Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Problem with BDS, Part III

(Part II)

Now the first thing that happens when you accuse proponents and activists of the academic boycott of Israel of anti-Semitism is a hue and cry of righteous indignation, which these blogiators excel at. First, the protagonists have constructed for themselves a very narrow definition of anti-Semitism: they define anti-Semitism as preposterous, medieval forms of theological Jew-hatred based on anachronistic Christian charges of deicide and demonization. Since their problems with Israel are supposedly purely of a political nature and rooted in the concern for human rights, they argue that they cannot possibly be accused of theological Jew-hatred. Furthermore, a surprising number of these folks are by heritage Jews themselves -- some of them are actually Israelis -- so how can they be accused of anti-Semitism? This was one of my colleague's first responses to my request that he quit the USACBI -- "but BINGPROF, I was asked to join the campaign by my Israeli friends!" Let me be clear -- I absolutely support free speech, both here and in Israel, and I will never support punishing someone who promotes BDS, not here nor in Israel. Let the tiny community of proponents argue their very best case! I'll respond by telling each and every one to their face they are walking along the path of Heidegger and the Nazi intelligentsia who boycotted Jews and Jewish scholars because of some other specious reason, and was an incremental step towards genocide. In fact, it is because of free speech that I oppose BDS and oppose seeing any promoters of the academic boycott put into a position of power over the curriculum of an institute or institution.

But back to my main point: the academic boycott of Israeli universities campaign is anti-Semitic. Not because it is a theological assault on Judaism or Jews; and not even because in the BDS universe the Jewish state is bizarrely singled out and painted with demonic hues. It is anti-Semitic because it facilitates the complete evisceration of the field of Jewish Studies as it is practiced in American higher education. As the director of a Jewish Studies program, I know that if the program of the USACBI is implemented, namely:

...Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
...Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by academic institutions, and place pressure on your own institution to suspend all ties with Israeli universities, including collaborative projects, study abroad, funding and exchanges.

then my academic field is not only under attack, but is destined for the dustbin of history. The study of Jews and Jewish history, which oftentimes involves learning the Hebrew language, reading Hebrew books and manuscripts, attending conferences, and publishing papers and books, cannot be accomplished without a robust association with Israeli universities, libraries, and institutes. In my field, I cannot possibly move a step forward without availing myself of the research libraries and colleagues of Israel. The campaign to boycott Israeli universities is an assault on Jewish heritage and history, and it necessarily entails the consequence of assaulting my academic discipline. A field of study is crippled for supposedly "noble" political reasons, and the consequence is the delegitimization of not merely the Jewish state, but of Jewish heritage in its totality.

The last time the study of Jewish history, heritage and culture was first curtailed and then banned from higher education in modern history was during the reign of the Nazis in Europe. Nazi anti-Semitism was hardly a theological endeavor; it was a methodical and obsessive fixation on Jews as the cause of all woes. It was turning the tiny number of Jews in Europe into a cancerous existential threat to the very survival of civilization. And, in the first years of their rise to ascendancy, there were German Jews who echoed the criticisms of their overlords. Eighty years later and nothing changes. In the dementia of the BDS campaign, the tiny Jewish state is in fact the principal catalyst of human misery on earth, threatening the life of all good-hearted people; the tiny Jewish state is the hidden secret agent of modern India's repression of minorities and Kashmir (so claims my colleague); its sins are on par and even worse than Communist China's oppression of the Tibetans and the Uighurs (so another). Jewish exceptionalism (in the form of Zionism) is the cause of all our woes. Die Juden sind unser Unglück! That, my friends, is modern anti-Semitism.

(Part IV)

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