesn’t apply during working hours. And the public has the right to expect an equal assurance from a university’s higher administration. Anything less than that should be automatically suspect, because it’s the bare minimum, and because it’s obvious that even these assurances don’t mean that there isn’t a stealth boycott underway.

A Title VI federally-funded National Research Center is committed by law to making sure that its programming will reflect “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions.” Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the program, has failed even to define what this means. Consider this test case. On September 19, Columbia’s Middle East Institute co-sponsored (with the university’s Center for Palestine Studies) a panel entitled “The War on Gaza: Military Strategy and Historical Horizons.” (Notice the title, as though there wasn’t a war on Israel too.) It included three Palestinian-American boycotters: Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, Barnard professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, and legal activist Noura Erakat. And that’s it. Read the live tweets from the session, and judge the tenor of the proceedings yourself. Did this event offer “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views,” and was it structured to “generate debate”? No. So just what must the Middle East Institute do now to assure that it meets its obligation?

My own view is that there’s nothing that a bureaucrat in Washington can do to assure that it does. No Department of Education official is going to detect a stealth boycott or do any serious follow-up on whether taxpayer dollars are going to political activists in academic guise. That means that the reform of Title VI, a creaking holdover from the Cold War, is impossible. If you think that Title VI, on balance, does more good than harm, you’re just going to have to accept that some of your tax dollars will go to agitprop for Hamas. If you think that’s totally unacceptable, you should favor the total elimination of Title VI from the Higher Education Act, now up for reauthorization. There is no middle ground.

Read Less

“Scholarship and Politics Don’t Mix!” Say Those Who Mix Scholarship and Politics

By now, many COMMENTARY readers will have heard of Steven Salaita, about whom I wrote here. Salaita resigned from his position in Virginia Tech’s English Department to take a job at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, in its Department of American Indian Studies. But Salaita’s job offer was contingent on the approval of UIUC’s Board of Trustees, and last month, after being made aware of a series of incendiary anti-Israel statements Salaita had made on Twitter, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to send Salaita’s appointment to the Board. The Board has stood behind Wise.

Read More

By now, many COMMENTARY readers will have heard of Steven Salaita, about whom I wrote here. Salaita resigned from his position in Virginia Tech’s English Department to take a job at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, in its Department of American Indian Studies. But Salaita’s job offer was contingent on the approval of UIUC’s Board of Trustees, and last month, after being made aware of a series of incendiary anti-Israel statements Salaita had made on Twitter, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to send Salaita’s appointment to the Board. The Board has stood behind Wise.

In my previous post, I gave a sample of the tweets in question, so I’ll mention just two here: in one, Salaita responds to the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys that ignited the most recent Gaza conflict: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” The second mocked young American men who died in the conflict fighting for Israel: “No wonder Israel prefers killing Palestinians from the sky. It turns out American college kids aren’t very good at ground combat?”

I don’t know whether the university administration should have stepped in so late in the game—Salaita was already scheduled to teach courses in the fall—to refuse to approve Salaita’s appointment. Sensible people are worried both about the implications for the academic freedom of conservatives and about the influence of donor money on academic appointments. But whatever the merits of the administration’s position, at least one line Salaita’s defenders are taking should be, as Liel Leibovitz has shown, viewed with great suspicion.

According to a petition, now signed by over 17,000, Salaita is a “brilliant, ethical, and prolific” professor, blacklisted for “his political views on Israel.” He is, says one of his academic defenders, a “world renowned scholar,” exercising his “ freedom to found new knowledge, which is often only possible by . . . continually retesting norms and assumptions, without fear of reprisals from entrenched interests.” According to this complaint, Salaita, chosen by a department using scholarly standards to judge his scholarly work, was ousted by non-scholarly Neanderthals who dislike his politics.

Is Salaita a “world renowned scholar?” Although he has published works with university presses, including Temple University Press and Syracuse University Press, his resume, which also includes work for deeply politicized presses like Zed Books and Pluto Press, is not the stuff of which international scholarly renown is made. But Leibovitz has done more than read Salaita’s resume; he has read Salaita’s book, Israel’s Dead Soul.

In it, he finds the same propagandistic streak that one finds in Salaita’s tweets. For example, in a chapter devoted to showing that the Anti-Defamation League should be regarded as a hate group, Salaita says, “it is worth noting that numerous cases of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2007 and 2008 were found to actually have been committed by Jews.” Salaita provides four examples of such vandalism and claims that one of the vandals was “trained by the Mossad.” In fact, the New York Times, which Salaita cites, says only that the evidently deranged suspect claimed to be trained by the Mossad. Never mind. Salaita implies, not at all subtly, not only that anti-Semitism is exaggerated but also that this exaggeration is the deliberate result of, well, a secretive Jewish—I mean Israeli!—plot.

I don’t want to rest my case on Leibovitz’s reading of Israeli Dead Souls. But it is disingenuous for Salaita’s defenders to make so much of the distinction between scholarship, which Salaita and the department that chose him supposedly practice, and politics, which Salaita’s detractors supposedly practice. Leibovitz wonders how it can be that Salaita, who has done little work on Native Americans, was hired by a Department of American Indian Studies in the first place. The answer is that American Indian Studies, or Native American Studies, emerged as part of the movement toward Ethnic Studies in the late 1960s.

