Are only Israeli scholars complicit in the actions of their government?

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As one shocking example of how ideologically detached the professoriate of U.S.  universities have become from the thought and beliefs of normal citizens, at a  2003 “peace rally” at Columbia University held to denounce America’s initiation  of the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s treachery, many were stunned and  mortified when Columbia anthropology professor Nicholas De Genova asserted the  insidious, perverse notion that “The only true heroes are those who find ways  that help defeat the U.S. military. I personally would like to see a million  Mogadishus,” alluding to the 1993 ambush and slaughter of American forces in  Somalia.

Opposition to the government, its military policies, the War on Terror, the  Patriot Act, extrajudicial assassinations by unmanned drones—all of these, at  various times and during different presidential administrations, have drawn the  condemnation of great swathes of academia, precisely because, like Professor De  Genova, the academy has become ideologically imbalanced. In fact, a 2003 study,  “How Politically Diverse Are the Social Sciences and Humanities?,” identified  the existence of highly-biased campuses where self-identified Democrats  (liberals) outnumber Republicans (conservatives) at alarming rates, with  “results [that] support the view that the social science and humanities faculty  are pretty much a one-party system.”  The study found that the ratios  between Democrats and Republicans in the different academic departments ranged  from a low of 3-to-1 in Economics to a shocking 30.2-to-1 imbalance of Democrats  to Republicans among Anthropology faculty, the average of the ratios being  15.1-to-1.

As the recent calls for boycotts and sanctions against  Israeli universities by the American Studies Association (ASA) and the Modern  Language Association (MLA) 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 of the victim of  the moment, the Palestinians.  These alleged transgressions on the part of  Israel are often further conflated with the view that the “brutal occupation” of  Zionism has unleashed “crimes against humanity” through U.S. complicity, that as  its proxy in the Middle East, Israel tarnishes America through its misdeeds and  mirrors the U.S.’s own imperialistic, militant, and anti-Muslim impulses.

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 was unique about the MLA’s and the ASA’s approach  was the breathtakingly Orwellian notion that not only was the Jewish state  itself guilty of the many alleged transgressions assigned to it by its libelers,  but a boycott against Israeli academics was 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 (PACBI), 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.” Moreover, in the post-colonial gibberish that  characterizes the language of victimhood, it is academics themselves who  facilitate and perpetuate the unjust occupation, since, in the PACBI’s view,  “academia is, by and large, Israel’s most effective propaganda tool to  colonize people’s minds and falsely project the state as a normal country on the  world stage despite its violations of international law, and its occupation,  apartheid and colonialism.”

At the MLA annual conference in Chicago this month,  delegates considered a resolution to call on the U.S. State Department “to  contest Israel’s arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S.  academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian  universities.”  The panel discussion which addressed that issue was called,  “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” and included, as  one of its panelists, Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the PACBI. His view is  that Israeli academia not only has a moral obligation to right the wrongs in  Israel, but it is a co-enabler, if not co-conspirator, in the continued  occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

“For decades,” Barghouti has written, “Israeli  academic institutions have been complicit in Israel’s colonial and racist  policies. Funded by the government, they have consistently and organically  contributed to the military-security establishment, and, therefore, to  perpetuating its crimes, its abuse of Palestinian human rights and its distinct  system of apartheid.” Ignoring the highly-visible contingent of Israeli  academics on the far Left who ferociously denounce the same Zionism, occupation,  and oppression that are Barghouti’s regular targets of attack, he nonetheless  contends that academics do not merely accept Israeli policies affecting the  Palestinians, their research and scholarship helps perpetuate the status quo.  “Not only do most Israeli academics defend or justify their state’s colonial  narrative,” Barghouti suggests, “they play a more active role in the process of  oppression.”

Why an academic boycott? Because, Barghouti says, a  boycott “directly targets the academy itself as one of the pillars of this  oppressive order.”  And the language of the ASA resolution that led to a  vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions contained the nearly identical  sentiment, namely, the ASA’s decision was based on a recognition of “the extent  to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies  that violate human rights.”

Making academics responsible for—even complicit in—the  machinations of the current government, and justifying a boycott as a result—as  if Israeli academics, in this instance, even have the collective power to  influence and change the status of the occupation and other aspects of the  Israeli/Palestinian conflict—is normally an anathematic proposition for  professors, just as it would have been for the patriotic Professor De Genova if  Columbia University had been boycotted for the perceived excesses of the Bush  White House during the invasion of Iraq.

