Tag Archives: BDS movement

BDS: Jew-Hating Propagandists on the March

The anti-Semitic Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel keeps reaching for—and finding—new depths of indecency.  Among the deepest descenders into this abyss is Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers.  Professor Puar recently garnered national attention for her address at Vassar, February 3, “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters.”  The talk has not been published, but some in the audience reported that Puar exhorted armed resistance to Israel; alleged that Israel “mined for organs” from dead Palestinians; and claimed that Israel systematically starves Palestinians as part of a medical experiment.

Readers can get a good idea of what Puar had to say from her November 2015 essay, published in Borderlands, “The ‘Right’ to Maim: Disablement and Inhumanist Biopolitics in Palestine.” The “right to maim,” to be clear, does not refer to the epidemic of stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians.  It refers to an “implicit claim” by Israel “to the right to maim and debilitate Palestinian bodies and environments as a form of biopolitical control.”

Related: Worry about Islamophobia but not about Anti-Semitism

The talk provoked heated responses, both to its substance and to the eight Vassar academic departments (including Jewish Studies) that sponsored it. But it also introduced a new angle in the current controversies over free expression on campus. The Vassar professor who introduced Puar asked the audience to “refrain from recording this evening’s proceedings, in the spirit of congeniality and mutual respect, though it is not against the law.” This request was also made as part of “the modest contract of trust essential to the exchange of ideas.”

As Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson observed, “Requesting non-recording of an open, public event on the pretext that non-recording is ‘essential to the exchange of ideas’ is odd.”

Puar’s talk leapt to national attention when Mark Yudof, former president of the University of California, and Ken Waltzer, an emeritus professor of history from Michigan State, published an op-ed, “Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar,” in the Wall Street Journal. Puar objected that Yudof and Waltzer quoted her out of context. If they erred, it would be easy enough for Puar to set the record straight by releasing the transcript. Instead, she has protested her right to give public lectures that are off the record.

And in this she has gained support from 966 (so far) signatories around the country of a public letter asking Vassar’s president to defend Puar. The letter says that the criticism of Puar chills her speech and curbs her academic freedom. Puar has become the target of “heinous and misinformed attacks” because of her speech, as well as her “vilification” in “the ugly op-ed” in the Wall Street Journal.

Related: An Anti-Semitism Controversy at Stanford

These attacks, the signatories say, are all the more disgraceful in light of Puar’s scholarly achievement, including “her acclaimed book Terrorist Assemblages,” (subtitled Homonationalism in Queer Times) and other writings, “of the highest professional and scholarly rigor.” The scholars who have signed the letter include Judith Butler, Marilyn Hacker, Rashid Khalidi, Steven Salaita, Angela Davis, Rick Ayers (Bill’s brother) and some other familiar names. The list of signatories includes 137 who have appointments in English departments; 92 in either Women’s Studies or Feminist Studies; 55 in American Studies; 52 in Anthropology; nine in international studies; and seven in Environmental Studies.  Twenty have faculty appointments at Rutgers, including twelve members of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.

Thirty-five have some Vassar connection, though only eight teach there.

Three weeks after her talk at Vassar, Puar was scheduled to speak at Fordham on “the biopolitics of debility in Gaza.” The New York Daily News, alerted to curious aspects of Puar’s public presentations, nudged Fordham into noticing that Puar had imposed a “no recording” stipulation on her talk. But Fordham’s president, observing that a public lecture is a public lecture, said Fordham would not stop people from recording Puar’s words. Moreover, to avoid claims and counter-claims about her speech, Fordham itself would record and disseminate it.  That was too much for Puar, who cancelled her talk.

Puar also threatened to sue anyone who records her talks or makes public any existing recordings of her talk from Vassar.

Related: A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

At nearly the same moment that the Fordham events were unfolding, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay, “The Free-Speech Fallacy,” by Puar supporter Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale.  Stanley praises Puar as “an agenda-setting scholar” whose work has had “a level of impact few academics achieve in a lifetime.” But then he pivots to his real subject: his attack on the critics who say “left-wing social justice” is a threat to free speech. He dismisses Yudof’s and Waltzer’s defense of free speech as hypocritical, since their op-ed inflamed people against Puar.  He jabs at Jonathan Haidt for framing the view that “academe suffers from a leftist ideological uniformity.” He sneers at the Heterodox Academy group, which, at Haidt’s lead, criticizes the left’s aversion to free speech.