This movement explicitly sought to break down the wall between scholarship and politics. This statement from the Critical Ethnic Studies Association sums up the view well: “Ethnic studies scholarship has laid the foundation for analyzing how racism, settler colonialism, immigration, imperialism, and slavery interact in the creation and maintenance of systems of domination, dispossession, criminalization, expropriation, exploitation, and violence that are predicated upon hierarchies of racialized, gendered, sexualized, economized, and nationalized social existence in the United States and beyond.”

From this point of view, whether you study the domination of Palestinians by Israelis, the domination of blacks by whites, or the domination of Native Americans by the descendants of Europeans is neither here nor there. What matters is that you are judged capable of making a contribution to the anti-colonialist program. Steven Salaita, who has been best known for his role in the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, in which the chair of UIUC’s American Indian Studies department is also engaged, certainly filled that bill.

Yet Salaita’s defenders are shocked, simply shocked, that politics may play a role in academic appointments. I think that the specific character of those tweets, not Salaita’s political views, sunk Salaita. Many professors who favor a boycott of Israel have been hired, tenured, and promoted without incident, and anti-Israeli sentiment is far more visible at our colleges and universities than pro-Israel sentiment. But even if the trustees did decide to reject Salaita because they disagreed with his politics, how can Salaita’s crowd blame them? They merely would be taking seriously the idea that there is no distinction between politics and scholarship and concluding, properly, that scholars deserve no special deference.

Read Less

Columbia Boycotts Israel?

The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

Read More

The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

While I’m on Columbia, here’s another aspect worth noting. Several hundred Middle East scholars have put out a letter pledging to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education. The organized association of Middle Eastern studies has rejected boycotts in the past, and is likely to do so again if the issue even gets tabled at the next convention. So the boycott of Israel in Middle Eastern studies is being organized along the lines of a personal pledge by individual scholars.

Israeli institutions of higher education (including, presumably, the one over which I preside, Shalem College in Jerusalem), are deemed by these scholars to be “complicit in violating Palestinian rights.” The signatories thus pledge “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or to attend conferences at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel.” The pledge will remain in effect until these institutions call on Israel to end the Gaza “siege,” evacuate all territory “occupied” in 1967, and “promote the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.” In other words, it’s a boycott until Israel dies.

I looked down the list of signatories, and mostly saw the usual suspects. Columbia, of course, is heavily represented. The boycotters include such tenured Columbia radicals as Rashid Khalidi, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Hamid Dabashi, Gil Anidjar, Mahmood Mamdani, George Saliba, Brinkley Messick, Timothy Mitchell, and Wael Hallaq. In fact, no university has more senior faculty boycotters signed on this letter than Columbia.

But one name in particular caught my eye: Lila Abu-Lughod, professor of anthropology. I remembered that she had become director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute a few years back. Why is that significant? The Institute she directs is a Title VI U.S. Department of Education-supported National Resource Center (NRC) for the Middle East. An NRC is supposed to “maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center.”

The question I now have is whether this (taxpayer-subsidized) academic unit of Columbia is boycotting Israeli academe? Or are we to believe that Professor Abu-Lughod is only boycotting Israeli institutions personally, but is prepared to cooperate with them officially? Columbia should issue a clarification, and give a public account of the overseas institutional linkages the Institute does have, so that we can see whether a de facto boycott of Israel is in place at Columbia. You can even pose the question yourself, to Columbia’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, right here.

Read Less

Stopping BDS’s Unlawful Intimidation

As the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel have steadily become ever more aggressive and unlawful, so those seeking to counter it must realize that legal action must be pursued. If the opponents of BDS thought that the struggle with the boycotters was going to be simply about winning the moral argument, they are increasingly being proven wrong. As recent events in the UK demonstrate, the boycott campaign is gradually abandoning the effort to dissuade the public from buying Israeli goods. Rather than form a mass movement, something that BDS has been failing to do, a small shock force of activists are increasingly employing the tactics of intimidation and obstruction to terrorize those businesses selling Israeli goods.

Read More

As the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel have steadily become ever more aggressive and unlawful, so those seeking to counter it must realize that legal action must be pursued. If the opponents of BDS thought that the struggle with the boycotters was going to be simply about winning the moral argument, they are increasingly being proven wrong. As recent events in the UK demonstrate, the boycott campaign is gradually abandoning the effort to dissuade the public from buying Israeli goods. Rather than form a mass movement, something that BDS has been failing to do, a small shock force of activists are increasingly employing the tactics of intimidation and obstruction to terrorize those businesses selling Israeli goods.

The shift in tactics on the part of BDS is partially a sign of desperation. Not only has this campaign failed to win any real public backing, but even in those countries where the effort has been underway for some time now—such as Britain—business with Israel has continued to increase. Not only did the first part of 2014 see a 6.5 percent increase in trade between the two countries, but the import of Israeli goods into Britain has grown even more dramatically.

Nevertheless, as the boycott campaign continues to fail in its efforts to impact Israel’s overseas trade, its tactics have become gradually more aggressive. Attempts at persuasion are giving way to a strategy of sustained intimidation. Regardless of what one thinks of their cause, or whether boycotts are really an effective method for encouraging positive political change, anyone is free to try and persuade consumers not to purchase products made by specific companies if they so wish. That kind of action may at least be more defensible than the boycotts of academics and the arts that have been a more common target of the BDS war on all things Israeli.

