June 17, 2019

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Answer to Petition in favor of Cheney-Lippold’s BDS Actions


Below I fisk a letter signed by a dozen prominent BDSers in support of Prof. Cheney-Lippold at University of Michigan, who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student because she wanted to go to an Israeli university and he was pledged to boycott Israel.

One preliminary note: BDS claims to be morally motivated by outrage at human rights violations of the Palestinians. What they can’t explain is why the accusations they level at Israel exist in far greater degree in many other countries around the world, and in particular in the region in which the Israelis exist, namely the Arab Middle East. Indeed, just in neutral terms, the Israelis give Muslim Arabs, both in Israel and in the disputed territories, for more human rights than do Palestinians leaders provide to their own people.

In other words, the BDSers seem far more exercised about Israeli violations than about Palestinian suffering. One might even see in their obsession with Israeli ‘evil’, an unconscious attachment to Palestinian suffering: ‘Palestinians must suffer so I can hate Israel.’

In what follows, I try and restrict my remarks to relevant comparisons, highlighting the inverted sensitivities (hyper to Israeli, insensate to Palestinian violations).

Cheney-Lippold’s opposition to Israel study abroad programs is informed by a recognition that Palestinian students are not afforded the right to education and live under extremely difficult conditions resulting from the Israeli military occupation and apartheid policies. Study abroad programs in Israel are an example of the extreme inequities faced by Palestinian students. While certain privileged students in the US who are not Arab or Muslim are free to travel to Israel, and visit the West Bank, Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the West Bank often are prevented from attending classes in their own cities and towns.

Of course Palestinian campuses are far more exclusive and discriminatory. They even kick out Israeli participants who sympathize enthusiastically with their cause on the basis of nationality. Israeli campuses are more accepting and tolerant of ethnic and intellectual diversity than anything in the Arab world. Indeed given the heavy prejudice of Western institutions to the wide range of Israeli perspectives, possibly one of the most tolerant on the planet. Do they have imperfections? Yes. Are BDSers picking zits while ignoring gaping wounds elsewhere? Could just be.

Conversely, the very existence of  institutions of higher education in the West Bank and Gaza arose under Israeli ‘occupation’ (no college or university before 1967), and Palestinians have among the highest education levels in the Arab world (but below Israeli Arabs).

Cheney-Lippold is a supporter of Palestinian human rights and refuses to participate in normalizing Israel’s political oppression.

Opposing normalization means opposing compromise. It means adopting the totalistic Palestinian narrative whereby Israelis are irredeemably bad and Palestinians unquestionably justified. It feeds war: justice is victory, from the river to the sea.

Such action affirms an ethical position increasingly shared by artists, musicians, actors, scholars, and students around the world who have endorsed the Palestinian call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. In doing so, Cheney-Lippold and like-minded scholars seek to pressure Israel to end the occupation, to grant Palestinian refugees the right of return, and to give equal rights to Palestinians in Israel.

The Palestinian state these justice warriors seek to create, will have no Jews (not even among peace-keeping troops); and will refuse to accept Palestinian refugees from the diaspora (who must return to Israel). (No need to agitate for equal rights there.)

As for the ethical position adopted by artists, etc…. it is enforced not by accurate claims and debate, but by bullying and exclusion, which can reach disturbing levels of violence.

To conduct “normal” educational and cultural activities with Israeli universities is to be complicit with acts of discrimination and injustice.

To refuse educational and cultural activities with Israel is to uncritically adopt the “Palestinian narrative of suffering” and therefore, to be complicit with the acts of discrimination and injustice that Palestinian rulers commit against their own people (it is the scapegoating narrative that these leaders use to exploit their people, a weapon of mass distraction), as well as to be complicit in the terrible acts carrried out by people they encourage and honor, like Jihadi suicide attacks on civilians.

As educators, we have the ethical responsibility to stand by our political convictions, to advance social justice, and to expose falsehoods and partial truths.

As educators, we have an ethical responsibility to advance social justice and expose falsehoods and partial truths, especially when they come neatly packaged as war-propaganda – “my side good, their side evil.”

Given the United States’ extraordinary financial and military aid to Israel, Americans have a particular responsibility to put pressure on Israel. People of conscience, like Cheney-Lippold, have the responsibility to defend the equal treatment of all members of society and to take peaceful steps to oppose oppression.

People of conscience, like Cheney-Lippold and the signers of this petition, have a particular responsibility to inform themselves better about the larger issues, so their moral outrage has a certain perspective that would discourage them, in their obsessions, from violating the rules of their profession in support of a cause that undermines the very (progressive) principles they invoke.

Trump appointees Betsy DeVos, head of the Department of Education, and former Brandeis Center President Kenneth Marcus, head of the Civil Rights Division of that department, have advanced a policy that aims to limit advocacy of Palestinian human rights on US university campuses.

By advocacy, Marcus means hate-mongering against Israel, accusations of genocide, when in the last seven years, Syria has killed and made homeless almost ten times as many Muslims as Israel in 70 years.

DeVos and Marcus have made it clear that the current US administration will ignore principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech in order to repress all criticism of Israeli state policies.

This is classic Livingstone Formulation: the point here is, it’s not any criticism of Israel that’s being barred (that is an endless river), it’s dishonest, false accusations designed to inflate hatred… textbook cases of racist hate-speech, or, as Marcus carefully documents, anti-Semitism.

If, under some circumstances, civil disobedience and breaking rules is called for, it’s a right to use only in serious situations, not abused by taking wildly inflated rhetoric as a descriptor of reality. To do so, as do BDSers harms the academy and polarizes us precisely at a time when we need to be listening.

In this context, Cheney-Lippold’s decision is an exemplary expression of his professional and political rights. Rather than malign Professor Cheney-Lippold, scholars should applaud his courage, which will inspire others to take a stand and oppose Israel study abroad programs. We join him in affirming that we, also, do not write letters of recommendations in support of student participation in Israel study abroad programs. We also call on our colleagues to refuse to participate in Study Abroad in Israel programs by endorsing our pledge at http://usacbi.org/boycott-study-abroad-in-israel/#pledge

‘Join us lemmings in our mimetic drive off the edge of the cliff. Win the booby prize of righteous indignation, as we take down before us, anyone who would oppose so noble a cause.’


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