Commentary Magazine


Topic: BDS movement

BDS Drops Its Veil: Campus Anti-Semitism

The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

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The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

Horwitz may have removed Israel from her Facebook persona but couldn’t escape being classified as a Jew and was therefore suspect in the eyes of those who have come to treat support for the war on Zionism as a litmus test of liberal bona fides. But the significance of the incident lies not so much in the snub of a Hispanic student (she was adopted from Paraguay and considers herself both a South American and a Jew) by a coalition that is supposed to exist to support such persons simply because she is also Jewish and unwilling to disavow Israel under questioning. Rather, it is the insouciance with which the members of the student group—including the chapter president of the NAACP—regarded the inquisition of a Jewish student about her faith as being not only acceptable but something that should be expected.

Horwitz has demanded a public apology, but she shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for it. Nor should she expect much comfort from the university that has also been asked to investigate what happened. The reason is that so long as support for a movement that singles out the one Jewish state in the world and its supporters for discriminatory treatment and opprobrium is not merely tolerated as an opinion but treated as a reasonable point of view about which decent people may differ, we can’t be surprised that Jew hatred is being normalized.

Had the coalition merely asked Horwitz about her stand about divestment without connecting it to her faith, that might pass the anti-Semitism smell test even if it would still be troubling that blacks and Hispanics have adopted the attack on Zionism as their own cause. But by linking this issue to Judaism they have acknowledged the fact that the divestment cause is not merely a political criticism of Israel’s government or its policies but primarily focused on singling out Jews for biased treatment.

Stanford’s Student Senate has already endorsed divestment from Israel, a move that places all supporters of the Jewish state on the defensive. But in the course of the battle over this attack on Israel, it’s clear that advocates of divestment have ceased being careful about trying to separate their campaign against the right of the Jews to have a state in their ancient homeland—a concept that is not denied to any other people on the planet—from one against anyone who openly identifies as a Jew. The Stanford Review has reported that the Students of Color has asked candidates for student offices to pledge not to affiliate with Jewish groups. In doing so, and in quizzing students about their Jewish faith, such persons are not merely advocating for a discriminatory practice—divestment—but making it clear that any Jew who chooses not to join the gang attack on the Jewish state will be stigmatized.

This is not the first time students at a major university have been caught practicing anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, a Jewish student at UCLA was similarly interrogated by a student committee interviewing candidates for a campus judicial committee and was asked if her Judaism would impact their conduct. That case was caught on film, making it easier to call out the offenders–something that didn’t happen at Stanford, thus allowing Horwitz’s inquisitors to claim they were misinterpreted.

The Anti-Defamation League is calling the Stanford incident “an important teaching moment” in which the “university needs to make it clear to students and student groups that singling out identity and questioning on those kind of issues is discriminatory.” They’re right about that, but the problem won’t be dealt with by ignoring the clear connection between the worldwide BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement and anti-Semitism. That’s a stand that many supporters of Israel have refused to take believing that crying anti-Semitism will cloud the issue and make it harder to advocate for Israel. But divestment advocates are making it increasingly obvious they have no scruples about the link between Jew hatred and treating Israel as a pariah state. BDS isn’t about a political dispute within Israel, its borders, or sympathy for the Palestinians. It’s a war on Jews.

So long as an ideology that is aimed solely at discriminating against the Jewish state is treated as acceptable opinion and not one rooted in bias, these incidents will not only keep popping up; they will spread and become the norm on campuses and in those parts of society where elite academic opinion has influence.

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Open Hillel: Two Can Play the Shame Game

Last December I wrote about Open Hillel, a movement founded in 2012 to oppose Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Hillel International is the most prominent campus Jewish organization, with over 500 college and university affiliates. Their standards for sponsoring speakers or cooperating with organizations, though imperfect, protect Hillel’s foundational principles, which include a commitment to Zionism understood in the broad sense in which nearly all Jews of the left, right, and center, endorse it, namely the belief in the legitimacy and desirability of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This principle has led Hillel to say that it will not sponsor speakers or cooperate with groups who promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. That movement has, since 2005 sought to turn Israel into a pariah state comparable to apartheid era South Africa or even Nazi Germany. It is in the context set on campuses by BDS, which has included the targeting not simply of Zionists or Israel but of Jewish people and organizations altogether, that Hillel adopted its standards. As I have written here concerning Swarthmore College’s decision to disaffiliate with Hillel, when Open Hillel assails Hillel International for sticking to its standards of partnership, it assails it for sticking to rather than abandoning its fundamentally decent principles.

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Last December I wrote about Open Hillel, a movement founded in 2012 to oppose Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Hillel International is the most prominent campus Jewish organization, with over 500 college and university affiliates. Their standards for sponsoring speakers or cooperating with organizations, though imperfect, protect Hillel’s foundational principles, which include a commitment to Zionism understood in the broad sense in which nearly all Jews of the left, right, and center, endorse it, namely the belief in the legitimacy and desirability of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This principle has led Hillel to say that it will not sponsor speakers or cooperate with groups who promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. That movement has, since 2005 sought to turn Israel into a pariah state comparable to apartheid era South Africa or even Nazi Germany. It is in the context set on campuses by BDS, which has included the targeting not simply of Zionists or Israel but of Jewish people and organizations altogether, that Hillel adopted its standards. As I have written here concerning Swarthmore College’s decision to disaffiliate with Hillel, when Open Hillel assails Hillel International for sticking to its standards of partnership, it assails it for sticking to rather than abandoning its fundamentally decent principles.

But this year, Open Hillel has been running a campaign to force Hillel International to abandon its principles. It is, one must admit, clever. Four Jewish veterans of the American civil rights movement are touring the country to discuss what they see as the connection between their civil rights work and their Israel-Palestine activism. Two support BDS. The campaign is quite explicit that its intent is to break Hillel’s standards of partnership. As Open Hillel says of the activists, who appeared at Open Hillel’s conference in October, they “discussed their work in the South fifty years ago and the role Judaism played in shaping that work. They tackled issues that are banned by Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership. They made connections between their work in the Jim Crow south and activism around Israel-Palestine today.” I call the campaign clever because if Hillel rejects these speakers—two of whom can be expected to proselytize for BDS—they will appear to reject that most American of causes, the civil rights movement. But if they accept the speakers they put their name on the Zionism is racism obscenity, not at all well disguised in the program’s coupling of Jim Crow to Israel.

To its credit, Hillel has refused to sponsor the “From Mississippi to Jerusalem” event. So the civil rights veterans involved are expressing shock and outrage that Hillel won’t sponsor their campaign against Hillel. Their piece is entitled—one hopes not by them—“Shame on Hillel for Shunning Civil Rights Veterans.

If you are looking to inspire shame, though, it helps to start by being honest. Our civil rights veterans write that they “are honored that since the [Open Hillel] conference, Hillel students around the country, from Boston to Chicago to North Carolina, have invited us to continue these conversations in their Jewish communities on campus.” What they don’t say, here, or anywhere else in the 900 plus word article, is that they are part of the campaign I just described, publicized and partially funded by the Open Hillel movement, to break Hillel’s standards of partnership.

Our civil rights veterans say that one of them, the pro-BDS activist Dorothy Zellner, spoke in February “on an interfaith panel at Harvard Hillel, where she discussed both her work organizing for racial justice in the United States and her work organizing for Palestinian human rights in Israel/Palestine.” This event was well received, but “to our great dismay, Hillel International, the parent organization for Jewish students on campus, has blocked us from coming to every subsequent campus Hillel where students have invited us to speak.” What they don’t say is that Hillel International was willing to have its name associated with the Harvard event because it did not focus on Israel and Palestine, and that they have indicated—in a letter to Swarthmore—their willingness to have chapters sponsor similar events featuring these very civil rights veterans. So no, Hillel did not shun any civil rights veterans. But they won’t sponsor programs for speakers to “present or proselytize their known anti-Israel and pro-BDS agenda.” The campaign in which these civil rights veterans have been engaged is, unlike the Harvard event, designed precisely so that BDS can be preached under the Hillel banner, and it was because Hillel took a principled stand on that matter that Hillel supposedly should feel ashamed.

Finally, the civil rights veterans think that Hillel should be ashamed for trying to “censor what Hillel students can hear.” In fact, there is no shortage of anti-Israel or BDS speech for Hillel students to hear on the campuses that have declared themselves Open Hillels and, if anything, speech in favor of Israel is suppressed.

Unlike our civil rights veterans, I am no expert on what people should be ashamed of. But people who use their civil rights records to cover for a movement as ugly as BDS, then publicly misrepresent their own actions and Hillel’s, should probably not be wagging their fingers at others.

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Holiday Jew-Hatred on the Sidewalks of NY

In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has swept through Europe making it dangerous for Jews to openly identify with their faith on the streets of great Western capitals. Shrouded behind a thin veil of criticism about the Middle East peace process, Jew hatred has become an open and increasingly accepted fact of life in Europe that makes it perilous to express support for the Jewish state even at times when it is being assailed by terrorist attacks. Though support for boycotts of Israel and other forms of incitement have popped up on college campuses, up until now this distressing trend had not yet shown its face on American shores. But, as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote in the New York Observer yesterday, the anti-Israel movement has now stepped up its incitement and has begun an effort to boycott a business owned by a supporter of Israel. By doing so, they have crossed a very clear line that divides wrongheaded yet acceptable political protest from open hatred against Jews.

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In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has swept through Europe making it dangerous for Jews to openly identify with their faith on the streets of great Western capitals. Shrouded behind a thin veil of criticism about the Middle East peace process, Jew hatred has become an open and increasingly accepted fact of life in Europe that makes it perilous to express support for the Jewish state even at times when it is being assailed by terrorist attacks. Though support for boycotts of Israel and other forms of incitement have popped up on college campuses, up until now this distressing trend had not yet shown its face on American shores. But, as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote in the New York Observer yesterday, the anti-Israel movement has now stepped up its incitement and has begun an effort to boycott a business owned by a supporter of Israel. By doing so, they have crossed a very clear line that divides wrongheaded yet acceptable political protest from open hatred against Jews.

The incident concerns a demonstration outside a jewelry outlet owned by Israeli entrepreneur Lev Leviev. Singing faux Christmas carols with lyrics proclaiming their support for a Palestinian war on Israel, participants were urging passersby to stay away from the store because its owner “steals Palestinian land.” Boteach writes that when he and his family attempted to converse with the demonstrators and to urge them to support Israel—the only democracy in the Middle East—and to oppose Hamas terrorists, they were cursed at and shouted down.

What’s their problem with Leviev? The prominent philanthropist’s sin is that he does business in Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank where Jews live, including contracting for the building of homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the capital and Beitar Ilit, part of the Gush Etzion bloc where Jews were slaughtered and evicted by Arabs in 1948. The demonstrators Boteach described are wrong about these places being “stolen” Palestinian land. But whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue, what they are doing is nothing less than an attempt to treat a Jew who does business in Israel as a pariah. The line that separates such actions from unabashed anti-Semitic targeting of Jewish businesses is paper-thin and is undermined by the brazen anti-Semitic comments that accompanied this protest and other protests organized at nearby Jewish events.