Stanley trivializes their complaint: “I told my mother the other day that she shouldn’t tell me that I am overweight. Was I challenging her freedom of speech?” In Stanley’s view, people who complain about leftist repression of free speech are like students in a mathematics class complaining when their errors are corrected.

Returning to Puar, Stanley argues that those of us who criticize her smears against Israel are attempting to “silence oppressed and marginalized groups.” This is a head-spinning argument to the effect that support for free speech is really anti-free speech. It is anti-free speech because it impedes the voices of those who purport to speak for the oppressed. But silencing the defenders of Israel is acceptable because they speak for the privileged and powerful.

The core of the problem is that anti-Israel propagandists such as Puar and other “social justice advocates” want a double standard. They demand the right to speak, but they want none of the responsibility of having their views held up to ordinary standards of evidence and argument, or their words made accessible to audiences beyond their chosen venues.

To respect intellectual freedom, we must allow room for speakers such as Jasbir Puar and John Derbyshire, but we must also allow room for those who disagree to have their say, and those who dissent from such disagreement to have their say too.  Nearly all colleges and universities are failing this test—though hats off to Fordham for refusing Puar’s demand to bottle-up her talk.

It is our deep misfortune to live at a time when the illiberal left, luxuriating in its “social justice” agenda has also embraced anti-Semitism and developed a new sophistry aimed at providing a free pass for the propagandists who claim to speak for the oppressed. Intellectual freedom never means immunity to criticism. It means making your best case and, if you can, answering your critics. Puar’s problem, it seems, is that she can’t.

Our AntI-Israel American Universities

The foundations of American Jewish life are under assault today in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago. Academia is ground zero of the onslaught. The protest movements on campuses are primarily anti-Jewish movements.

For the past decade or so, Jewish communal leaders and activists have focused on just one aspect of this anti-Jewish campaign. Jewish leaders have devoted themselves to helping Jewish students combat the direct anti-Semitism inherent to the anti-Israel student movements.

Despite the substantial funds that have been devoted to fighting anti-Israel forces on campuses, they have not been diminished. To the contrary, with each passing year they have grown more powerful and menacing.

Consider a sampling of the anti-Jewish incidents that took place over the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, Daniel Bernstein, a Jewish student at University of California Santa Cruz and a member of the university’s student government was ordered not to vote on a resolution calling for the university to divest from four companies, which do business with Israel.

Bernstein represents UCSC’s Stevenson College at the university student government. He is also vice president of his college’s Jewish Student Union. Ahead of the anti-Israel vote, Bernstein received a message from a member of his college’s student council ordering him to abstain from the vote on Israel divestment.

The student council, Bernstein was informed, had determined that he was motivated by “a Jewish agenda,” and therefore couldn’t be trusted to view the resolution fairly.

In the same message, Bernstein’s correspondent gave him a friendly “heads up” that his fellow students are considering removing him from office because he is a Jew supported by the Jewish community.

To his credit, Bernstein ignored his orders. He voted to oppose the anti-Israel resolution.

Following the incident Bernstein published a statement decrying the anti-Jewish discrimination and hatred now rampant on his campus.

Among other things, he wrote, “I wish that [my] being subjected to anti-Semitism was a shocking new occurrence. But the truth is that I’m not shocked. I’m not shocked because this hatred and ignorance has followed me everywhere. I’m not shocked because Jewish students have been targeted with this vile racism all over the [University of California] UC system for years, and especially since BDS became a major issue of discussion. Anti-Semitism … has … become an inseparable part of campus politics right here at UC Santa Cruz and across the UC system.”

Then there is the growing movement of professional associations that boycott Israel.

Last week the National Women’s Studies Association passed a resolution to join the BDS movement. The resolution, written in turgid, incomprehensible prose, proclaimed that the only state in the Middle East that provides full and equal rights to women is so evil that it must be singled out and boycotted, sanctioned and the university must divest from it.

Whereas Bernstein was personally targeted, and the NWSA criminalizes Israel, at CUNY, on November 12, a group of protesters targeted the Jewish community as a whole.

That day, as part of a national “million student march,” where students demanded free tuition, anti-Jewish students at CUNY rallied at Hunter College and introduced a new demand: the expulsion of all Israel supporters from campus.

Congregating in the center of the campus, some 50 students chanted in unison, “Zionists out of CUNY!”

Aside from an anodyne statement in favor of “freedom of expression,” CUNY administrators had nothing to say about the affair.