Yet BDSers are not limiting themselves to simply advocating the boycott of Israeli products. Rather, just as they repeatedly disrupted performances by the Habima theater group and the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, they are applying the same mob behavior to their efforts to shut down stores selling Israeli goods. And disturbingly this tactic has been proving far more effective.

One of the first casualties of this brutish strategy was the Ahava cosmetics store in London’s trendy Covent Garden neighborhood. That store was subjected to relentless picketing and regular efforts by the protesters to storm the premises. A policeman was posted on the door, but this hardly did much to draw in customers. Despite this the Ahava store closed its doors not on account of having been forced out business, but rather complaints from other local boutiques regarding the constant noisy protests persuaded the owner of the building not to renew Ahava’s tenancy. The boycott had failed, but mob rule had won in the end.

It was these same tactics that, after two years of aggressive demonstrations, caused the Brighton based store Ecostream (which sold SodaStream products) to move out this year. Similarly, the prominent British department store John Lewis pulled SodaStream products from its shelves after being subjected to multiple stormings by protesters.

Now this war of attrition is being turned against Britain’s major supermarket chains, and shockingly a member of Parliament even boasted of her role in BDS’s unlawful tactics. Speaking at a recent rowdy anti-Israel rally, Shabana Mahmood delighted her audience by regaling them with an account of how she and some other BDS bullies had taken over the Sainsbury’s supermarket in central Birmingham, managing “to close down that store for five hours at peak time on a Saturday.” Apparently fearing a dose of the same BDS activism, the Sainsbury in London’s Holborn stripped its shelves of all kosher goods. Yes you read that correctly, not all Israeli goods, but rather it was the kosher section that was cleared. And on further inspection it turned out the store’s management may not have done this as a precaution against the protestors, but rather as an act of solidarity with them. For when a customer inquired about the fate of the kosher items he was informed by a staff member, “we support Free Gaza.”

Amidst all of this there has been one ray of hope. Kedem, An Israeli cosmetics store in Manchester has been targeted by daily protests. Worse still, staff members have received death threats, while one demonstrator was filmed outside the store voicing his love for Hitler. But now the police have finally stepped in and ruled that the BDSers have “exceeded the legal threshold required under the Public Order Act” and as such will be obliged to hold their demonstrations at a greater distance from the store front.

Actions such as this may now be the only way to confront a campaign group that has all but abandoned the legitimate channels of persuasion and is instead resorting to unlawful intimidation. Indeed, when MP Shabana Mahmood was assisting with the storming of a supermarket, did she not stop to question the legitimacy of a cause compelled to adopt such brute tactics for achieving its goals?

Supporters of Israel must realize that they can no longer beat BDS by the power of argument alone. The boycotters have stopped playing by the rules and the full force of the law must be brought down against them.

Read Less

Cultural BDS and the Tricycle Theater

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) has several branches. There’s the traditional commercial boycott, in which activists refuse to buy Israeli products (usually food) that they don’t need or really want, instead of, say, lifesaving medical equipment. There is the academic boycott, which enables anti-Israel fanatics to wall themselves off from intellectual diversity even more, ensuring their towering ignorance of world affairs survives unadulterated by stray molecules of logic and reason.

Read More

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) has several branches. There’s the traditional commercial boycott, in which activists refuse to buy Israeli products (usually food) that they don’t need or really want, instead of, say, lifesaving medical equipment. There is the academic boycott, which enables anti-Israel fanatics to wall themselves off from intellectual diversity even more, ensuring their towering ignorance of world affairs survives unadulterated by stray molecules of logic and reason.

There is “Zionist BDS,” which holds that BDS is OK as long as you draw an arbitrary line to geographically separate the good Jews from the bad. And there is the cultural boycott, which is similar to the academic boycott but also commits the BDSer to a life of oafish groupthink in his enjoyment of entertainment and the arts. All have their own odious, hateful qualities. But there’s something about cultural BDS that really brings out the worst in the critics of the Jewish people. And the latest piece of evidence for that was brought to light last week when London’s Tricycle Theater said it wouldn’t host this year’s UK Jewish Film Festival.

Reaction has been fairly heated, and the Guardian has a response from the Jewish Film Festival’s chairman:

The Tricycle Theatres decision to give the UKJFF an ultimatum over a £1,400 grant it receives from the Israeli embassy has stirred debate around the UK and among film-makers after the theatre’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, asked organisers to forgo the money and use of the embassy logo on publicity material for the festival – due to take place in part at the Tricycle in November, as it has for seven years – so they could not be perceived as taking sides in an “emotional, passionate situation”. She later accused the film festival of politicising the dispute.

“It’s a matter of principle that we should not be told who we should take funding from. Every state gives cultural grants,” said [Stephen] Margolis, who dismissed Rubasingham’s offer to find alternative funding as a “publicity stunt”. “It was never about the money, it’s about the whole attitude towards the festival from the start,” he said. The dispute arose amid international protests over the Gaza conflict. There have been reports from Jewish organisations of rising levels of incidents of antisemitism. Demonstrators outside the Tricycle on Thursday evening, and on a Facebook protest page, have accused the Tricycle of feeding that rise.