The point here is not to dispute the right of anti-Zionists to express their opposition to the existence of a Jewish state. Rather, it is to show that the purpose of the anti-Leviev demonstration is to intimidate and silence Jews associated with the Jewish state. If Leviev can be boycotted in this manner, then so can any Jew, rich or poor, who has ties to Israel.

The effort to separate opposition to a Jewish state from anti-Semitism has always rested on the notion that there is a distinction between the two points of view. But, increasingly, as it is expressed in European demonstrations as well as here in the United States, that is a distinction without a difference. Those who would deny the Jews the same rights of sovereignty and self-defense that they never think to oppose anywhere else are practicing an invidious form of discrimination. One may disagree with Israeli policies, but those who support efforts to end its existence are engaging in a form of hatred.

That hatred has increasingly taken the form of the BDS—boycott, divest, and sanction—movement that attempts to wage economic war on Israel and its supporters. As the street theater taking place in Manhattan that Boteach witnessed clearly shows, it is no longer possible to pretend that boycotts of Israel are not merely a new way to boycott and discriminate against Jews. In other words, the effort to pretend that this is not a form of anti-Semitism has officially failed.

While all too many good people, including some supporters of Israel, try to pretend that this hatred can be answered by forcing Israel to change its policies, the BDS crowd and their Palestinian allies have always made it clear that they generally agree with Hamas in claiming that all areas of Israel, including the part that made up pre-1967 Israel, are “settlements” that must be destroyed. The time is over for treating these practitioners of hate with kid gloves and understanding. What they are preaching, in principle and in practice, is a form of hatred.

They should not be allowed to do so without being called to account by decent Americans of all faiths and political affiliations.

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Should We Silence Those Who Monitor Anti-Semitism on Campus?

Virtually every university or college allows its students to rate their professors and the results of these surveys are usually published. Their contents are always of debatable quality but give incoming students a rough idea of what they are up against when they choose teachers and their courses. The prevailing principle of caveat emptor is generally accepted if not always enjoyed by the faculty. Yet the publication of a guide that attempts to give students and their families an idea about whether college faculty and courses are engaging in and/or supporting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity in the classroom appears to have aroused the ire of an influential group of Jewish academics.

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Virtually every university or college allows its students to rate their professors and the results of these surveys are usually published. Their contents are always of debatable quality but give incoming students a rough idea of what they are up against when they choose teachers and their courses. The prevailing principle of caveat emptor is generally accepted if not always enjoyed by the faculty. Yet the publication of a guide that attempts to give students and their families an idea about whether college faculty and courses are engaging in and/or supporting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity in the classroom appears to have aroused the ire of an influential group of Jewish academics.

As the Forward reports today, 50 North American Jewish Studies professors have signed a joint letter denouncing the work of the AMCHA Initiative. AMCHA is a Jewish campus-monitoring group that seeks to expose those academics that support boycott initiatives against Israel or who otherwise engage in anti-Semitic activity. It then publishes this information on its website. Those students who wish to avoid being trapped in such classrooms and donors to academia can draw their own conclusions from AMCHA’s writings.

AMCHA’s existence can be credited largely to the fact that over the past few decades, Middle Eastern studies in this country has become largely the preserve of scholars who not only espouse anti-Zionist views but who use their academic perches to both propagate their ideology and to intimidate students who dare to disagree. This activity often crosses the boundary between academic debate into open anti-Semitism and has encouraged the growth of groups on campus that seek to silence or intimidate pro-Israel and Jewish students. At a time when attacks on such students are becoming more commonplace and pro-Israel views are struggling to be heard in academia, it would seem as if the least the Jewish community could do is to arm its young people for this struggle. Families deserve information about what is happening in such programs and what exactly is being shoved down their children’s throats. The same applies to those who are asked to fund such programs.

But to the group of Jewish studies professors who signed the letter attacking AMCHA, this sort of effort is nothing less than an attempt to start a new academic boycott of critics of Israel that is no less contemptible than those that seek to isolate Israelis. They believe AMCHA’s efforts stifle academic freedom. They also contend that the definition of anti-Semitic activity used by AMCHA is so broad as to be meaningless. Are they right?

Let’s concede that any debate about what is being taught on campuses must be conducted in such a way as to not be construed as suppression of academic freedom. The Jewish studies professors are correct when they say free exchanges of ideas are the lifeblood of any university as well as a free society such as Israel.

If their letter against AMCHA stuck to these principles, it might have made some sense. But they go further than that and make the following very interesting demand:

The institutions where we teach, as well as many others we know well (including those appearing on AMCHA’s list), offer a broad array of courses dealing with Israel and Palestinian affairs. None of these, whether supportive or critical of Israeli policy, ought to be monitored for content or political orientation.

In other words, what they are really afraid of is not so much that anti-Israel or anti-Semitic academics will find themselves ostracized as they are of the entire concept of accountability for institutions of higher learning. That ought to be a bridge too far even for those who are least likely to care about the spread of incitement against Israel and Jews on the college campus. Their stand is not so much against a putative Jewish thought police as it is against any scrutiny of what goes on at universities and colleges. That is an absurd stand that deserves the contempt of the public and donors to such institutions, not their support.

We also need to ask whether the academic critics of AMCHA are right about the criteria used by the group to determine what is or is not anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. If AMCHA were merely labeling criticism of Israel’s government as beyond the pale, they’d be right. But that’s not the case. Here are AMCHA’s criteria for defining such behavior:

  1. Denying Jews Their Right to Self-Determination
  2. Using Symbols and Images Associated with Historical Anti-Semitism
  3. Comparing Jews to Nazis
  4. Accusing Jews and Israel of Inventing or Exaggerating the Holocaust
  5. Demonizing Israel
  6. Delegitimizing Israel
  7. Holding Israel to a Double Standard
  8. Promoting Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Against Israel
  9. Condoning Terrorism Against Jews, Supporting Terrorist Organizations
  10. Targeting Jewish Students for Discrimination, Harassment, or Intimidation

Do any of the group’s critics really want to argue that anyone who is guilty of behaving in this manner is not anti-Israel?

Let’s also understand that the attempt by this group to paint AMCHA as the forerunner of a new spirit of McCarthyism on campus is looking at the situation through the wrong end of the telescope. If anything, it is pro-Israel academics that are the endangered species on campus, not the Israel-haters. That is especially true in the field of Middle East studies where scholars who do not accept the anti-Zionist point of view or who in any way support the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and the right of self-defense in their ancient homeland find it impossible to get tenure or obtain employment. The fact that Arab and Muslim potentates increasingly fund many Middle Eastern studies departments makes this uniformity more understandable if not defensible.

More to the point, this is a moment in history when a rising tide of anti-Semitism that often seeks to cloak itself in criticism of Israel is sweeping through Europe and finding beachheads in North America, principally in academia. At such a time, it is more important than ever not only to combat this virus of hate but also to understand exactly who is promoting it and where such activity is condoned if not supported.

Let’s also understand that contrary to the aggressive and sometimes violent anti-Israel activities that take place in academia, all AMCHA does is publish a website which labels Israel-haters as such. Its critics are not so much disputing the problem of the growth of anti-Semitism that the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement is fronting as they are merely asking that Jews keep quiet about it and not seek even to hold those who promote such hate accountable for their actions. That is a prescription for complacency that will only aid the movement these professors say they oppose.

Rather than seeking to silence AMCHA, Jewish academics need to find the guts to speak up against the growth of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic activity on campuses. If they don’t, sooner or later Jews will find that it won’t just be Middle Eastern studies where they are unwelcome.

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Jews Who Aid the War on Israel

Both Jonathan Marks and Pete Wehner admirably summarized some of the main issues surrounding last Friday’s vote of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest itself from companies that do business with Israel. But in assessing this distressing development it’s important for the Jewish community to focus on those elements from within its ranks who played a crucial role in this result.

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Both Jonathan Marks and Pete Wehner admirably summarized some of the main issues surrounding last Friday’s vote of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest itself from companies that do business with Israel. But in assessing this distressing development it’s important for the Jewish community to focus on those elements from within its ranks who played a crucial role in this result.

As both Jonathan and Pete wrote, in voting for what is, in effect, a declaration of economic war on the Jewish state, the largest Presbyterian denomination has not only allied itself with haters like David Duke. In acting in this manner it has also alerted its shrinking membership to the fact that radicals tainted by anti-Semitism have hijacked its leadership.

Presbyterians claimed that their vote was one signifying criticism of Israel’s policies rather than an attack on the Jewish people. But as I wrote earlier this year, the Presbyterians’ publication of a new book Zionism Unsettled that criticized Jewish faith and attacked Israel’s existence, as well as much of the rhetoric surrounding the vote, made it clear that this move was motivated by intolerance and hate. In acting in this manner, the PCUSA has shown that dialogue with such groups or even cooperation on unrelated issues isn’t just pointless. To carry on business as usual with a group that has declared war on the Jewish state and the Jewish people in this manner would be to tolerate that which is intolerable.

But how then should Jewish communities regard those Jews—specifically the group calling itself Jewish Voices for Peace—who actively aided and abetted this effort?

The answer is clear. They deserve to be cut off from the organized Jewish world and treated like the pariahs they have chosen to be.

The role of JVP in the Presbyterian vote was amply illustrated in this sympathetic piece published last weekend in the New York Times. This anti-Zionist group served as the perfect foil for the radical Israel haters inside the PCUSA. Instead of being forced to own up to the fundamentally anti-Semitic spirit of the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement targeting Israel, the Presbyterians were able to produce left-wing Jews who shared their views as cover for this campaign of hate that masquerades as “socially responsible” investing.

JVP assists those groups, like the Presbyterians who think it is moral to single out the one Jewish and democratic state in the world for discrimination while ignoring genuine human-rights violations going on elsewhere. But even while assisting anti-Zionist campaigns that are thinly veiled anti-Semitism, the organization claims to represent Jewish values.

As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former leader of the Reform movement aptly stated this week in Haaretz, JVP cloaks their own extremist principles in ambiguous language in order to try and represent themselves as just one more liberal Jewish group. Indeed, its position is even more radical than the final resolutions passed by the Presbyterians since it wholeheartedly backs BDS on all of Israel, not just a few American companies and neither supports a two-state solution nor the Jewish state’s right to exist.

By assisting the BDS movement in this manner, JVP gains press attention from papers like the New York Times and faux respectability from left-wing Christians who embrace it as a “partner” that somehow represents Jews. But the point about the farce that played out at the Presbyterian GA in Detroit is, as Yoffie rightly points out, that this group represents very few Jews and takes positions that are anathema to the entire spectrum of the organized Jewish world.

Just as Presbyterians should know they are making a crucial mistake in embracing JVP, so, too, do Jewish communities and Hillel groups on campuses err in allowing this group to join community relations councils or to be represented in campus councils.

While there are strong disagreements between mainstream Jewish groups and left-wing groups like J Street who often play a destructive role in many communities and undermine support for Israel, there is a clear difference between those that are critical of Israel, like J Street, and those that are at war with it and Zionism, as is the case with Jewish Voices for Peace. One may be tolerated, albeit reluctantly, within the community because of its support for Zionism; the other puts itself on the other side of a line that should never be crossed.

