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Posted in: Anti-Semitism, Culture Wars & Censorship

Published on May 30, 2006 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for National Review

Ivory Tower Fascists

Academic Boycotters Follow In Hitler's Footsteps


In late May, after months of debate and rancor, the largest academic union in Britain advised its members to boycott any Israeli academic who would not publicly disavow the so-called "apartheid policies" of the Israeli state. In effect, this meant that any Israeli academic who did not subscribe to the political views of the National Association of Teachers in Higher and Further Education (NATHFE) could have been blacklisted and prevented from speaking or participating in conferences at British universities and being published by British academic journals.

This was the third time in four years that British academics went on record to censure and isolate Israeli academics. The vote came despite an international petition drive launched by three academic groups: the U.S.-based Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (of which I am a board member), the Israel-based International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom and the Britishbased Engage, which together collected nearly 6,000 signatures.

The vote was close, 106 to 71, and a good number of the union's 70,000 members condemned it. Moreover, since NATHFE recently dissolved and merged with another British academic union (the Association of University Teachers, which ultimately failed in its attempt to boycott Israeli academics last year), the NATHFE vote is not binding on the newly formed body, the University and College Union.

Still, NATHFE's vote represents a disquieting turning point, one that attempts to chill academic freedom and place a political litmus test on scholarship. The treatment of these Israeli scholars is particularly troubling. They alone are held accountable for their state's policies while scholars from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Korea and China— all recognized human rights abusers— are not boycotted.

The vote is yet another example of anti-Zionism morphing into antisemitism. Just as Jewish individuals were once persecuted and demonized, now the Jewish state has become the punching bag of the world. Contrary to what British academics would have the world believe, Zionism is not "racism" or "apartheid." It is the liberation movement of the Jewish people, founded by a people of all colors gathered together from all continents. The attempt to target Israel and its people is not new. It is an old idea wrapped in a 21st-century veneer.

Past is Present

Seventy three years after Adolf Hitler fired Jewish professors from German universities, and burned and banned Jewish books, a group of British academics are leading the pack against Israeli scholars. These academics claim that Israel's "illegal" occupation of Palestinian territory requires the same sort of campaign that once was waged against apartheid South Africa. They envision that such boycotts, divestment and sanctions will ultimately end the "Zionist occupation." They, and their many European and North American academic and intellectual counterparts, see themselves as freedom-fighters for the oppressed waging a battle against Israeli and American imperialism.

In my opinion, the potential danger to Jews, truth, democracy and other Western values is as great today as it was in 1933. The culture war's propaganda is not confined to one country or even one continent. Today, it is global, constant, sophisticated and highly contagious. Those presumably most dedicated to truth-finding and truth-telling are perverting the truth and indoctrinating countless generations to do likewise. They are also emboldening the Islamist penetration of the West, which begins with the demonization of Israel. Education, talent, even genius do not immunize an academic from the mental illness that Jew-hatred represents.

Such politically correct academics are in denial about Jihadic, Islamist danger. Therefore, they seek to appease Islamist violence by siding with it against various scapegoats, beginning with the Jews and Israel. Thus, academics who should have more nuanced views of geo-political conflicts instead view the Jihadi aggressor as the "victim" and his true victims, including civilians, as the guilty perpetrator.

In 2000, the Palestinians unleashed a savage and lethal intifada against Israeli civilians, 80 percent of whom are Jews whose parents and grandparents survived pogroms, the Holocaust, mass expulsion from Arab lands and five wars of self-defense. From the fall of 2000 until the late spring of 2006, Israel lost 1,113 civilians and soldiers to terrorist violence. Adjusting for population size, in U.S. terms that is 50,274 killed, an average of 728 per month.

This is why the Israelis built the "security fence," or as it is known to members of the NATHFE, the "exclusion wall." For the crime of defending themselves, some British academics characterized Israelis under siege as "worse than Nazis" whose "genocidal policies" justified the rash of Palestinian suicide killings. Such academics, however, did not condemn the anti-Jewish, genocidal Islamist propaganda that turned countless adolescents into brainwashed, brutal killers.

