Josef Olmert

ASA and American public opinion

The ASA decision to join the academic boycott of Israel should not come as a surprise
to those who follow the BDS movement and its inroads also in the USA.
Also in the USA means, that we need to start realistically figure out the REAL standing of Israel
in American public opinion.

First, the good news; the ASA has a membership of 3,850, of which only 1,250 participated in the vote
which went against Israel, and among them the divide was two to one, I.E only 700
voted against Israel. This is a majority in one given day, not necessarily a genuine reflection of the
opinions of the membership at large. It is the case, that the anti-Israel camp has more motivation
and their ability to mobilize their following is henceforth very effective in a vote of this nature.
Beyond that, all polls taken in the US, indicate that public level of support for Israel is still hugely
higher than that of the Arabs at large, and the Palestinians in particular.
So, can we sit on our laurels? not really…
Our octogenarian and clever State President Shimon Peres once told, that ”polls are like good fragrance, to smell
but not to be intoxicated by the smell”.. .being the perennial winner of polls and the constant loser of real elections, the President
surely knows a thing or two about elections and polls…

In the American context, there are some built-in problems with the polls and how to understand them;
To start with, the overall picture gets dramatically different , when polls are taken among academics, both active
members of faculty, and those who got their degrees and are employed in the open market. There, support for Israel
shrinks significantly, and sympathy towards the Palestinians is correspondingly higher than in the general
This is well known to those who work in American universities and are on the lecture circuit.
The general problematic situation in Campus becomes a near-disaster when we check the atmosphere in the departments
of Political Science, International Relations and on top of all that Middle East Studies.
In these departments, the real heroes are Mearsheimer and Walt, the writers of the anti-AIPAC diatribe, Rashid Khalidi, formerly
from Chicago, where he befriended one start-up politician called Barack Obama, the late Edward Sa’id
pseudo intellectual Orientalism book , and others, less known mini-guros, whose books are to be found in abundance in
every library, and inevitably become the must reading in so many places.
I know it first hand, from long years of experience in teaching in the US.

But the problem is bigger, as these are the departments which train the would-be future analysts in the various branches
of the Administration which deal with foreign policy and national security.
We have ample evidence that already now, the anti-Israel virus starts to take root in these places, including in the
military and the intelligence community.

Add up to that the fact, that there are SO many Jews among the anti-Israel professors. I possess a list, which I am sure
is already outdated of about 1500 professors who, at one point or another, called for a boycott of Israel. Well over 10%
of them are Jews.I can go on and on, but no need for that. Those among us who should know the true situation
need to change disc, from calling attention to the problem, to trying to find solutions.

But the problems with American public opinion are not confined only to the academic world, as important as it is.
Two recent foreign policy crises, that of the Iran nuclear talks and agreement, and the Syrian situation do
strongly point to the strength of what can be called American Neo-Isolationism.
American isolationism was never good news to our people,let us remember the 1930’s and 1940’s , and certainly bad news nowadays.
Reactions among many lawmakers, including those who are strongly on the pro-Israel column indicate that Congress , the traditional
pillar of support for Israel, cannot and does not want to ignore the messages transmitted by public opinion.
John Mccain of all people may illustrate the problem. A life-long supporter of Israel, whose support is still strong , was
clobbered by his constituents in a well-publicized town-hall meeting town hall about what seemed to many as his zeal
to intervene in Syria. Coincidentally or not, Mccain is in the Obama Administration column
with regard to the Iranian agreement, advocating giving it a chance.
For too long, the Pro-Israel community in the US, still a powerful force, has been intoxicated with the good smell
of the polls, somehow failing to read between the lines.

The ASA decision and others which are in the pipeline are a grim reminder to us all.
It is not too late to wage a counter offensive , far from it, but step number one , is to realize the true
parameters of the problem. It certainly an attack on the ”academic freedom”, but it is much more than that.
We know all too well from our history how boycotts of this kind start, and where they can lead to.
No, we are far from that point, but a red light is a red light. We have a big challenge on our hands.
Time to deal with it, and I , for one, promise to say on the case in my future blogs, for whatever it is worth.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina