The American Studies Association Needs to Learn Some American Values

Their academic boycott of Israel is simplistic, heavy-handed, and un-intellectual

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You have to admire a group that has an ideological principle and sticks to it, come what may.  The American Studies Association, an academic group representing professors of that august subject, proudly proclaimed in its resolution to boycott any academic conferences or publications in Israel issued yesterday : “Whereas the American Studies Association is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression, and military violence…”  Wonderful. Finally, an academic body with the courage of its convictions. But if you think that they’re also taking action against China for oppression, or the Congo, or perhaps in Saudi Arabia or other Muslim states, you would be very disappointed.

It may not be immediately obvious to you that an Israeli professor who specializes in Faulkner is a threat to international stability, but you are sadly deceived. Because as the “FAQ” sheet of the ASA helpfully informs us, the universities themselves are part of “the ideological and institutional scaffolding of the Zionist settler colonial project.” If you thought such fusty pseudo-Marxism crumbled with the Berlin wall, welcome to the modern professorate, guardians of the good and moral scold of the only western style democracy the Middle East has to show.

Professors parse words carefully, so let us do the same. Here is a paragraph to savor from the New York Times:

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has publicly rejected a boycott of Israel. While pro-boycott forces draw parallels to the sanctions movement against South Africa during the apartheid era, Mr. Abbas, who was in South Africa last week for the funeral of Nelson Mandela, restated the Palestinian Authority’s longstanding position of supporting a boycott only against products made in West Bank settlements, but not institutions that operate within Israel’s 1948 lines.

Mahmoud Abbas, standing in the former Apartheid state of South Africa, publicly acknowledged that to boycott all of Israel is to deligitmate the entire state. To spurn a medical conference at Tel Aviv University is not to ennoble the Palestinians, it is to erase Israel as an member in the community of nations. These distinctions may be lost on the ASA, but in the sphere where decisions have consequences even the titular head of the Palestinian people rejects their approach. But don’t hold your breath for this to occasion second thoughts.

MORE: Viewpoint: Stephen Hawking’s Israel Boycott is Lost in Space

The cost of this self-righteousness carries with it the stench of Anti-Semitism. On our troubled globe, where states do truly terrible things to their people, gassing them, slaughtering them en masse, impoverishing and immiserating them, I am aware of only one country whose continued existence has been called into question. Should Zimbabwe exist? Or Sudan? Or Syria? Only Israel is subjected to constant questioning of its right to remain a nation. Israel, a sliver of a country surrounded by tyrannical regimes or perpetually unstable governments, free for the moment from war because of strength and not because of neighborly goodwill, this Israel is the target of the opprobrium of preening academics the world over. The question is not whether members of the ASA are  anti-Semites, as individuals. All this is not because the world’s only Jewish state is uniquely evil. It is just uniquely Jewish.

Palestinian suffering is real and Israel’s record is far from perfect. Every person of goodwill should feel both compassion and outrage for the fate of Palestinians, which is not monocausal, but a complicated and tragic situation. As for Israel’s part, it is fair to say that when you are surrounded by people who fervently wish you did not exist, your equilibrium is liable to tip. Imagine, just as a thought experiment, how the US would react if a hostile power — say, Khomeini in his heyday or Castro — took over Canada or Mexico. Moral situations between antagonists are complex, but complexity is what we hire academics to think through and represent. This boycott is taking a cleaver to a silkscreen; it is simplistic, heavy handed, destructive and ugly.

It has been observed that Israel has too little land and too much history. It is not an easy place to understand, and even harder from the comfortable distance of an American university. People who think they have it all figured out are liable to show themselves clumsy and counterproductive. One would think that members of the ASA, even if muddled about the Middle East, would understand American values better.

14 comments
socalmaverick
socalmaverick

Rabbi wolpe, your moral compass is messed up. either the apartheid system in occupied Palestine falls or the whole apartheid state of israel.  pick your poison. 

truth_usa
truth_usa

Thank you ASA.  The tide is turning.  Just like in South Africa.  Israeli apartheid will fall.  USA!

patriot1110
patriot1110

The article had condescending overtones which perpetuates the perception that Israeli's genuinely feel that they are an exception to the rules.