Jewish Voices for Peace has every right to do or say as they like even if their policies are deceptive and aimed at aiding those attacking Jews. But they should never be allowed to do so under the banner of the Jewish community. Like ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists or Jews for Jesus, JVP is an unfortunate yet noxious fact of life that cannot be denied but must also never be treated as a legitimate partner in any Jewish community or on any college campus.

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Presbyterians’ Tent of Nations Propaganda

Later this month, the Presbyterian Church USA will hold its biennial General Assembly at which delegates will decide whether one of the country’s mainstream Protestant denominations will fully embrace an economic war on Israel and the Jewish people. But the battle over resolutions that endorse divestment from companies that do business with Israel is not confined to the debates at that gathering. Presbyterian activists have been working hard over the last two years when similar proposals narrowly failed at the last PCUSA biennial to create an atmosphere of hatred against the Jewish state and its supporters. Earlier this year, a church-affiliated group published an outrageous book and companion CD titled Zionism Unsettled that crossed all boundaries between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and open hostility toward both Israel and Jewish peoplehood. Much of that effort smacked of traditional anti-Semitism, but press arms of the church are also fueling the fires of hate with misleading charges against Israel that are intended to boost the divestment campaign.

One such example, involving the so-called Tent of Nations, a pro-Palestinian rallying point in the West Bank claimed that Israeli forces not only oppress Palestinians but also sought to wage war on their trees. The PCUSA News Service wrote that the Israeli military wantonly destroyed between 1,500 and 2,000 trees planted at the site on property owned by a Palestinian farmer. In this version of the episode, parroted by other left-wing Protestant sites, Israel was seeking to seize Palestinian land and ignoring its own courts. But the truth, as this report from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, is that much of this tale is pure propaganda built on an edifice of falsehoods.

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Later this month, the Presbyterian Church USA will hold its biennial General Assembly at which delegates will decide whether one of the country’s mainstream Protestant denominations will fully embrace an economic war on Israel and the Jewish people. But the battle over resolutions that endorse divestment from companies that do business with Israel is not confined to the debates at that gathering. Presbyterian activists have been working hard over the last two years when similar proposals narrowly failed at the last PCUSA biennial to create an atmosphere of hatred against the Jewish state and its supporters. Earlier this year, a church-affiliated group published an outrageous book and companion CD titled Zionism Unsettled that crossed all boundaries between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and open hostility toward both Israel and Jewish peoplehood. Much of that effort smacked of traditional anti-Semitism, but press arms of the church are also fueling the fires of hate with misleading charges against Israel that are intended to boost the divestment campaign.

One such example, involving the so-called Tent of Nations, a pro-Palestinian rallying point in the West Bank claimed that Israeli forces not only oppress Palestinians but also sought to wage war on their trees. The PCUSA News Service wrote that the Israeli military wantonly destroyed between 1,500 and 2,000 trees planted at the site on property owned by a Palestinian farmer. In this version of the episode, parroted by other left-wing Protestant sites, Israel was seeking to seize Palestinian land and ignoring its own courts. But the truth, as this report from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, is that much of this tale is pure propaganda built on an edifice of falsehoods.

As CAMERA notes, the first thing that is wrong with this story is that the Israel Defense Forces did not violate court orders when it uprooted the trees at the Tent of Nations site. While the Palestinian family was able to prove they owned an adjacent hilltop, they have consistently failed in the courts to prove their assertions that they also own the valley where the trees were planted. The family lost the case in Israel’s independent courts. Though they argue that it has been theirs for a century, there is no evidence that it was ever cultivated or in any way occupied by them until just a few years ago when, in an effort to demonstrate ownership, they planted some trees. It is also worth pointing out, as aerial photos taken by the Israelis proved, there were no more than 300 recently planted trees there, not the thousands that the Palestinians and their Presbyterian friends claimed. The entire point of the tree planting was not agriculture but politics and an effort to goad the Israeli government into taking action that can be portrayed as oppression but which is actually upholding the rule of law.

This story proves that in order to libel Israel, these Presbyterian activists will do just about anything, including making vast exaggerations and distortions in order to whip up anger at the Jewish state. But what else can we expect from a church that produced a book like Zionism Unsettled which seeks to portray all of Israel and not just the West Bank settlements as a crime against humanity. In seeking to brand all Israel supporters as co-conspirators in the plot against the Palestinians, the pro-BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) crowd is burning even its bridges with left-wing Israelis and American Jews like J Street. Even the left-wing lobby understands that what is at stake in this battle with church activists is not merely a symbolic resolution but an effort to delegitimize the Jewish people.

It bears repeating that most American Presbyterians have no interest in backing a campaign of hate against Israel and Jews. To the contrary, most mainline Protestants, including those affiliated with PCUSA churches or who serve as their pastors, are not comfortable with the fact that a small group of radical activists have hijacked their church. But given the nature of the incitement produced by official church groups, PCUSA congregants can no longer claim ignorance or indifference about what is being done in their name. If their representatives vote to join those waging war on Israel later this month, the church will have ended any hope of future relations with either Jews or Christians of conscience.

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Presbyterians Escalate War on Jews

In February of this year I wrote about the latest instance of the Presbyterian Church USA engaging in hostile behavior toward both Israel and the Jewish people. A new study guide and companion CD about the Middle East published by an official Presbyterian group sought to delegitimize Israel and whitewash those who wage war and terrorism against it. Even worse, it compared Zionism to anti-Semitism and said that American Jews who supported Israel were not faithful to their religion. On top of the denomination’s past flirtations with the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on Israel, the study guide demonstrated just how deep the hatred for Jews had become among some church officials. But an even more recent incident illustrates that these episodes are not aberrations but reflect a clear desire on the part of church cadres to treat any normal contact with Jews as beyond the pale.

What has happened is that a Virginia Beach pastor who was slated to take a leadership role in a church forum at its annual General Assembly has been pressured to resign by Presbyterian Church USA officials. What was his offense? Taking part in two trips to Israel sponsored by a Jewish group. As Rev. Albert Butzer relates in a piece he wrote about his experience for The Presbyterian Outlook, he had looked forward to being the official moderator of the Committee on Middle East Issues at the denomination’s General Assembly. But he was forced out when it came out that he had gone to Israel on trips organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia. Though he had previously been to the region on two trips organized by the Palestinians, the mere fact that he had been exposed to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict was enough to brand him as untrustworthy.

While the question of who sits on church committees may not strike many people as an earthshaking question, Butzer’s treatment is significant. His ouster signals a new turn in interfaith relations. Whereas in the past Israel’s foes in mainline Christian churches have sought to cloak their hostility to Zionism and to affirm that they did not wish to harm interfaith relations, it’s now clear that this is no longer the case. By saying that participation in any trip that allows Christians to hear Israel’s point of view even alongside the voices of Palestinians is beyond the pale, the Presbyterian Church USA is telling us that they are declaring war on American Jews as well as Israel.

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In February of this year I wrote about the latest instance of the Presbyterian Church USA engaging in hostile behavior toward both Israel and the Jewish people. A new study guide and companion CD about the Middle East published by an official Presbyterian group sought to delegitimize Israel and whitewash those who wage war and terrorism against it. Even worse, it compared Zionism to anti-Semitism and said that American Jews who supported Israel were not faithful to their religion. On top of the denomination’s past flirtations with the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on Israel, the study guide demonstrated just how deep the hatred for Jews had become among some church officials. But an even more recent incident illustrates that these episodes are not aberrations but reflect a clear desire on the part of church cadres to treat any normal contact with Jews as beyond the pale.

What has happened is that a Virginia Beach pastor who was slated to take a leadership role in a church forum at its annual General Assembly has been pressured to resign by Presbyterian Church USA officials. What was his offense? Taking part in two trips to Israel sponsored by a Jewish group. As Rev. Albert Butzer relates in a piece he wrote about his experience for The Presbyterian Outlook, he had looked forward to being the official moderator of the Committee on Middle East Issues at the denomination’s General Assembly. But he was forced out when it came out that he had gone to Israel on trips organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia. Though he had previously been to the region on two trips organized by the Palestinians, the mere fact that he had been exposed to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict was enough to brand him as untrustworthy.

While the question of who sits on church committees may not strike many people as an earthshaking question, Butzer’s treatment is significant. His ouster signals a new turn in interfaith relations. Whereas in the past Israel’s foes in mainline Christian churches have sought to cloak their hostility to Zionism and to affirm that they did not wish to harm interfaith relations, it’s now clear that this is no longer the case. By saying that participation in any trip that allows Christians to hear Israel’s point of view even alongside the voices of Palestinians is beyond the pale, the Presbyterian Church USA is telling us that they are declaring war on American Jews as well as Israel.

What is also interesting about this tale is that Butzer should in no way be considered an ardent advocate for Israel. In his piece, he goes to great lengths to demonstrate his sensitivity and even sympathy for the Palestinian point of view. He is willing to view Israel in a negative light and seems not to challenge the Palestinian narrative. But he is willing to listen to the other side in the conflict and that is something that BDS supporters inside the church rightly consider to be dangerous to their cause.

Of course, the BDS crowd at the Presbyterian Church USA isn’t saying who is sponsoring the various pro-Palestinian dog and pony shows in the region (here and here) that it is schlepping its members to this year.

But the point here is that it is drawing a line in the sand and labeling anyone who makes common cause with mainstream American Jewish groups as beyond the pale. In return, Jews and all Christians and people of faith who truly care about peace should make it clear that so long as the Presbyterian Church USA is waging war on the Jews, they will treat it as a hate group masquerading as a community of faith.

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ScarJo Tells the Truth About Anti-Semitism

Some may have thought actress Scarlett Johansson would do her best to move on from the controversy in which her role as spokesperson for SodaStream mired her a few months ago. Johansson’s commercial for the Israeli company made a splash during the Super Bowl but it also led to her being forced to step down as an ambassador for the London-based Oxfam charity because the group condemns SodaStream for have a factory in the West Bank. Johansson didn’t just refuse to disassociate herself from the company. In an interview with the Guardian, she refused to accept the premise that settlements were illegal and defended the factory as a model of coexistence. That has brought down on her the contempt of anti-Israel ideologues and left open the question as to whether the career of the woman who was twice named the “sexiest woman in the world” by Esquire would suffer in an industry dominated by the left and more dependent than ever on revenue from international markets.

But Johansson is clearly undaunted. Reportedly in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine to be published in May, the actress doesn’t shy away from getting to the heart of this matter. As YNet reports:

American Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson believes anti-Semitism is to blame for much of the fire she drew earlier this year over her endorsement of Israeli company SodaStream, which operates a factory in the West Bank.

“There’s a lot of anti-Semitism out there,” Johansson told Vanity Fair, in an interview for the cover of their May edition.

A member of the Hollywood elite has never spoken truer words. While this will undoubtedly cause even more criticism of the actress, by raising the question of anti-Semitism, Johansson has cut straight to the heart of the problem with the movement that seeks to boycott Israel.

