The forces aligned against Israel have had the playing field to themselves for so long that when there was finally some pushback, it took them by surprise.
First there was the resounding chorus of condemnation from a huge swathe of American academia, condemning a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Then there was the SodaStream boycott fizzle. And today there is more good news from a new corner, the Philadelphia City Council.
What pro-Israel person didn’t cheer when Israeli company SodaStream’s beautiful mega-movie star spokesperson Scarlett Johansson refused to back down from her job as Israel haters demanded? Then she resigned rather than continue as an ambassador to what is supposed to be a non-political, humanitarian organization like Oxfam International when it began making noises suggesting she was committing a political correctness faux pas by sticking with SodaStream?
And for those who haven’t yet seen it, a media outlet no one can suggest is biased in favor of Israel, the Christian Science Monitor, ran a story about the Palestinian Arabs employed by SodaStream who applauded Johansson’s position.
The significance of having someone from the Hollywood world which is so dominated by knee-jerk anti-Israel sentiment is huge.
So, too has been the response from academia to the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
American academia has long been the restricted playground on which only anti-Israel positions and players were welcome. But as of this week, 226 universities have condemned the ASA’s boycott. The anti-boycott movement has had a watershed movement, but there remains much work to be done on college campuses.
Many of the same university presidents who publicly condemned the ASA boycott of Israel are still blind deaf and dumb – emphasis on the last – when it comes to distinguishing between academic freedom and inappropriate and unacceptable vilification of Israel when it is publicly accepted by, and even supported and sponsored by, the institutions themselves. More on this next week.
Another arena in which pro-Israel, or at least anti- anti-Israel sentiment has not been in great abundance, is in municipal government. Sadly, even less likely to stand up for Israel have been the African American legislators who – or at least whose constituents – have been inclined to identify with the Palestinian Arabs. Who can fault them when national politicians as far apart as President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explicitly and so publicly made those comparisons?
The identification between the two groups of minorities is flawed almost to the point of being obscene. Wasn’t it the African Americans who were the ones being beaten, had summary justice- i.e. summary execution – applied, and were misrepresented as the aggressors? That’s more like the Israelis than the Palestinian Arabs. Nonetheless, the flawed identification remains the view of many.
PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCIL LEADS THE WAY
But in what appears to be the first of its kind act of municipal government, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Thursday, Jan. 30, condemning the ASA boycott.
The sponsor of the Resolution was Council member Kenyatta Johnson, an African American who has served in the Philadelphia City Council for two years. For the three years prior to joining the City Council, Johnson was a Pennsylvania state legislator.
The resolution calls on the City Council, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the State System of Higher Education and all colleges and universities in Pennsylvania to reject the academic boycott of Israel.
Councilman Johnson issued a release stating his pride in the passage of the resolution.
“This Boycott limits the academic freedom that is an indispensable component of a free and democratic society, and should be guarded vigilantly. Furthermore, the boycott is short sighted and diminishes the opportunity of American Universities that may engage in progressive dialogues with Institutions of Higher Learning in Israel.
“Institutions of Higher Learning are the foundation for the exchange of ideas, and should be an open floor for discussions of philosophical and political thought. This boycott stifles all of this and goes against the very essence of free speech,” Johnson wrote.
A copy of the entire Resolution can be seen at Legal Insurrection, which also shows a 1965 resolution from the Philadelphia City Council of that time, condemning a boycott against Israel.
That anti-boycott of Israel resolution is nearly 40 years old. But it is significant in several other ways. For one thing, the member introducing the legislation, George X. Schwartz, was Jewish and was introducing the measure at the request of a Jewish organization. Even more striking is that the 1965 measure condemned a boycott of Israel by Arabs, not by American academics. One step forward, one step (at least) backwards.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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