Is treason virtuous? Israeli academics who support BDS

Is it legitimate for political actors and parties to seek support from foreign powers? When Israeli academics approach foreign academic bodies to act against Israel, is it treason?  

Prof. Philip Carl Salzman, | updated: 13:15

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Democracies, such as Israel’s, offer many political benefits: First, all adult citizens have the right to influence government policies—through voting, lobbying, and contributions—according to their preferences. Second, changes in governments are regularized, through time limits on every administration. Third, whether administrations are re-elected or replaced by a different one, the process is peaceful, without violence and the loss of blood.

Democracies thus reflect the will of the population, although opinion may be split. A foundational principle of democracy is majority rule; the majority in a vote carry the day. This rule guarantees that the interests of the greater number will be represented. (In federations, such as the United States, it is the majority of constituent states that carry the day in federal elections.)

Those citizens who do not approve of a government or particular government policies are free, in democracies, to express their dissent. They may try to influence the majority, so as to bring majority rule to change a policy or a government. Resort to violence or other undemocratic means are, however, forbidden.

“Self-help,” that is, acting on their own behalf, may be available to citizens on some issues. For example, while the Trump administration in the United States is allied with Israel, some citizens disapprove of this alliance, and wish to take anti-Israel measures as individuals or in concert. An example of such self-help is the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, in which individuals and groups commit to boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel. Various U.S. states have passed legislation or produced executive orders to forbid the state government from doing business with entities that engage in BDS.

However, unless and until an administration is elected that opposes alliance with Israel, the government position is pro-Israel and anti-BDS.

It is not unknown for weak parties in a political struggle to reach out, beyond a country’s political borders, for allies to provide them with advantage. This often happen in rebellions, in which rebels seek powerful external sponsors to provide political and material aid. But in democratic countries, members of the opposition calling for the intervention of external powers crosses the line, as it is a rejection of democracy and the will of the citizens. In calling for external intervention, minority dissidents reject the principle of majority rules, and take it upon themselves to violate the integrity of their democracy and their country.

All democratic countries are subject to the abuse of opposition parties seeking intervention by outside powers. There are some remarkable cases from Israel. For example, in 2007, the editor of an influential leftist Israeli newspaper begged the United States to intervene in Israel irrespective of the wishes of the democratically elected Israeli government. “The editor in chief of Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, David Landau, confirmed yesterday that he has pleaded with Secretary of State Rice to ‘rape’ Israel and its neighbors into resolving their problems.” This plea received support from the usual anti-Israel sources, such as The Guardian, but not from the United States Government, and not from Israelis at large, the Jerusalem Post calling Landau “odious.”

In November 2018, a plea was sent by Israeli political opponents of the elected Israeli Government to a European academic association to boycott Israeli educational institutions in the “disputed territories,” to use the United Nations term. "The head of the Israeli Anthropological Association (IAA) and Ben-Gurion University professor, Nir Avieli, sent a letter on IAA stationery to the EASA [European Association of Social Anthropologists] president urging the group to boycott those Israeli institutions.” The Association ratified the boycott motion by 830 to 21.

Avieli’s letter says, in part, “I assume that you are aware of the complication and difficulties resulting from the ongoing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli anthropology in general and the IAA in particular have a long history of opposing this occupation and demanding that the Israeli government negotiate in good faith with the representative of the Palestinian people in order to achieve a just peace.”

Avieli’s letter concludes with the following: “Your colleagues at the ISA [Israel Sociological Association] and IAA have chosen to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in general, and in particular with Palestinian students and academics whose right to an education is violated by the establishment and maintenance, in their own territories, of institutions which they are barred from attending.”

Apparently, the Israeli anthropologists, unlike the U.N. or the Government of Israel, have already decided who owns the disputed territories (Judea and Samaria). That could be called a presumptuous position. It is a political one, as is siding with the Palestinians. The Government of Israel, and the citizens who have elected it, take a different view.


Among Israelis are also Christian and Muslim Arabs, Jews of East Asian origin, and African Jews, primarily Ethiopian. The actual demography of Israel does not fit the postcolonial model, but anthropologists today prefer their favorite theories to annoying facts.
The main institution that is the target of the boycott, is Ariel University. Avieli stresses that Palestinians are not admitted. What he fails to mention is that at Ariel there are 600 Arab Israeli students, and the largest number of Ethiopian Israelis at any Israeli university.

Anthropologists are the most “progressive” social scientists, and anthropology the most leftist “discipline” of the social sciences. In American colleges studied, all of the anthropologists voted Democrat, zero Republican. Anthropologists’ commitment to study world cultures has led to the discipline “going native,” rejecting Western civilization in favour of, well, just about any other culture in the world. The anthropological adoption of marxism in the 1970s evolved, after the fall of the Soviet Union, into more benignly named neo-marxism, particularly “postcolonialism,” which is the dominant theoretical paradigm in anthropology. Postcolonial theory argues that all of the problems of the world, every difficulty in every region and every society, are the result of the historically short-lived Western imperialism and colonialism. No one else has responsibility for anything in their lives.


It is odd that anthropologists, with their worldwide view, have not noticed the 1400 year Arab Muslim occupation of the Levant and Maghreb, or the Turkish occupation of Anatolia, the Balkans, and Cyprus, or the Han Chinese occupation of Inner Mongolia, Turkestan, and Tibet.
It is odd that anthropologists, with their worldwide view, have not noticed the 1400 year Arab Muslim occupation of the Levant and Maghreb, or the Turkish occupation of Anatolia, the Balkans, and Cyprus, or the Han Chinese occupation of Inner Mongolia, Turkestan, and Tibet. Perhaps the West is condemned because it is capitalist, as most anthropologists are anti-capitalists, whereas Arab and Turkish imperialism are feudal, and Chinese is communist, so they are all acceptable.

In the anthropological postcolonial view, Israel is a colonial settler regime, never mind that it is located in its ancient homeland. Postcolonial theorists like to characterize Israelis as refugees from Europe, while they ignore the 850,000 Jewish refugees brutally thrown out of Arab countries in 1948. Half of Israelis are either Arab-speaking Jews or descendants of Arab-speaking Jews. Among Israelis are also Christian and Muslim Arabs, Jews of East Asian origin, and African Jews, primarily Ethiopian. The actual demography of Israel does not fit the postcolonial model, but anthropologists today prefer their favorite theories to annoying facts. Perhaps Israeli anthropologists were encouraged by the American Anthropological Association’s enthusiasm for boycotting Israel.

Israeli anthropologists are out of line with public opinion in Israel. Only 43% of Israeli Jews believe that a peaceful two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict is possible. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis believe that a Palestinian state will be established in the next five years.

The political left in Israel is weak today and has been for decades. Israelis have learned from their experiences with Palestinians, for example, with Gaza and Palestinian Authority terrorism, and also with capitalism, for example, with their successful technology start-ups. That is why they support the right, which emphasizes security and economic development.

If the Israeli left, including anthropologists, wish to change Israeli government policy, they should try to convince their fellow citizens to vote for the parties and priorities that the leftists favor. Bringing external influence to bear is undemocratic. Of course, throughout history leftists have never held democratic ideals high; “equality” of result always trumps democratic process for leftists, as the Soviet, Chinese, Cambodian, and Cuban models illustrate.

What can we say about those seeking external support for their dissenting views: that they are virtuous? How comfortable should Israelis be with professors who flout democracy teaching/indoctrinating Israel’s youth?


 

Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. His public interest articles can be found at the Frontier Centre, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Gatestone Institute, Middle East Forum, Minding the Campus, C2C Journal, Areo Magazine, and Dogma Review.




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