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Some may have thought actress Scarlett Johansson would do her best to move on from the controversy in which her role as spokesperson for SodaStream mired her a few months ago. Johansson’s commercial for the Israeli company made a splash during the Super Bowl but it also led to her being forced to step down as an ambassador for the London-based Oxfam charity because the group condemns SodaStream for have a factory in the West Bank. Johansson didn’t just refuse to disassociate herself from the company. In an interview with the Guardian, she refused to accept the premise that settlements were illegal and defended the factory as a model of coexistence. That has brought down on her the contempt of anti-Israel ideologues and left open the question as to whether the career of the woman who was twice named the “sexiest woman in the world” by Esquire would suffer in an industry dominated by the left and more dependent than ever on revenue from international markets.

But Johansson is clearly undaunted. Reportedly in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine to be published in May, the actress doesn’t shy away from getting to the heart of this matter. As YNet reports:

American Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson believes anti-Semitism is to blame for much of the fire she drew earlier this year over her endorsement of Israeli company SodaStream, which operates a factory in the West Bank.

“There’s a lot of anti-Semitism out there,” Johansson told Vanity Fair, in an interview for the cover of their May edition.

A member of the Hollywood elite has never spoken truer words. While this will undoubtedly cause even more criticism of the actress, by raising the question of anti-Semitism, Johansson has cut straight to the heart of the problem with the movement that seeks to boycott Israel.

Those like Oxfam, a group that has vocally supported and funded the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement, often claim that their goal is to help the Palestinians or to register a protest about the Israeli presence in the West Bank. But the battle over SodaStream actually helps strip away the thin veneer of humanitarianism from this anti-Israel cause and Johansson deserves credit for not shying away from speaking the truth about this fact.

Were BDS advocates truly interested in helping Palestinians, they would applaud efforts like that of SodaStream to invest in the area and to provide good jobs and benefits to local Arabs in an environment where they are treated and paid equally with Jews. But they don’t care about the people who would be put out of work if SodaStream were forced to relocate their factory.

BDS is rooted in more than indifference to the actual plight of Palestinians or the dilemma Israel faces in a conflict where its opponents still seek its destruction. The effort to boycott Israel is an overt act of bias. The BDS movement seeks to treat the one Jewish state in the world differently than any other country in the world and subject it to punishment to which no other state is subjected. The goal of BDS isn’t to push Israel to withdraw from the West Bank or to pressure it to make peace (something that would be unnecessary in any case since the Israelis have three times offered the Palestinians independence and statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem only to be turned down each time). Rather, its purpose is wage economic war on the Jewish state and to aid those who seek to destroy or replace it. The driving force behind efforts to destroy Israel is the same one that has singled out Jews for special treatment and double standards in the past: anti-Semitism.

But speaking this obvious truth requires a degree of candor and courage that even many of those who are advocates for Israel in this country often lack. Many, especially those who label themselves “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” prefer to soft-soap the conflict with Jew haters and to pretend that this is a territorial dispute rather than an existential one. But Johansson, who has got an up close and personal lesson in what drives the BDS crowd, has risen above platitudes. Though we cannot know whether this will hurt her marketability abroad—where a rising tide of the anti-Semitism she rightly decries is being felt throughout Europe and Asia—the actress has more than earned the gratitude not only of friends of Israel but of decent people everywhere. It’s a matter of opinion as to whether she truly is the sexiest woman on the planet, but there’s no doubt anymore that she’s among the most honest.

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Divestment Kosher for Passover at Cornell

Late in March, after a lengthy and dramatic debate, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government voted against a resolution urging the University to divest from companies allegedly connected to Israeli activities in the West Bank. Much as one hates to give the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement credit, they have clearly learned a lesson from the defeat: don’t get involved in a debate with your opponents.

They are now applying that lesson at Cornell University, where, as William Jacobson has reported, a similar divestment resolution comes up for initial discussion by the Student Assembly on Thursday. The discussion is so last minute an addition that it was not included in an agenda for the meeting circulated on Tuesday and appeared only on a revised agenda issued at 8:42 P.M. that evening. So the resolution’s opponents have less than 48 hours to prepare.

Proponents of divestment understand that in the course of a prolonged debate, it is hard to keep one’s mask on. Some of their supporters may forget that the movement isn’t supposed to be anti-Semitic and, as they reportedly did at the University of Michigan, refer to their opponents as “kikes” and “dirty Jews.” That makes it much harder to pass a resolution.

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Late in March, after a lengthy and dramatic debate, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government voted against a resolution urging the University to divest from companies allegedly connected to Israeli activities in the West Bank. Much as one hates to give the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement credit, they have clearly learned a lesson from the defeat: don’t get involved in a debate with your opponents.

They are now applying that lesson at Cornell University, where, as William Jacobson has reported, a similar divestment resolution comes up for initial discussion by the Student Assembly on Thursday. The discussion is so last minute an addition that it was not included in an agenda for the meeting circulated on Tuesday and appeared only on a revised agenda issued at 8:42 P.M. that evening. So the resolution’s opponents have less than 48 hours to prepare.

Proponents of divestment understand that in the course of a prolonged debate, it is hard to keep one’s mask on. Some of their supporters may forget that the movement isn’t supposed to be anti-Semitic and, as they reportedly did at the University of Michigan, refer to their opponents as “kikes” and “dirty Jews.” That makes it much harder to pass a resolution.

Proponents of divestment also understand that the more that people learn about their movement; the less likely they are to support it. It is a standard and good argument against them that they focus solely on Israel and ignore the abysmal human right records of other nations, like China, with which their colleges and universities have extensive dealings. But the argument acquires a little more force when one goes over to the blog of Students for Justice in Palestine-Cornell, which is evidently behind the resolution. The most recent entry, on Syria, literally does not mention the crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime, preferring to place responsibility for the violence in Syria squarely on the shoulders of “the U.S. and its client states.” If “a humanitarian intervention is needed,” the authors argue, “it should be through the revocation of the corporate charters of the criminal U.S. arms conglomerates.” In short, SJP-Cornell is not so much ignoring human rights violations as proposing that they would not take place if we would only join the fight against the U.S. and Israel, its partner in imperial crime.

If that kind of thing gets out, one might lose even the kind of liberal who supports a targeted boycott of West Bank settlement products. Even those who think Israel is deeply at fault, after all, are unlikely to think that they benefit from association with the view that Obama is a bigger villain than Assad. Such a liberal may fear that even a resolution narrowly drafted to oppose “the occupation,” rather than the very existence of Israel, will, if passed, be viewed as an endorsement of the odious world view of its leading proponents.

Perhaps most of all, proponents of divestment worry about what happens when the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has a chance to be heard, as it did during the Michigan debate, courtesy of historian Victor Lieberman. At that debate, the BDS line, according to which Israel has always been the aggressor, was exposed as propaganda, and student representatives, who may already have been thinking that student governments ought not to make Mideast policy, voted 25-9 against the resolution.

So I commend the proponents of divestment for realizing that if they want their resolution to pass, they had better ram it through as quickly as possible. But their cleverness does not end there. As Jacobson explains, the period during which the resolution will be discussed on campus coincides with the period during which many Jewish students will be out of town celebrating Passover.

This resolution will be much easier to pass without the Jews around.

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Hate Speech Illustrates True Face of BDS

The movement to boycott Israel cloaks itself in the language of human rights. But when push comes to shove, the violent and discriminatory nature of their efforts is hard to disguise. That’s the upshot of a series of events taking place at the University of Michigan this month where advocates of BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—against the Jewish state tried and failed to get the student government at the Ann Arbor institution to approve a divestment measure. But what was most remarkable about the process was the manner with which BDS groups protested their failure by seeking to intimidate those who opposed their efforts. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, a series of sit-ins at student government offices and other campus facilities by BDS supporters were marked by anti-Semitic threats directed at Jewish students. This followed previous attempts at intimidation at the school when pro-Palestinian activists placed fake eviction orders on the dorm rooms of pro-Israel students and Jews.

This is not the first time anti-Israel campaigners have behaved in such a manner at a major American university. Yet what is most distressing about these incidents is the lack of outrage expressed by university officials about these events as well as the refusal of the administration to publicly oppose BDS motions. The result is what may well be another instance of the creation of a hostile and discriminatory environment for Jews at the school in blatant violation of federal civil-rights laws and U.S. Department of Education regulations. By acting in this manner, the BDS movement is merely illustrating that it is a thinly disguised hate group rather than a protest on behalf of the oppressed.

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The movement to boycott Israel cloaks itself in the language of human rights. But when push comes to shove, the violent and discriminatory nature of their efforts is hard to disguise. That’s the upshot of a series of events taking place at the University of Michigan this month where advocates of BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—against the Jewish state tried and failed to get the student government at the Ann Arbor institution to approve a divestment measure. But what was most remarkable about the process was the manner with which BDS groups protested their failure by seeking to intimidate those who opposed their efforts. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, a series of sit-ins at student government offices and other campus facilities by BDS supporters were marked by anti-Semitic threats directed at Jewish students. This followed previous attempts at intimidation at the school when pro-Palestinian activists placed fake eviction orders on the dorm rooms of pro-Israel students and Jews.

This is not the first time anti-Israel campaigners have behaved in such a manner at a major American university. Yet what is most distressing about these incidents is the lack of outrage expressed by university officials about these events as well as the refusal of the administration to publicly oppose BDS motions. The result is what may well be another instance of the creation of a hostile and discriminatory environment for Jews at the school in blatant violation of federal civil-rights laws and U.S. Department of Education regulations. By acting in this manner, the BDS movement is merely illustrating that it is a thinly disguised hate group rather than a protest on behalf of the oppressed.

As Adam Kredo of the Free Beacon writes, a university spokesman refused to condemn the threats or to express an opinion about the attempts by the BDS activists to intimidate other students. One can only imagine the university’s reaction had a similar controversy taken place involving insults or slurs directed at African Americans or other minorities. Yet, the hurling of words like “kike” and “dirty Jew” at Jewish students as well as other stunts intended to silence opposition to BDS appears not to be regarded as a serious threat to the peace of the school.

The connection between anti-Semitic rhetoric and BDS is not an accident. At its core the movement is an expression of Jew hatred since it seeks to single out for special discrimination the one Jewish state in the world while disregarding every other possible human-rights issue elsewhere. Its purpose is not to redress the complaints of Arab citizens of Israel or the administrated territories under its control but rather to seek the extinction of the Jewish state via the waging of economic warfare. BDS doesn’t seek to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians but rather to aid the efforts of the latter to wipe out their opponents. Its efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state are an inherent expression of bias against Jews. As such, BDS is not so much a debatable proposition but the same sort of hate speech that university officials would have no compunction about banning or punishing if it came from the Ku Klux Klan or other racist groups.

Neither free speech nor academic freedom is at stake in this debate. Opinions about Israel or its policies are fair game. But the University of Michigan—and other schools where such acts are committed—must act against those who have used violent rhetoric and intimidation tactics. It is time for administrators to stop going along with the pretense that BDS is a benign ancestor of the civil-rights movement or even anti-Vietnam War protesters but a vicious source of antagonism toward Jews and their state that cloaks itself in human-rights rhetoric. By condoning the hateful activities of the BDS movement, institutions risk creating a hostile environment for Jews as well as creating safe havens for a discriminatory movement rooted in traditional Jew hatred.

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Why Shouldn’t We Defund the Boycotters?