Margolis makes the classic mistake of injecting logic into the debate:

“This has all taken on a life of its own,” said Margolis. “People have been offended and outraged by the Tricycle’s approach. Why do they feel they have the moral high ground? Everybody deplores what is going on in Gaza. They are a cinema for hire and we are often more criticised for showing leftwing films which are anti-Israeli government policy than the opposite. We’re known for a wide range of content, reflecting all sides. It was pointed out that one of our opening films was going to be a Palestinian story, and we had a Palestinian actor coming to attend the screening. The Israeli embassy itself has never made any comment about festival content and I’m sure there are some films they don’t like.”

If Rubasingham were making a rational decision, this might have real force. But the theater’s artistic director isn’t making a political argument about Israeli policy, and therefore the fact that the film festival would have a diverse array of views, including criticism of Israeli policy, has nothing to do with it.

The theater is merely stigmatizing and penalizing Britain’s Jews for the actions of the Israeli government. Unlike the Orwellian and deeply creepy “Zionist BDS,” the Tricycle Theater is not interested in dividing Jews between good and bad. If a Jew somewhere does something of which Rubasingham disapproves, Rubasingham holds all accountable or forces them to denounce and cut ties with their brethren. Communal guilt with a splash of Stalinist paranoia is, unfortunately, par for the course for BDSers.

There’s a larger point here, however. Art and popular culture happen to be particularly poisonous avenues to politicize precisely because they are so good at bridging gaps. The fact that political opponents watch the same films and read the same books, more or less, injects a dose of compassion and empathy into even the most contentious of issues.

But art is also easily politicized, and it can be far more dispiriting when art fails to bridge gaps than when politicians fail. (Sayed Kashua’s announcement that he’s leaving Israel permanently comes to mind.) Art failing is one thing, however. Art being forced to fail by theater directors looking for an excuse to ostracize the Jews of Britain is quite another. Margolis, the Jewish festival chairman, is stunned to find that the film festival’s diversity of opinion doesn’t save it from Rubasingham’s discrimination. But actually, that diversity is probably a major source of her disapproval.

Read Less

The Uncritical and Intemperate Partisans of the Boycott-Israel Movement

In a case that has roiled the academic community, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has rescinded an offer to Stephen Salaita, who had, for reasons unknown, resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech before his new appointment had been confirmed. Salaita, now out of a job, is a leading figure in the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement.

Read More

In a case that has roiled the academic community, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has rescinded an offer to Stephen Salaita, who had, for reasons unknown, resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech before his new appointment had been confirmed. Salaita, now out of a job, is a leading figure in the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement.

I do not want to weigh in here on the question of whether the Chancellor at UIUC did right to refuse to forward Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees. Salaita was reportedly undone by a series of comments he made on Twitter. In one, he says that “too much of Israeli society is cheering the bloodletting in [Gaza] for me to make a firm distinction between the government and the people.” In another, responding to the kidnapping of Israeli boys, he says, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” In another, he asks, “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” He also reposted this statement, in a context that left no doubt he endorsed it, on journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who has evidently been too critical of Hamas: “Jeffrey Goldberg’s story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv.” William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has done us the service of collecting these and other statements.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether refusing to hire Salaita on the basis of statements like these is a threat to academic freedom. The excellent Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is worried about it. Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors and an authority on academic freedom argues that the chancellor made the right call.

But speaking of authority, a number of pro-boycott professors, have signed on to a letter demanding that the UIUC hire Salaita. Their argument is that administrators have no business interfering with scholarly “experts”: “It seems that popular knowledge about the Israel Palestine conflict in the US public space has overwhelmed what is well known by academic experts. This cannot be allowed to happen in a serious university.” They go on to quote the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure to the effect that boards of trustees should stay out of matters “in which the conclusions expressed are the tested conclusions of trained scholars.”

That’s rich. First, Salaita, like a number of the letter’s signers, is a scholar of literature with no special claim to expertise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, the boycott movement in academia has been engaged primarily in getting scholarly organizations with no claim to expertise in the conflict, including the American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, and (unsuccessfully) the Modern Language Association, to declare their opposition to Israel. The 1915 Declaration is based on a separation between expertise and political action that academics in the boycott movement emphatically do not endorse. The authors of that Declaration anticipated that those who politicized the academy could expect precisely the reaction the BDS movement is now complaining about: “if this profession should prove itself unwilling to purge its ranks of the incompetent and the unworthy, or to prevent the freedom which it claims in the name of science from being used as a shelter for inefficiency, for superficiality, or for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”

Salaita is, his public utterances suggest, an uncritical and intemperate partisan, and the letter I have referred to, which, among other things, declares it a matter of settled expert opinion that Israel is targeting Palestinian civilians, is itself an example of uncritical and intemperate partisanship masquerading as a deference to expertise.

Academics are right to be concerned about threats to academic freedom because academic freedom is, as the 1915 Declaration tells us, is an essential defender “not of a propaganda [institution], but of a non-partisan institution of learning.” But their concern should be directed at the professors who have for decades worked to efface the distinction between scholarship and politics and who have more recently worked to persuade scholars who know next to nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to use their scholarly credentials to advance their personal conceptions of justice.

It is a wonder that the backlash has not been more pronounced.

