Several weeks ago, I was asked by Jarrod Tanny, an associate professor of Jewish History at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, if I would consider helping him establish a new alliance of college educators and other scholars who reject the anti-Zionist extremism running amok on college campuses. We found many other scholars within Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, and adjacent fields who are similarly disturbed by the academic hostility towards Israel. From there, the Jewish Studies Zionist Network (JSZN) was born.
Although a few comparable organizations already exist, this one would only comprise members within related fields so that we could speak out as professional experts on the region.
I was eager to help coordinate the launching of JSZN because college campuses have become bastions of anti-Zionist fervor. At its most extreme, the mission to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state has been manifested in campus “Apartheid Week” events, BDS resolutions passed by faculty senates, litmus tests for Jewish students who want to participate in student government activities, and aggressive tactics by certain anti-Israel student clubs, such as Students for Justice in Palestine. As an equally obtuse manifestation, there have been many signed statements issued by large national networks of academics and even whole departments across many disciplines defaming Israel as “genocidal,” an “apartheid state,” a “settler colonial project,” and “racist.” Many professors within Jewish Studies have supported these statements with their signatures.
But there are just as many of us who reject the dominant narrative about Israel. Our objective is to get out in front of these issues and dispel the single-dimensional myths permeating society about Israel’s founding and its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
We now have over 150 signatories to the JSZN mission statement, and we are adding more every week. We are joined by prominent scholars such as Alvin H. Rosenfeld from Indiana University, Norman J.W. Goda from the University of Florida, Bruce Hoffman from Georgetown University, Judea Pearl from UCLA, Jeffrey C. Herf from the University of Maryland at College Park, Gil Troy at McGill University and Yoram Hazony from the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem.
The JSZN is a politically diverse alliance. Our signatories run a wide ideological range on politics, but we are all committed to two core principles. One is that Zionism is a legitimate expression of Jewish peoplehood. The other is that good scholarship and education must always maintain freedom, integrity, and rigor.
For me, the second principle is even more important than the first. It is disappointing but at least acceptable for Jewish Studies scholars to repudiate Zionism and prefer a binational state as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is not our agenda to cancel anyone by bludgeoning them into silence. In fact, we believe strongly in viewpoint diversity in the academy. The JSZN welcomes lively, spirited intellectual debate. However, when a single perspective is premised on malicious intent, analyzed through shoddy research, promoted by unscholarly rhetoric, and protected with an intolerance for dissent, we cannot acquiesce to this desolation of the most sacred academic values.
Unfortunately, the issue of Israel is hardly the only example in which this kind of orthodox narrative exists in the academy. What is happening on Israel is not the only case of coercive tactics to stifle good faith dialogue on university campuses. I hope that JSZN is the first of many movements of responsible scholars on every side of every issue to take back our colleges and universities.
If you want to learn more about JSZN, our website and full mission statement can be read at jsznetwork.weebly.com. If you are a Jewish Studies scholar, we welcome your support.