ICSZ tries to say they are not anti-Zionists. ICSZ describes Zionism as “a broad set of colonial and repressive work and solidarities, efforts to curate knowledge and identities, and to dismantle movements that resist it.” It views it as a “political ideology tightly enmeshed with racism, fascism, and colonial dispossession. It intends to demonstrate “how the critical study of Zionism is deeply and essentially connected to the study of global forces, including contests over power, race, colonialism, capital, militarism, and violence.”
In just two weeks, ICSZ’s advisory board has expanded from 16 to 29 members, including UC Berkeley professor Judith Butler and New York University’s Lisa Duggan, who defends PFLP operative Rasmea Odeh and PFLP operative Rasmea Odeh. ICSZ has support from pro-BDS NGOs like the Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee and plans to grant “annual fellowships for students, academics, conferences, and publications.”
American leftists have effectively established anti-Zionist culture at universities and elite cultural centers using “tenured positions, bullying, and intimidation.” They have turned their antipathy toward “Zionists” into a separate ideology, politically allied with the more significant liberal movement. Academic progressives have reconfigured academic subjects to defame the Jewish state and coerce academics into signing libelous anti-Israel petitions. They are also promoting radical “liberated ethnic studies” in K-12 schools. They also seek to legitimize racist beliefs by enlisting the support of affluent Jewish institutions and funders, even though they are unpopular among most American Jews.
Despite the increase in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist academics on university campuses, Jewish Studies is not stepping up to call out the liberal academics, making their discipline and students have a difficult time on campus. Jarrod Tanny, an associate professor and Charles and Hannah Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and the founder of the Jewish Studies Zionist Network, just published an article criticizing a Jewish studies professor. Tanny’s article entitled, “Silence of the Lambs: Dissecting the Failure of Jewish Studies Programs” claims, “Whenever events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heat up and the academy singles out Israel, Jewish studies faculty either remain silent or publicly side with the anti-Zionists, much as they did in May 2021.”
In 2021, over 200 Jewish professors and academics signed a letter condemning Israel in the Gaza War but added a condemnation of “expressions of antisemitism or Islamophobia.” Tanny recounts that the declaration was tantamount to “siding with the antisemites.” Tanny expressed, “As an insider who saw earlier drafts of this statement, I know that the condemnation of antisemitism was an eleventh-hour insertion because its authors had received pushback on social media, including from me.” At the time, Tanny responded with the article, “Jewish studies — you have failed.” He accused Jewish Studies academics of hypocrisy and political selectivity, blaming Israel for threats and violence against Jews. He accused Jewish studies professors of only responding when white supremacists attack Jews, not when Palestinians attack Jews, criticizing their public support for everyone except Jews.
Tanny believes the Jewish studies faculty was interested in appeasing the academic left, including gender, ethnic, and Middle Eastern studies, with their anti-Israel statement. Most Jewish studies faculty supported an anti-Zionist statement, believing only a small minority of militant faculty were pushing an anti-Zionist agenda. In contrast, the majority remained silent, avoiding involvement, which surprised Tanny. However, among them included Jewish studies academics who “refused to acknowledge the antisemitism of the left.” Tanny recounts that in 2017, “The Jewish Studies Activist Network,” (JSAN) was already siding with anti-Zionists, refusing to condemn antisemitism from the left but only from the right. In his opinion, they gave the “academic left a kosher seal of approval from the experts in Jewish history and politics” and allowed “Jewish studies to thus be granted entry into the academic social justice club.”
Tanny did not play their game and called out the anti-Semitism from the left in the JSAN, among them members of the supported Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP). When Tanny called some of their actions out, they threw him out of the group. A senior scholar told a book publisher not to publish his work and told another scholar not to associate professionally with him. Tanny does not know how far these actions went. Still, as the only Jewish studies professor at his university, he has been isolated at his university. Still, he is unsure if “What I endured hardly rises to the level of “cancellation” and harassment experienced by so many other academics who have postulated ‘errant’ political positions.” However, Tanny expressed, “But it placed me on the path of becoming a pariah in Jewish studies, or at least among powerful people in Jewish studies who are vocal and militant in their anti-Zionist politics.”
Tanny believes “there is a problem within Jewish studies.” He thinks Jewish studies professors are often seen as guardians of Jewish knowledge and practices, but their expertise and credentials are often misused for political purposes. They are often welcomed into the progressive movement, where anti-Zionism is seen as a ticket to admission, causing a problem within the field. In June 2022, Tanny created the Jewish Studies Zionist Network (JSZN). The organization is defined as a network of “scholars and educators in Jewish studies who affirm that Zionism is a legitimate movement for the national self-determination of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland.” Tanny explains, “As scholars of Jewish studies, we espouse critical inquiry, empiricism, and open debate.” The group started with 80 scholars, and as of September 2023, over 180 scholars had signed its mission statement.
A year later, Jewish scholars and academics from various disciplines, including Jewish studies, signed an open letter “about Today’s Intellectual Environment.” The letter decried the threats to academic freedom from right and left ideologies. They wrote they “are concerned about the current ideological environment in the US and elsewhere and the increasingly censorious culture in many institutions of higher learning. Although we are acutely aware of the illiberalism and threats to academic freedom emanating from the political right, and in no way downplay these dangers, in this letter we focus our attention on, and express our deep concern about, a dangerously intolerant ideology on the political left that has taken hold in academia.”