And 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 the university and the people who comprise it.  The ASA  also made central to its academic boycott the idea that Israeli universities  conduct research to support Israel’s military, and that this research  contributes to the continuing plight of the Palestinians. “This complicity has  been extensively documented,” the ASA web site reads, “and manifests through  direct research and production of military technologies,” including the  “development of weapon systems used by the occupation army in committing grave  violations of human rights.”

As the academic boycotters might have noticed, and  should know had they not been experiencing paroxysms of self-righteous  indignation towards Israel, 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 have benefitted from the largesse of the  Department of Defense, 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, similar to how Israel is maligned  for the same offenses. Those anti-Israel American scholars, then, would find  themselves boycotted, even though they obviously do not share the ideology of an  imperialistic, hegemonic United States.

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  with Israeli universities and the country’s military. “By endorsing the  boycott,” he wrote, “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.” Israeli  academics’ silence, for Lloyd, is consent—and complicity. “We continue to wait  for Israel’s own institutions to condemn forthrightly both the occupation and  the denial of academic freedom to Palestinians.”

Stanford University, as another example, which in 2011  received nearly $72 million from the Department of Defense, is home to Joel  Beinin, professor of history and Middle East history.  Beinin, a  self-proclaimed Marxist, is a rabid anti-Zionist who singles out Israel for  criticism of its varied and frequent transgressions, all the while excusing the  social and political defects of the neighboring Arab states who surround it and  blaming the pathologies of the Middle East on Western imperialism and the  continuing colonial impact of the U.S.’s proxy in the Levant, Israel. In fact,  in those rare instances when Beinin is even willing to admit to the existence of  Islamic terrorism, he is quick to find its root cause with its victims, not its  perpetrators. Terrorism, Beinin has wildly suggested, is a “product of  postcolonial anxieties about U.S. global supremacy, and the regional dominance  of the U.S. alliance [with Israel] in the Middle East,” not, of course, the  product of a jihadist impulse of barbaric madmen seeking to impose their own  form of Islamic imperialism in the Middle East and into the West, as well.

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 wrote, 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  insure that its enemy is equally armed and that the fight will be  “fair”—something only a college professor, from the comfort and safety of his  Stanford office, could possibly consider.

Another Israel-loathing, anti-American academic who  shares Beinin’s worldview is Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s unctuous  Noam Chomsky. MIT, like Stanford, has also been very successful in attracting  Department of Defense funding, $876,792,510 in 2009 alone, which has seemingly  not impeded Chomsky from making his views widely known about how atrocious his  country and its military are.

Chomsky, who Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz has called the  “godfather” of anti-Israel thought, when he is not lecturing on the evils of  American capitalism and its ruthless lust for “empire,” busies himself by  blaming Israel for every problem of the Middle East’s highly dysfunctional,  authoritarian regimes. If Chomsky’s vituperation against America has been a  defining theme in his intellectual jihad, an obsessive, apoplectic hatred for  Israel has more completely dominated his screeds and spurious scholarship.   Like other anti-Zionists in the West and in the Arab world, Chomsky does  not even recognize the legitimacy of Israel, believing that its very existence  was, and is, a moral transgression against an indigenous people, and that the  creation of Israel was “wrong and disastrous . . . There is not now and never  will be democracy in Israel.” And Israeli Jews are not solely responsible for  the crimes of the Jewish state; American Jews, too, in Chomsky’s opinion, share  culpability. “In the American Jewish community,” he scolded, “there is little  willingness to face the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a  monstrous historical injustice, whatever one may think of the competing claims.  Until this is recognized, discussion of the Middle East crisis cannot even  begin.”

Chomsky draws the perverse parallel between Israelis  and Nazis so frequently in his writings that, to paraphrase the wry Professor  Edward Alexander, he would be rendered nearly speechless if he was unable to use  the epithet of Nazi against Israel in every sentence he utters. The rogue state  of “Israel has tried killing, beating, gassing, mass arrests, deportation,  destruction of houses, curfews and other forms of harsh collective punishment,”  Chomsky wrote, and yet, even in the face of this hideous, Nazi-like behavior by  Israel, “nothing has succeeded in enforcing obedience or eliciting a violent  response.”

