Op-Ed: Academic Boycotts: Guilty by Virtue of Being Israelis
Ideological imbalance in the professoriate has resulted in a collective antipathy toward Israel as the latest villain in the academic Left’s panoply of oppressors—this time of the victim of the moment, the Palestinian Arabs.
As one shocking example of how ideologically detached the professoriate of U.S. universities have become from the thought and beliefs of normal citizens, at a 2003 “peace rally” at Columbia University held to denounce America’s initiation of the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s treachery, many were stunned and mortified when Columbia anthropology professor Nicholas De Genova asserted the insidious, perverse notion that “The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military. I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus,” alluding to the 1993 ambush and slaughter of American forces in Somalia.
Opposition to the government, its military policies, the War on Terror, the Patriot Act, extrajudicial assassinations by unmanned drones—all of these, at various times and during different presidential administrations, have drawn the condemnation of great swathes of academia, precisely because, like Professor De Genova, the academy has become ideologically imbalanced.
In fact, a 2003 study, “How Politically Diverse Are the Social Sciences and Humanities?,” identified the existence of highly-biased campuses where self-identified Democrats (liberals) outnumber Republicans (conservatives) at alarming rates, with “results [that] support the view that the social science and humanities faculty are pretty much a one-party system.” The study found that the ratios between Democrats and Republicans in the different academic departments ranged from a low of 3-to-1 in Economics to a shocking 30.2-to-1 imbalance of Democrats to Republicans among Anthropology faculty, the average of the ratios being 15.1-to-1.
As the recent calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israeli universities by the American Studies Association (ASA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA) clearly indicate, an ideological imbalance in the professoriate has resulted in a collective antipathy toward Israel as the latest villain in the academic Left’s panoply of oppressors—this time of the victim of the moment, the Palestinian Arabs.
These alleged transgressions on the part of Israel are often further conflated with the view that the “brutal occupation” of Zionism has unleashed “crimes against humanity” through U.S. complicity, that as its proxy in the Middle East, Israel tarnishes America through its misdeeds and mirrors the U.S.’s own imperialistic, militant, and anti-Muslim impulses.
This view of the colonial oppression by the occupier, Israel, against a guiltless indigenous people, the Palestinian Arabs, is, of course, nothing new on campus. What was unique about the MLA’s and the ASA’s approach was the breathtakingly Orwellian notion that not only was the Jewish state itself guilty of the many alleged transgressions assigned to it by its libelers, but a boycott against Israeli academics was warranted because the academic establishment itself is complicit in Zionism’s excesses and a core element of the bemoaned occupation, oppression, and denial of Palestinian self-determination.
This fatuous notion, in fact, is one of the core principles of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), articulated in its “Academic Freedom or Academic Privilege: In defense of the Academic Boycott of Israel,” which suggests that “Israeli universities . . . are part and parcel of the prevailing ideology that accepts and treats the political regime in all its aspects—the military, the intelligence agencies, the government—as a benign feature of the social-political landscape.”
Moreover, in the post-colonial gibberish that characterizes the language of victimhood, it is academics themselves who facilitate and perpetuate the unjust occupation, since, in the PACBI’s view, “academia is, by and large, Israel’s most effective propaganda tool to colonize people’s minds and falsely project the state as a normal country on the world stage despite its violations of international law, and its occupation, apartheid and colonialism.”
At the MLA annual conference in Chicago this month, delegates considered a resolution to call on the U.S. State Department “to contest Israel's arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” The panel discussion which addressed that issue was called, “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” and included, as one of its panelists, Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the PACBI. His view is that Israeli academia not only has a moral obligation to right the wrongs in Israel, but it is a co-enabler, if not co-conspirator, in the continued occupation and oppression of Palestinians.
“For decades,” Barghouti has written, “Israeli academic institutions have been complicit in Israel’s colonial and racist policies. Funded by the government, they have consistently and organically contributed to the military-security establishment, and, therefore, to perpetuating its crimes, its abuse of Palestinian human rights and its distinct system of apartheid.”
Ignoring the highly-visible contingent of Israeli academics on the far Left who ferociously denounce the same Zionism, "occupation, and oppression" that are Barghouti’s regular targets of attack, he nonetheless contends that academics do not merely accept Israeli policies affecting the Palestinians, their research and scholarship helps perpetuate the status quo. “Not only do most Israeli academics defend or justify their state’s colonial narrative,” Barghouti suggests, “they play a more active role in the process of oppression.”
Why an academic boycott? Because, Barghouti says, a boycott “directly targets the academy itself as one of the pillars of this oppressive order.” And the language of the ASA resolution that led to a vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions contained the nearly identical sentiment, namely, the ASA’s decision was based on a recognition of “the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”
Making academics responsible for—even complicit in—the actions of a current government, and justifying a boycott as a result—as if Israeli academics, in this instance, even have the collective power to influence and change the status of the "occupation" and other aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—is normally an anathematic proposition for professors, just as it would have been for the patriotic Professor De Genova if Columbia University had been boycotted for the perceived excesses of the Bush White House during the invasion of Iraq.