Read Less

The American Studies Association Returns to the Middle East Fray

The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

Read More

The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

As has become standard practice in the academic BDS movement, the ASA’s Executive Committee has an academic pretext for its intervention in the Middle East: the recent strike on the Islamic University of Gaza. The committee understands that most observers will think an organization devoted to American culture should not have a stance on the Gaza conflict. But the statement almost immediately drops that pretext and concedes that the ASA’s stance is really about “Israel’s long-standing practice of denying an entire people the basic necessitates [sic] of life and freedom.

There follows a link you can click to give the ASA money to “to join in financially supporting our principled response to attacks on the organization and our continued growth and impact as an association. As Rahm Emanuel once said, you never want to let a serious crisis to go to waste.

Of course, the ASA stand is sheer self-indulgent theater. Still, it is revealing. Last year, it was at least possible to imagine that the American Studies Association distinguished between the West Bank and Gaza, understanding Israel’s need to defend itself against Hamas, an organization devoted to its violent destruction and to violence against Jews altogether. Today, like others in the BDS movement, the American Studies Association has openly sided with Hamas’s military wing, or, as BDS darling Ali Abunimah likes to call its members, “resistance fighters.”

With this latest ill-advised statement, the ASA leaves no daylight between its own position and Abunimah’s, namely that Israel is the bad guy in the fight between Israel and Hamas, Hamas’s deliberate strategy of firing indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and placing its own civilians in harm’s way notwithstanding. All that is lacking is the open celebration, which we find in Abunimah, of the military exploits, such as they are, of the Al Qassam Brigade. I suppose the executive committee thinks that such a celebration might frighten the donors.

William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has predicted that this year’s anti-Israel activity on American campuses will be even more virulent than it was last year and may even turn violent. I hope he is wrong about the latter but sure he is right about the former.

Those of us who care not only about Israel but also about the enterprise of colleges and universities must point out again and again that the avowedly nonviolent academic BDS movement, which has always shied away from criticism of Hamas and has long hugged the lunatic fringe, is now vying to turn American college campuses into propaganda mills for the “military wing” of Hamas, which even the European Union considers a terrorist group.

Despite the wall to wall coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suspect that most faculty members and students alike know very little about it in general or about Hamas in particular. Even on college campuses, the debate against BDS can be won. They can’t hide from that charter.

Read Less

Gaza Fighting Proves J Street’s Irrelevance

Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

Read More

Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

As the Forward noted today, J Street has tried not to repeat the mistake it made in 2008 when the group publicly opposed Israel’s efforts to suppress Hamas rocket fire during Operation Cast Lead. The position was very much in character with J Street’s ideology that sees Israel as the obstacle to peace rather than the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. But the group that at that time harbored an ambition to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community learned its lesson after it was condemned for this outrageous decision by a wide spectrum of American Jews, including many liberal leaders. During subsequent crises J Street has avoided open condemnations of Israeli actions while still failing to play the sort of role in mobilizing support for an embattled Jewish state that other more mainstream groups take as a matter of course.

As Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week, J Street refused to take part in a communal pro-Israel rally organized by the Boston Jewish federation. Nor did J Street chose to co-sponsor a similar rally in New York. He said these actions sounded the “death knell for J Street” as a group that sought to be considered as part of the pro-Israel community. But the irony is that sort of moral cowardice isn’t enough for many, if not most J Street supporters who are uncomfortable with the way the group has sought to neither condemn nor fully support Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

As the Forward reported, even as J Street avoided being seen at pro-Israel rallies, their members are playing a prominent role in organizing protests against the Jewish state. Many have joined #ifnotnow, a new ad hoc group dedicated to opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Even worse for J Street is the trend that was also discussed in a separate Forward article which reported that many of the group’s adherents are leaving it to join the openly anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace. That group, which serves as the Jewish front for BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns against Israel is profiting from the situation since many on the left prefer its unadulterated venom directed against the Jewish state to J Street’s more equivocal positions.

While no one should be shedding any tears about J Street’s dilemma, their troubles do illustrate a key point about the ongoing battle to defend Israel.

J Street came into existence in part as a cheering section for Obama administration pressure against Israel. But it was also a manifestation of the old left-right debate in Israel and the United States between those who supported “land for peace” as the solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and those who opposed the idea. J Street’s belief that Israel needed to take risks for peace might have made sense in 1992 before Oslo, the second intifada, and three Palestinian refusals of Israeli offers of statehood. But after 20 years during which Israel has traded land not for peace but for terror, J Street’s positions aren’t so much wrong as they are irrelevant. That’s why Israel’s political left that once dominated the country’s politics is now marginalized and rejected by an electorate that backs the Netanyahu government’s actions in Gaza by a 9-1 margin.

The real battle for Israel now isn’t the old one about where its borders should be placed or whether settlements are good or bad but whether there should be a Jewish state or if it has a right to defend itself. In that struggle, J Street’s tepid Zionism doesn’t resonate with the mainstream community and is of little interest to leftists who prefer open-Israel bashers like JVP.

J Street once thought it would become the main address for Jewish activism. But recent events have shown that J Street’s moment has passed. Those who wish to support Israel in its life and death struggle against Hamas terrorists who seek its destruction will always gravitate toward groups that don’t pull their punches when it comes to defending the Jewish state. At the same time, J Street’s base on the left is following celebrity Israel-bashers and abandoning it to join with those who are playing into Hamas’s hands by claiming it is wrong to shoot back at the terrorists. In this environment, organizations that won’t take a clear side in this fight will soon find themselves historical relics of a bygone era that will never return.

