Barbara Kay: On American campuses, Hamas’ well-educated cheering squad
National Post - Wednesday January 8th, 2014
In his response to a boycott resolution endorsed by the 5,000-member American Studies Association (ASA) against Israel’s institutes of higher learning, Alan Dershowitz recalled a notoriously anti-Semitic early 20th century president of Harvard University, A. Lawrence Lowell. When asked why he singled Jews out for quotas, Lowell responded, “Jews cheat.” The redoubtable Judge Learned Hand reminded Lowell that Christians also cheat. Lowell retorted: “You’re changing the subject. We are talking about Jews now.”
There, in a nutshell, is why left-wing academics do not call for boycotts against (quoting Dershowitz again) “China, which imprisons dissenting academics … Iran, which executes dissenting academics … Russia, whose universities fire dissenting academics, [or] Cuba, whose universities have no dissenting academics.”
The human rights violations of all other nations are invisible to these Western academics because “we are talking about Jews now.”
“Now,” it turns out, means yesterday, today, tomorrow, and the day, month and year after tomorrow. Every group of true believers needs a scapegoat to blame for the disparity between their utopian dreams and imperfect reality. And the Jewish state is a tried-and-true magnet for blame without blowback. (We Zionists don’t wish violence upon our detractors, only upon those terrorists who try to kill us.) Even the pathologically altruistic amongst Jewish intellectuals themselves can be counted on to provide support for the deligitimization of the Jewish homeland.
The left’s hatred of Israel is real and consequential, but it is also irrational. It is of no consequence to leftists that Israeli universities adhere to the highest standards of academic freedom. (Israel’s own universities, ironically, harbour many of the world’s most virulent anti-Zionists).
The backlash against the ASA (which included a fine column by Rex Murphy in Saturday’s edition of the National Post) was heartening and even surprising, considering that the ASA is an obscure organization with little clout, and lacks any ties with Israeli institutions. Perhaps it is because the ASA’s gesture was perceived as a tipping point in the public-relations battle over Israel’s legitimacy; and also the crossing of what had been perceived as an inviolable line between protected hate speech and a form of hate action.
Some universities — Indiana, Brandeis, Penn State Harrisburg among others — withdrew affiliation from the ASA, and almost 100 others condemned the resolution. Several prominent American higher-education organizations — the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities — have denounced the resolution. But ominously, the Modern Languages Association, with 30,000 members, as well as smaller organizations such as the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, are poised to follow suit with their own anti-Israel resolutions.
The influence-makers of tomorrow on campuses today are likely to graduate with the idea that Israel is a rogue, or at least quasi-rogue, nation
Even when these resolutions fail to pass, as they usually do, the battle itself counts as a success for Israel’s enemies, as the Jewish state assumes a cumulatively negative image in the public mind. The influence-makers of tomorrow on campuses today are likely to graduate with the idea that Israel is a rogue, or at least quasi-rogue, nation. Students must actively seek out objective information if they wish to approach Israel with an open mind. What is the average student to think at the University of California at Berkeley and Irvine, where such resolutions have actually passed?
According to popular and even-handed Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who often gives talks at Western universities, there is more sympathy for Hamas on U.S. campuses than in the West Bank administrative center of Ramallah. He says we “should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.”
The greatest minds can be the most susceptible to the disease of bigotry.
The singling out of Israel by academics as an object of hatred is reminiscent of what happened in the German universities of the 1930s: The greatest minds can be the most susceptible to the disease of bigotry.
As chancellor of Freiburg University, philosopher Martin Heidegger “boycotted” Jewish academics. He was no outlier. Like Harvard’s President Lowell, he represented the temper of his times. It’s disappointing to see how little has changed.