A Case Study of Anti-Zionism on Campus

There are lessons to be learned from the recent fiasco.

Steve Apfel,

OpEds Steve Apfel
Steve Apfel

The Cambridge fiasco is one more battle anti-Zionists will chalk up. They’ve won a few – too many – but never for bigger loot than Professor Stephen Hawkins who got snatched for the academic boycott with nary a shot fired. If a pro-Israel vanguard exists it was stuck in barracks.

On a different battlefield a new skirmish with academia is brewing. If past lessons are not learnt, if certain do’s and don’ts are not applied, the anti-Zionists will be chalking up another battle and Zionists will be licking self-inflicted wounds and ruminating over another avoidable defeat.

Are battlefields comparable? Do the dramatis personae affect outcomes? To the first question yes, to the second, no – or hardly. The boycott brigade is what it is, whether in Cambridge or UCLA, or even in third league Rhodes in the Eastern Cape hamlet of Grahamstown. Motives are constant. The tactics of boycotters might vary but not fundamentally, not enough to change the principles for effective counter-insurgency.

There are certain do’s and don’ts, but first are the storm clouds over Rhodes really as ugly as they were over Cambridge? Much more. On the Grahamstown campus, you see, anti-Zionism is not a grassroots movement but a top-down policy. The Muslim Vice-Chancellor and his two deputies are ‘card-carrying’ BDS supporters. Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) is funded from misappropriations through faculty and university HQ. A Jewish staffer was brave enough to disobey an instruction to make a money transfer, and for her trouble went before a disciplinary hearing.

The head of the student body is the Vice Chancellor’s own son, while IAW and BDS are run under the banner, ‘Rhodes University Palestinian Solidarity Forum.’ Not only does it take the university’s name, but the forum won’t allow students or staff to publicly dispute Israel being evil incarnate. Fear-ridden pro-Israel pockets are called racist, Islamophobic, apartheid supporters, problems to be gotten rid of…disgraceful. More, Jews on campus are intimidated into staying away from Jewish meetings, even if held off campus. And it’s all driven from the top echelon.

But it goes further. The Politics Department offers what is effectively a BDS module. Set books include one by Uri Davis titled "Israeli Apartheid in Apartheid Israel"; and a book by Mazin Qumsiyeh titled: "Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions in popular resistance in Palestine." The wild looking unkempt professor of politics is a Jew with that unfortunate first name, Stephen. Swearing undying allegiance to freedom of speech and gathering, making liberal use of those civilized privileges himself, he’s done nothing to protest the campus clampdown. More, under his watch young minds are educated to hate Israel, poisoned to hate the state of the Jews, trained to hate Jews, tomorrow’s leaders primed to make life in South Africa impossible for Jewry.

One involves the next. It’s not possible to hate Israel yet tolerate Jews. British academia shows it in abundance. With alacrity our Jewish professor accepts invitations to speak to Jewish forums, yet could not bring himself to allow even questions at a BDS event where he was a panel member.

Zionists, we begin to see, have a very mixed lot of ingredients to handle. There is the anti-Israel narrative, full of rattling good lies and twists of truth. There are activists full of enmity who, like ninepins, need to be knocked over. There are jobs at stake and often inharmonious forces at work. These and other trials beset advocates for Israel. What lessons ought they learn? What are the do’s and don’ts they should follow?

Defend is not an option

To defend means to acknowledge the case of the prosecutor, and to fight a rearguard action on enemy lines. For a big instance take the apartheid lie. To present proofs that Israel does not do apartheid is to acknowledge that there is a case to defend. Anti-Zionists draw the battle lines and force Zionists to defend those lines. And why waste good breath doing so? Has there been one anti-Zionist who conceded being wrong? ‘You’ve satisfied me that Israel does not practice apartheid. I do apologise.’ Who’s ever heard of such an outcome? Defend is not an option.

Attack is; the only option

But attack who, or what? Not anti-Zionist claims and supporting arguments. Again that would be fighting on enemy lines; and pointless...Unless you’re dealing with a body which operates under a clear mandate, and is clearly violating this mandate. To illustrate from a real example:

A certain NGO with a mandate to ‘Defend and Protect Freedom of Expression’ justified its virulent anti-Zionism on this basis: “The character of the Israeli state has consistently denied the right to freedom of expression to Palestinian people.” I was able to demonstrate that Israel had done no such thing. It had not denied freedom of expression to Palestinians. It had not censored their media or banned their gatherings. On the contrary, far from being censored, Palestinian media enjoyed unfettered freedom to demonise Israel. The NGO was therefore violating its mandate. It had no business involving itself in anti-Israel activism; and scared of losing its funding the NGO stopped its nonsense forthwith.

Other than for a case like this, attack not claims but claimants. Attack the anti-Zionist where he hurts: money credibility career. Unearth the paymaster (NGO Monitor would be a first call resource). Demonstrate his habit to say one thing and do the opposite. Disclose how his career depends on supporting BDS. Let no one think that far leftists and materialism are odd bedfellows. No one should mistake their voice for the voice of pure conscience. They could hardly be better bedfellows.

Palestinian ‘human rights’ advocacy pays off; handsomely. 'Israel-bashing is the contemporary key to acceptance,’ observes Robert Wistrich, the eminent professor and author. Ask the anti-Zionist Guardian paper: even a humble saxophone player can ride to overnight celebrity status. “It is Gilad Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile.”

The Rhodes professor and his BDS buddies also know a good thing when they see it. Try being an Israel supporter and see how far you get in academia. Try land some plumb job financed by philanthropy or tax money. Ego, career, perks: a professor’s conscience earns a good pay-off. His personal return on investment is high.

Leave Jewish organisations out of it

Palatable or not, communal bodies representing British, American, South African, or any other Diaspora are not made for the work. People connected with communal bodies pursue, no different to anti-Zionists, their own vested interests. Career, perks, empire building, personal agendas are habitual to organization man; as are consensus patterns of behaviour. Communal leaders are bound to be timid and risk-averse. And even when they are not, their credibility is open to attack: ‘Of course they’d say that. Defending Israel is in the job description. And how they demonise justifiable criticism of Israeli policy.’

To illustrate: South African Jewry is served by communal leaders who find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand they’d like to cut off the head of the anti-Zionist snake; on the other hand they’re scared to burn bridges with the anti-Zionist government. As a result they either do too little or nothing at all. In the battle of Rhodes communal leaders have taken the softer and safer of the two courses. They’ve preferred to sit and wait it out.

The war of ideas is unforgiving. Hopefully lessons will have been learnt, for the Zionist camp can ill afford another ‘Defeat of Cambridge.’