How to fight Pro-BDS Academics more effectively

If signing a BDS declaration leads to a possible risk to one's future as an academic, that may bring about change. Op-ed,

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld ,

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Sometimes developments seemingly not related to Jews or Israel provide useful insights in matters concerning them. That is for instance he case with the critical examination of plagiarism and mistakes in several doctorates of prominent people in Germany. If doctorate titles can be canceled in Germany perhaps the same can be achieved elsewhere concerning some academically weak anti-Israel BDS supporters.

Currently in Germany there is another investigation of some issues related to the doctoral thesis of Franziska Giffey. She is the federal minister of family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth in the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2018. Giffey will be the socialist candidate for the mayor of Berlin in the 2021 state election.

In 2019, allegations of plagiarism led Berlin's Free University to review Giffey's 2010 dissertation. For eight months, the university investigated her doctoral thesis titled Europe's way to the citizen - the policy of the European Commission to involve civil society. The investigation commission concluded that there were mistakes or improperly mentioned quotations on one third of the 260 pages. Yet the university did not revoke Giffey’s Ph.D. title.

Despite that conclusion, the affair didn't end with a university reprimand to Giffey. It turned out that neither Berlin higher education law -- nor the university’s statutory rules for a doctorate -- include the possibility of such a reprimand. The law knows only “an everything or nothing” approach. If a doctorate is found to be misleading, it has to be revoked. If it is deemed authentic, there is no place for any form of reprimand. So the Giffey affair continued as the university hired an eminent jurist to give an opinion on whether the reprimand should have been given.

In the meantime, the commission investigating the matter concluded in its final document that Giffey had intentionally written misleading information in her doctorate. The legal investigator independently came to the conclusion that a reprimand was possible. Giffey announced that she would no longer be using her doctor’s title. In the public eye she is now profoundly associated with an academic scandal.

The Giffey case follows a number of other investigations of problematic doctoral theses in Germany. The best known ones concern those of two former German ministers. In 2011, the University of Bayreuth withdrew the doctor’s title of the then German Minister of Defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (CSU party). He subsequently announced his resignation as minister, vacated his seat in the Bundestag, and left politics completely.

In 2013, the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf revoked the doctorate of then German Minister of Education Annette Schavan (CDU party) on the grounds of “systematic and intentional plagiarism” in her thesis. She too resigned.

Against this background a methodology to expose some anti-Israel BDS supporters at universities can be developed. The route seems simple. All that is needed is an Israel-friendly professor or two at a university where many academics have signed up in support of BDS.

These professors can point out to an investigating organization some BDS signatories at their university who are academically weak. That organization can then hire a student who speaks German and English so that he can understand how the canceling of the doctorate procedure in Germany works. He can then start investigating the doctoral theses and other scientific publications of the targeted BDS supporters for plagiarism and distorted quotations

Those familiar with the poor level of some publications by contemporary academics will understand that there is a reasonable chance that this method will reveal a number of scientifically cheating pro-BDS academics. If this concerns a doctoral thesis, the university where it was obtained should be apprised and asked to further investigate whether the doctorate should be revoked. The university where the academic currently teaches should also be informed. Depending on developments that academic’s teaching appointment could be cancelled.

Maximum publicity should be given at the university where the person is employed and his students should be informed. In addition, efforts should be made to make it known to professional associations the academic in question belongs to. Even without canceling of one’s thesis, exposing many academic shortcomings causes shame for the person concerned.

An approach like this is likely to have multiplier effects. Probably most of those who have signed on to the anti-Israel BDS declaration are not hard-core leftists. They are more likely to be in a category, which is best described as 'free-lunchers.' Due to the weakness of the Israeli anti-propaganda activity, they know that they do not risk anything by supporting BDS. Doing so may even improve their standing among some of their colleagues. Once there is a potential price to be paid, it is likely that mainly extreme anti-Israelis will remain as public supporters of BDS at universities and the not so hard-core will be less inclined to take the risk.

Signing a pro-BDS of Israel declaration without being involved in any other similar declarations against other countries is an antisemitic act according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

There is another important aspect of the approach above described: it is low cost. This enables the investigators to simultaneously target teachers at a number of universities. Most academics are cowards, like the majority of those in many other professions. Why would they sign on to anti-Israel BDS declarations if the free lunch is no longer assured, but instead brings risks with it?

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has been a strategic advisor for more than thirty years to some of the Western world’s leading corporations. Among the honors he received was the 2019 International Lion of Juda Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the recognized leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism. His main book on the subject is: The War of a Million Cuts The struggle against the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews and the growth of New antisemitism.



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