Pronouncements attempting to appeal to the conscience of academics supportive of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement often depict Israel as a Nazi-like state. These views—once labeled extreme—have become increasingly mainstream as academics call for Israel’s destruction, not by might or power but by bad analogies and misguided ideas.
A careful look at the BDS movement and its methodology shows not legitimate criticism but a movement that is racist and anti-Semitic. Why? Because BDS clearly targets Israel. Its stated goals vary but all include the “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees.” The effort is cloaked to give the impression that ending specific Israeli policies, such as the “occupation” or “apartheid,” would also end efforts to ostracize Israel and would result in peace for the region. Yet their maximalist demand —the flood of Palestinian refugees, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state—is carefully hidden.
Now on the heels of “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW) 2013, currently spreading around the country in over 250 cities, we are seeing a growing push to promote divestiture bills by students and faculty.
Nobel recipients such as Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire are abusing their award by weighing in on the vote. Maguire specifically commented on the proposed Stanford initiative by saying, “I salute Stanford University students who are striving to end their own university’s complicity in Israel’s human rights violations through divesting from companies that are deeply involved in those violations. I stand with you and believe we shall overcome all injustice and all inequality, as we have done before.” Additionally, other celebrities, including The Color Purple author Alice Walker, Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, and Leftist professor of history Joel Beinin, have all weighed in to support the initiative and the BDS movement.
On a positive note, we are seeing stake holders and politicians stand up against this vitriol and abuse of academic freedom. One such individual is Canada’s Minister of Citizenship Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, who courageously proclaimed, “The disproportionate vitriol directed against the democratic State of Israel during ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ stands in stark and ironic contrast to the silence of IAW organizers on the ongoing atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against its own citizens, and on the rampant brutalities and denial of rights in non-democratic countries in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world. In free societies such as Canada’s and Israel’s, it is absolutely legitimate to debate and criticize government policies and practices. Indeed, Israel supports the right of free expression more than any other country in its part of the world. But with the freedom to criticize comes the responsibility to guard against hateful and intolerant rhetoric.”
Moreover, the faculty at UC San Diego, as one notable example, was able to come together and issue a strong statement opposing a vote there to introduce a divestment initiative, stating, “the most troubling aspect of the resolution is its characterization of Jewish citizens of Israel as ‘colonial occupiers’ while Arabs are described as indigenous to the land. In so doing, the resolution denies the profound emotional, cultural, and religious connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, a connection that spans 3000 years. This is a deplorable attempt to delegitimize an ancient people’s ethnic identity. Rather than advancing the prospect of reconciliation between Arabs and Jews, such claims regress to the very attitude that has been at the heart of the conflict and prevented a peaceful resolution thus far.”
Overall, the BDS campaign is contrary to the search for peace, since it represents a form of misguided economic warfare. It is directly in opposition to decades of agreements between Israeli and Arab Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a commitment to a two state solution, but only Israel has repeatedly made concessions for peace. Additionally, by focusing exclusively and obsessively on Israel, and not on many other countries in the world where actual human and civil rights abuses exist, the actions of those supporting the BDS campaign are, according to former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.”
SPME urges those committed to peace and justice for the people of a region which has had too much war and violence to join with us in rejecting the politics of hatred that the BDS movement represents and urges all intuitions of higher education to ensure that none of its academic units sponsors this racist, counter-productive campaign in the form of panels, symposia, conferences, or other school-sponsored events that politicize scholarship and are intellectually biased against Israel, as recently occurred, for instance, at Brooklyn College involving the School’s Political Science Department
Therefore, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East condemns all efforts to use academia to promote boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions against Israel, including the promotion by student governments of resolutions calling for divestiture, as they represent an abandonment of scholarly principles, a degradation of campus civility, and a violation of the precepts of unbiased, rational academic inquiry.