At JCPA Manfred Gerstenfeld discusses the problem of href=campus anti-Israel activity
. We can agree with Gerstenfeld that it is certainly a problem, but the solutions he offers explain why we aren't succeeding in combating the problem, rather than providing a program for action.
Divestment and boycott campaigns, biased teaching, attacks on students in classes, boycotts by journals, anti-Israel resolutions, anti-Israel conferences hosted by universities such as the PSM conference at Georgetown University
and ugly incidents like the one at Concordia University are all part of the picture. They are the products of careful planning by groups like PSM and infiltration of academic unions and student action groups, as well as the political sociology of Middle East studies. Arab and Muslim governments donate hefty sums for Middle East studies centers, endow chairs, and organize professional associations. Professors who teach about the Middle East depend on the good will of these governments to allow them to visit and work in their countries, and are also happy to receive fees for consultancy. A significant part of US Middle East academia includes Palestinian professors like Joseph Massad as well as former US diplomats who carry with them the traditional State Department antipathy to persons of the "Mosaic persuasion"
Zionist advocates flatter themselves on foiling boycott and divestment initiatives, but they miss the point. The biggest danger of campus anti-Israel activities are not the divestment and boycott initiatives, but the entire educational program, of which these initiatives are only a part. This program is aimed at delegitimizing Israel and ensuring that the next generation of diplomats in the USA and the UK will carry this position into their work and put it into action. It doesn't matter if this or that divestment initiative fails, as long as it gives publicity and legitimacy to views that champion the Hamas and insist that Israel is an apartheid genocidal state.
Gerstenfeld bewails the fact that initiatives by the David Project and Alan Dershowitz at Columbia University accomplished so little. These efforts failed however for two reasons, and Gerstenfeld and others seem to be blissfully unaware of, and insensitive to, either one.
Israeli universities must play a larger role in fighting both anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli discrimination on worldwide campuses. Collaborating with the Israeli government, Diaspora organizations, academic institutions, and private activists may yield the best results. Such task forces' main aim should not be to defend Israel but to turn the accusers into the accused.
In addition, there were unofficial or concealed boycotts such as foreign academics severing relations with Israelis with whom they had maintained contacts for years. Attacks on Jews and Israel in the world's universities take many forms. A workable strategy must be based on an early evaluation of threats. There is no standard model for the best defense. Case studies need to be done that analyze each attack and its key components. Questions to be asked include how the anti-Israeli action manifests itself, who is behind it, what anti-Semitic elements it includes, and whether anybody has already reacted against it. Once these facts are clear the next step is to design a strategy and mobilize allies.
The attacked are both Israeli universities and pro-Israelis on foreign campuses. Some of the latter have suffered severe consequences for expressing their views, including the loss of academic positions. Collaborating with the Israeli government, Diaspora organizations, academic institutions, and private activists may yield the best results. Such task forces' main aim should not be to defend Israel but to turn the accusers into the accused.
These efforts would fail like their predecessors, because they show an utter lack of comprehension of the problem. The first reason that these efforts did not succeed well is that they often made extreme charges or tried to defend extremist points of view. Not everyone who is against Israel is an anti-Semite, and even if they are, you probably can't make the charge stick in court very easily. Insisting on raising this charge, as well as attempts to discredit anyone who is against Israeli policies, tend to discredit groups like the David project, even among Jewish students whom they sought to defend.
The second reason efforts to combat campus anti-Israel activity failed was because they were precisely as Gerstenfeld recommends, attempts to identify campaigns and persons and threats, and to deal with the problem on the basis of local and particular issues. In fact, what the opposition is doing, is developing a constituency. There is not one threat or one person or one group that is most important, but rather a host of actions coming from different directions, and based on different anti-Israel elements on campus. These have also recruited new anti-Israel elements by fashioning their propaganda around issues that would attract special interest groups. Africans were recruited under the slogan of "Israel is an Apartheid State." Fantastically, women's groups were somehow convinced that advancing the Palestinian cause would somehow help women's rights, and gays were convinced that supporting the Palestinians would somehow help homosexuals. These theses, which are absurd against the background of Palestinian and Islamic persecution of homosexuals and repression of women, were turned into Politically Correct wisdom in the best Orwellian tradition of teaching that war is peace and hate is love. It is not only one group or campaign or one issue that has to be be combated, but rather the creation of a faculty and student constituency that is anti-Israel and that increasingly responds to these initiatives. This cannot be done by official Israeli government or Israeli university actions, or actions of Jewish or Zionist groups or individuals, as Gerstenfeld recommends.
