Three Essays on the Academic Boycott of Israel by Professor Edward Alexander

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BACK TO 1933?

How the Academic Boycott Began*

On April 6, 2002, 123 university academics and researchers (their number -would later rise to 250) from across Europe signed an open letter,  published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, calling for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel until the Israeli government abided  by (unspecified) UN resolutions and returned yet again to negotiations with Yasser Arafat to be conducted in accordance with the principles laid down in the latest Saudi peace plan. The petition was organized and published at the very time Israelis were  being butchered on a daily basis, mainly by brainwashed teenage suicide bombers,  Arab versions of the Hitler Youth.  It declared, in high Pecksniffian style, that since the Israeli government was “impervious to moral appeals from world leaders” Israel’s cultural and research institutions should be denied further funding from the European Union and  the European Science Foundation.  It neglected to recommend that the European Union suspend its very generous financing of Yasser Arafat or that Chinese scholars be boycotted until China withdraws from Tibet. The petition was the brainchild of Steven Rose, director of the Brain and  Behavior Research Group at Gresham College, London, and the great majority of its signatories were British. But it included academics from a host of European countries, a number sufficient to give it the appearance of a pan-European campaign against the Jews. It even had the obligatory display Israeli, one Eva Jablonka of Tel Aviv University. (Nine other Israeli leftists added their names as soon as they found out about this opportunity  for international renown.)

In June, Mona Baker, director of the Center for Translation and Intercultural Studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) decided to practice what the all-European petitioners had preached: She dismissed from the boards of the two  journals  she owns and edits two Israelis, Miriam Shlesinger of Bar-Ilan University and Gideon Toury of Tel Aviv University. She also added that she would no longer accept articles from Israeli researchers,  and it was later revealed that she would not “allow” books originating from her private publishing house (St. Jerome) to be purchased by Israeli institutions. One paradox of the firing, which would be repeated often in later stages of  the boycott, was that Shlesinger was a member in good standing of the Israeli Left, former chairman of Amnesty International’s Israeli chapter, and ever at the ready with “criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank…”  Toury, for his part, opposed taking any retaliatory action against Baker — this had been proposed by an American teaching fellow at Leeds named Michael Weingrad — because “a boycott is a boycott is a boycott.”  A small contingent of Toury’s (mostly British) friends in linguistics issued a statement objecting to his dismissal because: “We agree with Noam Chomsky’s  view that one does not boycott people or their cultural institutions as an expression of political protest.”

It was hard to say whether this document was more notable for its lack of Jewish self-respect or for sheer ignorance (of the fact that Chomsky was leading the American campaign for  isinvestment in Israel, the economic phalanx of the professorial campaign to demonize and isolate Israel). A few (non-British) members of Baker’s boards resigned because they objected to the dismissal of people solely “on the basis of [their]  passport,” especially by a journal entitled The Translator: Studies in Intercultural Communication.  But, for the most part, the dismissals raised no public opposition from within the British university system, just as almost none had been raised back in April when the racist hoodlum Tom Paulin, stalwart of the IRA school of poetics and  lecturer at Oxford, had urged that American Jews living in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria  “should be shot dead.”

The situation changed only when a prominent American scholar, Professor Stephen Greenblatt of Harvard, intervened. After arriving in England in early July 2002 to receive an honorary degree from London University, Greenblatt  called Baker’s actions “repellent,” “dangerous” and “intellectually and morally bankrupt.”  “Excluding scholars because of the passports that they carry or because of  their skin color, religion or political party, corrupts the integrity of  intellectual work,” he said.  Greenblatt’s statement forced the British public to pay attention to Baker’s boycott. Even a writer for the venomously anti-Israel Guardian  was  emboldened to criticize the way in which the European boycotters’  petition was being carried to extreme and radical form in Britain: A British  lecturer working at Tel Aviv University applied for a post back home in the United Kingdom and was told by the head of the first department to which he  applied: “No, we don’t accept any applicants from a Nazi state.”  Greenblatt was still treating the boycott mainly as a violation of academic  freedom – plausibly enough, since Rose had declared that “Academic freedom I find a completely spurious argument…” But the real issue was an  antisemitic campaign to transform the pariah people into the pariah state, as became evident in the rhetorically violent reactions to Greenblatt’s  criticism.  Baker herself quickly announced that she repented of nothing. She was “not against Israeli nationals per se; only Israeli institutions as part of the Israeli state which I absolutely deplore.” She was acting on behalf of good Europeans everywhere, and refused to reveal where she  herself was born- – Egypt, as it happens.

