As the recent calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israeli universities by the American Studies Association (ASA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA) clearly indicate, an ideological imbalance in the professoriate has resulted in a collective antipathy toward Israel as the latest villain in the academic left’s panoply of oppressors –this time of the victim of the moment, the Palestinians.
These alleged transgressions on the part of Israel are often further conflated with the view that the “brutal occupation” of Zionism has unleashed “crimes against humanity” through U.S. complicity; that as its proxy in the Middle East, Israel tarnishes America through its misdeeds and mirrors the U.S.’s own imperialistic, militant, and anti-Muslim impulses.
This view of the colonial oppression by the occupier, Israel, against a guiltless indigenous people, the Palestinians, is, of course, nothing new on campus.
What was unique about the MLA’s and the ASA’s approach was the breathtakingly Orwellian notion that not only was Israel itself guilty of the many alleged transgressions assigned to it by its libelers, but a boycott against Israeli academics was warranted because the academic establishment itself is complicit in Zionism’s excesses and a core element of the bemoaned occupation, oppression, and denial of Palestinian self-determination.
This fatuous notion, in fact, is one of the core principles of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), articulated in its “Academic Freedom or Academic Privilege: In defense of the Academic Boycott of Israel,” which suggests that “Israeli universities…are part and parcel of the prevailing ideology that accepts and treats the political regime in all its aspects – the military, the intelligence agencies, the government – as a benign feature of the social-political landscape.”
Moreover, in the post-colonial gibberish that characterizes the language of victimhood, it is academics themselves who facilitate and perpetuate the unjust occupation, since, in the PACBI’s view, “academia is, by and large, Israel’s most effective propaganda tool to colonize people’s minds and falsely project the state as a normal country on the world stage despite its violations of international law, and its occupation, apartheid and colonialism.”
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At the MLA annual conference in Chicago last month, delegates considered a resolution to call on the State Department “to contest Israel’s arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.”
The panel discussion which addressed that issue was called “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” and included, as one of its panelists, Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the PACBI. His view is that Israeli academia not only has a moral obligation to right the wrongs in Israel, but it is a co-enabler, if not co-conspirator, in the continued occupation and oppression of Palestinians.
“For decades,” Barghouti has written, “Israeli academic institutions have been complicit in Israel’s colonial and racist policies. Funded by the government, they have consistently and organically contributed to the military-security establishment, and, therefore, to perpetuating its crimes, its abuse of Palestinian human rights and its distinct system of apartheid.”
Ignoring the highly visible contingent of Israeli academics on the far left who ferociously denounce the same Zionism, occupation, and oppression that are Barghouti’s regular targets of attack, he nonetheless contends that academics do not merely accept Israeli policies affecting the Palestinians, their research and scholarship helps perpetuate the status quo.
“Not only do most Israeli academics defend or justify their state’s colonial narrative,” Barghouti suggests, “they play a more active role in the process of oppression.”
Why an academic boycott? Because, Barghouti says, a boycott “directly targets the academy itself as one of the pillars of this oppressive order.” And the language of the ASA resolution that led to a vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions contained the nearly identical sentiment, namely, the ASA’s decision was based on a recognition of “the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”