Richard L. Cravatts

Academic Progressivism Descends into Moral Madness

In the campus war against Israel, the all too familiar refrain from anti-Israel activists, many of whom form the loose coalition of groups and individuals spearheading the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, is that their quarrel is only with Israelis and their government’s policies, not with Jews themselves.  But that specious defense has fallen away of late, revealing some caustic and base anti-Semitism, representing a seismic shift in the way that Jews now are being indicted not just for supporting Israel, but merely for being Jewish.

It was not without some historical irony, then, when student council leaders at Durban University of Technology (DUT) in South Africa in early February floated a proposal that suggested, apparently without shame, that Jewish students should be expelled from the institution, that, as the student body’s secretary, Mqondisi Duma, put it, “We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.” This is, one would think, a rather shocking sentiment from students who themselves benefited from a world-wide campaign in the 1970s and 1980s to end South Africa’s racist apartheid system.

Also in February at UCLA, several councilmembers on the USAC Judicial Board, UCLA student government’s highest judicial body, grilled Rachel Beyda, a second-year economics student, when she sought a seat on the board. The focus on her candidacy was not her qualifications for the position (which no one seemed to doubt), but on the fact that she was Jewish and how her “affiliation with Jewish organizations at UCLA . . . might affect her ability to rule fairly on cases in which the Jewish community has a vested interest in the outcome, such as cases related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” as the student newspaper described it. “Ruling fairly” in this case, of course, meant that she was likely not to support the increasingly virulent anti-Israel campaign on the UCLA campus, so she failed to pass the political litmus test that so-called progressive students see as their default position: namely, being pro-Palestinian. It was the same thinking that inspired a similarly discriminatory proposal last May by two members of UCLA’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine which attempted to bar Jewish candidates for filling council positions if they had taken trips to Israel subsidized by the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, or other organizations, which, according to the brazen SJP students, “have openly campaigned against divestment from corporations that profit from Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.”

Of course, there was no mention in this debate of trips paid for to send students to Israel or the territories on propaganda excursions designed to malign Israel and teach visitors an alternate, anti-Israel narrative. Once again, in addition to trying to stack the deck against the pro-Israel argument, this grotesque and inequitable proposal took as a given that anyone not committed to the anti-Israel Palestinian cause was by default not to be trusted, morally compromised, and unworthy of even having pro-Israel opinions.

Self-identified progressive students on campus are also enthralled by pursing “social justice” on the part of the Palestinians precisely because Third-world victimism parallels the identity politics of the same student groups who fuel the promiscuous BDS resolutions being proposed on campuses around the country. Thus, African-American student groups frequently rally in support of divestment when they are attracted to the narrative in which Israel is positioned as a racist, apartheid regime that suppresses an indigenous colored people and deprives them of human rights. And it is similarly manifested in such Orwellian-named groups as the anti-Israel “Queers for Palestine,” whose very name is so ironic—given the treatment that homosexuals receive in the Middle East anywhere except Israel—that it is difficult to believe the group’s own members can keep a straight face while parading with signs in support of the Palestinian cause. In January, a student group at DePaul University, Feminist Front, produced a short video in which they proclaimed their support for a petition being circulated by DePaul Divests that asked the university to “uphold its Vincentian values by divesting from [companies that profit from] the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” Members of the Feminist Front, who, if they were living in Hamas-controlled Gaza would be subjugated into silence and persecuted for their alternative sexual orientation, have also decided that divestment is “a feminist issue” and “a queer issue.” Why?  Because, they contend, “Israeli forces target queer folks with blackmail . . ,” and because Israeli “methods of occupation historically target women, through violence, kidnapping, and rape.”

These assertions are not only grotesque, counter-factual libels, but a precise inversion of the truth. In fact, Israel is so gay-friendly that its detractors have had to undertake mental contortions in order to put a negative spin on what normally would be seen as a cultural virtue: tolerating alternative sexual lifestyles. Instead, Israel’s academic defamers, such as Sarah Schulman, a professor of humanities at CUNY, who normally would applaud a tolerant state, accuse Israel of what Schulman termed “pinkwashing,” as she put it in a notorious 2011 New York Times op-ed, “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” Nor is the Feminist Front’s assertion that the Israeli occupation is linked to targeting women through rape accurate, either. In fact, the complete opposite is true: among militaries of the world the IDF is noteworthy for the extremely low incidence in its ranks of rape of Arab women.