Greenblatt was also assaulted by another inhabitant of the academic fever swamps of Manchester, Baker’s colleague Michael Sinnott, a professor of “paper science.” Springing chivalrously to Baker’s defense, he called  Greenblatt’s open letter to her “sanctimonious claptrap,” decried Israel as “the mirror-image of Nazism,” and asserted that what made Israel a unique menace to the world was”the breathtaking power of the American Jewish  lobby.” In a seven-year sojourn at the University of Illinois in Chicago, he had felt the power of the insatiable Jews on his own pulses. First, “the  Israeli atrocities for which my tax dollars were paying were never reported in the American news media, which were either controlled by Jews, or browbeaten by them in the way you have just exemplified”; second, his “pay  raises at UIC  never really recovered”  from his defiantly scheduling a graduate class on the Jewish Sabbath. The UMIST administration, already busy distancing itself from Baker, now had a still greater embarrassment on its hands when the Sunday Telegraph (September 29)  reported Sinnott’s letter. It “launched an investigation” into the abstruse question of whether Sinnott might be an antisemite.  Sinnott, ever mindful of his “pay raises,” issued a weasely statement of regret, not over his sin but over its detection.

As the boycott campaign intensified, its guiding lights were plagued by problems of definition bearing a ghoulish resemblance to those that once beset the Nazis in deciding just which people were to be considered fitting victims of discrimination, oppression, and (eventually) murder. Perhaps this is why Baker struck up an acquaintance with David Irving, who in December reported on his web site that she had kindly taken the trouble to alert him to an ad placed by in the Israeli press which might be considered supportive of that terrible country. The Hitler-loving historian could have supplied Baker with information about problems the Nazis faced in implementing their boycott: Should the targeted group be people with four Jewish grandparents or perhaps just two?  Some Baker defenders had chastised Greenblatt for suggesting that it was their Israeli nationality that led to the sacking of the two Israelis. By no means! It was just the fact that they worked for Israeli universities. But what of Arabs who worked for Israeli universities? If the Hebrew University employee whose mass murder of the people in the Mount Scopus cafeteria   was the perfect existential realization of the boycotters’ ideas had survived his exploit, would he have been banned from joining Baker’s janitorial staff in Manchester?

There was also the problem of ideology.  Could the professors who organized  the boycott have been so ignorant of the Israeli political scene as not to know that the Israeli professoriat is the center of anti-Zionist polemic  and political activity in the country? Many of the targets of the boycott would inevitably be people with political views similar to those of the boycotters themselves, especially the assumption that it is “occupation” that leads to Arab hatred of Israel, and not Arab hatred of Israel that leads to occupation.

The most paradoxical example of the boycott’s effect was Oren Yiftachel, a political geographer from Ben-Gurion University, described by Ha’aretz as “hold[ing] extreme leftist political views.”  Yiftachel had co-authored a paper with an Arab Israeli political scientist from Haifa University named As’ad  Ghanem, dealing with the attitude of Israeli authorities to Arabs within Israel proper and the disputed territories. They submitted it to the English periodical Political Geography, whose editor, David Slater, returned it with a note saying it had been rejected because its authors were Israelis. Here was a case to test the mettle of a boycotter!  A mischling article, half-Jewish, half-Arab, wholly the product of people carrying Israeli passports and working for Israeli institutions, yet expressing opinions on Israel as the devil’s laboratory indistinguishable from Slater’s. Poor Slater, apparently unable to amputate the Jewish part of the article from the Arab part and (to quote him) “not sure to what extent [the authors] had been critical of Israel,” rejected the submission in its entirety. Or so it seemed– for after half a year of wrangling, it emerged that Slater might accept the paper if only its authors would insert some more paragraphs likening Israel to apartheid South Africa. In other words, the Englishman might relax his boycotting principles if his ideological prejudices could be satisfied.

Exactly what  happened at this point is not easy to discover. Since Yiftachel is one of those Israeli academics who adheres to the motto “the other country, right or wrong,” it is hard to believe he would balk at describing Israel as an apartheid state. He had in the past denounced Israeli governments as racist or dictatorial and had co-authored with Ghanem a piece in Ha’aretz  urging Jews to participate in “Land Day.” But now he had become the classic instance of somebody “hoist with his own petard,” caught in his own trap. At one point he complained to Slater “that rejecting a person because of his [national] origin, from an academic point of view, is very problematic.” Not only did it interfere with the progress of Yiftachel’s career, it hurt the anti-Israel cause.  “From a political and practicalpoint of view, the boycott actually weakens  the sources of opposition to the Israeli occupation in universities,” he fretted.  Poor Yiftachel found that when he and his colleague carried their message about Israeli wickedness to America, audiences would constantly pester  them about- – the boycott.

Nor was this the only instance in which the boycott threatened to backfire.  Susan Greenfield, neurobiologist and director of the Royal Institution, England’s oldest independent research body, published a warning on December  14  that the boycott, “if it continues… will harm people in every sphere, but in medical research lives are potentially at risk.” In 1941, Otto Warburg, one of Germany’s preeminent cancer researchers, was facing dismissal from his post at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society because of his  “half-Jewish” origins. Hitler, aware of the value of Warburg’s research to the health of German citizens, alerted Goering, who promptly turned Warburg  into a “quarter Jew.”  Would  the boycotters  emulate the (occasional)pragmatism of their  predecessors, or stick firmly to their principles in order to reduce Israel to pariah status? More importantly, will the European Union, many of whose prominent members either participated or acquiesced in the  destruction of European Jewry in the years 1933-45 , put a stop to the conspiracy of these spiritual descendants of those Max Weinreich famously called “Hitler’s Professors,” to expel the Jews (once again) from the family of nations? The question remains open.

