As the recent calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israeli universities by the American Studies Association and the Modern Language Association 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 the victim of the moment, the Palestinians.
This view of the colonial oppression by the occupier, Israel, against a guiltless indigenous people, the Palestinians, is, of course, nothing new on campus. What is unique about the MLA’s and the ASA’s approach is the breathtakingly Orwellian notion that not only is the Jewish state itself guilty of the many alleged transgressions assigned to it by its libelers, but a boycott against Israeli academics is 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, 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.”
At the MLA annual conference in Chicago this month, one of those on a panel addressing a resolution to chastise Israel was Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the Palestinian academic boycott campaign. His view is that Israeli academia not only has a moral obligation to right the wrongs in Israel, but it also is a co-enabler, if not co-conspirator, in the continued occupation and oppression of Palestinians.
“For decades,” Barghouti writes, “Israeli academic institutions have been complicit in Israel’s colonial and racist policies,” and “not only do most Israeli academics defend or justify their state’s colonial narrative, they play a more active role in the process of oppression.”
Making academics responsible for — even complicit in — the machinations of the current government and justifying a boycott as a result is normally an anathematic proposition for professors. 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 a university and the people who comprise it.
As the academic boycotters might have noticed, 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 benefit from the largesse of the Defense Department 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.
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 between Israeli universities and the country’s military.
“By endorsing the boycott,” he writes, “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.”
As another example, Stanford University, which in 2011 received nearly $72 million from the Defense Department, is home to Joel Beinin, professor of history and Middle East history. 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 writes 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 ensure that its enemy is equally armed and that the fight will be “fair.”
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 and 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.
At Harvard University, which annually receives some $44 million of DoD funding, Sara Roy, a researcher at the Center for Middle East Studies, is 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 was deserving of recognition by Western diplomats. And in Roy’s 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.
The current accusation made against Israeli scholars 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 the 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, Ph.D., author of “Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews,” is president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.