On Wednesday, November 15, the Student Government Association (SGA) of the University of Maryland, College Park decided not to support a resolution that accused Israel of various violations of human rights and which called for the University of Maryland, College Park to divest from a range of American companies investing in Israel.
The first eight months of Trump create a dilemma for a historian of modern German history. If you raise the specter of Hitler, ask what Trump has in common with fascism in the past and make comparisons to the emergence of the German dictatorship from the collapse of Weimar democracy, a chorus erupts about the misuse of historical analogies. If you focus on the differences between the United States in 2017 and Germany in 1933 and offer reassurances about American checks and balances another chorus bemoans your complacency and facile optimism. In reality both choruses are speaking up within me, keeping me up at night and asking how I can best to be true to my vocation as a scholar and my responsibilities as a citizen.
Political correctness about Islam isn’t confined to America. It also exists in Europe. Last week Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel thus learned a sad lesson in Ankara: those who seek to distinguish between Islam and Islamism face accusations that they are condemning a whole religion and are thus being “Islamophobic.”
A resolution alleging that Israel threatened academic freedom in, and interfered with freedom of travel to and from Palestinian universities on the West Bank and Gaza was placed on the agenda of the Business Meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA). In advance of the meeting that was held on January 9, 2016 in Atlanta, I requested that the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC offer a response. As there was an accusation, I thought it important that AHA members hear the case for the defense. On December 18, 2015, diplomats in Washington Embassy sent the following reply. With their permission, I am pleased to make it available to readers of The Times of Israel.
The international campaign to delegitimate the state of Israel to spread distortions about its policies and to support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against it is going to fail. A campaign that appeared to be part of an unstoppable wave possessed of global momentum and the conviction that history, morality and, yes, sheer numbers, were on its side suffered its second and decisive defeat in two years at the hands of historians assembled at the Business Meetings of the American Historical Association in New York in 2015 and this past weekend in Atlanta. These victories against the BDS and BDS like resolutions are themselves important events. It was in New York and even more so in Atlanta that the distortions that have accompanied this propaganda blitz ran up against a wall of careful attention to fact and evidence on the part of professional historians. The flaming rhetoric about Zionism as colonialism and racism, and assertions about seeming routine violations of human rights that had proven so successful since the 1970s in producing lopsided United Nations General Assembly resolutions denouncing Israel or that made their way through the lower standards of evidence in other academic professional organizations met with failure when confronted with the skeptical gaze of historians trained to weigh evidence with care.
The American Historical Association rejected a pair of anti-Israel resolutions earlier this month. Perhaps the most important fact about that incident: they rejected them as historians.