In their new book, The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, editors Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm provide an excellent series of essays on what Peter Berman terms in his preface “the world’s most adaptable boycott” – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Jewish state – and in particular the boycott of Israel’s academic institutions.
The book’s title is also the title of a conference on Monday organized by the Institute for National Security Studies and the Israel Action Network and sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. Nelson, an English professor at the University of Illinois who served as president of the American Association of University Professors between 2006 and 2012, and Brahm, an associate professor of English at Northern Michigan University and a senior research fellow in Israel Studies at Brandeis University, will be keynote speakers.
Nelson told Channel 1 in an interview broadcast on Saturday night that the BDS movement against Israel had become so prevalent on American campuses that it could actually become a political movement and a threat to Israel’s security. The US, after all, is Israel’s most important ally, and if its new academic generation buys the BDS lies being spread on campuses across America, then the Jewish state may be in the process of losing the core of its political support.
Brahm concurred with his colleague. “I think BDS is potentially a threat to Israeli security, and the purpose of the INSS conference is to explore that danger,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. “There’s a security threat if, in America, free educational institutions are threatened; there’s a security threat if networks of personal and professional life revolve around hating and demonizing Israel; and there’s a security threat if, in the philosophy of BDS and its theoretical statements, Israel is characterized beyond rational belief as a kind of linchpin in the nefarious system of global capital or imperialism, racism, colonization and ethnic cleansing. All these terms are heaped upon Israel as a unique source of much larger phenomena.”
Brahm said BDS is threatening to become “a fashionable cause” that links personal lives to career advancement.
“It gives people a sense of righteousness, a self-image of politically correct virtue that they share with their friends and colleagues which then becomes the basis of meetings and activities that crisscross their personal, political and professional lives.”
Other speakers at Monday’s conference – including INSS director Amos Yadlin, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya Prof.
Galia Golan and JFNA’s David Denkner – will discuss the other side of the coin: the way in which Arab-Jewish cooperation in Israel is so productive.
“All the avenues of a successful life are open to Arabs in Israeli academia,” Brahm said. “The thriving academic freedom that Jews and Arabs share here is something that benefits everyone, and there’s a kind of security risk there if that’s shut down potentially, which is what the BDS movement wants. This would only cause further alienation between people and more and more conflict,” said Brahm.
Nelson and Brahm both noted that boycotting Israeli academics is an assault not just against Israel but on the very core of academic freedom. Just last week, the University of California’s graduate student union passed a resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israel until it “has complied with international law and respected the rights of the Palestinians.”
The crux of the matter, Brahm suggested, is that BDS targets neither Israeli academia nor Israeli products but the very existence of the Jewish state. At the INSS conference, Brahm said his address would focus on the theory behind BDS as well as the meaning of what he termed “the obsession with Israel as a threat to the planet.”
“Over and over again the BDS people argue not only against Israel’s policies, but that it’s actually a source of harm to the world,” Brahm said. “Everyone in society, they say, will benefit from an end to the Jewish state, per se.”
Just as the anti-apartheid movement succeeded in boycotting South Africa, the BDS movement believes boycotting Israel – academically and in every other way – will ultimately bring about the end of the Jewish state.
It is high time that Israel and pro-Israeli academics everywhere wake up and invest serious efforts and resources into finding effective ways to counter this powerful and pernicious boycott movement.