How Campus Bullies Pulled Off the Anti-Israel BDS Movement

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Today, thanks to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched in 2005, campuses around the world are treated every year to Israeli Apartheid Week. The plan, orchestrated by an array of student and non-student organizations, and aided by academic departments that host breathtakingly dishonest anti-Israel speakers, is to depict Israel as just like apartheid-era South Africa.

The equation of Zionism with racism is again fashionable.

In November 1975, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, which declared Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Zionism held and still holds that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in its historic homeland, or that Israel has a right to exist.

Not everyone who claims that Zionism is racism is an anti-Semite. But the claim is anti-Semitic because it demonizes the Jewish people’s determination not to be at the mercy of others, a determination that is questioned only when Jews exhibit it.

That is why Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N, said that through Resolution 3379, “the abomination of anti-Semitism has been given the appearance of international sanction.” In 1991, Resolution 3379 was rescinded, on an overwhelming 111-25 vote. For a time, it was unfashionable to equate Zionism with racism.

This slander would be bad enough if it referred solely to Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu. But just last month, protesters disrupting a Students Supporting Israel event at UCLA, shouted clarifying words: “We don’t want two states. We want 48!” Meaning 1948, before the establishment of Israel. As Andrew Pessin and Doron Ben-Atar explain in the introduction to their important book, Anti-Zionism on Campus, Omar Bhargouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, merely rehashed “opinions expressed countless times by BDS leaders and activists” when he said in 2013, “most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”

Anti-Zionism on Campus consists of 32 essays, 25 by scholars, 7 by students which together make the case that those who speak up for Israel on campus, or merely deny that Zionism is racism, risk “verbal attack, social and professional ostracization,” and “setbacks to their careers.” As an undisguised Zionist, who has so far avoided such consequences, I read Anti-Zionism on Campus as a skeptic. By the time I finished the book, I was convinced.

It is hard to believe that BDS activists, a very small group of faculty and students, have so much influence. But administrators can offer a helping hand. When in 2013, the American Studies Association voted to join the BDS movement, Ben-Atar, a professor of history at Fordham University, argued that Fordham should break ties with the Association. Shortly thereafter, Anastasia Coleman, Fordham’s director of Institutional Equity and Compliance opened an investigation. Ben-Atar had been charged by a colleague with religious discrimination, as he learned only after the investigation was closed. Coleman cleared him of that charge but recommended that he be disciplined for incivility.

At Northern Michigan State University, in 2011, Gabriel Noah Brahm complained of the lopsidedly anti-Israel character of a university-sponsored visit to Israel. He was soon “up on some kind of charges.” He was cleared, but the cloud that hung over him almost certainly contributed to his English Department colleagues’ hostility to his tenure bid. The resulting tenure denial was overturned by a unanimous vote, but Brahm had been put through the wringer.

In 2013, Yaron Raviv, a professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College confronted, intemperately, an anti-Israel protester. He found himself, perhaps appropriately, under investigation. Though Claremont took him to task for cursing out a student, Raviv was cleared of all other charges, including harassment and interfering with a demonstration. Indeed, the administration found that the protest violated college policy.

Nonetheless, Raviv was subjected to a public smear campaign, painting him as a racist. Meanwhile, Pitzer College, where the protester studied, launched its own, one-sided, investigation, in which Raviv, who had filed his own grievance, was not interviewed. Pitzer’s findings, unlike Claremont’s faulted only Raviv. The smear campaign took a toll on Raviv who received several unnerving notes and phone messages, one of which said, “Hitler had the right idea.”

Faculty are not guiltless in these transactions. The campaign against Raviv was led by a Pitzer professor. Worse, the faculty of Scripps College, whose sole connection to the incident is being part of a consortium that includes Claremont and Pitzer, voted up a statement against Raviv. When Shlomo Dubnov, a professor of music at the University of San Diego, opposed, in 2012, an anti-Israel divestment resolution, false and serious charges against him were retailed on the website of the San Diego Faculty Association with the active support of that body’s head.

Although we encounter a few good actors in Anti-Zionism on Campus, the essay’s authors teach one to expect from colleagues, at best, private messages of support when the campus anti-Israel movement comes for you and at worst their active participation in the, to coin a phrase, witch hunt.

Why is that when BDS activists are a small minority? First, few who see what happens to people like Ben-Atar, Brahm, Dubnov, and Raviv, are eager to contradict the BDS crew. Charges of racism and Islamophobia are damaging even when they do not stick. Second, BDS activists find support in a wider left-wing tale, in which all species of oppression are linked to colonial oppressors. As Judea Pearl, professor of computer science at UCLA says in his essay, Israel is useful in a period in which “white settlers . . . have long disappeared from the earth” and “must be reinvented to fit the villain script.” To be part of the left, then, you must renounce Zionism.

Third, the left neglects anti-Semitism. When the National Women’s Studies Association, which has endorsed BDS, issued a statement in response to white supremacist activity in Charlottesville, they linked fascism to ableism, settler-colonialism, and misogyny. They left out anti-Semitism! Though they would amend the statement, the original is telling. Nor is it uncharacteristic as Janet Freedman, resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Center, explains in her superb contribution.

Ernest Sternberg, professor or urban and regional planning at the University of Buffalo is right that BDS provides “the thrill of solidarity achieved through the identification of the cosmic enemy,” responsible for the world’s ills and conveniently Jewish. But Sternberg and the volume’s editors appeal not only to those who care about justice but also to those who care about the integrity of universities. To us, the actions of BDS, from launching propaganda campaigns against dissenters, to transmitting conspiracy theories about Israel, badly damage universities. The BDS movement, Ben-Atar and Pessin say, “reintroduces tropes of the oldest hated into everyday discourse. It replaces respectful dialogue with sanctimonious Manicheanism. It stifles and silences debate”

That’s true. But Anti-Zionism on Campus alerted even an anti-BDS regular like me that there are more allies than one might have imagined, including on the left, who understand the threat. At the risk of seeming unsophisticated, I venture to say that BDS succeeds to the limited extent it does only because feckless administrators and fearful professors will not stand up to bullies. May this much-needed book help more of them understand that there are a lot more of us than there are of them.

How Campus Bullies Pulled Off the Anti-Israel BDS Movement

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Jonathan Marks

Jonathan Marks is a Professor of Politics at Ursinus College and publishes in modern and contemporary political philosophy in journals like the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of American Political Science, and the Review of Politics. He is the author of Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Marks also has written on higher education for InsideHigherEd, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal. He blogs occasionally at Commentary Magazine.

Read all stories by Jonathan Marks

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