When the American Studies Association joined the ranks of those supporting boycotts of the state of Israel, it probably never occurred to members of the group that someone might turn the tables on them. But they underestimated the ingenuity of pro-Israel activists and their friends in various state legislatures who decided that if the academic group wanted to play the boycott game, they ought to see how felt being on the other side of the table. Thus, legislators in New York, Maryland as well as some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have presented bills that would cut off or reduce funds for institutions of higher learning that used the money they get from the state to finance attendance at conferences sponsored by boycotters like the ASA or participated directly in boycott efforts.

But an interesting thing has happened on the way to passage of these common sense bills. As JTA reports, Jewish groups that are leaders in the effort to fight against the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against Israel are opposing them. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee say such bills are a potential violation of academic freedom. Others, like the New York State United Teachers Union go further and make the argument that using the state money that goes to colleges to penalize institutions that are, albeit indirectly, supporting boycotters is an attack on freedom of speech. These protests led the New York legislature to shelve the original version of the bill and replace it with one that would essentially give schools a pass for subsidizing the ASA since it would allow them to use non-state money to support the boycott-related activity.

 I don’t doubt the commitment of either ADL or the AJC to the fight against BDS and I understand their reluctance to associate themselves with any measure that would potentially limit the ability of academics to express themselves or to penalize schools for the activities of what might only be a few radicals on their faculties. But I believe they’re wrong to have weighed in on this issue this manner. The problem is not just that the opposition of the ADL and the AJC to these bills makes their passage extremely unlikely. But they are also wrong on the merits. Defunding those who aid boycotts is both legal and morally correct.

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When the American Studies Association joined the ranks of those supporting boycotts of the state of Israel, it probably never occurred to members of the group that someone might turn the tables on them. But they underestimated the ingenuity of pro-Israel activists and their friends in various state legislatures who decided that if the academic group wanted to play the boycott game, they ought to see how felt being on the other side of the table. Thus, legislators in New York, Maryland as well as some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have presented bills that would cut off or reduce funds for institutions of higher learning that used the money they get from the state to finance attendance at conferences sponsored by boycotters like the ASA or participated directly in boycott efforts.

But an interesting thing has happened on the way to passage of these common sense bills. As JTA reports, Jewish groups that are leaders in the effort to fight against the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against Israel are opposing them. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee say such bills are a potential violation of academic freedom. Others, like the New York State United Teachers Union go further and make the argument that using the state money that goes to colleges to penalize institutions that are, albeit indirectly, supporting boycotters is an attack on freedom of speech. These protests led the New York legislature to shelve the original version of the bill and replace it with one that would essentially give schools a pass for subsidizing the ASA since it would allow them to use non-state money to support the boycott-related activity.

 I don’t doubt the commitment of either ADL or the AJC to the fight against BDS and I understand their reluctance to associate themselves with any measure that would potentially limit the ability of academics to express themselves or to penalize schools for the activities of what might only be a few radicals on their faculties. But I believe they’re wrong to have weighed in on this issue this manner. The problem is not just that the opposition of the ADL and the AJC to these bills makes their passage extremely unlikely. But they are also wrong on the merits. Defunding those who aid boycotts is both legal and morally correct.

Both the federal government and states routinely put all sorts of conditions on any entity that takes their money. Some of those terms involve bureaucratic or legal obligations. But some are rooted in the basic concept that the state is under no obligation to fund activities that are immoral or discriminatory. Aiding BDS groups and those, like the ASA, who endorse and actively support Israel boycotts, fall into that latter category. Simply put, it is outrageous for schools or any institution to expect the taxpayers to stand by and let them use their hard-earned dollars to support activities that are inherently discriminatory.

Is this is a violation of academic freedom?

If the state were to mandate penalties for schools that taught courses that were deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel or requiring them to fire professors that were anti-Zionists, that would constitute unethical interference in academic activity. But no one is proposing that anti-Zionists be fired or that curricula be vetted for hostility to Israel in order for a school to be eligible for state money. What is at stake here is the question of whether schools will use their budgets to subsidize outside groups that support BDS or sponsor such activities on their own. Doing so would not restrict academic freedom but it would prevent the haters from being funded on backs of the taxpayers.

At the heart of this question is some confusion about the nature of the BDS movement. Reasonable people can differ on many issues including many of the elements of the Middle East conflict including borders, settlements and refugees. But the question of whether the one Jewish state in the world should be singled out for discriminatory treatment and marked for extinction is not just one more academic debate. It’s a matter of life and death as well as whether Jew-hatred should be treated as a matter of opinion.

Just as no one would question whether state funds should be used, even indirectly, to subsidize the Ku Klux Klan or any other racist group, neither should federal or state dollars go to institutions that are willing to underwrite the BDS movement and those that officially support its discriminatory policies.

Jewish groups like the ADL and the AJC are right to be cautious about bills that could be represented as unconscionable state interference with higher education or the freedom of academics to express their theories and beliefs. Part of being in a democracy means the obligation to tolerate opposing and even obnoxious or hateful views. But toleration of haters is not the same thing as a stance that deems such groups to be entitled as a matter of right to state money no matter what they do. Colleges and universities are forced to jump through innumerable hoops in order to get research grants or aid money of any kind. Asking them not to use their budgets to support a hate campaign against Israel is neither onerous nor a threat to academic freedom. Defunding the boycotters is not only legal and moral. It’s the right thing to do.

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Shhh. Don’t Tell Anyone We’re Bashing Israel at NYU

William Jacobson has been a close follower of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement affecting our colleges and universities. He has drawn our attention to a conference that just took place at New York University, “Circuits of Influence: the U.S., Israel, and Palestine.”

A look at the program confirms that what took place was a pro-boycott organizing session disguised as an academic conference. So the flyer advertising the conference promises an inquiry into the question, “what can we learn from the record of using a boycotts as a tactic?” But consider who was on the panel that addressed this question.

Robin Kelley of U.C.L.A. is a member of the Advisory Board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Salah Hassan of Michigan State is a member of the USACBI’s “Organizing Collective.” Riham Bhargouti is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

For balance, I suppose, the organizers included two participants who are not major figures in USACBI or PACBI. Maria LaHood is an attorney at the forefront of efforts to defend the right of organizations like the American Studies Association to boycott Israel. La Hood’s views can be gleaned from the description of a panel she served on last September at a conference put on by the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, one of whose primary purposes was “strategizing around boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.” The panel, entitled “Joint Struggle Against Israel’s Role in Repression,” explained “why joint struggle is a necessity for Palestine solidarity activists, its challenges and how we can incorporate the intersectionality of different struggles to strengthen our education and BDS efforts.” We do not know what Sean Jacobs of the New School thinks about the boycott, though his opinion about the analogy between Israel and South Africa, on which BDS depends, is not hard to guess.

The panel was “moderated” by Lisa Duggan of NYU, incoming president of the American Studies Association and a leading supporter of its Israel boycott. Duggan has made herself ridiculous by accusing one boycott critic of homophobia and threatening to report another to the organization’s national council for his nonexistent connections to the “ultra right press.”

One can only imagine the dialogue that ensued at the panel.

And comically, as Jacobson reports, we will have to imagine it because Duggan did everything she could to keep the conference a secret. Although Duggan posted the conference flyer on her Facebook page, she asked friends not to “post or circulate” it, since she and other organizers were looking to “avoid press, protestors, and public attention.” When Elder of Ziyon reported on her posting, Duggan promptly took it down.

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William Jacobson has been a close follower of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement affecting our colleges and universities. He has drawn our attention to a conference that just took place at New York University, “Circuits of Influence: the U.S., Israel, and Palestine.”

A look at the program confirms that what took place was a pro-boycott organizing session disguised as an academic conference. So the flyer advertising the conference promises an inquiry into the question, “what can we learn from the record of using a boycotts as a tactic?” But consider who was on the panel that addressed this question.

Robin Kelley of U.C.L.A. is a member of the Advisory Board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Salah Hassan of Michigan State is a member of the USACBI’s “Organizing Collective.” Riham Bhargouti is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

For balance, I suppose, the organizers included two participants who are not major figures in USACBI or PACBI. Maria LaHood is an attorney at the forefront of efforts to defend the right of organizations like the American Studies Association to boycott Israel. La Hood’s views can be gleaned from the description of a panel she served on last September at a conference put on by the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, one of whose primary purposes was “strategizing around boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.” The panel, entitled “Joint Struggle Against Israel’s Role in Repression,” explained “why joint struggle is a necessity for Palestine solidarity activists, its challenges and how we can incorporate the intersectionality of different struggles to strengthen our education and BDS efforts.” We do not know what Sean Jacobs of the New School thinks about the boycott, though his opinion about the analogy between Israel and South Africa, on which BDS depends, is not hard to guess.

The panel was “moderated” by Lisa Duggan of NYU, incoming president of the American Studies Association and a leading supporter of its Israel boycott. Duggan has made herself ridiculous by accusing one boycott critic of homophobia and threatening to report another to the organization’s national council for his nonexistent connections to the “ultra right press.”

One can only imagine the dialogue that ensued at the panel.

And comically, as Jacobson reports, we will have to imagine it because Duggan did everything she could to keep the conference a secret. Although Duggan posted the conference flyer on her Facebook page, she asked friends not to “post or circulate” it, since she and other organizers were looking to “avoid press, protestors, and public attention.” When Elder of Ziyon reported on her posting, Duggan promptly took it down.

In one way this ridiculous episode is good news. Although BDS frequently boasts of turning the heat on Israel and of forcing a dialogue, the heat is evidently on BDS. The widespread disgust with which the ASA boycott was met has them fleeing the public attention and dialogue they claim to want.

But it is disappointing that an academic department sponsored an extended BDS rally s and centered it at NYU, including the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies and the Department of Social And Cultural Analysis (both its American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies programs). Since the conference featured workshops, run by activists, all engaged in the effort to delegitimize Israel, on movement building, student organizing, and engaging the public, it’s fair to say that academic departments at NYU now directly sponsor anti-Israel activism.

It is a shame that NYU’s president John Sexton does not see this sponsorship as a problem. An impressive group of student leaders wrote to him, observing that holding secret conferences that “unequivocally reject and refuse to acknowledge dissenting opinions is an appalling gesture of intolerance” that just might run contrary to the spirit of “debate and dialogue” that the university teaches. Sexton pompously responded that “the invocation of academic freedom is not a one-way street” and that he stands behind “the rights of our faculty to pursue their scholarship.”

I suppose that it is heartening that some of NYU’s students have a firmer grasp of the difference between a scholarly conference and a political rally than NYU’s president does. But these students could use some help from NYU’s alumni, who whether or not they are Jewish should be concerned that the leaders of their alma mater, who barely spoke up against the ASA boycott and are silent about the attempt to pass off an anti-Israel activist conclave as a scholarly conference.

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Boycotts Driven By Hate, Not Settlements

Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Rumors floated by the Palestinians about such coordination between the U.S. and the EU are already making their way through the Middle East. But what Kerry left out of his warning is the plain fact that the impetus for such threats and the growing support for the boycott movement aren’t based on anything the Israelis are doing. While those warning Israel of the consequences of its settlement policy claim they are only responding to popular sentiment, the recent explosion of European anger over the settlements is, as it happens, strangely timed. Since Israel has just agreed to Kerry’s framework for negotiations—the ultimate goal of which is a peace deal with the Palestinians that will grant them a state in much of the West Bank—the existence of the settlements can’t logically be represented as an obstacle to peace. That’s a point that should have been made clear to the Europeans when the Palestinians rejected offers of statehood including a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Nor need one support the existence of all the settlements to understand that most of them—located in blocs near the 1967 lines—will remain within Israel in the event of a peace treaty.