Read Less

Scholars of African Literature Have Eyes Only for Israel

The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

Read More

The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

It is therefore striking that none of the ALA’s resolutions specifically concerns Africa. In South Africa, where the ALA met this year, Human Rights Watch has said that the government has refused to acknowledge “xenophobic attacks on refugees” from Somalia and elsewhere. But the ALA, though it explicitly complains of Israel’s treatment of African refugees, had nothing to say, as its members partied in Johannesburg, about South Africa’s record.

Here are some other things going on, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2014 World Report, on the continent the African Literature Association purports to be concerned with. Human Rights Watch shares with the ALA an undue focus on Israel, but at least it has the consistency to notice human-rights violations elsewhere.

In Sudan, the government’s “indiscriminate bombing and ongoing clashes with rebels, and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance to rebel-held areas since the outbreak of conflict in June 2011, have displaced tens of thousands within those states and elsewhere in Sudan and forced more than 225,000 to flee to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.” Millions have been displaced. Hundreds of thousands are dead. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In South Sudan, “the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, especially in Murle areas. Soldiers unlawfully targeted and killed Murle civilians and caused thousands to flee their homes out of fear of attack. Soldiers also looted or destroyed homes, schools, churches, and the compounds of aid agencies.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Ethiopia, “arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in detention continues to be a major problem. Students, members of opposition groups, journalists, peaceful protesters, and others seeking to express their rights to freedom of assembly, expression, or association are frequently detained arbitrarily.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In the Central African Republic, the Seleka, a largely Muslim rebel group that briefly controlled the government “killed scores of civilians who were trying to flee attacks. In some villages, every single structure was at least partially burned. The destruction was often accompanied by pillaging, leaving civilian populations utterly destitute.” Violence between the Seleka and armed Christian and animist groups continues and has displaced hundreds of thousands. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Somalia, in government controlled areas, “targeted killings of civilians, notably journalists, increased.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the Rwandan-backed M23 armed group committed widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of children.” In Nigeria, “security forces razed and burned homes and properties in communities thought to harbor Boko Haram fighters. In Baga, a town in Borno state, Nigerian troops destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and allegedly killed scores of people, apparently in retaliation for the killing of a soldier by Boko Haram.” In Eritrea, many “are denied fundamental human rights, including the right to express opinions, form associations and peacefully protest. Scores of people continue to be arbitrarily detained and imprisoned without trial at the whim of commanders and security forces; many are tortured.  Freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice is denied if the government disapproves of the choice.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In fairness, the organization has not been wholly silent on human rights in Africa. For example, the ALA’s president, in 2011, wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to act on unspecified human-rights violations in Africa. But that letter was much less pointed and detailed than the resolution against Israel which, among other things, singles out Israel alone for working with repressive African regimes. They had nothing to say about their host South Africa’s close allies, China and Russia, both of which are known for exporting arms to nations, including Sudan, with poor human-rights records. Nor did they speak to South Africa’s refusal to support sanctions against Syria. About such things, the righteous scholars of the African Literature Association do not care.

We can thank the African Literature Association for making things crystal clear. When an association that exists primarily “to facilitate the attempts of a world-wide audience to appreciate the efforts of African writers and artists” and secondarily to support “the African peoples in their struggle for liberation” interests itself solely in Israel and has not a word for human-rights abuses in Africa, we can be confident that we are dealing with scholars in the grip of an anti-Semitic movement.

Read Less

BDS Cares Nothing for Your Wounded Feelings

Over the weekend the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three American companies that provide services to Israel’s security forces. That vote came in spite of significant and laudable efforts on the part of Jewish communal leaders who engaged with the Presbyterians in an effort to dissuade them from this anti-Israel act. Why did they fail? Perhaps that’s an unfair question. After all, the vote was extremely close with the assembly of the Church’s elders splitting 310 in favor of the divestment to 303 voting against. Maybe efforts from the Jewish community helped convince many not to divest. But in the end they weren’t able to convince enough. Where did their strategy go wrong?

Read More

Over the weekend the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three American companies that provide services to Israel’s security forces. That vote came in spite of significant and laudable efforts on the part of Jewish communal leaders who engaged with the Presbyterians in an effort to dissuade them from this anti-Israel act. Why did they fail? Perhaps that’s an unfair question. After all, the vote was extremely close with the assembly of the Church’s elders splitting 310 in favor of the divestment to 303 voting against. Maybe efforts from the Jewish community helped convince many not to divest. But in the end they weren’t able to convince enough. Where did their strategy go wrong?

A pretty strong indication became apparent during the course of a CNN interview following the Presbyterian vote. Speaking in defense of the move was Presbyterian moderator Heath Rada. One couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the man. He admitted that he had not cast a vote on the issue and as the grilling by CNN anchors unfolded it became more and more apparent that Rada didn’t really believe in the divestment he was now being obliged to defend. Over and over again Rada kept repeating that this was not intended as an attack on “our Jewish brothers and sisters” but quite quickly the familial insinuation became distastefully patronizing. I wonder just how many American Jews reciprocate the suggestion of such kinship with the Presbyterian Church right now.

