Should faculty have the academic freedom to deny academic freedom to others? That is what eight UC Berkeley faculty are now demanding with their vigorous rejection (Daily Californian, Feb. 19) of a statement issued by the 10 chancellors of the University of California campuses in December. The chancellors’ short and powerful statement reaffirmed their opposition to the academic boycott of Israel. Quite rightly, the chancellors noted that subjecting Israel’s entire system of higher education to punishing boycotts is a “direct and serious” threat to academic freedom — but they wrote nothing more and nothing less.
Jewish history is replete with stories of expulsion and exodus. Knowledge of the Holocaust includes the story of immense difficulties European Jews faced in finding open doors to flee and find haven. Even after the Nazi Holocaust, the barriers to migration remained high for Jewish survivors. More recently, Jewish history has continued to be marked by expulsion and exodus — from the new Arab nations built on the ruins of colonial empires in North Africa and the Middle East, from the collapse of the former Soviet Union from Russia and Ukraine, and from the disarray of nations in Latin America, including Argentina and Venezuela.
It has been a rough few weeks for American students who wish to study in Israel. An opponent of the Israeli state refused to write a recommendation for a University of Michigan student who sought to study abroad in Israel, while a state agency of Israel, the Shin Bet, acting for Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, barred another American student from entering Israel to begin graduate study at Hebrew University. Now a graduate instructor at the University of Michigan has compounded the problem, similarly refusing to write for a student.
An associate professor in the American Culture program at the University of Michigan refused to write a recommendation for a student, Abigail Ingber, who seeks to study in Tel Aviv. John Cheney-Lippold informed the student, to whom he had said he would write on her behalf, and who he told he would be happy to write for study in other countries, that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine.” He explained that “for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter.”
In an important essay-length survey, “BDS: How a Controversial Non-Violent Movement Has Transformed the Israeli-Palestinian Debate,” in the Guardian (August 14, 2018), Nathan Thrall, Director of the International Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli Project, argues that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in recent years has achieved significant influence in reshaping how the conflict is understood and has transformed the debate.
“Everything You’ve Heard About Israel’s Nation State Bill is Wrong,” David Hazony observed recently in the Forward, calling out criticism of the Basic law legislation passed in July 2018 as so much “prefabricated outrage” from American Jewish liberals, anti-Zionists and anti-Semites. Writings claiming that the legislation marks “the end of democracy,” he asserted, are just “nonsense,” and he defended the law as a reasoned statement about Israel’s reality, identifying it as neither the product of a right-wing conspiracy nor a harbinger of eroding democracy.
During the fall semester, when little was happening on the anti-Israel Hard Left on American campuses, we could have been forgiven for thinking that perhaps the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement had slowed. But as the year continued, coinciding with Israel’s 70th anniversary, the pace of BDS efforts increased and included something relatively new: efforts to mark off, isolate, and ghettoise Jews supporting Israel on campuses, while characterising Jews in ways that are deeply worrying.
Last month, protestors in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement who disrupted a Students Supporting Israel event at UCLA shouted the following clarifying words: “We don’t want two states. We want 48!” They were affirming that the BDS movement wishes to turn the clock back in the Middle East to 1948, before there was a State of Israel, and thereby to undo history. They were saying they oppose the existence of any Jewish state in any part of Palestine.
The screed Shaul Magid offers in Tikkun Magazine (November 30, 2017) defending the recent panel on “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Social Justice” held at the New School on November 28, 2017, staffed by Linda Sarsour, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and others, is an exercise in vapid self- and in-group-justification. The panel retailed the same position as does the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in its edited collection On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice (Haymarket Books, 2017). This position is that – regarding antisemitism today – the great danger is not so much the threat antisemitism poses to Jews but the threat that Jews employ the charge of antisemitism to silence others. As Maggid suggested last year in an independent talk at Brown University, it is a way of controlling and deforming the Jewish conversation
Once again, a student group at the University of Michigan has put forth a resolution to the Central Student Government asking the university Board of Regents to divest from several companies “that violate Palestinian human rights.” This is the eleventh resolution in 15 years; all preceding attempts have been voted down or failed. Nevertheless, a vocal minority chooses again to force this issue, and the whole campus must therefore enter once more into the land of futile effort and escalated inter-group division.