*Originally published in Jerusalem Post (January 2003).



America’s  Academic Boycotters *


“Have we indeed sinned more than any other nation?”

–Chaim Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary (September 10, 1939)

“In the modern world, the Jew has perpetually been on trial; still today the Jew is on trial, in the person of the Israeli—and this modern trial of the Jew, this trial which never ends, begins with the trial of Shylock.”

–Philip Roth, Operation Shylock (1993)


If there are still many Americans who believe that college and university professors are harmless drudges obsessed with mouldy futilities, people who know so much about so little that they can neither be contradicted nor are worth contradicting, they should be disabused of their illusions by the recent decisions of three (ostensibly) academic organizations to boycott the academic institutions of the state of Israel. First, the Asian American Studies Association in April, and  more recently the American Studies Association and the Council of Native Americans and Indigenous Studies Association.  All have decided that they can no longer share the globe with a Jewish-majority state, any more than the academics included in Max Weinreich’s classic study of Hitler’s Professors (YIVO, 1946) could continue to share Europe with its Jewish minority.  It was these German professors who made  antisemitism academically respectable and complicit in raw murder. They called into question—and quite successfully, of course—the Jews’ “right to live”; our homegrown antisemites—and let us not flinch from calling them what they are—now dispute Israel’s “right to exist,” making themselves accessories before the fact to the planned erasure of Israel by Iran and its Arab satellites.  When the new, academic version of the 1933 Nazi boycotts began, ten years ago in England, it appealed to Europeans who were convinced that  the Holocaust had given antisemitism a bad name, and that it deserved another chance.  Now it has found a foothold in America’s universities.

The politicization of professional organizations, especially in the humanities, has a long history in this country. Those among us who have passed our Biblical threescore and ten  were reminded by the Americanists’  decision to read Israel out of the family of nations of one  Louis  Kampf, who in 1971 was installed as president of the Modern Language Association for the express purpose of imposing the values of the New Left. He was to supply teachers who never cared much for literature in the first place a rationale for their hostility to literary studies:  the great literary works were nothing but an instrument and a result of class oppression. Kampf and his acolytes, instead of applying for job retraining,   envisioned revolution via the English departments. Overcome by the explosive power of boredom, they would “liberate” campus buildings in which they could make literature “relevant.” (I still recall a late colleague of mine who,  when asked at the time why she had not renewed her MLA membership, replied  that “As a Canadian citizen, I’m not permitted to join foreign political organizations.”)

The New Left, seething with yet unabated hatred of Israel for surviving the Six-Day War, in later years (1998) would also  elect  Edward Said, the “professor of terror”  and veteran  of the PLO executive,  to the presidency of the MLA.  Cynthia Ozick had remarked of Said’s joining of literature to terror that “If, years ago when I was in graduate school, someone had told me that it was possible to be steeped in Joseph Conrad and at the same time be a member of the ‘National Council’ of a world-wide terror organization I would have doubted this with all the passion for civilization and humane letters that a naïve and literature-besotted young person can evidence. I know better now. Professor Said has read  Heart of Darkness, and it has not educated his heart.”

In January of 2014 the same MLA, an organization whose 30,000 members dwarf the membership  of the American Studies Association,  will devote a panel of its annual meeting to a “debate” of the boycott, perhaps the prelude to a resolution proposing an MLA variant.  One of the pro-boycott panelists is  Barbara Harlow of University of Texas, who has been a busy virtuoso of anti-Israel activity since at least 1989, when she sprang to the defense of Said for having insisted on the “right” of the PLO, supposedly guaranteed by the UN Charter itself,  “to punish collaborators during periods of military occupation.” The other four MLA panelists, in a remarkable display of what progressives  mean by “diversity,” also favor the BDS movement, though not all have any connection with literature or philology, the ostensible business of the MLA.

Many of Said’s   disciples would go on to concoct a heady brew of postmodernist theorizing, infatuation with terror against Israel and America, and stupefyingly  opaque prose. Here, for example, is Gayatri  Chakravorty  Spivak,  as   heavily petted by Columbia University today as  Said was years ago by that noble institution, in a lecture of 2002:  “Suicide bombing—and the planes of 9/11 were living bombs—is a purposive self-annihilation, a confrontation between oneself and oneself, the extreme end of auto-eroticism, killing oneself as other, in the process  killing others….Suicidal resistance is a message inscribed on the body when no other means will get through.  It is both execution and mourning … you die with me for the same cause, no matter which side you are on. Because no matter who you are there are no designated  killees [sic] in suicide bombing…It is a  response…to the state terrorism practiced outside of its own ambit by the United States and in the Palestinian case additionally to an absolute failure of hospitality.” On such ingredients, which Lionel Trilling  used to call “the language of nonthought,”  does our professorial avant-garde nourish itself.