That finding was brought to light, oddly enough, in a master’s thesis written by a Hebrew University graduate student who actually wished to use these findings to indict the Israeli military, not applaud it. The student, Tal Nitzan, who received a prize from the University’s Shaine Center for the “scholarly” study she wrote, and which the Center eventually published, came to the breathtaking and intellectually perverse conclusion that Israeli soldiers were racist because of the fact that they did not rape Arab women. The “lack of IDF rapes of Palestinian women is designed to serve a political purpose,” Nitzan wrote. “In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be seen that the lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences―just as organized military rape would have done.”

Progressive students have decided, in their own moral self-righteousness, that the Palestinians and their campaign for self-determination is such a sacred cause that anyone who questions it or speaks for the Israeli point of view is a moral retrograde. To even support Israel’s narrative is to risk being deemed a racist, an imperialist, a tacit supporter of apartheid. And more than that: now, if you are Jewish and even a student in South Africa—nowhere near or involved in the affairs of Palestinian Arabs and Israelis—if you have not publicly proclaimed your allegiance to the Palestinian cause and denounced the Israeli one, you can be deemed morally unworthy of attending a particular university.

The moral arrogance of the South African student’s proposal is breathtaking, not only because of its grotesque version of the anti-Semitic practice of making any and all Jews responsible for the political actions of Israel; more serious than that, it reveals that the pro-Palestinian movement is so enthralled with the righteousness of its cause that anyone who harbors or expresses other views is considered a pariah, unworthy to even express his or her ideas in the marketplace of ideas.

Supporters of boycotts contend that they have answered the call of solidarity from “Palestinian civil society,” a call issued in July of 2005 to wage a cognitive war against Israel “until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law.”

Students and faculty who support BDS campaigns regularly admit, with pride, that they have responded to this call merely because they were asked, as if it is perfectly normal to respond affirmatively to support a cause which has a blighted history of terror, corruption, social fragmentation, and internecine conflict. When the American Studies Association, for instance, voted to institute an academic boycott against Israel it gave as its motivation the fact that it was answering the call from Palestinian civil society to advance a BDS campaign, and that, as Curtis Marez, ASA president, disingenuously put it, “one has to start somewhere,” so why not with Israel?

Which Palestinian civil society exactly are these pro-Palestinian campus activists recognizing and committing themselves to support? The civil society of Hamas in Gaza, which degrades and suppresses women, kills gays, and is committed to its genocidal charter which calls for the random murder of Jews wherever they can be found? A culture which inspires Jew-hatred at an early age, so Palestinian children are inculcated, nearly from birth, with seething, blind, unrelenting, and obsessive hatred of Jews and the ‘Zionist regime’? Kindergartners who have perform at graduation exercises with blood-soaked hands while toting plastic AK-47s and dedicating their lives to jihad? Older children recruited to hide explosives on their bodies to transform themselves into shahids―a new generation of kindling for radical Islam’s cult of death? A society in which town squares and summer camps are named after suicide bombers, who have chosen to immolate themselves by murdering Jews in the name of jihad? Or the essence of the implacable Palestinian movement itself, which has adamantly refused repeated offers for statehood —in 1937, 1947, 1967, and 2000, among other times—and instead has remained unmoved in its demands that only a new Arab state should exist, at the expense of, and in place of, Israel?

Any movement can make a world-wide call for support, but that obviously does not mean that individuals, or groups, have to heed that call without examining the motives and aspirations of the cause. None of these self-righteous moral narcissists who give unqualified support to the Palestinian cause on campus would answer similar calls from the Aryan Brotherhood, Minuteman Project, Ku Klux Klan, or Westboro Baptist Church for support of their various nefarious causes, and would, and do, breathlessly and indignantly denounce these groups for what they are—organizations animated with homophobia, xenophobia, racism, and violence against targeted, maligned groups. But when the cause is Palestinianism, and the enemy is Israel, no moral compass or rational thought seem to apply.

There is no other explanation for why educated, well-intentioned and humane individuals, experiencing paroxysms of moral self-righteousness in which they are compelled to speak out for the perennial victim, can loudly and publicly advocate for a movement that promotes and condones the murder of Jews—who already have created and live in a viable sovereign state—on behalf a group of genocidal enemies of Israel whose tragic condition may well be their own doing, and, at any rate, is the not the sole fault of Israel’s. That these campus activists are willing, and ready, to sacrifice the Jewish state, and Jewish lives, in the name of social justice and a specious campaign of self-determination by Palestinian Arabs, shows how morally corrupt and deadly the conversation about human rights has become.

About the Author
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book, The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel Hatred, and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.
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