The success of the pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian initiatives on campus is due to their ability to reach out to non-Palestinian and non-Arab constituencies, to infiltrate groups that belong to the entire spectrum of campus life such as faculty unions and student unions, as well as special interest groups unrelated to the Middle East such as women's groups, and to generate grass roots activism. This success must be contrasted with the failure of Zionist and Jewish groups especially in the USA, to do sufficient outreach to groups that are not specifically Jewish or Zionist, and to create an infrastructure for such outreach. Jewish and Zionist campus organizations and activities such as Hillel seem to be directed at Jewish students and faculty primarily. Jewish education on campus is a valid pursuit, but it cannot be a substitute for campus activism that reaches a broad constituency. The Israeli government may be involved, but they cannot sustain or substitute for a broadly-based grass roots movement. The goal is not to defeat a divestment initiative or to initimidate one university into dropping a boycott. The goal must be to defeat the purpose of the boycott and divestment initiatives, which is to help mobilize educated opinion against Israel.
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Replies: 4 Comments
In my opinion one of the problems in tackling this issue has been the faulure to recognise that the "liberal intellectual left" (LIL) is guilty of two forms of racism towards the participants in this conflict.
On one hand there is residual anti-Semitism combined with guilt over the Holocaust and other anti-Jewish excesses. And on the other there is a sense of patronising superiority directed towards the Arabs, largely informed by Orientalism and disdain for "ignorant Arabs".
Do not forget that not 30 years ago the terms Jew and Arab were both insults.
It is highly noticeable that the LIL demands standards from Israel that it does not demand of itself nor any other nation. What it has very effectively done has been to displace its own guilt for the Holocaust etc onto the Israelis. Jews were OK as long as they appeared to be helpless victims. As soon as they started to assert themselves and behave as other nations then they ceased to recieve support. LIL demands of Israelis / Jews that they adopt and absorb the lessons that LIL learnt from WW2, but do not recognise that Israelis / Jews may have their own communal lessons that take precedence over what are percieved by LIL to be universal lessons.
LIL's perception of the Arabs is in part as ignorant noble warrior savages who through their posturing conform to Orientalist imagery of the noble savage, and to Impetrialist / Colonialist attitudes as puerile inadequate victims incapable of managing their own affairs in a rational manner. The LIL are at once suspectible to the claims of the "freedom fighters" and ignore that facts are frequently misrepresented. LIL also assume the right to speak on behalf of the infantile Arab populace and regard their actions as being merely their responses of people who are incapable of any form of agency in regards to their own lives. This attitude on the part of LIL never demands of the Arabs that they concord with the same standards as LIL demand of Jews.
Until we begin to recognise and challenge these prejudices we can never obtain the level playing field that we seek. So long as LIL can portray itself as being the paragon of universalist virtue without any challenge, students will believe it to be the case.
Rod Davies, Thursday, November 23rd
hope this is the right way to respond ...
regarding this article, my take on the university campus problem, which also has common elements with the general media problem, and others i'm sure will spring to readers' minds, is that pro-zionists have their work cut out simply responding to attacks. the attacks on the other hand are richly financed, and systematic, taking the long view. the islamist lobby overtly has its sights set on converting the world, starting with eliminating the jews, who, among other annoying qualities, widely count among their most outspoken critics.
without a well-resourced, pro-active campaign, (and brilliant, of course) our best energies are most likely to continue to be spent on bailing ourselves out with our teaspoons. i've nothing against teaspoons, just they're a bit small for the job!
and like everyone else, i wish i had that brilliant idea!
H.A., Tuesday, November 21st
I don't wish to sound alarmingly pessimistic, but I recently heard a portion of an interview (I had to turn the tv off) -- I will not say who it was (just that it was broadcast on PBS -- the "educational" channel). The individual who was interviewed was an academic, and someone who despises the state of Israel and wishes to bring about its destruction. It was incredible (actually breath-taking) the level of the smoothness, the lies, the sheer subtlety of the propaganda -- and the person doing the interviewing, how accommodating! how much in agreement with all the lies that were stated! Perhaps millions in North America listened to this vicious propaganda (and I can imagine, agreeing with all that was said -- it was that clever, that convincing, that seemingly "logical") -- I don't know how to deal with it. Keep liars out of universities? Keep liars out of the media? It's not possible...
J.S., Monday, November 20th
I'm afraid trying to combat the hydra-headed threat to Israel that you describe is impossible. The non-Muslim groups that are anti-Israel are already predisposed to be so. Anti-Semitism and liberalism have been clandestine lovers for a long time, going back as far as Karl Marx, the French socialists, and the Enlightenment era of Voltaire. Our only "reliable" bedfellows are now the Christian Right and the solid American middle-of-the-roaders. And they, as you, Ami, are probably aware, can turn on a dime.
Mitzi Alvin, Monday, November 20th
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