The allegations against Israel brought by the assorted academic boycotters are countless, and make the tiny country—that “shitty little country,” as a French diplomat who  unzipped his mouth in public said a few years  ago—guilty of virtually every evil on the planet with the (possible) exception of global warming. But let us examine the favorite one: Israel is an “apartheid” state.  According to the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, “All academic exchanges with Israeli academics …have the effect of normalizing Israel and its politics of occupation and apartheid.”   On every American campus that deems itself “progressive” there is an Israel Apartheid Week every spring. For days on end the self-declared friends of the human species spew fire and vitriol at the Jewish state and call for its elimination from the family of nations, so that the globe may be Judenstaatrein (purified of a Jewish state).

There have never been apartheid laws in Israel.  Jews and Arabs use the same buses, clinics, government offices, universities, theatres, restaurants, soccer fields, and beaches. All citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnic origin, are equal before the law. That law accords full political, civil, and human rights to all  its people, including the more than one million Arab citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli parliament and cabinet. Israel is also the only country in the world to have sought out and brought to its shores, entirely on its own initiative, tens of thousands of black Africans for purposes other than slavery, granting them full citizenship. There is, to be sure, extreme and murderous racial and religious discrimination in the Middle East—have the Americanists looked into the causes of the 130,000 dead in nearby Syria?–  so much so that Israel is nearly the only state in the region where “apartheid” is not practiced in some form.

Anybody who believes that the singling out of Israel, the sole Jewish-majority nation among all the nations of the world, for boycott has nothing to do with Jew-hatred will also believe that Europe’s recent obsession with banning circumcision and the laws of kashrut has nothing to do with a deep-seated desire to rid itself, yet again, of Jews. Such a (conjectural) person might also be interested in some choice real estate I know about in downtown Aleppo.

The American Studies Association boycotters, especially  the organization’s  president and executive committee, have comported themselves with the dogmatism and dictatorialness  that have long been de rigueur among academic liberals: they would not allow their opponents within the ASA to make the  case against declaring war on Israel to the organization’s membership.   They also acted according to rule in trotting out their Display Jews (to borrow Kafka’s term) to blacken Israel’s image (and turn the pariah people into the pariah state).  This stale trick  is the ASA’s  chief defense against charges that the boycott movement is  antisemitic.  One hesitates to call such Jews self-haters because so many of them are sick with self-love. Seen in long historical perspective, they represent a relatively  recent  development in the often desperate search for Jewish “identity.” In a famous short story of 1942 by the Hebrew writer Haim Hazaz, a character named Yudka (little Jew) declares that “When a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist.” But in Howard Jacobson’s satirical novel, The Finkler Question (2010), we encounter a  fellow named Kugle (Yiddish for pudding) who declares that “I am a Jew by virtue of the fact that I am not a Zionist.” These Jews inspire contempt but also—let me confess it—a certain degree of pity. The creation of the state of Israel just a few years after the destruction of European Jewry was one of the greatest affirmations by a martyred people of the will to live, indeed one of the most hopeful signs for humanity since the dove brought to Noah “an olive-leaf freshly plucked” after the primeval flood had abated.  What, I wonder, must it be like for a Jew to be blind to this? (Light is a quality of matter, but blind people don’t see it.

Perhaps a cautionary and charitable note of warning  to the aforementioned Kugles assiduously feeding the flames of antisemitism is in order.  Stoking this fire is a risky business because  the flames quickly get out of control.  Jew-haters, whether Nazi or communist, Islamist  or  progressive,  are notoriously poor at distinguishing  between Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews.  Like  poor Cinna,  the unfortunate poet in Julius Caesar who is  mistaken by the “firebrands”  come to mourn  their murdered emperor insisting that he is not “Cinna the conspirator,”  it will avail them nothing to plead “I am Kugle the anti-Zionist! I am not Kugle the Zionist.” The mob will nevertheless reply: “It is no matter. Tear him to pieces, he’s a Jew.”

Jews who eagerly look forward to the elimination of Israel by relentless demonization and its likely sequel, by fair means or foul, might do well to remember the old Yiddish proverb: Come for your inheritance, and you may have to pay for the funeral.”

*Originally published in The Weekly Standard, December 2013.



The BDS Movement and Modern Apostasy*

“The spiritual father of the fanatical incitement against the Jews was Abner of Burgos, a Jewish kabbalist  and scholar who converted to Christianity  in about 1321, upon experiencing a deep religious and spiritual crisis, and became known as Alfonso of Valladolid. His… despair of the Jewish question found expression in his polemics—some written in Hebrew, others in Spanish—which contain a complete doctrine of denunciation of the Jews and their laws and morals. Oral Law, he maintained, constituted a code of robbery, usury and deception. …Various sayings by the Talmudic sages … were interpreted by this apostate to mean that the Jews must be deprived of the easy livelihoods of usury and medicine, that they must be deprived of their autonomy and that they must be terrorized and subjected to harsh laws. Only then would they merit redemption.

–H. H. Ben-Sasson,  A History of the Jewish People.



