Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions faction cannot speak for U.S. universities

On a basic level, the campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has been an utter failure. Israel’s economy is stronger than ever. Its positive impact on the world increases with each new high-tech innovation and life-saving invention. Israel is expanding its diplomatic relationships around the world. Tourists, celebrities, and rock stars alike continue to visit Israel with complete disregard for the BDS movement.

Yet even so, the BDS movement has scored some disconcerting victories here in the U.S., particularly in the academic community. The 800-member Association for Asian-American Studies and the 5,000-member American Studies Association (ASA) voted to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions efforts against Israel and Israeli institutions of higher learning in April and December, respectively.

This week, at its Chicago convention, the 30,000-member Modern Language Association (MLA), another academic professional organization, is set to vote on a separate resolution to condemn Israel’s alleged “arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S. academics.” While it is not a full boycott resolution, it shares a common tactic – holding Israel to a double standard.

Though the BDS movement’s victories to date have been largely symbolic, to dismiss or ignore these formal efforts would allow this nefarious faction to make further inroads into the American academic community, the intellectual backbone of our society. Ignoring and not confronting these efforts could foster a more hostile campus climate for Israel, eroding the confidence of pro-Israel students and faculty on campuses across the U.S. That is why Israel on Campus Coalition is adopting an aggressive course of action to confront the BDS movement and to call it out as a hostile, anti-intellectual and profoundly misguided campaign that silences debate and shuns cross-cultural engagement.

We are focusing on four primary reasons that the MLA resolution is deserving of defeat.

First, Israel is being singled out for actions other Western nations routinely pursue. The decision to target Israel and no other country reflects a special animus and lack of intellectual honesty on the part of the resolution’s authors. Will the MLA also condemn the U.S. for denying entry to academics like Tariq Ramadan, Adam Habib, Karim Meziane, and Nalani Ghuman? The United States, Great Britain, France, Canada, and Australia, not to mention Western-leaning nations in the Middle East, such as UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (which regularly partner with Western universities), all occasionally deny entry to individuals, for any number of reasons. That Israel should be singularly condemned by the MLA for something most other nations do is an example of a double-standard, motivated by a particular hatred for the Jewish state.

Second, the MLA resolution will be put to a vote after only a one-sided panel discussion devoid of opposing views and led by a moderator with a personal dislike for the Jewish state. The MLA’s roundtable discussion features Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement; Barbara Jane Harlow, a University of Texas professor who supports the ASA boycott of Israel, David Lloyd, a top leader of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; and Richard Ohmann, a Wesleyan University professor who signed a 2009 letter calling Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.” And the MLA’s roundtable discussion was organized by Samer M. Ali, a public supporter of the ASA boycott. This one-sided MLA session, which purports to open up discussion on anti-Israel boycotts, in fact defies any notion of free and open discussion.

Third, the resolution falsely accuses Israel of abridging the right to education among its citizens and Palestinians. This is an outright falsehood. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, routinely abridges this right by filling its classrooms with odious curricula that glorify violence against Israel, promote anti-Semitism, and even include elements of admiration for Hitler. Where is the MLA’s resolution on these students’ right to education? As evidence of the utter hypocrisy of the expositors of this charge, one of the pro-BDS MLA panelists, Omar Barghouti, received his Master’s Degree at Tel Aviv University and remains a doctoral student there to this day. He who would isolate and delegitimize Israeli academic institutions pays into and seeks credentials from the very system he claims to abhor.

Fourth, and finally, the resolution prepares MLA members to consider a more ambitious program to isolate Israel, its universities and academics. Considering Israel’s high academic achievement, such a program can only be seen as anti-intellectual, profoundly self-destructive to the core purpose of academia and deeply hateful. Supporters of this flawed resolution are acting with malevolent motives or have failed to carefully deliberate the matter at hand.

This resolution has been prepared by individuals who deny Israel the same rights afforded to any other nation state and who will use any tool available to accomplish their goal. We cannot allow this effort to isolate Israel and her world-leading universities to succeed here in the U.S. Such a victory would not be a defeat for Israel. It would be a defeat for the U.S. and its esteemed colleges and universities.

Jacob Baime is Executive Director of Israel on Campus Coalition. This article appeared originally in the Washington Jewish Week.

About the Author
Jacob Baime is Executive Director of Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), which unites and empowers pro-Israel campus organizations, providing strategic coordination and expertise to strengthen support for Israel.