The "anti-semitism" label is being used like a tool. It seems any opposition to Israeli policy is now labeled as "anti-semitic." The word has lost its true meaning. Israel does not get a free pass when it comes to brutality no matter how special they think they are.

If Israel treated the Palestinians like human beings instead of animals, they would not be facing the backlash everyone knew was going to happen sooner or later.

The Rabbi should know Universal Law...You reap what you sow. Such is the case of Israel.

The ASA are justified in their boycott that will become part of an all encompassing boycott of Israel.

BenjaminHolmes
BenjaminHolmes

Most students are easily manipulated. Of course, many of these students will hold excellent liberal arts degrees that will qualify them for a fine career as baristas.


The major question is, why only boycott Israel? Such short-sighted fools.

FrankAriel
FrankAriel

Certainly nothing scholarly about ASA's decision. Goes to show the bunch of narrow-minded bigots that they are.  How many other countries they have boycotted based on their record of human rights violations or occupation of another's land? Have they boycotted Iranian universities for hanging homosexuals and executing members of the Bahai faith? What about Chinese and Saudi universities for being the worst violators of human rights for many years in a row? What about the Chinese occupation of Tibet? or India's occupation of Pakistani Kashmir? How about Turkey's annexation of northern Cyprus? Did any of the members even propose to censor China, India, or Turkey, let alone boycott them?  Then, why so much double-treatment when it comes to Israel? What is it about Israel and its people that raises so much ire from the ASA and many others like them around the world? Why do they need to go through so many convulsions, lest they talk about the real elephant in the room? If ASA can't stand the Jew simply for being a Jew, and Israel, for uniquely being a Jewish state, why don't they just say it and be honest about it? Hitler was. So can they.


SHAME ON ASA for its bigotry, double-treatment, and hateful conduct ! They should see where most, if not a significant amount of today's development and advancement in all fields of science, medicine, technology, art, etc. come from.


ASA, IT IS YOUR LOSS, YOU SIMPLE-MINDED LITTLE PEOPLE.

JudahGabriel
JudahGabriel

Great article, Rabbi Wolpe.


Not all crticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. However, when Israel is singled out and demonized (as you note, the ASA is not boycotting Syria, for example), when Israeli academic institutions are cut off simply because they are Israeli, it reeks of the old anti-Semitism.


It has become trendy in the academic world to hate Israel. This betrays the backward nature of academic ethics: despite Israel being a lighthouse of democracy and freedom in a sea of dominating Islamic theocracy, it is democratic Israel, not the brutal regimes of its neighbors, who is singled out for persecution.

jamesf161
jamesf161

So;

-Opposition to israeli policy is racist,

-Boycottng something denies its existence.

-Academic institutions are not a part of overall culture and policy.

-Institutions should heed the leaders of oppressed groups rather than determining their own policy.

-Proximal enemy states justify racist oppression.

-Academics can't properly understand israel, but los angeles rabbis can.


For some reason, I disagree.

Geohyde
Geohyde

@patriot1110   There is no question that certain groups try to silence criticism by using the 'race' or bigot card. But that does not mean that there is no racism. You have to look at the facts.  Ethnic profiling is like racial profiling a bigoted act.  No country in the world is singled out the way Israel is. Now why is that so?  China occupies Tibet, Turkey occupies Northern Cyprus, Russia occupies Georgia, etc. etc.  Yet only one country is a candidate for boycotts why?  You know the answer-as you demonstrated.  It's bigotry.  And please don't tell me about how the Palestinians are treated-because you don't really care!.  Does anyone really care that 400,000 Palestinians were expelled from Kuwait in 1991, thousands from Iraq in 2003- Palestinians have no rights in Lebanon.  I don't see any call for boycott from these 'passionate' professors.  We know what they really are --bigoted moral narcissists. 