Next up was Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism. By all accounts Jacobs had been present at the vote and had done much to try and talk the church elders around. Although, given how the vote went in the end, it seems he didn’t get much in return for his trouble. Still, speaking on CNN he was as eloquent a spokesperson as anyone could wish for. He unequivocally slammed the grotesque anti-Jewish publication Zionism Unsettled (which is still on sale at the Presbyterian Church’s website), and rightly pointed out that this vote is an affirmation of global BDS–boycott, divestment, sanctions.

Yet as Rabbi Jacobs laid out his argument it became quite clear why he and other liberal Jews failed to prevent that BDS vote and why they will continue to fail to do so in the future. Jacobs’s argument hinged on one point: votes like this hurt Jewish feelings. But that’s a pretty weak argument. If one really believes that Israel is oppressing and tormenting Palestinians, then the hurt feelings of American Jewry are all very regretful, but in the face of injustice, what right do American Jews have to say it upsets them to see Israel’s military activities boycotted? If Israel’s misdemeanors in the West Bank are so very wrong then instead of complaining about their feelings, shouldn’t good liberal Jews support such moves?

And Rabbi Jacobs reiterated the legitimacy of these notions even during the few minutes he was speaking on CNN, so one can only imagine what he might have said in his much lengthier comments to the church elders. As an alternative to boycotts Jacobs suggested that he and the Presbyterians should go meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and protest settlements. But by suggesting that settlements are what needs protesting Jacobs strengthens the notion that settlements are the underlying problem. If that’s true—and if Israelis refuse to accept this—then why not boycott them just like you might place sanctions on any other state that’s gone rogue?

There is however a much stronger moral argument against the latest Presbyterian divestment. The first point is that the companies they are divesting from provide security services against terrorism that help stop their “Jewish brothers and sisters” from being murdered. Motorola is being divested from for the apparent outrage of providing surveillance technology that protects civilian communities in the West Bank while HP is responsible for the terrible crime of providing materials used for preventing weapons from being smuggled into Gaza by sea. BDS calls these the apparatus of occupation, but are the Presbyterians really telling us that they oppose measures to prevent terrorism targeting civilians? Never mind Jewish feelings, what about defending Jewish lives?

The second point to be stressed here is that those speaking to groups like the Presbyterians have to stop repeating this false narrative that says that Israel is perpetuating the conflict through settlements. It must be reiterated constantly that Israel has legitimate rights in the West Bank that are, yes, necessitated by the present security situation and Palestinian rejectionism but more importantly that are upheld by historical and legal right. There is a strong international law case that people like Rabbi Jacobs refuse to make because they have staked everything on a two-state agreement that may never come.

American Jews can complain about how hurtful boycotts of Israel are, but once they have bought into the idea that Israel is perpetuating the conflict through an illegal occupation on Palestinian land they have already lost the argument. And as for those driving the BDS campaign itself, they don’t care about Jewish feelings; attacking Jews is what BDS is all about.

Read Less

The Presbyterians Divest

By now, COMMENTARY readers may have heard that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted, narrowly, 310 to 303, to divest from three companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola, that allegedly help Israelis oppress Palestinians. I provide some background here.

Read More

By now, COMMENTARY readers may have heard that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted, narrowly, 310 to 303, to divest from three companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola, that allegedly help Israelis oppress Palestinians. I provide some background here.

Yair Rosenberg observes that “given how many Presbyterians and their leaders at the Assembly voted against the measure … and how many rank-and-file members of the 1.8 million-strong church had little say in this vote, individual and local ties will no doubt persist, even as institutional ones become strained.

I think Rosenberg is right about the rank and file members. And the Assembly did some good things this session, such as distancing itself, though not as decisively as it should have, from the noxious “study guide” sold by the Church, Zionism Unsettled, which revives the old “Zionism is racism” attack. Nonetheless, the actions of the Church’s General Assembly are worse than the divestment vote indicates.

In particular, the Assembly voted overwhelmingly, 482-88, to reviewGeneral Assembly Policy Regarding the Two-State Solution in Israel Palestine” and to put the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) in charge of the review. Since the ACSWP provided advice and counsel on this and other matters before the Assembly, it is not hard to guess what this review might say. Concerning the resolution to reconsider the Church’s commitment to a two-state solution, the ACSWP thinks it important to remind us that the breakdown of peace negotiations is entirely Israel’s fault. Here is a sample:

Secretary of State John Kerry has testified that Israel’s refusal to curtail settlements and finally to release a fourth group of only twenty-five Palestinian prisoners led to a “poof” that ended the process. … There were no significant achievements during the 9 months, and in fact a growing number of “price tag” desecrations of Christian and Muslim sites, increased number of shootings of nonviolent Palestinian protesters and farmers trying to harvest alongside “security zones,” and numbers of Palestinians denied identity cards in Jerusalem.

In commenting on other resolutions, ACSWP indicated its support for the boycott movement. For example, although the Assembly rejected a resolution to boycott “all Hewlett Packard products,” ACSWP was for it because boycott strategy remains an effective and very participatory way to support greater justice for the Palestinians, and seems to be regarded by the Israeli government and its supporters as a danger to their control. ACSWP also complained, in a different context, about the demonization of Hamas.

