Middle East studies in the News
Denouncing Anti-Israel Sentiments in Academia
Seventy-nine years ago today in Nazi Germany, 91 Jews were murdered, more than 1,000 synagogues burned and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed. This day became known as Kristallnacht — the night of broken glass — and is widely believed to be the beginning of the Holocaust.
We will forever be haunted by the question — what would have happened had the world taken action earlier? We, the future leaders of the world, must remember the lessons from that and not stand idle as groups are persecuted for their beliefs.
On the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May said, "Today, [there is] a new and pernicious form of anti-Semitism, which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist."
She is correct, and this growing form of anti-Semitism has become normalized on college campuses. The culture that has developed, in which the political left and academic community personally attack those who support Israel, is not acceptable.
A hypocritical double standard has developed in which the left focuses on disparaging Israel while ignoring even greater human rights violations committed by other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is important to recognize this new type of anti-Semitism as the violent hate speech it is in order to put an end to it.
The left and academia specifically single out Israel and those who support it but does not do the same for other countries with more devastating human rights violations. For example, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) advocates for an end to Israel.
Numerous colleges and universities have voted to adopt BDS ideology and 1,394 academics in the United States alone — including several Binghamton University professors — have signed the BDS petition. It is sensible to boycott a country whose policies you think are inhumane, but why only target Israel?
In a few cases, the focus on Israel in the academic community has become explicitly anti-Semitic. Recently, in a response to a speech by Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law emeritus who is pro-Israel, at University of California, Berkeley, a swastika was drawn on a poster for the event and The Daily Californian — Berkeley's student newspaper — published an anti-Semitic cartoon.
The cartoon, which portrays Dershowitz with a dark, spiderlike body stomping on a Palestinian child, evokes images of Nazi propaganda. Dershowitz is a critic of many of Israel's policies, but just because he believes in its right to exist, he is pictured as an evil creature.
Another egregious example of anti-Semitism occurred last month at McGill University. Following the decision by the Board of Directors of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) to reject BDS, the pro-BDS group made a campaign called "Democratize SSMU," which singled out member Noah Lew for his opposition BDS. On Oct. 16, at an SSMU meeting open to all McGill students, the ratification of the board of directors was put on the agenda.
Normally, all 12 members are ratified together at once, but the BDS group motioned to divide the ratification and to vote for each director individually. Lew was not ratified. This was a blatant demonstration of anti-Semitic discrimination.
Martin Kramer provides an explanation for the domination of anti-Israel thought in academia in his "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America." He says that in the mid-20th century, the prevailing thought in the academic community was that the rest of the world could be remade in the image of the United States. However, events such as the Iranian Revolution destroyed this notion and created a vacuum for a new paradigm in the field to be set.
Graduate students who resented established academics for maintaining possession of the few academic positions available sought a way to gain influence. According to Kramer, this climate allowed Palestinian-American Edward Said's book "Orientalism," which condemned traditional ideas, to cause a transformation that allowed the academic left to gain control of academia. In addition, it created an "acceptable hierarchy of political commitments" that put those who said were victims of colonialism at the top — Palestinians, the Arab nation and then the Islamic world.
Within the academic community, it has been stigmatized to be pro-Israel. Although BU has a large pro-Israel community and relatively small BDS presence, this normalized anti-Semitism is also present on our campus. I have many friends who have felt personally targeted by their teachers for expressing their pro-Israel beliefs. One colleague, after admitting her disagreement with Hamas being described as a resistance movement, was repeatedly called out and attacked in subsequent classes — once for 30 minutes — for having pro-Israel beliefs.
Students should not be scared of what their teachers will think of the Star of David necklace they're wearing. If you see discrimination against Israel supporters, you must speak up.
Even though Israel is flawed, these flaws must be put into context. Israel is progressive in terms of LGBTQ rights, women's rights and overall human rights. It might not be perfect, but like any other democracy, challenging its policies is reasonable. But when you mask anti-semitism with anti-Israel sentiments, you are complicit with the same ideology that allowed Kristallnacht to occur.
Michael Harel is a junior double-majoring in history and psychology.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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