  1. Prelude:  at Vassar College.

Starting in late February  the campus of Vassar College  in Poughkeepsie has been the scene of some of the ugliest depredations yet organized by the BDS  (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign designed to expel Israel from the family of nations.  The college founded in the nineteenth century by a brewer has become a witches’ brew of bullying and raw violence carried out by Students for Justice in Palestine and its collaborators. They described themselves as “staging an action [italics mine]” (on March 3) against the on-campus part of an International Studies class that was to include a trip to the Middle East to consider “water issues” in the region. Since the Jew and then the Israeli have  been perpetually on trial  it was considered necessary by Vassar to convene a special forum to consider the “ethics” of a course that would include setting foot in Israel. Although the trip’s itinerary confirmed that its (predictably tendentious) purpose was to convince students that Israel is unfairly  depriving Palestinian Arabs of water, that slander was not sufficient to protect it (or its garden-variety Jewish leftist instructors) from the wrath of BDSers, who consider Israel the devil’s own experiment station or, in the colorful lingo of  Philip Weiss,  a  Jewish hater of Israel in attendance at the forum,  “a blot on civilization.”    Their  violence (which included screaming, interruptions, and perhaps ululating)  was the existential realization of a letter published on March 1  by a group of thirty-nine Vassar faculty members who condemned the Vassar administration for daring to criticize  the recently passed resolution of the American Studies Association  in favor of  boycotting  Israeli academic institutions.

The professors  charged that critics of the ASA boycotters  had had “a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and opinions.”  It is now almost 65 years since Lionel Trilling  remarked on the way in which modern liberals not only want  the right to go their own way in all things, but to go their own way without any questions ever being asked of them.   Those who carried out the “action” also had their special complaint.  According to Weiss they were  “people of color” (perhaps by analogy with “jeans of blue”), and therefore entitled to accuse their critics of “racism.” (They understand liberal-left  quackery only too well:  liberals think “the poor” are their equals in every sense… except that of being equal to them.) But the final word on that allegation of “chilled” discourse was left to the gloating Weiss: “The spirit of that young progressive space was that Israel is a blot on civilization, and boycott is right and necessary. If a student had gotten up and said, I love Israel, he or she would have been mocked and scorned into silence.”

Matthew Arnold, recalling  (back in 1883)  the happier moments of his second visit to America, expressed pleasure that “in colleges like Vassar College in the State of New York,” women (“the fair host of the Amazons”)  were now studying Greek art and Greek literature.  One wonders what he would think if he visited  the same place now. I believe that  what would most shock him would be not the bullying, the intimidation, the thuggery—to Oxford itself he had applied Byron’s aspersion: “there are our young barbarians all at play!”–but the flagrant violation of  conscience  in intellectual work, a violation like the following course description   by Vassar’s Professor Joshua Schreier:

“History 214: The Roots of the Palestine-Israel Conflict:

This course is NOT designed to present ‘an objective’ account of a ‘two-sided’ conflict. The fact that there are supposedly two sides does not obligate us to portray each as equally right and/or equally wrong. The goal, rather, is to understand  why the conflict arose, and what sorts of power inequalities have made it continue….Why and how did economic globalization, technological development, and European imperialism foster the creation of two different national identities in Palestine? Why and how and when did these two identities develop in such a way as to preclude members of certain religious or ethnic  groups from belonging?”


Ruth Wisse has pointed out the impossibility of finding a course description at any elite American college or university that operated from the opposed ideological premise to Schreier’s:  namely, that “the Jewish people had a connection to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean that was greater and of longer duration than the nomadic peoples who came to be called Palestinians, and that the central place of Palestinians in world politics is due to an imbalance of power between the small Jewish state and the petroleum-drenched Arab states with which it must contend.”

When he wrote this description, which apparently raised no eyebrows in whatever Vassar administrators  pass  judgment on curriculum, Schreier was an untenured toiler in the college’s Jewish Studies Program; now he is its chairman—and also (a fact that may  surprise some people) the chief campus spokesman for  the academic boycott of Israel.  Here is how Lucette Lagnado (a Vassar graduate) reported the revelation in the Wall Street Journal (February 24, 2014): “The head of the Jewish Studies Program…had also expressed support for the boycott movement. Prof. Schreier was quoted in the campus paper ruminating that while once ‘instinctively against’ the boycott, he had heard more ‘substantiated, detailed’ arguments in its behalf, and as a result ‘I am currently leaning in favor of it,’ he concluded delicately, as if choosing a favorite tea.”