And besides applying a perverse double standard to Israeli academics by making them liable for the actions of their government, and punishing them for this perceived liability, the idea that universities in Israel are any more influential in shaping government policy, administering the nation’s laws, or overseeing its defense is itself a radical departure from what is ever blamed on the university and the people who comprise it.
The ASA also made central to its academic boycott the idea that Israeli universities conduct research to support Israel’s military, and that this research contributes to the continuing plight of the Palestinian Arabs. “This complicity has been extensively documented,” the ASA web site reads, “and manifests through direct research and production of military technologies,” including the “development of weapon systems used by the occupation army in committing grave violations of human rights.”
As the academic boycotters might have noticed, and should know had they not been experiencing paroxysms of self-righteous indignation towards Israel, like Israel’s universities, U.S. universities rely on, and frequently accept, billions of dollars of defense-applied contracts from the Department of Defense; specifically, between 2000 and 2006 the total number of contracts to universities rose from 5,887 to 52,667, with $46.7 billion granted to universities in 2006 alone.
In fact, many of the universities where some of the foremost defamers of Israel teach have benefitted from the largesse of the Department of Defense, and could, by the same logic being applied to Israeli universities, be condemned for facilitating and contributing to the creation of the military/industrial complex that many on the Left decry as emblematic of U.S. imperialism, colonialism, and militarism, similar to how Israel is maligned for the same offenses. Those anti-Israel American scholars, then, would find themselves boycotted, even though they obviously do not share the ideology of an imperialistic, hegemonic United States.
David Lloyd, another anti-Israel, pro-boycott speaker who spoke on the MLA panel, is a professor at UC Riverside, part of the California university system that, in 2009, received $766,179,039 in defense-related research funding. That embarrassing detail about his own university system aside, Lloyd is still content with denouncing any connection with Israeli universities and the country’s military. “By endorsing the boycott,” he wrote, “we withhold our consent from collaboration with academic institutions that are part and parcel of Israel's ongoing occupation, furnishing its technical infrastructure and expanding onto stolen lands.” Israeli academics’ silence, for Lloyd, is consent—and complicity. “We continue to wait for Israel's own institutions to condemn forthrightly both the occupation and the denial of academic freedom to Palestinians.”
Stanford University, as another example, which in 2011 received nearly $72 million from the Department of Defense, is home to Joel Beinin, professor of history and Middle East history. Beinin, a self-proclaimed Marxist, is a rabid anti-Zionist who singles out Israel for criticism of its varied and frequent transgressions, all the while excusing the social and political defects of the neighboring Arab states who surround it and blaming the pathologies of the Middle East on Western imperialism and the continuing colonial impact of the U.S.'s proxy in the Levant, Israel.
In fact, in those rare instances when Beinin is even willing to admit to the existence of Islamic terrorism, he is quick to find its root cause with its victims, not its perpetrators. Terrorism, Beinin has wildly suggested, is a “product of postcolonial anxieties about U.S. global supremacy, and the regional dominance of the U.S. alliance [with Israel] in the Middle East,” not, of course, the product of a jihadist impulse of barbaric madmen seeking to impose their own form of Islamic imperialism in the Middle East and into the West, as well.
Beinin's intent, as it is for Israel-haters worldwide, is to make any defensive actions on the part of Israel seem an overreaction, regardless of how many of its citizens have been murdered or how many threats against its very existence have been proclaimed. “According to both Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon,” Beinin wrote, dismissively, “Israel is engaged in a war despite the spectacularly unequal military balance in the conflict,” as if a nation reacting to unprovoked attacks on its citizens is compelled to insure that its enemy is equally armed and that the fight will be “fair”—something only a college professor, from the comfort and safety of his Stanford office, could possibly consider.
Another Israel-loathing, anti-American academic who shares Beinin’s worldview is Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s unctuous Noam Chomsky. MIT, like Stanford, has also been very successful in attracting Department of Defense funding, $876,792,510 in 2009 alone, which has seemingly not impeded Chomsky from making his views widely known about how atrocious his country and its military are.
Chomsky, who Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz has called the “godfather” of anti-Israel thought, when he is not lecturing on the evils of American capitalism and its ruthless lust for “empire,” busies himself by blaming Israel for every problem of the Middle East’s highly dysfunctional, authoritarian regimes. If Chomsky’s vituperation against America has been a defining theme in his intellectual jihad, an obsessive, apoplectic hatred for Israel has more completely dominated his screeds and spurious scholarship.
