Monday, December 23, 2013

Blind Boycotts - How smart college professors can be stupid and prejudiced.

In mid December, news reached the world that the American Studies Association, an interdisciplinary organization of over 5,000 university professors, had endorsed and called for an academic boycott of Israel Universities and visiting Israeli professors internationally.  Smart people can be so stupid sometimes.

To quote the ASA National Council’s announcement:

The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians. The ASA’s endorsement of the academic boycott emerges from the context of US military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and finally, the support of such a resolution by a majority of ASA members.

As with the Durbin conference, and other moments of Anti-Israel bias, no other country was named or considered: China, North Korea, Russia, Cuba… no military regime with control of academia was condemned: Iran, Syria, Egypt, Burma, … No, just Israel.

Israel, where academic freedom combines with freedom of the press, television and radio… Israel where free expression in society and on the internet are core values of the very identity of every Israeli… Israel, the only functioning democracy in its region… Israel.  Yes, it is Israel that they choose to boycott. 

And it is not criticism which is so wrong.  Everyone has a right to an opinion. It is the concept of an academic boycott.  Why burn books, when you can silence academic thinkers entirely? Cut out the middle man, and refuse to let your students be exposed to their ideas or experiences. That is the way of the ASA.

It is unthinkable that an organization of teachers would boycott academics of any origin. A university is supposed to be where ideas are put into play and challenged by peers and history. But it is not about ideas.  It is simple anti-Israel bias. It is prejudice masquerading as piety.

Harvard, Yale, PrincetonBrownCornellUniversity of ChicagoNorthwestern University and New York University condemned the boycott in a growing chorus of universities, including 26 schools have so far rejected the ASA boycott in the days following its passage. Additionally, two universities–Brandeis and Penn State Harrisburg–have cancelled their institutional membership in the organization.

The chancellor of Washington St. Louis University, Dr. Mark S. Wrighton wrote: [We are] deeply troubled and dismayed that the American Studies Association (ASA) , among others, has engaged in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions We believe strongly that a boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is not only one of our university’s fundamental principles but one of American higher education in general. This boycott clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it. 

Forceful comments like these have been made by several university leaders.  Is your university one of them? I encourage you to write the head of any university that you or your children attended, and express your view asking for their statement. In this country, such blind bias against freedom and learning is intolerable.

At the core, this is not about human rights.  If it were, they would be boycotting other countries as well.  This is about the idea that a Jewish and Israeli connection to the land of Israel is not legitimate.  It is an assumption that the State of Israel itself is intolerable and must be erased from social discourse.  The idea that Israel is not only “not wrong,” but “good” would never occur to them.

This is why we must learn our history, stay active on the political stage, and form our own relationship with Israel and all that it is facing.  I will be teaching 3 classes this Winter/Spring about our eternal relationship with the land.  I hope that you will come to all of them, and join me as we see these historical sites in July on our congregational journey.

Monday, January 13th 7 PM:           Our Eternal Connection to Jerusalem
Tuesday, February 4, 7 PM:             Our Ancestors in the Negev
Tuesday, May 6, 7 PM:                    Great Moments in Zionism – Multimedia

Am Yisrael Chai,

Rabbi Robert L. Tobin