A new academic year has begun and, with it, we can expect new attempts to demonize Israel on our college campuses. As ever, the immoderation of those who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement should help. The most recent visible move by prominent BDSers has been to try to align their colleagues—in however hedged a manner—with the politically toxic Antifa movement.
Mark Bray, a visiting scholar at Dartmouth University, has written sympathetically about the Antifa movement, so much so that his book is entitled Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.
It is tricky to assess the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. On the one hand, one does not want to underestimate the damage to Israel’s reputation done by even unsuccessful campaigns. The campus boycott movement, about which I have written extensively, succeeds not only when students actually vote to divest but also when onlookers, who have no dog in the fight between pro-Israel and anti-Israel activists, come away with the impression that Zionism is, if not a dirty word, at least suspect. We have been fortunate that BDS has done so much of late to discredit itself, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the campaign’s potential.
Late this May, Vida Samiian, Director of Middle East Studies at California State University, Fresno, resigned. Her complaint: “the unethical and discriminatory cancellation of the Edward Said Professorship [in Middle Eastern Studies] search.”
I am no fan of Lisa Durden, recently fired from her position as an adjunct professor of communication at Essex County College, a community college in New Jersey. I do not care for commentators who make broad generalizations about “you white people,” and her politics are far to the left of mine. Yet it is precisely as an academic conservative that I must say, to coin a phrase, I’m with her.
In January, I wrote about a surprising and heartening turn of events at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, an academic organization devoted to the study and teaching of language and literature.
In 2005, a coalition of organizations claiming to represent Palestinian civil society issued a call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel. Since then, the BDS movement has acted, in church organizations, on college campuses, and elsewhere, to make Israel the equivalent of apartheid-era South Africa; a pariah state. BDS has been active in the U.S., and COMMENTARY has covered many of its individual wins and losses. But it is worth pausing every now and again to consider its overall effect on American public opinion.
Last year, students at Brandeis produced what I was sure would be a long-reigning champion in the “you can’t make this stuff up” department. Brandeis’s Asian American Student Association (AASA), in order to draw attention to “microaggressions”—unintentional slights—against Asian students, put up signs displaying various offensive statements and questions, such as “I totally have an Asian fetish” and “Why can’t people learn English when they come to this country?” Lest anyone mistake their intention, the Association explained on its Facebook page: “These papers are invasive of a space that you often inhabit and must pass through; similar to how these remarks invade our communities and the space we share as a whole: Brandeis.” They also included on the signs a web address where students who bothered to look could have found an explanation.
The case for firing Karega seems strong. Karega was untenured. Her case was reviewed by an elected faculty committee, a plurality of which voted for dismissal. She was represented by counsel and permitted to present evidence in her favor. No one would shed any tears if every faculty member who held views as straightforwardly unhinged and hateful as Karega’s were fired after such a review.