June 23, 2024
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The Underlying Objective of The Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions

Why does the BDS movement target Israeli academic institutions? One reason is spoken; the other is not.

The basic assumption is that the boycott is a response to Israel’s alleged egregious polices toward Palestinian Arabs in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. By distorting the image of Israel as an apartheid nation that colonized another people’s land and Jews as an imperious oppressor, the movement accuses Israel of being the leading antagonists in the clash between the West and the rest of humanity. Anti-Jewish and anti-Israel canards once considered objectionable have been “repackaged and reintroduced in a more palatable form” by using more conventional terms of discontent with the West, asserts Aryeh K. Weinberg. In a number of ways, anti-Jewish hatred has shifted from the Jew being the “subversive outsider” to the Jew being seen “as the oppressive insider.”

 

Acquiescence to Bias

Weinberg argues that acquiescence to bias within the academy provides fertile ground for greater attacks on Jews and the West. Though being anti-American, anti-free market and anti-business don’t constitute a form of bigotry as such, they do suggest a tolerance for crude scapegoating that can effortlessly develop into more dangerous forms of behavior against Jews and other Americans. Antisemitism and hatred of Israel have acquired entrée on to the campus, in part, through manipulating this weakness.

The late Gary A, Tobin, who directed the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, said this anti-Israel ideology resonates throughout much of the academic world, even if only adopted by a comparatively small segment of faculty and students, because these individuals “dominate the campus culture.” Despite extensive talk on campus about social activism, supporting liberal agendas and crusading for the downtrodden, the community is rather “complacent” regarding genocide, abuse of women and children, slavery and other appalling transgressions throughout the world.

 

A War Against the West

The Arab-Israeli conflict thus must be seen as a war against the West, Ruth Wisse opines. Antisemitism mutated into anti-Americanism because Israel represents all that is abhorred about the U.S. and Europe—a free, competitive and open democratic society with an ethical system encouraging individual expression and independence. Enemies of the West do not share the same understanding of concepts like rule of law, fairness, women’s rights, freedom of religion, human dignity and tolerance and do not offer peace and amity to others. Israel became a “bulwark of democracy” when the Arab dictators decided to destroy her.

 

“Unspoken Purpose
Of the Academic Boycott”

The academic boycott of Israeli institutions is designed to “isolate and stigmatize Jewish academics in America,” according to historian Martin Kramer. In his very significant article “The Unspoken Purpose of the Academic Boycott,” he describes how the objective of the academic boycott is to drive Jews out of “shrinking disciplines, where Jews are believed to be ‘over-represented.’ That is how diehard supporters of the Palestinians find academic allies who have little interest in Palestine, in fields like American studies or English literature.” For these BDS supporters, the issue “is about the presumed Jewish occupation of American academe by Jewish faculty and administrators.” In the past, “a litmus test on Israel and Palestine was used to push Jews to the margins of Middle Eastern studies.” This strategy is now being implemented in fields where academic positions are limited and “Jews have some of the best of them.” Kramer quotes Tip O’Neill, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who famously proclaimed, “all politics is local.” Kramer believes “so are the politics of the academic boycott.”

Since 1968, when Edward Levi became president of the University of Chicago, Jews have been, at one point, or another, presidents of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, CalTech and MIT. They attained these positions based on merit. As the memory of the Holocaust has waned, Jews are no longer viewed “as targets of prejudice but as bearers of privilege.” In an environment where competing groups wrestle over questions of diversity, ethnicity, race and gender, one should not be surprised that Jewish “over-representation” wouldn’t become a concern. The academic boycott became the solution, particularly in the humanities and social sciences.

The boycotters, he contends, know they cannot defame and isolate Israeli universities. Their cutting-edge research and technology in such diverse areas as medicine, computer science and business make their work far too significant to avoid. Long-standing institutional partnerships in North America and Europe also preclude them from ending their relationships.

Individual Israelis are not subject to the boycott, only Israeli institutions. An Israeli is able to attend the conference of the American Studies Association (ASA), for example, and can present a paper without any problem.

An American doctoral student or assistant professor who accepts an invitation to a conference in Israel might be labelled “boycott busters” by tenured professors who show no mercy. To advance your career among American humanities faculty, Kramer said, one must charge Israel of being an apartheid state, embrace Palestinian Arabs’ right of return, “perhaps even accuse Israel of genocide.”

 

A Final Point

The BDS campaign has been carefully conceived and “is financed by hundreds of millions of dollars, euros, pounds, krona provided to so-called ‘non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) that operate cynically under the façade of human rights and similar ethical principles,” asserts Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. “This huge budget provides the salaries, travel funds, advertising, public relations and other activities of more than 100 NGOs, many of which are run by the same people in a constantly moving political shell game. In most cases, this deadly NGO funding is unreported and unsupervised. … To defeat the attacks, the funders/enablers in Europe and beyond must be exposed, and then held responsible for the actions of their clients and recipients.”

In the final analysis, one must acknowledge the academic boycott is primarily an American problem, especially one for American Jews, Kramer concludes. They must determine if the position American Jews have achieved in the academy should be preserved. If not, at least Israel’s universities and colleges “can make up the difference.”


Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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