For their part, Hunter’s administrators issued a statement “condemning the anti-Semitic comments,” made by the rally participants.

But no disciplinary measures were taken against any of them.

Speaking to the Algemeiner, StandWithUs’s northeast regional director Shahar Azani said that the Hunter incident “is another example of the hijacking of various social causes by the anti-Israel movement.”

In making this claim, Azani was merely repeating the position taken by Jewish communal leaders and activists involved in the fight to defend Jews and Israel on university campuses. Unfortunately, this position is incorrect.

According to the prevailing wisdom guiding Jewish communal responses to the onslaught against Jewish students on campuses, the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish movements are distinct from the wider anti-liberal forces now disrupting campus life throughout the US. As Jewish leaders see things, there is no inherent connection between the protesters embracing victimhood and demanding constraints on freedom of expression, inquiry and assembly (and free tuition), and those who seek to drive Jews out of the public sphere on college campuses.

In other words, they believe that Zionists can be crybullies too.

But they can’t.

The crybully movement, which demands that universities constrain freedom to cater to victim groups, is necessarily hostile to Jews. This is the reason that at the same time that “victims” from blacks to transgenders are coddled and caressed; Jews have emerged as the only group that is not protected. Indeed, the BDS movement requires universities to discriminate against Jewish students.

 

The inherent conflict between the tenets of the “progressive” movement and Jewish rights is exposed in a guide to racial “microaggressions” published earlier this year by the University of California. Students and faculty must avoid committing these “microagressions” if they want to stay on the right side of campus authorities and the law.

The UC defines “microagressions” as, “brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of his or her group membership (such as race, gender, age or socio-economic status).”

Transgressors can expect to be accused of engendering a “hostile learning environment,” an act that can get you expelled, fired and subjected to criminal probes.

As law professor Eugene Voloch reported in The Washington Post last June, among other things, the list of offenses includes embracing merit as a means of advancing in society. A statement along the lines of “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” can destroy a person’s academic career.

So too, statements rejecting race as a significant factor in judging a person’s competence are now deemed racist. For instance statements to the effect of, “There is only one race, the human race,” “America is a melting pot” or “I don’t believe in race” can land a student or instructor in hot water.

In a column last week, Dennis Prager noted that the list castigates as racism all the pillars of liberal society in America. The list, he wrote, shows that “the American university is now closer to fascism than to traditional liberty.”

Prager is right, of course. But the fascist takeover of American academia will not affect all Americans equally.

Jews are the greatest victims of this state of affairs.

For the better part of the past hundred years, the upward mobility of American Jewry has been directly correlated with America’s embrace of meritocratic values. The more Americans have looked past race and ethnicity and judged people by their talents, characters and professional competence, the higher Jews have risen. Conversely, where qualities other than competence, talent and professionalism have determined social and professional status, Jews have suffered. They have faced discrimination and their opportunities to advance have been limited.

Academia is but a small component of American society. But to earn a place in America’s middle, upper-middle and upper classes, you need at least an undergraduate degree. Moreover, university graduates go on to populate and head the state and federal governing bureaucracies, the business world, the entertainment sector and every other major area of human endeavor in American society.

Academia’s simultaneous rejection of core liberal principles and legitimization of anti-Semitic forces is not a coincidence. Jews are a constant reminder that human agency – rather than race and other group identities – has everything to do with a person’s ability to excel in academics and beyond. For fascist principles to hold, Jews must be demonized and hated.

The intrinsic link between anti-Semitism and fascism and their simultaneous embrace by a key American institution means that the equal rights and freedoms of Jews are far more threatened in America today than most Jewish leaders and activists have realized. The Jewish community’s failure to date to defeat the anti-Semitic forces on campuses owes at least in part to its failure to recognize or contend with the dual nature of the problem.

Reprinted with permission from the Jerusalem Post


 

Caroline B. Glick, an American-born Israeli, is  deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. She served as assistant foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from 1997 to1998 and is author of the 2008 book, Shackled Warrior: Israel and the Global Jihad.

A Setback for BDS

The movement to impose a boycott on Israeli universities, to get colleges to divest from Israeli companies, and to impose other sanctions on Israel—the BDS movement (boycott, divest and sanction)—was launched in 2005 by a collection of Palestinian organizations.  Over the last decade it has gathered significant support in American higher education, but the enthusiasm of some American academics for the cause didn’t attract much attention outside the academy until the vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) in December 2013 to join the boycott.