Leading anti-Zionist British academics responded to the military, terrorist and propaganda war against the Jews by launching divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel in general and against Israeli academics in particular. Thus, in 2002, 123 British academics published an "open letter" in the London Guardian calling for a "moratorium" on all cultural and research links with Israel. In 2004- 2005, the British Association of University Teachers voted to boycott two Israeli universities for their alleged complicity in their government's military policies. Only after a tremendous struggle and international condemnation was that vote overturned.

Similar divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel were launched throughout the Western world. Although the American Association of University Professors—a professional organization dedicated to advancing academic freedom— are on record as opposing "academic boycotts," one of its members, Joan Wallach Scott, the former head of the AAUP committee on academic freedom, has publicly condemned the pernicious influence of the "pro-Sharon, pro-occupation lobby" on campus. According to Scott, this lobby has exerted a chilling effect on academic freedom reminiscent of the McCarthy era.

The AAUP planned a conference, to be held in Italy in February 2006, to discuss the concept of academic boycotts. More than a third of the invitees were pro-boycott, although a handful of antiboycott Israeli academics had also been summoned at the last moment. However, when antisemitic literature was discovered in the conference materials, the AAUP funders, including the Ford Foundation, pulled out.

Though initially the AAUP still planned to host the meeting, the online trade journal Inside Higher Ed reported that the AAUP sent a letter to conference participants explaining that holding the conference would "reactivate opposition that has proved too severe to enable us to go forward."

According to the AAUP Web site, the organization will be publishing the proceedings of the conference that never took place in their journal Academe. The AAUP remains committed to "academic freedom" and says that "publishing the papers will ... demonstrate the quality and variety of positions that would have been represented at the conference," according to its Web site.

More than One Voice

Do the British and other European academics speak for all academics and reasonable people of good will? Thankfully they do not.

For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science condemned the boycott, as did British and Scottish church groups and the British government. While some of these petition signers do not agree with all of Israel's policies, they also oppose boycotts that smack of collective punishment, and racial, national and political profiling.

Interestingly, a good number of petition signers are professors of physics, medicine, math and computer science who, unlike professors of social science and the humanities, are not as politicized. They take their disciplines seriously and do not use them as launch-pads for their political views. They obviously also respect the work of their Israeli scientific counterparts, who are world leaders in technology, science and research. One professor comments: "Science builds bridges. It is an example of collaboration without borders."

Academics who signed the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East petition characterized the boycott a number of ways: "shameful," "repugnant," "discriminatory," "indefensible," "antisemitic," "selective," "appeasement-oriented," "anti-academic" and as an example of dangerous "group thinking."

Many petition signers view this boycott as reminiscent of the Nazi era. Petition signers note that no boycotts have been undertaken against academics whose governments engage in real "ethnic cleansing" and human rights violations; they also note that Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are not being held accountable for their savage persecution of academics and dissenters.

One academic notes: "The British are responsible for the mess they see in Palestine. Let's not scapegoat the Jews again."

Another wonders: "Are they planning to boycott Iranian academics?"

One professor implores: "Don't become the Savonarola of modern academia."

Still another notes that "the first task of a fascist regime is to boycott academics."

The truth is, a "silent" boycott has already begun. Some British academics have refused to write for Israeli journals and refused to publish or review the work of Israeli academics and creative artists in British journals. For example, Exeter's Professor Richard Seaford recently refused to contribute an article to an Israeli journal of classical studies because of the "brutal and illegal expansionism and slow-motion ethnic cleansing being practiced by the [Israeli] government." A U.K. publication, Dance Europe, rejected an article by an Israeli choreographer unless she "publicly condemns Israeli occupation."

In my view, those who are pro-boycott or in favor of blacklisting have effectively cut themselves off from the international community of scholars. According to the president of SPME, Dr. Ed Beck, "this boycott offends tolerant and fair-minded people from across the political spectrum."

Nevertheless, it counts as a propaganda victory for intolerance. It is also a step in the wrong direction, one that targets, demonizes and punishes a group of people based solely on their national identity.


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