  1. Self-hatred– or self-love and apostasy?

In his formidable book entitled Jewish Self-Hatred  (1986) Sander Gilman showed how apostasy  in the form of conversion to Christianity  was the solution to their personal predicament chosen by substantial numbers of disaffected European Jewish intellectuals .  He concluded the book by suggesting that “one of the most recent forms of Jewish self-hatred is the virulent Jewish opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.”  In the modern world, however, the contradiction between liberal pieties and the defense of Israel is rarely resolved by formal apostasy, and it is difficult  to find any self-hatred in such Jewish Israel-haters as Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Judith Butler, and Jacqueline Rose, who suffer rather from a  self-love that would shame  Shakespeare’s Malvolio.  They do on occasion cling to the outer trappings  of  medieval apostasy.  Marc Ellis, the wandering “liberation theologian” and former Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University,  famously  spent one Yom Kippur publicly confessing the sins of (other) Jews against Palestinian Arabs in front of a Christian audience at the (Protestant) Union Theological Seminary. (He also praised the “courage” of Gillian Rose, sister of the aforementioned Jacqueline, for her deathbed conversion to Christianity via the Church of England.)  Daniel Boyarin, the University of California, Berkeley professor (of Talmud) who has identified himself as a Jew “destined by fate, psychology, personal history, or whatever, to be drawn to Christianity,” warns that “My Judaism may be dying at Nablus, Daheishe, Beteen,” (i.e., places the Israeli army has entered to pursue people inclined to massacre Jews).  Noam Chomsky favors St. Paul’s Cathedral, in (or in front of) which he has often held forth, in one instance  introduced by another perfervid Jewish Israelophobe, the late Harold Pinter, who introduced  Chomsky  as “the leading critical voice against the criminal regime now running the United States.” (Lest that remark prove overly cryptic, the ever-helpful Chomsky had a few weeks earlier clarified:  “Antisemitism is no longer a problem [in the U.S.], fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control.”

These, however, are but the dramaturgy, the trappings and suits of woe where “virulent Jewish opposition to the existence of the state of Israel” is concerned.  We see it more frequently, and frighteningly, in the BDS  movement, dedicated to turning the pariah people into the pariah nation  by calling into question Israel’s “right to exist,” just as the Nazis had called into question, and very successfully, the Jewish people’s “right to live.” The leaders of this movement are preponderantly Jewish apostates of a new kind that may well frighten  us. Cynthia Ozick explains:

“The Nicholas Donins and Pablo Christianis  of ages past ran to abandon their Jewish ties even as they subverted them. The Nicholas Donins and Pablo Christianis of our own time run to embrace their Jewish ties even as they besmirch them. So it is as self-declared Jews, as loyal and honorable Jews , as Jews in the line of the prophets, as Jews who speak out for the sake of the integrity of Jews and Judaism, that we nowadays hear arguments against the survival, or the necessity, or the legitimacy, of the State of Israel. “

  1. The Jews  of BDS.

Despite its precedents in the Nazis’ kauf nicht bei Juden campaign begun in 1933 and the expulsion of Jews from German universities by “Hitler’s Professors,”  and the Arab economic boycott of Israel now over 65 years old, the BDS  movement, especially its leadership,  may fairly be called, despite local variations, “Jews Against Themselves.” It was begun in England   in April 2002 by the Jewish academic  Steven Rose and his wife Jacqueline.    Espousal of the boycott of Israel, especially its academic institutions,  soon became the identifying mark of “progressive” English Jews, so much so that Howard Jacobson  devoted a whole satirical novel (The Finkler Question, 2010) to “the Jews of shame,” people who were ashamed of Israel’s very existence, though not of their own illiteracy, cowardice, and treachery.

Sixty years earlier it was a widespread joke that “when a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist.” But in The Finkler  Question  characters are far more likely to believe, as one named  Kugel explicitly states:  “I am a Jew because I am a non-Zionist.”  Another  character, almost certainly  based on the actor Stephen Fry, is described as follows:  “To be an ASHamed Jew did not require that you had been knowingly Jewish all your life. Indeed, one among them only found out he was Jewish at all in the course of making a television programme  in which he was confronted on camera with who he really was. In the final frame of the film he was disclosed weeping  before  a memorial in Auschwitz to dead ancestors who until that moment he had never known he’d had. … Born a Jew on Monday, he had signed up to be an ASHamed Jew by Wednesday and was seen chanting ‘We are all Hezbollah’ outside the Israeli Embassy on the following Saturday.”

Another Anglo-Jewish tribune of the BDS movement, and not merely a fictional one, is the very ashamed Jacqueline Rose,  the psychoanalytically inclined professor of English. In the nosology of social diseases she merits a special place. She  has long been so consumed by shame that she insists only the erasure of Israel can cure her affliction:  ”Appalled at what the Israeli nation perpetrated in my name,” she has repeatedly expressed the wish to live “in a world in which we did not have to be ashamed of shame” and looks forward to curing her shame-sickness by destroying  its cause: Israel.