So if the existence of the settlements doesn’t explain the recent upsurge in support for boycotting Israel, what does? The simple answer was supplied by the State Department when it described in its report on religious persecution a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” that was sweeping the continent. Since the publication of that report in 2012, evidence of even more violence against European Jews, widespread support in Europe for new laws that restrict Jewish religious practices, as well as efforts to smear Israel and its supporters have all increased and have grown ever more virulent. While Israel’s detractors have falsely attempted to blame Israel for the spread of Jew-hatred, that is a familiar tactic to anyone who knows the long and horrific history of European anti-Semitism, which has always found an aspect of alleged Jewish misbehavior to justify their own bigotry and crimes.

European anti-Semitism is currently being promoted by a noxious combination of traditional Jew-hatred at both ends of the social spectrum—from Muslim immigrant communities to elites, academics, and intellectuals who similarly delegitimize all Jews who speak up for Israel. That ought to make it all the more important that those who purport to oppose such hatred and profess friendship for Israel denounce the BDS movement. That Kerry missed an opportunity to do so and instead fed the simmering hatred on the continent was shameful. Whether his failure to speak out was deliberate or a negligent lost chance to put the U.S. clearly on record as adamantly against the BDS movement is not important. As long as the U.S. and the EU are working in tandem to taunt and threaten Israel in this fashion, they are both serving as the enablers of a highly dangerous and hate-driven movement.

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Will ScarJo Pay a Price for Her Principles?

The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

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The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

It is possible that Oxfam’s decision wasn’t entirely based on the anti-Israel bias of its London-based leadership. One of the leading corporate donors to Oxfam just happens to be the Coca Cola Company that has given millions to the group. That tie between a company that can be linked to obesity and bad nutrition and a charity that promotes feeding the hungry is seen as a contradiction by some and only explained by the cash that flows from Coke to Oxfam. But the fact that SodaStream is a competitor that is already eating into Coke’s market share could account, at least in part, for Oxfam’s speed in denouncing Johansson.

But even if contributions from Coke had nothing to do with Oxfam’s decision, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the way this controversy developed is the ease and speed with which a theoretically apolitical charity like Oxfam publicly embraced the BDS stand even though it meant losing the services of such an effective ambassador as Johansson. The decisiveness and alacrity  with which Oxfam’s leaders condemned her ties with an Israeli company may well have come as a rude shock to Johansson after she signed on to appear in SodaStream commercials, including one scheduled for broadcast during the Super Bowl. Though she is an active supporter of many liberal causes who embraced Oxfam because of its apparent compatibility with her personal values, it may not have occurred to her that in international progressive circles such associations with Israel aren’t kosher.

The point here is not simply the factual inaccuracy of Oxfam’s accusations that settlements further Palestinian poverty or deny Palestinian rights. Having seen SodaStream’s operations herself, Johansson knew that charges that it exploited its Arab workers were nothing but propaganda and absurd lies. She rightly understood that its owners were committed peaceniks who genuinely believe that the cooperative and mutually profitable relations between Jews and Arabs that go on at SodaStream are exactly what the region needs. But in the world of Oxfam, opposition to West Bank settlements isn’t about what’s good for the Palestinians. The factory’s location, a few miles from Jerusalem’s city limits in territory that almost certainly would be incorporated into Israel in the event of a peace treaty, is merely an excuse to continue a campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state. And in that struggle, there can be no exceptions or even any grey areas where people of good conscience may differ.

The arrogant moral certainty of Oxfam’s statement simply assumes that the presence of Jews in what is, under international law, disputed territory rather than that of a sovereign state, is repugnant. That is exactly the mindset of BDSers whose purpose is not aiding poor Palestinians but to further impoverish them by destroying businesses that provide them with income and an opportunity to better themselves that is largely denied them by the corrupt governments led by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.

But now that Johansson has rejected the leftist groupthink of Oxfam that assumes the Jewish state to be beyond the pale, it remains to be seen whether there will be a price to be paid for her principled choice. As I noted earlier this week, it is possible that in the future Johansson may become the focus of a concerted boycott by Israel-haters. Though their efforts won’t put even a minor dent in her career prospects in the United States, it is entirely possible that she will be become better known in Europe and Asia as a supporter of Israel than as a gifted A-list actress. The implications of such a development would not be trivial for film producers who increasingly rely on international markets to realize profits, nor for other companies seeking film stars to promote their products.

If Johansson had abandoned SodaStream it would have signaled an immediate and high-visibility victory for the BDS campaign, certainly its most important victory in the United States. But having cast her lot with defenders of the Jewish state, the actress must understand that this isn’t the end of the story. She may have thought her work for Oxfam gave her common ground with progressives in Europe and around the globe. But she may now discover that, from this day forward, they will only see her as a public figure to be rejected and shunned as a principled Jew who stands with Israel.

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Demonizing Israel; Demonizing ScarJo

The boycott-Israel movement has had only sporadic success in getting celebrities to stay away from the Jewish state. But actress Scarlett Johansson may have provided the anti-Zionists with an easier target by endorsing SodaStream, a company with a factory in Maale Adumim, the Jerusalem suburb that is on the wrong side of the green line and therefore considered an “illegal” settlement particularly deserving of the BDS treatment. As Seth noted on Friday, Oxfam and the Forward scolded Johansson for daring to stick to her endorsement. But the fact that an ad for SodaStream starring Johansson is set to appear during the Super Bowl raises the stakes for what might otherwise be yet another minor skirmish in a low-intensity propaganda war against Israel. As the actress is learning, Israel-bashers are pulling out all the stops in their smear campaign.

One example of this disturbing trend is when Iranian-American author Reza Aslan branded the actress a Nazi in a tweet mocking Johansson’s defense of SodaStream as a model employer that accords equal treatment to both its Jewish and Arab employees. As the Algemeiner reported yesterday, Aslan, who become something of a minor celebrity himself because of criticism of his biography of Jesus as well as his false claims of scholarly credentials, tweeted a fake quote attributed to the actress in which he “quoted” her as defending Hitler’s attack on Poland while linking to a Huffington Post article on the controversy:

Scarlett Johansson: “Adolf is committed to building a bridge to peace between Germany and Poland.”

Aslan subsequently deleted the tweet without apologizing, but it was captured in a screen shot that can be seen at the Algemeiner link.

But the significance of this incident isn’t about Aslan’s heinous use of the standard trope of contemporary anti-Semites in which Jews are deemed Nazis. Rather, the question is whether a lionized film star and celebrity like Johansson is prepared to withstand the kind of abuse for which the BDS movement is notorious.

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The boycott-Israel movement has had only sporadic success in getting celebrities to stay away from the Jewish state. But actress Scarlett Johansson may have provided the anti-Zionists with an easier target by endorsing SodaStream, a company with a factory in Maale Adumim, the Jerusalem suburb that is on the wrong side of the green line and therefore considered an “illegal” settlement particularly deserving of the BDS treatment. As Seth noted on Friday, Oxfam and the Forward scolded Johansson for daring to stick to her endorsement. But the fact that an ad for SodaStream starring Johansson is set to appear during the Super Bowl raises the stakes for what might otherwise be yet another minor skirmish in a low-intensity propaganda war against Israel. As the actress is learning, Israel-bashers are pulling out all the stops in their smear campaign.

One example of this disturbing trend is when Iranian-American author Reza Aslan branded the actress a Nazi in a tweet mocking Johansson’s defense of SodaStream as a model employer that accords equal treatment to both its Jewish and Arab employees. As the Algemeiner reported yesterday, Aslan, who become something of a minor celebrity himself because of criticism of his biography of Jesus as well as his false claims of scholarly credentials, tweeted a fake quote attributed to the actress in which he “quoted” her as defending Hitler’s attack on Poland while linking to a Huffington Post article on the controversy:

Scarlett Johansson: “Adolf is committed to building a bridge to peace between Germany and Poland.”

Aslan subsequently deleted the tweet without apologizing, but it was captured in a screen shot that can be seen at the Algemeiner link.

But the significance of this incident isn’t about Aslan’s heinous use of the standard trope of contemporary anti-Semites in which Jews are deemed Nazis. Rather, the question is whether a lionized film star and celebrity like Johansson is prepared to withstand the kind of abuse for which the BDS movement is notorious.

The dynamics of public relations are such that while minor celebrities can benefit from controversies in which their positions or actions alienate segments of the public, being branded as the face of the settlement movement rather than the sexiest woman alive may hurt Johansson. Though her identification with Israel will probably only enhance her popularity in the United States, the opposite may be true in Europe and elsewhere in the world where anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are both endemic and on the rise. That could mean her films and products she has endorsed may be identified with settlements rather than glamour. That’ a chilling prospect for producers, marketing firms and those who manage her career.

Such commercial concerns have the potential to cut short Johansson’s association with SodaStream. Not only will BDSers treat any severance of ties between the actress and the company as a triumph, it will also make it unlikely that SodaStream will be able to find another high-grossing celebrity to take her place.

In the meantime, Johansson deserves applause for being willing to take the heat for standing up for SodaStream. The attack on SodaStream shows the true face of the BDS movement. They don’t care how good the company is for the regional economy or even the Palestinians who work there. They don’t care that the “settlement” in which it exists would almost certainly remain within Israel if a peace treaty with the Palestinians were to be signed. All they care about is demonizing the very existence of the Jews who live there. As the abuse from Aslan and the rest of the BDS movement shows, that same demonization will apply to anyone, even an Obama-supporting politically correct liberal Democrat like Johansson. Though this may not have been a fight that she would have chosen to engage in, Johansson must now show that she and others prepared to stand with Israel won’t be intimidated.

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The ASA, NYU, and the Shame of Academia

The vote last month by the American Studies Association to join a boycott of Israel’s colleges and universities generated a firestorm of criticism of the group, and justifiably so. The willingness of an academic organization to participate in an effort to single out the Jewish state in this manner is an appalling instance of prejudice. The vote illustrated the way the far left has seized control of such scholarly groups and the insidious nature of a campaign which is not designed so much to help the Palestinians—the alleged objects of the ASA’s concern—but to aid an economic war on Israel that is rooted in a desire to wipe the one Jewish state on the planet off the map. But in addressing the efforts of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, it isn’t enough merely to scrutinize this and other groups of pseudo-scholars bent on politicizing their fields of study. The time has come to hold their enablers accountable, as well.

That’s the thrust behind a lengthy piece published in Forbes this week by journalist Richard Behar in which he lets loose with a cri de coeur directed at his alma mater New York University, and its president, John Sexton, for his indifferent response to the ASA.

As Behar makes clear, responsibility for this disgrace doesn’t belong solely to the radicals intent on demonizing Israel. It also should be placed on those institutions that are supporting these hatemongers as well as resisting efforts to hold them accountable. As Behar notes, NYU falls into both categories.