So the Assembly voted, not narrowly but overwhelmingly, to entrust a committee that has shown itself to be consistently and deeply anti-Israel with making recommendations about where the Church should stand on a two-state solution.

It is hard to believe that the people who voted for this resolution, the vast majority of the Assembly, were unaware of what the ACSWP does, for it has a track record. But even if they somehow managed to be ignorant of what their vote implied, they are, at best, frivolous about serious matters.

Read Less

Will the Presbyterian Church USA Vote for Divestment (and Irrelevance)?

Irrelevance breeds irrelevance. When an organization allows itself to be influenced by radicals who are out of touch with the membership, the members begin to depart or tune out. As the numbers of thoughtful and attentive members dwindles, the organization becomes more susceptible to the influence of radicals. More members depart and tune out, the radicals become a significant part of the base leaders think they need to listen to, and the organization is in danger of being taken over. Such was the case of the small, barely relevant American Studies Association, which has become a playground for the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, and such is the case with the much larger, but also barely relevant Presbyterian Church (USA).

The church, like other mainline churches, has been hemorrhaging members for some time. In 2013, PCUSA counted 1,760,200 members. That was down from 2,525,330 in 2000, a decline of about thirty percent.

Maybe Anti-Semitism will help.

Read More

Irrelevance breeds irrelevance. When an organization allows itself to be influenced by radicals who are out of touch with the membership, the members begin to depart or tune out. As the numbers of thoughtful and attentive members dwindles, the organization becomes more susceptible to the influence of radicals. More members depart and tune out, the radicals become a significant part of the base leaders think they need to listen to, and the organization is in danger of being taken over. Such was the case of the small, barely relevant American Studies Association, which has become a playground for the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, and such is the case with the much larger, but also barely relevant Presbyterian Church (USA).

The church, like other mainline churches, has been hemorrhaging members for some time. In 2013, PCUSA counted 1,760,200 members. That was down from 2,525,330 in 2000, a decline of about thirty percent.

Maybe Anti-Semitism will help.

Jonathan Tobin has reported on Zionism Unsettled, a “teaching guide” developed by the Israel-Palestine Network of the Church. Zionism Unsettled calls Zionism, or support for a Jewish state, “Jewish supremacism” on the order of support for Jim Crow, or the Nazis. David Duke tells us that this term was his idea, but he does not seem to mind that the authors borrowed it without attribution. Among friends, after all, one does not stand on ceremony. The church did just barely distance itself from Zionism Unsettled without, however, disavowing it. The Israel-Palestine Mission Network “speaks to the Church and not for the Church.” Never mind that the organization has the mandate and support of PCUSA, or that the book is for sale at the Church store.

The Israel-Palestine Mission Network was formed by the PCUSA General Assembly in 2004, the same year in which it passed a resolution calling for “phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” While the Assembly was at it, it claimed that the “occupation” was “at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict” and lectured Israelis on the importance of making peace with the Palestinians. Formed at the behest of anti-Israel activists, the network has had a problem with anti-Semitism ever since. In 2006, under intense pressure, the Assembly voted to remove the selective disinvestment language. The Assembly also professed to be “grieved by the pain that [the 2004 resolution caused,” to “accept responsibility for the flaws [in the process leading up to that resolution], and to hope for “a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.”

The activists have been trying to rescind this dangerous embrace of mutual understanding and dialogue, and to pass disinvestment, ever since. In 2012, they almost persuaded the Assembly to disinvest from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola for “profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.” They lost 333 to 331. Encouraged, they are back at it again at this year’s General Assembly, which is meeting this week. The good news is that the Mideast Committee failed, albeit very narrowly, to pass on to the General Assembly a resolution describing Israel as an apartheid state. It also succeeded, albeit hypocritically, in advancing a resolution distancing PCUSA from the now radioactive Zionism Unsettled. The bad news is that the same committee voted to recommend divestment from, once again, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola.

Those members of the General Assembly who are merely foolish, rather than hostile to Jews, may vote for the resolution, which is admittedly much narrower than the one passed in 2004, thinking it relatively benign. That is the BDS strategy. Get what you can get, then publicly marvel at your momentum, even if what you got is less than what you were able to get ten years ago. But, as Yair Rosenberg reveals, boycott supporters like Reverend Larry Grimm hope for a lot more than disinvestment in a few companies: Grimm let the “everyone would be better off if there were no Israel” cat out of the bag on his Facebook page: “America is the Promised Land. We all know this. Come to the land of opportunity. Quit feeling guilt about what you are doing in Palestine, Jewish friends. Stop it. Come home to America!”

The Mideast Committee also passed a resolution urging reconsideration of the Church’s support for a two-state solution, a position which certainly follows from Grimm’s view that there should be no Jewish state.

I hope the General Assembly, which will take up these resolutions later this week, will again, by however small a margin, reject them. But if they don’t, BDS won’t get much momentum out of it. The more likely result, momentum-wise, is even more departures from the church. In spite of the implosion of mainline Protestantism, the press is still in the old habit of attending to the pronouncements of  mainline Protestant groups. So if the Assembly votes to embrace the anti-Israel lunatic fringe, even more rank and file Presbyterians may notice that they have leaders, and that these leaders are, increasingly, radicals and fools. Even devoted churchgoers can’t be blamed for leaving a church when it starts to smell this bad.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.