Education should teach students how to think, not what to think. Universities often promote moral and intellectual attitudes restricting critical inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and intellectual openness. Suppressing unpopular opinions limits widespread discussion on social issues and hinders policy formulation. The rise of neo-Manichean ideologies poses a threat to the Jewish community. The scholars conclude that they “stand for the principles of free inquiry in our educational institutions. As Jewish scholars, we remind the Jewish community and others of the dangers of any ideology that diminishes the free exchange of ideas. Instead, we encourage leaders and educators to stand up for our deeply held liberal principles and our own tradition of ‘argument for the sake of heaven.’”
Tanny is right; Jewish studies professors are not speaking up on campus. In 2021, when McGill SSMU passed its Palestine Solidarity Policy motion, Jewish studies professors refused to speak out. In 2016, when the SSMU passed its BDS motion, most of the professors signed McGill History Professor Gil Troy’s petition against the motion. However, last year, they were silent. When I contacted the chair, they trusted the administration to deal with the issue. When Tanny created the Jewish Studies Zionist Network (JSZN), only two professors from Montreal universities that teach and research Jewish studies or history signed the petition, one of which was Professor Troy, an outspoken advocate against anti-Zionism for over 20 years. It was the same situation with the Jewish scholars against Today’s Intellectual Environment petition; only Troy signed it, and when I saw the petition, I also decided to sign it.
Tanny did not believe he was entirely blacklisted but isolated for his position in Israel on his campus and field. I think he is being too forgiving; I think being outspoken and taking a position and stand about Israel and Zionism is detrimental to one’s academic career within the Jewish community and outside of it. Outside the Jewish community, there is opposition to Zionism and Israel; although we condemn it, it is more comprehendible. However, the same trepidation among Jewish studies professors about taking a stand against anti-Zionism on campus can be seen in other areas of the Jewish community. The Jewish community likes homogeneity in viewpoints, which do not cause shockwaves inside the community and outside ones that would upset the secular world, as Jewish studies professors fear upsetting their university administrators and non-Jewish colleagues.
I understand what Tanny has been saying about blacklisting; I am known for my outspoken and controversial history on campus, anti-Zionism, and my frequent works on antisemitism, but that has not translated into a position within the Jewish community. Despite my qualifications, I keep getting the door shut in my face. I thought I would change direction and look to share my love of Jewish studies at the day school level, but what I have discovered is that our schools do not want thinkers; they want rank-and-file, they do not want analysis; they want to share one collective viewpoint, and that does not include activism. Activists throughout history have been punished for trying to change the status quo or injustice, and although I do not consider my waves that overwhelming, we as a Jewish community still have that fear that if we go beyond the outside’s view of how we should be, it could be detrimental.
Sometimes, our community comes together and looks to celebrate the activists. This October, Canada’s Center for Jewish and Israel Affairs is holding a conference in our nation’s capital, Ottawa, “Antisemitism: Face It and Fight It.” The conference is entirely devoted to advocacy training for students communal and advocacy leaders to “engage” the government and officials about the ever-increasing antisemitism and anti-Zionism problem in Canada. Hailed as the largest conference of its kind in Canada, it celebrates those who want to make noise and are unsatisfied with the same old answers we get about antisemitism. With special programming for students, the conference tries to teach students to stand up and fight campus anti-Zionism and not sit idly by. Only when everyone within the Jewish community realizes that staying silent is not solving the problem but increasing it will we finally have a unified voice to shut out and control antisemitism and anti-Zionism problems on North American campuses.
“An Open Letter from Jewish Scholars about Today’s Intellectual Environment.” The Fathom Journal, July 2023. https://fathomjournal.org/an-open-letter-from-jewish-scholars-about-todays-intellectual-environment/
“Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “Anti-Israel Activism on U.S. Campuses, 2022–2023 Campus Report.” September 12, 2023. https://www.adl.org/resources/report/anti-israel-activism-us-campuses-2022-2023
CIJA. “ANTISEMITISM: FACE IT, FIGHT IT First-Ever Wide-Scale Convening of the Jewish Community and Allies from Across Canada to Face, Fight, and Push Back Against Antisemitism.” International Experts & Canadian Political Leaders to Participate October 16–17, 2023 | Shaw Centre, Ottawa August 31, 2023. https://www.cija.ca/first_ever_wide_scale_convening_of_the_jewish_community_and_allies_from_across_canada_to_face_fight_and_push_back_against_antisemitism
Kampeas, Ron. “Cancel or condemn? Jewish groups decrying UPenn’s ‘Palestine Writes’ festival are split on the ideal response.” The Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), September 18, 2023. https://www.jta.org/2023/09/18/united-states/cancel-or-condemn-jewish-groups-decrying-upenns-palestine-writes-festival-are-split-on-ideal-response
Lapin, Andrew. “BDS resolutions down, ‘anti-Israel events’ up on college campuses last year, ADL tally shows.” The Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), September 13, 2023. https://www.jta.org/2023/09/13/united-states/bds-resolutions-down-anti-israel-events-up-on-college-campuses-last-year-adl-tally-shows
Tanny, Jarrod. “Silence of the Lambs: Dissecting the Failure of Jewish Studies Programs.” The Jewish Journal, September 10, 2023.
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a librarian, historian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”
Ms. Goodman is the author of Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896, The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South, We Used to be Friends? The Long Complicated History of Jews, Blacks, and Antisemitism, and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”
Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history, and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu. She has nearly 20 years of experience in education and political journalism.