In America  the most flagrant, blatant, and obscene  Jewish  defamer of Israel has been a figure with global reach through a megaphone of Brobdingnagian proportions.  Richard Falk recently completed a six-year term as a  United Nations  “rappporteur” (literally “talebearer” ) for human rights  in the “Palestinian territories”—this  after forty years as professor of international studies at Princeton University.  He had also acquired fame outside of academia   as a regular in the New York Review of Books (the Women’s Wear Daily  of  anti-Israel Jews), and once again  in 1989  when, in a Commentary dispute (with me) over Edward Said ‘s claim that the UN charter entitled the PLO to murder “collaborators ,”  he praised Said as “this courageous and compassionate person who [sic] many of us value.” From his UN post, Falk has relentlessly described Israel as Satan’s lair,  called for  “a legitimacy war against Israel,” blamed the Boston Marathon bombings on “Tel Aviv,” and then–in the summer of 2011– having exhausted his own store of verbal eloquence on the topic,   posted on his “blog” site a cartoon of a dog wearing a yarmulke urinating on a blindfolded female figure of Justice.  If any single figure ever embodied the image of the UN as the center of the world’s evil, it is Richard Falk.  But—it is almost needless to add—this did not stop him from placing himself in the line of Jewish Biblical prophets working for “social justice” by leading the international assault on Israel for  countless human rights violations.

Second only to Falk as the public face of the BDS movement to blacken Israel’s reputation and caricature Zionism is Judith Butler, a professor of philosophy with a mind so coarse that it sees  in the establishment of Israel not one of the few redeeming events in a century of blood and shame, not one of the noblest examples  of a commitment to life by a martyred people, not  an expression of the yearning for human dignity symbolized by the Exodus from slavery that has characterized Jewish civilization for millennia, but an emotional quirk, a stupid prejudice, no more worthy of respect or preservation than a taste for  high cholesterol foods. “Some Jews have a heartfelt investment in corned beef sandwiches,” she sneers.  So what?

Butler is a latter-day descendant of what has been called the California School of Jewish Studies, to which she arrived after establishing herself as a theoretician of “Queer Theory” as well as a member of that cadre of philosophy and literature teachers who hate both for being  at once  the instruments and results of class and gender oppression. Like the aforementioned Boyarin, who sought to make the “feminized Jewish man” into a universal model, she belongs to the Queer Nation, and  believes that sexual identity is arbitrarily constructed independently of  biology. Not for her the old wisecrack about how “language has gender, people have sex.” But what has remained most constant in her movement from philosophy  to anti-Zionist politics  is the stupefying opacity of her prose, as epitomized in the following (award-winning) sentence.

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

This from the  winner of the Theodor  Adorno  Prize, chaired professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at  Berkeley, occupant of the Hannah Arendt chair in the European Graduate School in  Switzerland, recipient of numerous honorary degrees. Among the many awards lavished upon Butler   this is surely the most deserved. The sentence  appeared in the journal Diacritics in 1997 and won the annual Bad Writing Contest conducted by the journal Philosophy and Literature.

Prior to autumn 2003 Butler  was someone who defined her “Jewishness” in opposition to the State of Israel.  She was mainly a signer of petitions harshly critical of the state.  She did express misgiving  about signing one petition (for halting American aid)  because it “was not nearly strong enough…it did not call for the end of Zionism.” Upon looking more deeply into the matter, she discovered that there had been “de bates among Jews throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as to whether Zionism ought to become the basis of a state.” From this she swiftly concluded that demanding an end to Zionism in 2003, calling for politicide, was no different from taking a debater’s position against it fifty years before the state came into existence.

The annus mirabilis of what has become her life  struggle against Zion began in September  2002 when Lawrence Summers , then president of Harvard,  delivered a speech deploring the upsurge of antisemitism in many parts of the globe: he included synagoguge bombings, physical assaults on Jews, desecration of Jewish holy places, and (this with special emphasis) denial of the right of “the Jewish state to exist.” But his most immediate concern was that “at Harvard and…universities across the country” faculty-initiatied petitions were calling “for the University to single out Israel among all nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of the university’s endowment to be invested.”  (Summers’s speech stands to this day as a rare exception to the timidity of university administrators in facing up to the true nature of BDS activities; and it may have contributed to his being forced out of Harvard’s presidency in February of 2006, ostensibly because he had alluded to, without condemning, the view that women have less natural aptitude for science than men.)

Butler had herself signed the same petition in Berkeley, where it circulated in February 2001. She therefore found Summers’ remarks not only wrong but personally “hurtful”  since they implicated Butler herself in the newly resurgent campus antisemitism as well as the violence it quickly fomented. (She could hardly have failed to notice that the Berkeley BDS petition provided the impetus for anti-Israel mob violence at her own campus on April 24, 2001, a few weeks after it had been circulated, and for more explicitly anti-Jewish  mobs at nearby San Francisco State University in May of the following year.   She therefore decided to write a reply to Summers  in the London Review of Books, whose main political impulse is the unwillingness to share the globe with a Jewish majority state. Her essay, entitled “No, It Isn’t Anti-Semitic,” published August 21, 2003 is a key document of the BDS movement and as central to “antisemitism denial” as the work of Robert Faurisson is to Holocaust denial.  It operates, moreover,  at  the  same intellectual level as the Frenchman’s work.

