This week’s news about ASA’s boycott of the Israeli academy has me asking myself once again why so much of the world despises the State of Israel. As a Christian Zionist, this spite naturally puzzles me. But I think that any logical human being with enough honesty will admit that the animus directed toward Israel is profoundly disproportionate to that country’s size and influence in the world. Even if we accept the tired thesis that Israel is an aggressive occupying power that denies all human rights, we have to admit that Israel is not the only such power. And even if we assume that Israel is randomly humiliating and killing people within its borders, we must admit that far worse atrocities on far larger scales are taking place all around the world every day.
Trying to paint Israel as the incarnation of pure evil just doesn’t seem to pass the laugh test.
How can we explain the rage then? How to explain why people on distant continents are ready to stake their professional reputations on public proclamations against the State of Israel? Why does a group of academics who work in American (not even Middle Eastern) studies take time away from the important work of training young scholars to make extreme arguments in a debate that really doesn’t concern them?
Their official reason is the lack of “effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.” Personally, I think the real reasons lie much deeper, not least of all because there are lots of students and scholars on this planet who have it rough, and most of them a lot rougher than the Palestinians.
In my view, today’s widespread opposition to Israel — including the BDS movement of which the ASA’s efforts are a part — stems from the convergence of four factors among an especially vocal segment of the world’s population. There are undoubtedly more, but these are a good place to start.
The first is an intangible yet deep-seated dislike for the Jewish people. The sources of this feeling, called anti-Semitism, are obscure but amazingly persistent throughout history. Whether a reaction to the Jewish idea of chosenness, anger at Jewish success, or just plain racism, anti-Semitism remains powerfully alive and unlikely to die out anytime soon.
The second factor is widespread opposition to the Judeo-Christian moral order that has its roots in the intellectual and spiritual history of the Jewish people. Many secular humanists and members of other religions are resentful of the dominance that this moral order maintains, and believe it to be the root cause of all the world’s problems. For them, the State of Israel symbolizes the continuing stranglehold of Judeo-Christian values on humanity, and, as such, they long for Israel — and anything else connected to biblical religion — to be extinguished from the earth.
The third factor, closely related to the second, is the desire of many states to subvert the old Anglo-American political order and substitute it with something else. These states see Anglo-American power as dictatorial and abusive, a greedy hand that plunders the world at will. They see Israel as a colonial agent perpetuating Western domination, and demand the overthrow of both it and its Anglo-American puppeteers (or puppets, depending on whom you ask).
The fourth factor and, in my view, the least decisive overall, is the displacement of many Arabs from their homes after 1948. However one explains this mass exodus, one must admit that it occurred. Palestinians feel a visceral and, in their mind, justified animosity toward Israel for the personal and collective upheaval caused by the establishment of the state and the subsequent acquisition of territory in the defensive war of 1967. But beyond the region, those predisposed to hate Israel for other reasons embrace the Palestinian cause because it vindicates their hatred and justifies their shocking rhetoric.
These four factors, though often operating independently, bring together an opposition whose diverse members share the single goal of eliminating Israel as the Jewish state.
Note that last part: eliminating Israel as the Jewish state. Sometimes it’s difficult to penetrate the lofty talk of oppression, justice, and human rights and see that Israel’s opponents really just want Israel to disappear forever.
Of course, very few of them would ever say that. And even fewer would be able to rationally explain why without flying off into a fit of rage. But ultimately this is what they want. Whether through dilution of Israel’s Jewish population, interference from international legal bodies, or outright terrorism and war, Israel’s opponents are determined to remove the Jewish cancer from the world’s body.
Thankfully, this axis of hate is still largely confined to Islamic radicals and global elites and is far from universal. Many people around the world still strongly support Israel and work to ensure its survival; many others are undecided, uninformed, or simply disinterested. However, the sheer tenacity and volume of Israel’s opposition is powerful enough to influence even its strongest supporters. It is certainly enough to influence those who are uneducated on the issues.
Those who count themselves among Israel’s friends must take it upon themselves to courageously confront Israel’s enemies with all the resources and might at their disposal. They must shout their disapproval with anti-Israel propaganda and loudly proclaim their solidarity with the Jewish people and the Jewish state. While that does not mean they will endorse every policy ever enacted by the Israeli Knesset, it does mean they will refuse to allow another episode of global antisemitism to grow unchecked until it morphs into something far more dangerous than rhetoric. Which, by the way, has happened once or twice.
I call especially upon my fellow Christians to wake from their slumber and take notice of what’s going on. The Jewish people need our support now more than ever. The fact that the ASA boycott has come and gone with little more than a peep from the Christian world is a source of great shame to me. Where are all those Christians who are always saying how much they love the Jewish people? Where are the leaders? Where are the Christian scholars and academic institutions who will stand up to this initiative and condemn its drafters as radicals?
I’m waiting. And the people of Israel are waiting. Silence is not an option.