Money is flowing to the campus for BDS activities, but the amounts, at least those that are visible, appear relatively trivial, especially when compared to the investments of the pro-Israel community, which are growing following the announcement of plans by the Israeli government and American philanthropists to spend tens of millions of dollars to preempt, deter and defeat BDS campaigns. The bottom line is that the pro-Israel, anti-BDS organizations form a well-funded, well-coordinated network, not the student organizations promoting BDS. This does not take into account, however, the less visible but more insidious influence of faculty who support the BDS movement. “They help sustain and feed support for the campus movement in a way that would impossible without them,” noted Samarov and Cohen. “For example, at University of Texas at Austin, the divestment resolution was written by Professor Snehal Shingavi. The student activists who introduced the resolution this year will leave, but he will stay and be in a position to ensure that the campaign continues.”
While students come and go, faculty are nearly permanent fixtures who shape departments through hiring and tenure decisions, influence the profession through their associations, impact the campus environment through their public activities and sway and sometimes harass students in their classrooms. More than 1,500 professors have signed petitions condemning Israel and/or supporting BDS, three professional associations voted to boycott Israel and an untold number of faculty engage in academic malpractice by using their classrooms to advance their personal anti-Israel agendas.
Asaf Romirowsky, Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, observed that “most academics who support BDS fall into the category of scholar-activists, a phenomena that has been growing in North America since the 1960’s, where individuals focus more on political theater rather than enduring scholarship.” He adds that it is difficult for most faculty to respond to BDS advocates because they are dealing with polemicists rather than serious scholars. These Israel deniers “have increasingly retreated away from serious engagement of issues surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict and replaced it with anti-intellectual demonology of Israel and its supporters.
Not surprisingly, supporters of the BDS campaign see it differently. Marc Pilisuk, Professor Emeritus from the University of California, notes that some activists believe “academic and cultural activities indicate an acceptance of the occupation as normal while others believe that such activities are helpful to conciliation and focus instead on economic pressure.” When asked what has been accomplished given the failure to achieve the goals of BDS, Pilisuk says “public recognition.” While he sees the prospects for a two-state solution dimming, he does not hesitate to state that “Israel exists” with the caveat that Israel “will not be viable if its existence relies upon the suppression of its non-Jewish residents by military means and by the usurping of land for all-Jewish settlements.”
Dr. Richard Landis acknowledges that it doesn’t matter if they succeed or not to get divestment, “their main focus (and here they succeed admirably) is to spread poison about Israel and to shame and bully anyone (i.e., the vast majority of Jewish students and profs) who supports her into silence.”
The anti-Semitic BDS campaign is now infecting academic associations. “The anti-Israel activists employed as professors who led the fight at the American Studies Association to pass the academic boycott of Israel in December 2013, have been patting themselves on the back ever since,” according to William A. Jacobson, a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School. “Forget that over 250 university presidents and the major academic organizations condemned the move as a gross violation of academic freedom. Even the New York Times called the ASA a ‘pariah.’” Moreover, he adds, “no major academic group has adopted the boycott and no university is even considering a boycott.”
Unlike the pro-Israel community, which has largely neglected the role of faculty because student activities are more obvious, the Arab states have invested heavily ($1.4 billion since 1986 according to the Department of Education) in universities with the goal of influencing future generations of American voters and leaders.
To effectively counter the BDS movement on campus, more attention must be paid to supporting sympathetic faculty: funding chairs, programs and centers in Israel Studies; training teachers to teach about Israel; bringing visiting Israeli scholars to American campuses; taking American professors to Israel; and supporting and encouraging the next generation of Israel scholars by providing scholarships to graduate students pursuing degrees in Israel-related fields and postdoctoral fellowships for new PhDs in Israel Studies.
“We need to take back the campuses from the anti-Israel professoriate,” Jacobson insists, “but that will take many years.”
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.