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The vote last month by the American Studies Association to join a boycott of Israel’s colleges and universities generated a firestorm of criticism of the group, and justifiably so. The willingness of an academic organization to participate in an effort to single out the Jewish state in this manner is an appalling instance of prejudice. The vote illustrated the way the far left has seized control of such scholarly groups and the insidious nature of a campaign which is not designed so much to help the Palestinians—the alleged objects of the ASA’s concern—but to aid an economic war on Israel that is rooted in a desire to wipe the one Jewish state on the planet off the map. But in addressing the efforts of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, it isn’t enough merely to scrutinize this and other groups of pseudo-scholars bent on politicizing their fields of study. The time has come to hold their enablers accountable, as well.

That’s the thrust behind a lengthy piece published in Forbes this week by journalist Richard Behar in which he lets loose with a cri de coeur directed at his alma mater New York University, and its president, John Sexton, for his indifferent response to the ASA.

As Behar makes clear, responsibility for this disgrace doesn’t belong solely to the radicals intent on demonizing Israel. It also should be placed on those institutions that are supporting these hatemongers as well as resisting efforts to hold them accountable. As Behar notes, NYU falls into both categories.

While Sextonhas stated his disagreement with the ASA’s vote, as Behar rightly notes, the NYU president’s statement was perfunctory, especially when compared to more passionate denunciations of this subversion of academic integrity made by the presidents of other universities–such as the University of Connecticut, Wesleyan, Middlebury College, or the University of Indiana–that Behar cited. But if that sounds like nitpicking, it isn’t. NYU has a special responsibility to speak up about this issue because its faculty is neck-deep in the ASA’s decision-making process. The incoming head of the group is NYU’s Lisa Duggan and fully 25 percent of the national council that first promulgated the anti-Israel resolution is based at the school. Moreover, as the home to what Hillel International reports is the largest number of Jewish students at any American institution of higher learning, NYU should also be mindful that giving platforms to scholars that promote an ideology that is indistinguishable from classic anti-Semitism places them under a particular obligation to avoid creating a hostile environment for Jews.

A key element of this controversy is the fact that many schools are themselves institutional members of the ASA and are thus compromised by its participation in the boycott. NYU is one such university. But unlike other schools that have moved to sever their connections with the ASA and thus remove this taint from themselves, it has neither done so nor clarified the nature of its connection with the group.

As Behar also notes, NYU bears a special responsibility for speaking about discrimination against Israel, because of its decision to open a campus in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. While that principality has welcomed business with the West and its leaders have been showering NYU and other American partners with generous donations, it has also been notorious for its discrimination against Israel, Israelis and Jews. Just this past a month a Dutch soccer team invited to play in the country was forced to leave one of its members at home because he was an Israeli citizen if the team was to be permitted to play in Abu Dhabi.

The need to raise money may be offered as an excuse for an institution like NYU getting into bed with a nation that boycotts Israel. But even if we are to grant them a pass on that egregious connection, that should make Sexton and NYU even more eager to distance the univeristy from the ASA’s attack on academic freedom.

Also discouraging is NYU’s public opposition to the proposal in the New York State legislature, by its Speaker Sheldon Silver, that would block colleges and universities from using state aid money to fund groups that promote discriminatory boycotts like the ASA. While more a symbolic measure than anything else, it is still a way for the state of New York to register its disgust at the ASA. Yet rather than sever its ties with the ASA, NYU to condemn the proposal as an affront to academic freedom.

Behar, whose piece contains a lengthy defense of Israel against the specious charge that is an apartheid state, understands the realities of the conflict and the plight of Palestinians better than the ASA’s members. In a Forbes cover story published last August, he wrote about the way Israel’s growing high-tech industry was seeking Palestinian partners. But as he reported in a follow-up article, the Arab businessmen who were working with Israelis in partnerships that stood to benefit the Palestinian economy were subsequently forced to disavow any interest in working with the Jews. The dynamic of the conflict is such that anyone who seeks to create common ground with Israelis is branded a collaborator. Rather than working to promote peace, groups like the ASA are, instead, backing those forces that are intent on perpetuating and worsening the situation.

Behar is to be applauded for speaking out in this manner. But he should not be alone. It is time for alumni of other schools that are also implicated in the ASA scandal to pressure them to draw a line in the sand against anti-Israel hate. A good place to start would be by withholding contributions that alumni are endlessly asked to make from universities that foster anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiment on their campuses under the spurious guise of academic freedom.

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Who Won at the MLA?

On Saturday, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association narrowly passed an amended version of the anti-Israel resolution I wrote about here on Friday. The resolution, as passed by a 60-53 vote of the Assembly, states that “the MLA urges the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s denial of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” The resolution still must get through the Executive Committee and survive a general membership vote, but I doubt it will fail.

The original resolution included the West Bank and Gaza and spoke of Israel’s “arbitrary” denials. The changes are significant. The proposers had to remove the language in question when it became clear that they had not presented nearly enough evidence to substantiate it. That setback will be neglected in coverage of the event. But there are good reasons for thinking the anti-Israel forces in academia suffered a blow at the MLA.

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On Saturday, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association narrowly passed an amended version of the anti-Israel resolution I wrote about here on Friday. The resolution, as passed by a 60-53 vote of the Assembly, states that “the MLA urges the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s denial of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” The resolution still must get through the Executive Committee and survive a general membership vote, but I doubt it will fail.

The original resolution included the West Bank and Gaza and spoke of Israel’s “arbitrary” denials. The changes are significant. The proposers had to remove the language in question when it became clear that they had not presented nearly enough evidence to substantiate it. That setback will be neglected in coverage of the event. But there are good reasons for thinking the anti-Israel forces in academia suffered a blow at the MLA.

Consider the context. In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies passed a pro-boycott resolution unanimously. To this day, as far as I know, no member has publicly dissented. In November the National Council of the American Studies Association unanimously endorsed a pro-boycott resolution. But unlike the Association for Asian American Studies, the ASA felt compelled to call a membership vote, and the resolution met determined resistance. It passed by a wide margin but has since been rejected publicly by, at last count, 183 colleges and universities.

The MLA resolution was not a boycott resolution, nor apart from actually naming Israel was it unprecedented. As I have noted here before, the MLA passed in 2008 a resolution expressing solidarity with students of Palestinian culture. The “whereas” section of that resolution declares that “education at all levels in the occupied territories is being stifled by the occupation” and that “those teaching and writing about the occupation and about Middle East culture have regularly come under fire from anti-Palestinian groups on extra-academic grounds.” The 2008 resolution passed by a much bigger margin, 77-9, than this year’s did. Although the anti-Israel crowd insists that debate, once stifled, is breaking out and that we are reaching a “tipping point,” their argument is faring worse than it was faring in April and, at least within the MLA, worse than it was faring six years ago.

Even more strikingly, the MLA’s Radical Caucus introduced an “emergency resolution” in solidarity with the American Studies Association. It declared that “the MLA condemns the attacks on the ASA and supports the right of academic organizations and individuals, free from intimidation, to take positions in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against racism. Be it further resolved that the MLA encourage robust discussion of issues regarding the academic freedom of Palestinians.” Emergency resolutions require a 75 percent vote of the Delegate Assembly to be considered. This one could not even muster a majority and went down 59-41. The failure occurred even though supporters of the resolution claimed, a bit preposterously, that a vote for it would not constitute support for the boycott. The Executive Committee could still choose to act on the resolution, but such action is unlikely in light of the decisive vote.

The tweet I just linked to quotes one Grover Furr, of Montclair State University. Furr is a defender of Stalin (perhaps one of the last remaining on the left), a retailer of disgusting allegations of Zionist complicity in the Holocaust, and a critic of non-violent protest (BDS is apparently too soft for him). Don’t take my word for it. He says it all on his own website here and here.

Furr, by the way, proposed the emergency resolution on behalf of the Radical Caucus.

While I am not given to optimism, perhaps it is not too much to hope that the overwhelming rejection of Furr’s resolution means that the MLA is starting to notice that the variety of Israel criticism that has been on display this year, most prominently in the BDS movement, is an embarrassment and a liability.

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Indigenous? Native American Studies and Big Lies About Israel

We’ve reported about the decision of the American Studies Association to join the boycott of Israel. Supporters of the economic war against the Jewish state calling for institutions to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel have failed to gain much traction even in academia, let alone mainstream sectors of American society. As Jonathan Marks noted here the national council of the ASA that endorse the BDS resolution is largely compose of radicals. But they are not alone. The latest group of academic outliers to back the boycott is the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. As the Jerusalem Post reports:

Ohio State English professor Chadwick Allen, the president of the association and coordinator of American Indian Studies at Ohio State, wrote on the association’s website that the move followed a “member-generated” petition asking that the group “formally support the Boycott of Israeli Academic and Cultural Institutions that was initiated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”

Over the course of several months, Allen wrote, the NAISA council reached a consensus to support the boycott, and wrote their own declaration of support for the boycott. The document reads that the NAISA Council “protests the infringement of the academic freedom of Indigenous Palestinian academics and intellectuals in the Occupied Territories and Israel who are denied fundamental freedoms of movement, expression, and assembly, which we uphold.”

That another group of campus radicals with doctorates in subjects that are geared toward furthering left-wing theories would join the boycott of Israel is no surprise. That they don’t boycott China in sympathy with Tibet or any number of Arab and Muslim countries for their oppression of minorities is just the usual hypocrisy to be found on campus these days. But there are two points in their rant worth responding to.

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We’ve reported about the decision of the American Studies Association to join the boycott of Israel. Supporters of the economic war against the Jewish state calling for institutions to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel have failed to gain much traction even in academia, let alone mainstream sectors of American society. As Jonathan Marks noted here the national council of the ASA that endorse the BDS resolution is largely compose of radicals. But they are not alone. The latest group of academic outliers to back the boycott is the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. As the Jerusalem Post reports:

Ohio State English professor Chadwick Allen, the president of the association and coordinator of American Indian Studies at Ohio State, wrote on the association’s website that the move followed a “member-generated” petition asking that the group “formally support the Boycott of Israeli Academic and Cultural Institutions that was initiated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”

Over the course of several months, Allen wrote, the NAISA council reached a consensus to support the boycott, and wrote their own declaration of support for the boycott. The document reads that the NAISA Council “protests the infringement of the academic freedom of Indigenous Palestinian academics and intellectuals in the Occupied Territories and Israel who are denied fundamental freedoms of movement, expression, and assembly, which we uphold.”

That another group of campus radicals with doctorates in subjects that are geared toward furthering left-wing theories would join the boycott of Israel is no surprise. That they don’t boycott China in sympathy with Tibet or any number of Arab and Muslim countries for their oppression of minorities is just the usual hypocrisy to be found on campus these days. But there are two points in their rant worth responding to.

One is the notion that Palestinians in the territories and Israel are denied “fundamental freedoms of movement, expression, and assembly.” This is simply false.

