What the ASA should really be focusing on

On Saturday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away. Sharon was a fierce defender of Israel who fought valiantly and led Israel to victory in the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Lebanon War, among others. He was a man who was willing to make incredibly significant land concessions for peace and was willing to engage the other side, no matter how hostile it was at times. He was willing to evict ten thousand of his own people from the Gaza Strip in order to try to establish peace. And how did the Palestinian community, especially the youth, respond to the news of his death? They celebrated by handing out candy and dancing in the streets. This behavior stems from what they are being taught in their classrooms. Instead of examining Palestinian institutions, which exude hatred, bias, and a serious lack of academic freedom, however, groups such as the American Studies Association (ASA) have decided to subject Israel to boycotts.

Since exiting the womb, Palestinian children are indoctrinated and incited to hate Israel and the Jews. They are taught that Jews are the descendants of apes and swine. They are encouraged to be martyrs in order to receive a great reward in the world to come. Buildings in Al-Quds University are named after some of the worst terrorists in Israeli history. These messages are found everywhere from PA assemblies to Palestinian children’s television shows to schoolbooks. Instead of focusing on the hateful messages espoused by the Palestinian Authority, the international community has decided to take the easier route and attempt to pressure Israel to make more concessions in the peace process. And instead of denouncing Palestinian academic institutions, which do not promote academic freedom, organizations such as the ASA have boycotted Israeli institutions, where students of all backgrounds and ethnicities are given equal rights and engage in academic discussions.

Discriminating against Israel because it “practices apartheid” or “violates human rights” is simply erroneous. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Its Arab constituents enjoy more rights and freedom than those in any of its neighboring Arab countries. Arabs in Israel have the right to vote. There are twelve Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, and one Arab justice on Israel’s Supreme Court. The valedictorian of the most recent graduating class at the Technion (Israel’s MIT) was Mais Ali-Saleh, a Muslim woman. They sit in the Knesset and on Israel’s Supreme Court. Israeli Arabs maintain their own religious courts and their own, state-funded, Arabic-language schools. Arabic is one of Israel’s official languages. These facts are not indicative of a state participating in discriminatory practices. In Syria, however, Palestinians are not allowed to vote or become citizens. In Lebanon, Palestinians cannot own property or work in various professions. The ASA has not commented on these regimes, and instead decided to focus on the one country in the region that does not engage in such actions.

The academics who voted to boycott Israeli institutions do not belong in the classroom, educating the next generation of Americans, if they don’t understand the mission of academia. Academia is meant to serve as the hub of enlightenment, a place that allows for the free flow of information based on facts. An academic boycott runs precisely counter to what education is all about. How can you justify boycotting these institutions because of “apartheid” when in fact Arab students study and even greatly succeed at Israeli institutions? Narrow-mindedness has no place in academia, and neither do those who engage in it. Those who deny the spreading of information and enlightenment due to their own prejudices should not be in the position to educate and inform others.

The reaction of the Palestinian community to Sharon’s death highlights the necessity of the international community, both political and academic, to clamp down on the messages of hatred and destruction that are being taught in Palestinian schoolrooms, from elementary school to higher education. As a result of the Oslo Accords of 1993, both the Palestinians and the Israelis promised to teach their children peace education. Israel has complied; the PA has not. Academic organizations should shift their efforts to pressure the PA into fulfilling its commitment. Only then can a true, lasting peace between the two sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict finally begin to be put in place.

About the Author
Josh Nass is a public relations professional who specializes in crisis communications and reputation management.
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