The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel has had more success in the Kafkaesque confines of the modern American university than in the real world. Yet even in the academy, where both the rule of law and basic constitutional rights are heavily curtailed and anti-Semitism is tolerated if not fostered, it has begun to lose battles. That’s because a few principled American academics still support academic freedom, and make their argument convincingly. Yet now another group of leftist academics is offering a way to target Israel while maintaining a façade of academic integrity.
The group is a leftist organization called the Third Narrative, which seeks to replace the prevailing anti-Israel narrative on the left with their own anti-Israel narrative, which they consider morally superior. It’s as though one Illinois governor is claiming to be less corrupt than one of his predecessors. Fine, but let’s remember just how relative your morality is here.
The Third Narrative’s mission statement criticizes the overheated anti-Israel rhetoric of the left, but still wants the left to take aim at Israel:
The Third Narrative initiative is our response to this situation. We hope to engage people on the left who suspect that it is wrong to lay all blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict at the feet of Israeli Jews…but aren’t sure how to respond to Israel’s most vitriolic critics. Some of what these critics say is true, some of their accusations are justified. Some of what Israel’s traditional defenders say is also accurate. When it comes to this conflict, the truth is rarely black or white; it resides in a gray area where advocates on either side typically don’t like to venture. That is where we try to go with The Third Narrative.
In theory, it sounds good. A less hateful left is still thoroughly intellectually dishonest, but still an improvement. (It’s a low bar.) Once fiercely opposed to BDS, the organization now seems to have been opposed to the form the mainstream BDS movement was taking, especially the anti-Semitic umbrella BDS organization. The Third Narrative apparently thinks there’s a third way between BDS and no BDS, as it explained in an open letter titled “A Time for Personal Sanctions”:
That response, we believe, should not take the form of generalized boycotts and other sanctions that indiscriminately target Israeli society and Israeli institutions. Such measures are both unjust and politically counterproductive. In particular, campaigns for boycotts and blacklists of Israeli academia attack the most basic principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange.
Moreover, a response to Israel’s settlement and annexation policies should not suggest that Israel bears exclusive responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, or that, if pressured, Israel could solve it unilaterally. Achieving a just and durable negotiated solution requires constructive efforts by actors on all sides of the intertwined Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts. However, if the door is to be held open to the possibility of a just, workable, and peaceful solution, one requirement is to prevent actions that would sabotage it. For this reason, we propose targeted sanctions to focus on political actors engaged in such sabotage.
Although they single out four Israeli figures to sanction, the point is really to attack Naftali Bennett, the first politician on their blacklist and a rising star in Israeli politics, on the eve of a national election. (Uri Ariel, Moshe Feiglin, and Zeev Hever are the others.)
Signatories to the letter include Michael Walzer (Princeton), Todd Gitlin (Columbia), Alan Wolfe (Boston College), Michael Kazin (Georgetown), and Gershon Shafir (UC San Diego) among others. As you can see from the names, they are not only academics but also writers. And as you might expect from American academics and left-wing journalists, they have no idea what they’re talking about. A read-through of their open letter shows them to be ignorant of basic international law and deceitful about Israeli actions.
They want to sanction Israelis whose opinions they disagree with, but since those Israelis are not professors at Tel Aviv University they can convince themselves they are better than those other BDSniks. This is their version of a kosher BDS. It is nothing of the sort.
Since their concern about political figures getting in the way of the two-state solution is surely genuine, I eagerly await the follow-up open letter detailing the Palestinian figures they’re also sanctioning: figures who support or encourage terrorism, those involved in Palestinian media who fuel incitement; etc.
And why stop there? As they must know, the political figures who do the most to torpedo Israeli-Palestinian peace sit in Tehran. Which Iranian government officials–obviously President Rouhani, but there must be others–will Third Narrative advocate personal sanctions for?
What’s dangerous about the Third Narrative’s supposedly kosher BDS is that it offers the legions of thought police throughout academia an outlet for their anti-Israel fervor that also flatters their unearned sense of academic integrity. But they can put all the lipstick they want on this pig, it won’t make it kosher.