FrankAriel
FrankAriel

@patriot1110  The Rabbi's tone is not condescending, it is sarcasm.  Sarcasm in the face of one of the ugliest forms of hypocrisy.  Israel never saw itself as an exception to the rules.  If Israel were to follow the rule and precedent set by its biggest ally, the most powerful country in the world, United States, it would have unloaded its armada in Iran, Iraq, or Syria in face of their support of terrorism against Israel, just like we did after 9/11.  We went in there and "brought democracy to them" - did we not?  What is the rule?  who set it?  and who really acted as exception to it?


Make no mistake, sir.  Antisemitism is not being used as a tool.  Let me explain to you the reasoning that goes behind that accusation.  Once you analyze the situation and notice that the worst crimes against humanity and human rights are being committed every single day in countries like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, China, Sudan, etc..., and no one ever speaks of sanctions or boycotts against them; and after you see that no national or international body ever speaks of boycotting Turkey, India or China for their occupation of another sovereign nation and people's territory; take into account that Israel is the subject of 90% of condemnations by the human rights body of the U.N. (on which board some of the worst perpetrator nations of all crimes against humanity sit - that's the biggest joke of all times), AND IF YOU ARE HONEST WITH YOUR OWN MORALS AND CONSCIENCE SIR, then you must ask yourself this question:  What is the reason for Israel always being singled out as the "evil nation" when there is a ton more evil nations that are operating with impunity?  What conclusion do you draw from this sir?  You answer this question!!


Is Israel the only nation that has used brutality?  Did we not use brutality in Viet Nam?  Have we not treated others like animals in Afghanistan?  In Iraq?  Would you like me to send you the YouTube videos?  Should we start boycotting the U.S. government and U.S. institutions?  Is Israel the only nation using brutality?  Currently there are no other places in the world where brutality is the law of the land?  Do you want me to start sending you videos that will turn your stomach upside down and make you sick?  beheadings, summary executions, bombing and gasing of entire villages and towns, etc..  Just yesterday Syria bombed a Syrian elementary school in Aleppo and killed over a dozen elementary school kids.  Did you hear about that on CNN sir?  Did you see it on front page of your local paper?  Do you ever ask why is it that an Israeli soldier shoving an 18 year old Palestinian wielding a knife ends up on the front page of major newspapers and on CNN but Arab/Muslim brutality against others and each other does not?  Ever ask yourself that?  Did you, sir, personally go and voice your concerns about the human rights violations committed by Syria, Saudi Arabia, China, anywhere?  Tell me why those actions don't irk and bother you as much as an Israeli soldier's actions do?  Ask your conscience that question!!!  If you are honest with yourself, then you may come up with the real answer; the elephant in the room which everyone likes to avoid.


There is something about this nation of 6 million, its people having lived throughout centuries and millenia, in face of all adversity, pogroms, hollocausts, etc...., survived to come together and form a sovereign country, the only democratic nation in the middle east, a nation leading in the forefront of all scientific, medical, technological, etc... developments; AND the people who identify with them around the world wield great wealth and power (which, incidentally, they earned and took from no one else); there is something very irksome about these people who just refuse to go way, isn't there?


That feeling is called Anti-Semitism, sir.  Go boycott Israel all you want sir.  But at least, let's be honest about our reasons and sentiments behind it, sir.



ElizabethSchwartz
ElizabethSchwartz

@jamesf161 Seems as though you read Rabbi Wolpe's piece with half understanding and an already biased POV - you might be part of the ASA!  Corrections in your format:


1.  No, opposition to Israeli policy isn't racist - in fact, myriad Israelis (including the now-boycotted academics) are among the most progressive voices in Israel and certainly in the region.  But they're now excluded from the table.

2.  Boycotting something doesn't deny its existence, it just indicates a wish that it didn't exist.

3.  Academic institutions are part of an overall culture and policy but typically (even in a functioning democracy, of which there is only one in the region) they are where one finds nuance, dissent and even intellectual solutions.  In other words, academic instutions are the last places one should boycott.

4.  Institutions should not have to heed the leaders of oppressed groups rather than determining their own policy; but the Palestinian leader's departure from BDS' talking points is the best example of an oppressed groups questioning an outside institution's policy about that oppressed group.

