Monday, July 26, 2010

What's Wrong with the Academic Boycott of Israel, Part II

(Part I)

I've become familiar with the BDS universe these last through months thanks to a colleague at the college I work at. My colleague is a member of the US Advisory Board of the United States Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) organization. As best I can tell this organization came into existence in January of 2009, in the wake of the Olmert government's cynical and unnecessary war against Hamas and the residents of Gaza. The USACBI is patterned after and comes in the wake of a number of earlier fits and starts of a far more successful effort to boycott in Europe.

I became aware of my colleague's endorsement of the USACBI cause a few months after the creation of the organization. In fact, I counted early on at least 5 colleagues (in a faculty of over 150) who had publicly endorsed the campaign. None of the names were a surprise. I spoke to none of them but one, the colleague in question. Insofar as he led an academic unit devoted to International Studies and to which I contributed a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict, I began a discussion with him in the hopes of getting him to recant his support. It seemed to me impossible to participate in an academic unit whose director believed that Israeli institutions of higher education (and their employees) should not be allowed to participate in the study of international politics, history, and culture. At first through quiet discussions with him, and then eventually by opposing and protesting his appointment to another administrative academic leadership role at my college, I've been introduced to a world of twitterers and bloggers who think of Israel as a criminal, crazed, Nazi-like apartheid state which is irretrievably and morally bankrupt. These denizens of the electronic campaign against Israel feed each other in a cul-de-sac echo chamber of self-righteousness, reading the same postings from a couple dozen authors that reverberate through the Internet with breathless excitement.

The problem here is that every web page occupies the same real estate on your screen. It is easy to imagine that these cranks represent some kind of trending force on the Internet, and therefore in American society. They clearly don't. But it behooves us all to pay them attention, since American college campuses are oftentimes the leading edge of progressive politics, and shrill doctrinaire voices (of either the left or the right) often thunder over the "silent majority" of thoughtful liberals who make up the ranks of academe.
To get a sense of what I have discovered, check out this twitter feed: @USACBI (the official twitter feed of my colleague's organization). If you follow their web links, you will be introduced to a world you probably never imagined existed, at least not among sane people. Following this twitter feed for a mere week will take you into an alternative universe where up is down, black is white, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. It is not just @USACBI; if you pay close attention you will eventually stumble onto other twitter feeds and blog sites from "journalists" who have made it their neurotic obsession to track every sin and travesty committed by racist Israel; you will come across "information centers" and newsfeeds reporting "stories" that simply no one else will report - because they are false; you will find seething conspiracy theories and ideological diatribes directed against those who do not toe the party line, and especially against those who cry "anti-Semite" to their face. Just allow the digital flow from this very active twitter feed to wash across your screen. This is a world where the only holocaust to have occurred in Jewish history is the genocide perpetrated by the Zionists on the Palestinians, a galaxy in which the difference between AIPAC and J-Street is trivial (insofar as both defend Israel's right to exist), a debate society in which no less than Noam Chomsky (recently and unjustly denied entrance into Israel for his political views) is a traitor to all humanity because he refuses to endorse BDS and supports a two-state resolution of the conflict. OK, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but you'll see when you read these feeds.

In my next posting we'll explore the anti-Semitic component of the BDS movement...(now available)

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