Like other anti-Zionists in the West and in the Arab world, Chomsky does not even recognize the legitimacy of Israel, believing that its very existence was, and is, a moral transgression against an "indigenous" people, and that the creation of Israel was “wrong and disastrous . . . There is not now and never will be democracy in Israel.”
And Israeli Jews are not solely responsible for the crimes of the Jewish state; American Jews, too, in Chomsky’s opinion, share culpability. “In the American Jewish community,” he scolded, “there is little willingness to face the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a monstrous historical injustice, whatever one may think of the competing claims. Until this is recognized, discussion of the Middle East crisis cannot even begin.”
Chomsky draws the perverse parallel between Israelis and Nazis so frequently in his writings that, to paraphrase the wry Professor Edward Alexander, he would be rendered nearly speechless if he was unable to use the epithet of Nazi against Israel in every sentence he utters. The rogue state of “Israel has tried killing, beating, gassing, mass arrests, deportation, destruction of houses, curfews and other forms of harsh collective punishment,” Chomsky wrote, and yet, even in the face of this hideous, Nazi-like behavior by Israel, “nothing has succeeded in enforcing obedience or eliciting a violent response.”
In 2011, the University of Michigan was awarded almost $15 million in defense contracts, which ought to have been upsetting to the school’s conspiracy-frenzied Juan Cole, whose regular rants in his blog, Informed Comment, take swipes at Israeli and American defense, while simultaneously excusing Arab complicity for violence or terror. In fact, according to Cole, it is the militancy of the West that causes the endemic problems in the Middle East, and makes America guilty for its moral and financial support of Israel.
“When Ariel Sharon sends American-made helicopter gunships and F-16s to fire missiles into civilian residences or crowds in streets,” Cole wrote in 2004, “as he has done more than once, then he makes the United States complicit in his war crimes and makes the United States hated among friends of the Palestinians. And this aggression and disregard of Arab life on the part of the proto-fascist Israeli Right has gotten more than one American killed, including American soldiers.”
There is, of course, no mention in Cole’s fantasies about why American or Israeli soldiers would be involved in military actions in the first place, affirming the view that it is Western imperialism and oppression that disrupt and embroil the otherwise taciturn political state of the Arab world.
The run-up to the Iraq war, Cole suggested, was simply another example of the manipulation of U.S. foreign policy under the influence of the nefarious Likud, operating in a behind-the-scenes cabal within the American government. “It is an echo of the one-two punch secretly planned by the pro-Likud faction in the Department of Defense,” Cole revealed. “First, Iraq would be taken out by the United States, and then Iran . . . These pro-Likud intellectuals concluded that 9-11 would give them carte blanche to use the Pentagon as Israel's Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel Aviv (not wars that really needed to be fought, but wars that the Likud coalition thought it would be nice to see fought so as to increase Israel's ability to annex land and act aggressively, especially if someone else's boys did the dying).”
At Harvard, which annually receives some $44 million of DoD funding, Sara Roy, a researcher at the University's Center for Middle East Studies (CMES), has been an apologist for Hamas, intent on absolving Hamas from any wrongdoing. She and Boston University professor Augustus Richard Norton co-authored an article for the Christian Science Monitor in which they conjured up the fantasy of a “New Hamas,” a now-benign political group the authors felt were deserving of recognition by Western diplomats.
And in her own op-ed in the Monitor, she only started counting rockets lobbed into Israel from Gaza after, she said, Israel violated some illusory cease fire of which apparently only she and the “new” Hamas were aware. In her view, it seemingly was only Israel's defensive reaction to the attempted murder of its citizens that prompted Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza, nothing else. “Since Nov. 4,” Roy wrote, “when Israel effectively broke the truce with Hamas by attacking Gaza on a scale then unprecedented—a fact now buried with Gaza's dead—the violence has escalated as Hamas responded by sending hundreds of rockets into Israel to kill Israeli civilians.”
Those who have criticized the decisions by the ASA and the MLA to call for academic boycotts against Israeli universities, did so, first, because academic boycotts are antithetical to the core principles upon which the university was founded. That is, suppressing the academic freedom of one country’s scholars, making it impossible for them to express their views or disseminate their scholarship, and banishing them from contact with other scholars defies what the university is supposed to stand for—among other things, an open and free exchange of ideas in an international “marketplace of ideas.” That alone is reason to reject calls for academic boycotts.
But the current accusation made against Israeli scholars—which are not, tellingly, made against any other academics from any other country—that imputes a moral responsibility on Israeli academics for the political behavior of their government is particularly baleful. In this perverse assault on academic integrity, and even good sense, a whole nation of scholars is tarred with same brush of virulent anti-Israel activism, so, as commentator Howard Jacobson put it, “All are guilty by association with the heinous ideology of their country, that is to say, guilty by simple virtue of being Israelis.”
Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews, is president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.