5.  Proximal enemy states don't justify racist oppression and that's a completely disingenuous analysis of Rabbi Wolpe's statement.  We are open when we are not threatened; we circle the wagons when we are.  Israel is, and it seems to outrage people when they erect strict border crossings to prevent terrorist attacks, or create an anti-missile system for the non-theoretical, non-imaginary missles that rain down on them.

6.  Why do you think a "Los Angeles Rabbi" - who is acknowledged as one of the nation's if not the world's leading analysts of Jewish issues, less qualified to speak about Jewish issues than the BDS movement?  FYI, "rabbi" means "teacher".


The best part of academia is that it should encourage disagreement, dialogue and negotiations.  The worst part of the BDS movement is its attempt to stifle all of the above.

Debbie07
Debbie07

@FrankAriel Dear Frank, I do understand how you feel and I thought you put the facts out there in a very clear way, even though you were very angry and sad!  I will use your reasoning and examples as I too advocate for Israel. 

patriot1110
patriot1110

"That feeling is called Anti-Semitism, sir."....No, it is not. I have no qualms with Jews or Judaism. I have fond memories of Jewish friends I have had  in my life. Anti-Semitic I am not.

I do however, have a problem the Israeli likud's  racist apartheid form of government and their treatment of the Palestinians over the last 50 years. That does not make me an anti-Semite

I am an outspoken critic of my, US governments drone warfare in the Middle East and Yeman. I was an outspoken critic of the torture and psychological abuse of prisoners that the US was engaged in. That does not make me Anti-American. I love my country, my government is a different story. Can you understand the difference?

Isn't it ironic that the Rabbi has to bring up countries like "The Congo" to compare brutal regimes with Israel? 

Don't pull the "Anti-Semitism" card on me....I know better.

FrankAriel
FrankAriel

@Debbie07 @FrankAriel Hello Debbie, the anger and sadness is perhaps a result of growing up in a Muslim country where "the Jew is the cause of all evil in the world".  But there at least they said it in your face and didn't try to deliver the same message to you with "political correctness".  I can't stand it when I see that people are willing to use the lamest excuse to express their inward-driven hatred for Israel which is not based on fact or reason, but based on bigotry and prejudice.


BUT........I'm working on it, and thanks for bringing it to my attention.  I hope I did not offend any one because of my passion on the subject.

FrankAriel
FrankAriel

@patriot1110 Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are locked in a land dispute.  Jews claim that the land is theirs, going back to thousands of years - an undisputable allegation.  The Palestinian Arabs also say that the land is theirs, going back at least to early 1900's - also an undisputable allegation.  U.N. partitioned the land in 1948; Jews celebrated; Arabs attacked from all direction. In the several wars that were imposed on Israel by the Arabs, in defense of its nation from attacking armies, Israel captured the west bank of the Jordan river from Jordan, and a strip from Egypt called the Gaza Strip.  (that is what happens in wars, doesn't it?)  Soon after, neither Jordan nor Egypt had any interest in getting that land back.  Israel would happily hand Gaza back to the Egyptians.  They don't  want it back either.  It is full of Arabs who don't want to be part of neither Egypt nor Jordan, want the destruction of the State of Israel and all its land from the north to the south, east to west.  Like it or not, sir, Jews said no thank you and refused to once again walk into the gas chambers ,as many would like that to be their final destination.   Due to Palestinian unwillingness to negotiate a political solution to the problem, that recognizes the State of Israel, Israel has stayed in occupation of the land it captured in a war that was imposed on it.  Simple.  


You call that racist apartheid form of government.  Have you ever visited Israel or lived there?  What do you know above the pro-Arab propaganda you are fed through liberal media? Israel consists of close to 1.7 million non-Jewish Arabs who are citizens of Israel, and who have full rights of citizenship that every Israeli enjoys.  They vote, have members in the Israeli Knesset, etc...  You have borrowed the word Apartheid from South Africa.  Did any ONE black person enjoy equal rights that whites had under apartheid?  NO.  Stop using words that even though fashionable to use by those who deny Israel's existence, draw a wrong and illogical reference.