Academics in the West Bank are not suppressed. Quite the contrary, they work, publish, and pontificate in public while working in the many Palestinian institutions of higher education that were all founded after Israel took control of the area in 1967. Far from censoring activity at those schools, Israel has no input or ability to influence them whatsoever. All Palestinian colleges exist as hotbeds of support for terror and the delegitimization of Israel. The Palestinian media, especially that run by the Palestinian Authority which governs the daily lives of Palestinians in almost all of the West Bank, is similarly unrestrained by Israel and, as Palestine Media Watch reports on a regular basis, is a steady source of incitement to hatred against Israel and Jews. Nor are there any restrictions on the right of assembly for academics as the kerfuffle over the student body-supported Islamic Jihad fascist-style military parade at Al Quds University in Jerusalem proved. As for freedom of movement, it is true that Palestinians must deal with some Israeli army checkpoints that make travel difficult at times. But that doesn’t prevent them from moving about as they please.

It is also interesting that the Native American Studies Association include Arabs living in the State of Israel in their rant. This is entirely risible as Israeli Arabs have the same full rights that Jewish Israelis enjoy including the right to call for Israel’s destruction. The irony is that the institutions that these allege scholars want to boycott are the places in Israel that are friendliest to anti-Zionist incitement.

But there is a broader, more important point to make about their ridiculous manifesto. They say:

As the elected council of an international community of Indigenous and allied non-Indigenous scholars, students, and public intellectuals who have studied and resisted the colonization and domination of Indigenous lands via settler state structures throughout the world, we strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples.

By attempting to portray the Palestinians as the “indigenous people” of the territory on which the State of Israel and the administered territories exist and the Jews as the colonial settlers, they are perpetrating the big lie of Palestinian history. Jews are not foreigners in Israel as Europeans were in Africa. They happen to be the indigenous people of their ancient homeland and efforts to deny this isn’t scholarship. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and those who would deny them the same rights accorded other peoples are practicing bias, not scholarship. As with Palestinian attempts to deny the Jewish connection with the country or with Jerusalem and ancient Jewish holy sites such as the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, attempts to cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one between foreign occupiers and natives is revisionist myth recast as left-wing politicized scholarship.

There can be honest disagreement and debate about Israel’s policies in the territories, settlements, and borders. But by extending their argument to all of pre-1967 Israel as well as by smearing the Jews as colonists in their own country, the Native American studies group forfeits its credibility. Rather than being seen as the cutting edge of enlightened opinion, their support for BDS should mark them as a pack of incorrigible haters who should be treated with the same disdain and isolation that they would like to dish out to Israelis.

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Academics and BDS: An Update

Last week, I criticized the most recent issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom (JAF), a journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Mainly activists in and sympathizers with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement author that issue of the publication. I thought that the AAUP, which opposes academic boycotts, should be troubled that Ashley Dawson has used the journal he edits to promote his politics. I hoped that AAUP leaders would speak up.

But Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP, and Ernst Benjamin, former AAUP general secretary, were already preparing fine responses, which the JAF has published here and here. Nelson rejects the argument that academics should boycott Israel because it does not respect academic freedom. There “is more academic freedom in Israel than in other nations in the Middle East.” Boycotting Israel’s universities because of the policies of its government is “hypocritical and a fundamental betrayal” of the mission of academics. While Nelson personally supports a boycott targeting Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, he acknowledges that supporters of  “any economic boycott,” risk being “harnessed to more radical agendas like the abolition of the Israeli state. Some in the boycott movement have exactly that goal.”

I am unlikely to agree with Benjamin and Nelson about Israel and will protest if they seem to conflate legitimate concerns about campus anti-Semitism with the desire to censor anti-Israeli speech. But AAUP is the only organization not formed to combat anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity that criticized the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) when it embraced the BDS movement. Nelson and Benjamin’s responses to the essays in the JAF, which have, apart from the efforts of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, escaped criticism, are another sign of the importance of AAUP principles. If AAUP’s 45,000 members heeded its call to defend the unique place of colleges and universities in American life from those who would use them as a base of propaganda operations, I would be very optimistic about the future of higher education.

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Last week, I criticized the most recent issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom (JAF), a journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Mainly activists in and sympathizers with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement author that issue of the publication. I thought that the AAUP, which opposes academic boycotts, should be troubled that Ashley Dawson has used the journal he edits to promote his politics. I hoped that AAUP leaders would speak up.

But Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP, and Ernst Benjamin, former AAUP general secretary, were already preparing fine responses, which the JAF has published here and here. Nelson rejects the argument that academics should boycott Israel because it does not respect academic freedom. There “is more academic freedom in Israel than in other nations in the Middle East.” Boycotting Israel’s universities because of the policies of its government is “hypocritical and a fundamental betrayal” of the mission of academics. While Nelson personally supports a boycott targeting Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, he acknowledges that supporters of  “any economic boycott,” risk being “harnessed to more radical agendas like the abolition of the Israeli state. Some in the boycott movement have exactly that goal.”

I am unlikely to agree with Benjamin and Nelson about Israel and will protest if they seem to conflate legitimate concerns about campus anti-Semitism with the desire to censor anti-Israeli speech. But AAUP is the only organization not formed to combat anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity that criticized the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) when it embraced the BDS movement. Nelson and Benjamin’s responses to the essays in the JAF, which have, apart from the efforts of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, escaped criticism, are another sign of the importance of AAUP principles. If AAUP’s 45,000 members heeded its call to defend the unique place of colleges and universities in American life from those who would use them as a base of propaganda operations, I would be very optimistic about the future of higher education.

But I wish that AAUP leaders and members were more attentive to AAUP’s own 1940 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure. Its argument for academic freedom assumes that the “common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” While the AAUP should resist attacks on academic freedom, it should also insist that “membership in the academic profession carries with it special responsibilities,” including the responsibility to uphold the “free search for truth and its exposition.” The AAUP, which dismisses criticisms of the university that it regards as political, shows little concern, apart from its stance on academic boycotts, for the responsibility of academics to put the search for truth before activism.

The 1915 Declaration of Principles of Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure claims that the “liberty of the scholar . . . to set forth his conclusions” is “conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit.” While scholars, like other citizens, have freedom of speech, academic freedom merits special protection because the inquiry after truth serves the common good. But if the academy fails to “prevent the freedom which it claims in the name of science from being used . . . for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”

Organizations like the AAAS are objectionable not only because they support academic boycotts but also because they choose advocacy over inquiry. Although the AAAS, in the resolution its membership unanimously supported, mentions academic freedom, it also affirms “a critique of U.S. empire, opposing U.S. military occupation in the Arab world and U.S. support for occupation and racist practices by the Israeli state.” This is no isolated conclusion but, according to the resolution, a goal the AAAS, as a professional academic organization, pursues. The case for academic freedom is weakened when academic organizations consider the advancement of a political agenda their very reason for being.

The “free search for truth and its free exposition” sometimes entails advocacy, as when an economist concludes, on the basis of scholarly work, that a policy is misguided and says so. Defenders of academic freedom are properly wary of attacks on advocacy. But they must also be wary of academics that, by making advocacy the purpose of scholarship, undermine the case for academic freedom. They should remind their colleagues that, to quote the 1915 statement, “the university teaching profession is corrupted” to “the degree that professional scholars, in the formation and promulgation of their opinions, are, or . . . appear to be, subject to any motive other than their own scientific conscience.” If we fail to hold our colleagues accountable, “this task will be performed by others.”

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George Orwell Call Your Office

Not long ago, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) underscored its longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas by chiding the Association for Asian American Studies, which voted last year to support an academic boycott against Israel. Apparently, this rebuke did not sit well with Ashley Dawson, the editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which AAUP publishes. Dawson has devoted almost the whole of the current issue to the Boycott Israel movement.

The story Dawson tells about how the issue came about is revealing. The journal issued a call for papers on these questions: “How … is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom.” The call for papers identified five topics that “might be germane” to the discussion, including the AAUP’s rejection of the Boycott Israel campaign: “Can a case be made for endorsing the campaign without infringing academic freedom?”

It turns out the answer is yes. No one should be surprised. Dawson, as he unbelievably fails to disclose in the introduction to the issue, has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI) and edited a 2012 volume entitled Why Boycott Israel?: A Dossier on Palestine Today. Similarly, no one will be surprised that seven of the nine articles in this issue on globalization and academic freedom are devoted to the Boycott Israel movement. Evidently Israel is responsible not only for the problems of the entire Middle East but also for at least 7/9 of the problems posed for academics by globalization.

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Not long ago, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) underscored its longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas by chiding the Association for Asian American Studies, which voted last year to support an academic boycott against Israel. Apparently, this rebuke did not sit well with Ashley Dawson, the editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which AAUP publishes. Dawson has devoted almost the whole of the current issue to the Boycott Israel movement.

The story Dawson tells about how the issue came about is revealing. The journal issued a call for papers on these questions: “How … is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom.” The call for papers identified five topics that “might be germane” to the discussion, including the AAUP’s rejection of the Boycott Israel campaign: “Can a case be made for endorsing the campaign without infringing academic freedom?”

It turns out the answer is yes. No one should be surprised. Dawson, as he unbelievably fails to disclose in the introduction to the issue, has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI) and edited a 2012 volume entitled Why Boycott Israel?: A Dossier on Palestine Today. Similarly, no one will be surprised that seven of the nine articles in this issue on globalization and academic freedom are devoted to the Boycott Israel movement. Evidently Israel is responsible not only for the problems of the entire Middle East but also for at least 7/9 of the problems posed for academics by globalization.

Or perhaps, I should say 6/9, since Dawson admirably includes one mild defense of the AAUP’s position among the 7 essays. The remainder were penned by, and I am not kidding: a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; a founding committee member of USCABI, an advisory board member of USCABI; an endorser of that same campaign who also signed the Association for Asian American Studies boycott resolution; a signatory of a 2009 letter to then President-Elect Obama, gently urging him to view Israel as the perpetrator of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times”; a former contributor to the Electronic Intifada, and another Electronic Intifada contributor who wrote “Answering Critics of the Boycott Movement.”

Of course, the authors repeat the same old canards. The pro-BDS position is suppressed, they freely say in the journal of an organization that opposes their position. Israel itself does not honor academic freedom, they say, though Freedom House, an organization not at all shy about criticizing Israel, calls Israel’s universities “centers of dissent.”

But it is not my intention to rejoin the debate between Israel and its radical critics. Instead, I want to draw attention to the remarkable self-caricature over which Ashley Dawson has presided, an issue purportedly devoted to “sparking a broad conversation” about “academic freedom and faculty rights beyond U.S. borders” that focuses almost entirely on Israel and consists mainly of essays written by declared supporters of and leading activists within the BDS movement. I do not think it would be fruitful for AAUP’s editorial board to condemn the mockery that has here been made of AAUP’s devotion to “the free search for truth” by an editor with no qualms about turning its flagship publication into a vehicle for his personal anti-Israel activism. Dawson at least makes it clear that the publication of this issue “does not necessarily indicate any change in AAUP policy or even an intention to directly consider such change.” But one does wish that individual members of the board would rouse themselves, not to make the case for Israel, but to make the case against devoting a journal purportedly devoted to “scholarship” to a barely disguised hit job.

CORRECTION: Although the book, Why Boycott Israel? A Dossier on Palestine Today, appeared on two current versions of Ashley Dawson’s c.v. at the time of posting, Dawson denies having edited such a book and knowledge of how it got on to his c.v. The book apparently does not exist. I apologize for the error.

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