Paul Leslie
Paul Leslie

Abuses of academic freedom, the Israeli entry ban for hard-core promotors of boycotts, divestment and sanctions – and the over-reaction by Association of Israel Studies

The politicisation of teaching at an ever increasing number of university faculties has for some time not only affected the newer course subjects like peace studies, Middle East studies  or post-colonial studies (as indeed, in a few faculties, even Jewish Studies), but also a number of the older, traditional subjects –  which fall into the category of the humanities.  In the field of the teaching of English literature, for example, ideologists opposing the teaching of “dead white males” – or at least advocating a significant downgrading of their place in the curriculum – have in many places made significant gains (as if learning about authors who played a crucial role in the formation of the cultures of the English-speaking cultures and studying their counterparts of other cultures is mutually exclusive).

It is, however, true that it has proved much easier for propagandists posing as scholars to become more firmly established in the newer disciplines, many of whose founders were themselves motivated by their ideological leanings to be selective in their teaching of the complex subjects which, in theory at least, could be covered within their fields of study.  Colonialism and imperialism were  not only European phenomena – the territories, for example, which became League of Nations mandates and then the independent states of Syria and Iraq having for centuries been part of the Ottoman Empire.  It nonetheless continues to be the case that the specialists of post-colonial studies, covering these and other countries in the Middle East,  tend to focus exclusively upon the real and  imagined effects of European colonialism – and sometimes also upon  supposed US neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism.

In addition to these factors,  the continued sway of pseudo-scholarly ideologies like the “anti-colonialism” promoted by the late impostor Edward Said and post-modernist “theories”, which discount the possibility of arriving at any kind of objective determination of facts and/or only accept the existence of subjective (effects of) truths,  have also enormously contributed to  the rise in the number of faculties where the teaching of history of Israel and of the war waged against it by various Arab states, whether militarily, diplomatically or economically, is characterised by distortions and sometimes outright falsehoods.

Israel Studies is “the scholarly examination of issues and ideas in the history of Israel and the Zionist movement” (to quote the words used to describe the Journal of Israeli History: Politics, Society, Culture). A major motive in establishing this academic discipline was a recognition of the need to provide some counterweight – however limited its effectiveness might prove to be – to the many universities where extremely one-sided or biased courses were being offered about the history of Israel or the Arab-Israel conflict, often within the context of Middle Eastern Studies.  The Association of Israel Studies recently had occasion to complain about the new law allowing Israel to bar entry to major BDS activists who are in a position to wield decisive influence.

The new law bars only a promotor of BDS “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.”   It is worded carefully enough to target, “proportionately”, only hard-core activists who are in a position to do damage.   Those individuals who merely support BDS, whether because they are misguided, ill-informed or prejudiced, are not affected by this specific measure, which will not make it impossible for some of the former to be persuaded to change their minds upon exposure to Israel, in all its rich complexity.

The law sends the message to hardened BDS and law-fare activists and enablers that they should no longer feel that they will automatically be able to enter the country whose continued survival they strive to undermine.  It may also in the longer term help to marginalise the  Israeli post-Zionist and anti-Zionist “fifth column” which benefits so much from their support – without doing so in a way which limits fundamental freedoms (there is no unrestricted right to enter a foreign country).  Those officials of Jewish representative bodies who have recently been inclined to make allowances for certain Jewish BDS activists – rightly criticised by Isi Leibler – should also be given pause for thought.

Neither the academic freedom nor the freedom of speech (there is such a thing as a video-link) of a university instructor who falls into the category covered by the law  is any way affected, moreover, if he or she is denied entry to the country which is the object of the BDS movement’s lies and distortions – no more than the “free and unfettered exchange of ideas” – contrary to the statement issued in the name of the Association of Israel Studies.    By contrast, should they not be concerned by the violations of their academic obligations by those of their members (“This law is dangerous to academic freedom and harmful to our members”), who actively promote the lies and distortions which underpin the campaigns of the BDS activists, whether they are targeting all Israelis or only those who have chosen to live in the territories under Israeli control since 1967,  as well as the businesses, including banks and utility companies, who provide services to the later on the same basis as to their fellow citizens?

If, moreover, there is reason to believe that within their field of studies some of the above-mentioned members – who supposedly risk being “harmed” – are not doing their duty of trying as far as possible to conduct honest research and to come to honest conclusion/ and/or to provide instruction, in conformity with proper scholarly standards, why does the Association of Israel Studies seem to regard them as legitimate?

About the Author
Paul Leslie is an occasional independent journalist and researcher, living in London. He has degrees from Exeter College, Oxford University and the Sorbonne (history of the Jews of Algeria and Tunisia, in two different colonial systems). Paul Leslie is am a fan of cinema – all genres – and is passionately interested in modern history.
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