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 or 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. “When Ariel Sharon sends American-made helicopter  gunships and F-16s to fire missiles into civilian residences or crowds in  streets,” Cole wrote in 2004, “as he has done more than once, then he makes the  United States complicit in his war crimes and makes the United States hated  among friends of the Palestinians. And this aggression and disregard of Arab  life on the part of the proto-fascist Israeli Right has gotten more than one  American killed, including American soldiers.”  There is, of course, no  mention in Cole’s fantasies about why American or Israeli soldiers would be  involved in military actions in the first place, affirming the view that it is  Western imperialism and oppression that disrupt and embroil the otherwise  taciturn political state of the Arab world.

The run-up to the Iraq war, Cole suggested, was simply  another example of the manipulation of U.S. foreign policy under the influence  of the nefarious Likud, operating in a behind-the-scenes cabal within the  American government. “It is an echo of the one-two punch secretly planned by the  pro-Likud faction in the Department of Defense,” Cole revealed. “First, Iraq  would be taken out by the United States, and then Iran . . . These pro-Likud  intellectuals concluded that 9-11 would give them carte blanche to use the  Pentagon as Israel’s Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel  Aviv (not wars that really needed to be fought, but wars that the Likud  coalition thought it would be nice to see fought so as to increase Israel’s  ability to annex land and act aggressively, especially if someone else’s boys  did the dying).”

At Harvard, which annually receives some $44 million  of DoD funding, Sara Roy, a researcher at the University’s Center for Middle  East Studies (CMES), has been 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 were deserving of recognition by Western diplomats. And in her 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. In her view, it  seemingly was only Israel’s defensive reaction to the attempted murder of its  citizens that prompted Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza, nothing else. “Since Nov.  4,” Roy wrote, “when Israel effectively broke the truce with Hamas by attacking  Gaza on a scale then unprecedented—a fact now buried with Gaza’s dead—the  violence has escalated as Hamas responded by sending hundreds of rockets into  Israel to kill Israeli civilians.”

Those who have criticized the decisions by the ASA and  the MLA to call for academic boycotts against Israeli universities, did so,  first, because academic boycotts are antithetical to the core principles upon  which the university was founded. That is, suppressing the academic freedom of  one country’s scholars, making it impossible for them to express their views or  disseminate their scholarship, and banishing them from contact with other  scholars defies what the university is supposed to stand for—among other things,  an open and free exchange of ideas in an international “marketplace of ideas.”  That alone is reason to reject calls for academic boycotts.

But the current accusation made against Israeli  scholars—which are not, tellingly, made against any other academics from any  other country—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 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.”

Are only Israeli scholars complicit in the actions of their government?

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Richard L. Cravatts

Richard Cravatts has taught advertising, integrated marketing communications, consumer behavior, opinion writing, magazine publishing, editing, public relations, technical writing, account planning, entrepreneurial marketing, and e-commerce strategy at Simmons College, Boston University, Babson College, Tufts University, UMass/ Boston, Suffolk University, Wentworth Institute, Emerson College, Northeastern University, and Emmanuel College.

For over 26 years Cravatts was publisher of the Boston Classical Network, a firm which created playbills to enhance the marketing of the region's major performing arts organizations, including the American Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, Celebrity Series of Boston, Handel & Haydn Society, and Boston Lyric Opera. He was the founding editor of Metrowest Magazine and Wellesley Weston Magazine, and associate publisher and editor in chief of Orlando's Best and the Greater Boston Restaurant & Wine Review. He was also the art director and travel editor of Palm Beach Illustrated, as well as the Boston dining correspondent for East/West Network, Inc., publishers of in-flight magazines for the nation's leading airlines.

From 1976-78, Dr. Cravatts was the first director of publications at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University at a time when the School was undergoing dramatic growth and in the midst of a significant capital campaign, and was the founding editor of the School's magazine and portfolio of marketing publications; he also later served in a similar capacity as the first director of public relations at Harvard's School of Public Health.

Dr. Cravatts has published over 350 articles, op-ed pieces, columns, and chapters in books on campus anti-Semitism, campus free speech, terrorism, Constitutional law, Middle East politics, real estate, and social policy, and is the author of the book, Genocidal Liberalism: The University's War Against Israel & Jews. He is also a frequent guest on radio programs and lectures nationally on the topic of higher education and the Middle East.

In addition to being an SPME board member and chair of its Greater Boston chapter, Cravatts is a board member of both The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism and the Investigative Taskforce on Campus Anti-Semitism, and an Academic Advisory Board member of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

Read all stories by Richard L. Cravatts

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