02 January 2014

Bigotted Boycotters

Jewish state singled out unfairly by academics

Not long ago, a friend of mine who was critical of Israeli settlements confessed that he was unaware that...
  • when the United Nations had partitioned Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish one, it had been the Israelis who accepted the partition and the Arabs who had rejected it... 
  • it was the Arab invasion of Israel that followed that rejection which had brought about the flood of Palestinian refugees...
  • the Palestinians had rejected Israeli offers for an independent Palestine in 2000 and again in 2008 — offers which, had they been accepted, would have eliminated the settlement issue that Palestinian leaders claim is the cause of the conflict.

The only thing remarkable about the fact that this was news to him is that he has two degrees in international relations: an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League university and a master’s to boot.
Unfamiliarity with even the core facts of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a complicated region, and the facts are often obscured by rhetoric that ranges from misleading to unhinged.

In the case of the American Studies Association boycott of Israel, however, the problem is not unfamiliarity with the facts. It is the disregard of them. For the ASA boycotters, as for those urging that the Modern Language Association endorse a similar boycott, it is not that they are unaware that the Israelis have repeatedly had their offers rejected by the Palestinians, or that acceptance of these offers would have ended the conflict. It is that these facts are quite immaterial to them.

Confronted with the question why his organization has never proposed a boycott of institutions any place other than Israel, yet alone places with human rights records far less admirable than that of Israel, ASA head Curtis Marez offered this disingenuous reply: “One has to start somewhere.”

But Israel is where the boycotters start, and also where they finish.

Thus, the U.S. State Department reports that under Hamas control, residents of Gaza are subjected to pervasive human rights abuses including “killing, torturing, arbitrarily detaining and harassing,” and that Hamas “launch[es] rockets and mortars against civilian targets in Israel, killing and injuring civilians.” The ASA would never dream of a boycott against the government-run universities in Gaza.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for restrictions on freedom of speech, press and assembly, violence against women, discrimination against the LGBT community, “forced labor, including by children” and the sanctioning of anti-Semitism. There is no boycott of institutions in the West Bank.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Qatar and Turkey are egregious human rights violators. The boycotters have no problem with the partnerships between American universities and academic institutions there.

According to the State Department, Saudi Arabia is guilty of “pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, assembly, association, movement and religion,” as well as rampant “violence against women, trafficking in persons and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race and ethnicity.” American universities such as Georgetown and George Washington receive significant Saudi Arabian funding. This, too, is apparently undeserving of a boycott.

The boycotters deny that their targeting of Israel, whose credentials as a democracy are unrivaled in the Middle East, is the product of bigotry...

Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, has called the boycotters “phony progressives.” They are that, to be sure. 
But the singling out of the Jewish state legitimately raises the troubling question of whether they are bigots as well.