Summers, knowing how ubiquitous in anti-Israel discourse is the straw man called “the defender of Israel who decries any criticism of Israeli policy as antisemitism,” had gone out of his way to separate himself from this (entirely conjectural) figure, but to no avail. Butler has continued, with steam-engine regularity,  to insist that it is “untrue, absurd and painful for anyone to argue that those who formulate a criticism of the State of Israel is [sic] antisemitic or, if Jewish, self-hating.” She further accused  Summers of striking a blow against academic freedom because his words were having “a chilling effect on academic discourse.” (Do Butler’s words sound familiar? That is because she had performed—“performativity”  is her academic hobbyhorse—at Vassar not long before the aforementioned  thirty-nine  professors complained that criticisms of the American Studies Association had  nearly frozen their  vocal chords.) No evidence is (or indeed could be) adduced for Butler’s allegation . Of one thing we can be sure: the chill did not take hold at Harvard itself, which would very soon (in November) play host to Oxford’s Tom Paulin, who had urged (in yet another “criticism of Israeli policy”) that Jews living in Judea/Samaria “should be shot dead,” or at Columbia, where Paulin continued merrily through autumn semester  as a visiting professor, or at the New York Review of Books , which in October 2003 would publish Tony Judt’s call for an end to the state of Israel, or in the London Review of Books itself, which in January  2003 published another 133 lines of Paulin doggerel called “On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card,” a versified regurgitation of Butler’s “No, It’s Not anti-Semitic.” If Summers’ Harvard speech had a chilling effect on antisemitic clarion calls, including incitement to raw murder, one would not wish to know what the fully heated versions sound like.

Although Butler’s assault on Summers is a loose, baggy monster, what it leaves out is more blatant than what it includes. Like all BDS manifestoes, it omits   history  altogether, distorts evidence, and  omits context. Did it never occur to Butler that the divestment campaign is one prong of the endless Arab campaign to strangle the Jewish state? The “occupation” which Butler and  fellow  BDSers constantly bemoan did not cause Arab hatred and violence; it was Arab hatred and aggression that led to occupation. For nineteen years, from 1948-67, the Arabs were entirely in control of the disputed territories, theirs to do with whatever they pleased; and somehow it never occurred to them to establish a state there, or indeed to use those territories as anything except staging grounds for attacks on Israel.  (Are there still people outside of the State Department who believe the Arabs are as interested in having a state as in pulling down that of their neighbor?)

The Harvard/MIT divestment petition that Butler championed against Summers was promoted at MIT by Chomsky, who would be rendered nearly speechless without calling Israelis Nazis.  Butler was herself one of the “first signatories” of a July 28, 2003 petition that uses the Israeli-Nazi equation (beloved of  denigrators of Zionism going back to British official circles in Cairo in 1941): it says Israeli use of concrete, barbed wire and electronic fortifications has made “Israeli citizens themselves into a people of camp wardens.” So it would seem that, for Butler and her loyal followers in the BDS movement, “Language plays an important role in shaping and attuning our…understanding of social and political realities” except when it happens to be the antisemitic  language that demonizes Israel as being black as Gehenna and the Pit of Hell.

  1. Conclusion.

In his History of the Jews in Christian Spain Yitzhak Baer tells us that Abner of Burgos, the apostate cited at the beginning of this essay, not only devised a plan for terrorizing and destroying the Jews which “the enemies of Israel were to carry out in its entirety in the year 1391.”  “The aging fanatical apostate  who  wrote these diatribes,” Baer adds,” launched his holy war himself, not only in words but also in  deed.”  But our new apostates need not work so hard: they can rest content with being accessories to, rather than perpetrators of,  murder. The machinery for destruction of the state of Israel is already in place. It exists not only in Iran, whose leaders explicitly call for wiping Israel off the map with nuclear weapons that they are now almost certain to obtain. The neighbors of the tiny country  called Israel would be delighted to see it reduced to sandy wastes,  as would countless citizens of the Dark Continent (Europe, that is) who cannot forgive the Jews for the Holocaust.  If many  Iranians and Europeans still deny there was a first Holocaust, that is because, as the courageous German scholar Matthias Kuntzel has observed: “Every denial of the Holocaust contains an appeal to repeat it.”  The BDSers may be obtuse, craven, morally bankrupt; but they would also have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to recognize  the link between their efforts and the murderous intentions  of  those who regret the Holocaust only because—for a time—it gave antisemitism a bad name.

There is yet one more calamity that has been brought closer by the reckless Jewish promoters of BDS, a calamity that one might have expected at least the Jewish Studies professors among them to think about for just a moment.  “In only one respect,” wrote Hillel Halkin in 2007, “are things [now] worse.  In the 1930’s the Jews were a people that had lost a first temple and a second one; yet as frightful as their next set of losses was to be, they did not have a third temple to risk. Today, they do. And in Jewish history, three strikes and you’re out.”


*Originally published in Algemeiner, May 14, 2014.

Three Essays on the Academic Boycott of Israel by Professor Edward Alexander

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Edward Alexander

Edward Alexander is Prof. Emeritus in the Department of English at the University of Washington, among his most recent books are The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal (Transaction, 2012) and Jews against Themselves (Transaction, 2015)

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