That vote shocked many who had not yet heard of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.  The National Association of Scholars called on the ASA not to join the boycott.  And when the ASA went ahead with it, some colleges and universities responded by dropping their institutional memberships in it.  One consequence of the furor was a series of decisions by other scholarly associations, including the Modern Language Association, to reject proposals that they also join the boycott.

Since then, the BDS movement has been less prominent in American higher education but it has not gone away.  Last week the New School held a two-day conference, “Sanctions and Divestments:  Economic Weapons of Political and Social Change.”  Nimer Sultany, lecturer in public law at the University of London, who is Palestinian and one of the international leaders of the BDS movement, argued that BDS is a promising tool to advance the goal of returning “all Palestinian lands” to Palestinians and to “reverse Israeli colonization.”  Todd Gitlin, the 60s radical who is now the chairman of the Ph.D. program in Communications at Columbia University, opposed BDS on the grounds that its stated goal is “too broad.”

Vagueness generally helps the proponents of BDS.  At the New School event, Sultany refused to be pinned down as to what exactly its goal might be.  The eradication of Israel?  He wasn’t ruling it out, but neither did he own it.

This reticence about goals may help proponents of the movement to draw in supporters who feel sympathy with dispossessed Palestinians but haven’t thought very much about the implications of the movement’s broad claims.  When those claims come into sharper focus, campus support dwindles.

That lesson was displayed on May 2, when students at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine voted down a proposal to support the boycott. With 1,619 students voting, only 228 voted in favor of the boycott, and 1,144 voted against it. (247 abstained.)  The students showed collective wisdom, and in this case they were influenced by Bowdoin’s out-going president, Barry Mills, who in 2014 issued a strong statement rejecting the boycott movement.

The National Association of Scholars pays special attention to Bowdoin College.  Our 2013 study, What Does Bowdoin Teach?  How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students, picked out Bowdoin to serve as a representative institution—one that was small enough to study in depth, but also one whose strengths and weaknesses are widely shared by other elite liberal arts colleges.  In that vein, we took a critical view of the readiness of the Bowdoin administration and the students to embrace fashionable progressive causes.

In this case, however, Bowdoin has demonstrated a more thoughtful and deliberative side.

The idea of getting Bowdoin to boycott Israel had come up before.  Mills’s 2014 statement was a response to an earlier round of advocacy.  A new round began this spring and eventuated in a petition circulated in April by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).   According to one of the group leaders, the goal wasto isolate parts of the Israeli state apparatus that are normalizing the maltreatment of Palestinians and abuses of their human rights.” The petition got enough student signatures for a student-body-wide referendum.  The success of the petition drive, however, alarmed other students who organized a counter campaign.

The Bowdoin Orient, the student newspaper, quoted students as saying that they didn’t know enough about the conflict in order to vote with a clear conscience.  This is noteworthy in that it means that students did not take the boycott as the default position.  They did not just assume that the case for the BDS movement was right.  Other students voiced more particular objections such as their preference for a two-state option.  Still others complained that the boycott “threatens academic freedom,” especially the “free exchange of ideas” about the conflict itself.

All of this is encouraging—encouraging that a college community that has often fallen into lockstep conformity on political issues and shown very little interest in allowing a diversity of opinions to flourish re-discovered the value of open debate.

It is especially encouraging because we are in a strange moment in American higher education:  a moment in which intellectual freedom seems terribly imperiled.  The rhetoric of “rape crisis”; the insistence that there is a “climate consensus” that obviates the need to hear from skeptics; the post-Ferguson hyping of the idea that America uses violence to maintain a racial hierarchy—these and many more pronouncements have fostered a campus climate across the country in which students congratulate themselves for shutting down discussion, dis-inviting speakers who might disagree with prevailing opinions, and attacking those few students who stray from the new orthodoxies. Intimidation is the hottest campus trend.

Bowdoin is far from immune to these disorders. It is not a place where intellectual freedom generally flourishes. But as we showed in What Does Bowdoin Teach? there is another, older, and better Bowdoin.  It is reassuring to see the college in this instance find its better self.  And if Bowdoin is indeed representative of elite higher education, perhaps the vote on May 2 is a sign of a broader recovery in American higher education. The BDS movement is an ugly retreat from academic and intellectual freedom. It is heartening to see it beaten back so decisively in a place where its proponents might well have expected an easy win.