Andrew Pessin and Doron Ben-Atar have edited Anti-Zionism on Campus, a scary look at the situation on many college campuses today in the US and worldwide.
After an introduction by the authors, the book has 24 chapters written by scholars and other employees at colleges and universities, followed by 7 chapters written by students and alumni, describing their experiences clashing with anti-Israel forces on campus.
The stories by the scholars are almost all depressingly similar. A university employee, usually a professor, encounters an anti-Israel group, usually Students for Justice in Palestine or some other group that advocates the boycott of Israel. The encounter could be because the scholar wanted to sponsor a visit by an Israeli scholar, or he/she wanted to fight against a BDS resolution.
The scholars appear to me to be almost always liberal. They support Palestinian rights. Most are against Israel’s settlement policy. Some go out of their way to help Palestinians.
They are stunned when they are confronted with BDS hate.
Nearly all of them try to have a dialogue with the BDSers. They try to have debates, or cosponsor lectures on topics they might have in common. They almost beg the BDSers for the chance to present their side of the story so the students can decide for themselves who makes a stronger case.
In literally every case, the BDSers refuse to have any sort of dialogue. They continue to hammer home the message of Israel and Israelis (and often Jews) being racist and colonialist and violators of human rights. They try to add their venom to the agendas of minority groups.
And in nearly every case, the BDSers viciously attack the liberal, usually Jewish scholar who tried so hard to meet with and discuss things with them. The BDSers accuse the professors of harassment or bias or hate or whatever they can.
The depressing pattern continues: in many cases while the pro-Israel scholar tries to defend him or herself through the proper university channels, following the rules of that institution which often forbids them to say anything publicly about the case and often does not allow them legal representation, the BDSers attack the scholar as a racist in social media, often getting their lies published in Electronic Intifada or similar sites.
The scholars are stunned, upset, and feels their hands are tied. The administration more often than not does not step in to stop the libels. (There were a couple of notable exceptions.) The scholars are concerned about their careers, about their ability to teach with the accusation of racism on their heads, accusations that they cannot fight because they trust the university procedures that the Israel haters happily bypass with impunity.
It is a playbook, but each of the scholars are so caught up in defending themselves and in trying to get an apathetic or hostile administration to listen to their side of the story that they do not realize that they cannot win if they play by the rules.
There are some variants in the story but in almost every case people are attacked, professionally as well as crudely, for a principled position, and the people who are supposed to defend this person end up making their lives hell. There are also a couple of more general essays on BDS and its methods and goals.
The student essays are similar – showing intimidation against them for holding a pro-Israel, or an insufficiently anti-Israel, position.
All the campuses described, from the US to UK to Australia and Canada, are simply not places where it is safe to publicly identify as a Zionist or to say anything pro-Israel because you will be attacked and smeared.
There are other important lessons that can be clearly drawn from the book. The BDS movement claims that they do not target individuals – but this book documents that this is exactly what they do.
The people claiming to want “fairness” or “justice” are against Israel’s very existence, and against a two state solution. This is not a position of fairness, it is an extremist position of hate that is not only tolerated but celebrated on campus. They will treat anyone who wants actual peace and two states and Palestinian rights with the exact same attacks and the exact same vitriol as if they were right wing Zionist “settlers.” Israel is evil, full stop, and they are infecting a generation of students with that message.
The book is a worthwhile read, if only to understand the macro picture that the writers often miss in their own local academic environment. My only problem with the book is that too often the writers, having been forced to defend themselves in grotesque ways within a system where the cards are stacked against them, go into details of their defenses that are not as fascinating to the reader as the authors might think. Some of the essays are excellent, such as Judea Pearl’s.
In every single story, the BDSers are shown to be the most intolerant bigots possible – but since they pretend to be on the side of social justice, our esteemed institutions of higher learning are not willing to label them what they are: hate groups.
That is really the lesson that I get from this book, even though it is emphatically not a lesson that most of the victims of BDS have managed to understand even today. Too many of the authors of the essays still hold on to the fantasy that open debate will solve the problem, that people will eventually reject BDS in the marketplace of ideas.
BDS is hate. SJP is a hate group. It does not want dialogue – it only wants to demonize the Jewish citizens of Israel and anyone who does not follow their BDS manifesto of boycott, divestment and sanctions, purportedly by “Palestinian civil society.” The BDSers are bullies, not academics. There is nothing that is beneath the BDSers, including defacing the doors of faculty and threatening them.
The only way to fight BDS is to use their playbook. Just as they want everyone to associate Israel with the words “apartheid” and “racist,” we need to associate BDS with hate and bigotry. Not to wait until a person becomes a victim, but to be proactive, the way BDS is. To put “BDS=HATE” stickers on every poster, every “apartheid wall,” every flyer. To make sure that every college student, when they see the initials SJP or BDS or whichever anti-Israel organization is on campus, sees the word “HATE.”
And these people must be attacked the way they attack the pro-Israel crowd. If they try to silence an Israeli speaker or stop a pro-Israel activity, then they must be charged with bigotry and hate through the proper university channels. Put them on the defensive. Make them waste their time finding lawyers and trying to keep their positions.
Professors, especially the apparently mostly liberal professors writing in this book, are generally loathe to be muscular, pro-active Zionists who defend Israel proudly. That is because they have already accepted a campus that is anti-Israel and they still believe in an ideal campus that hasn’t existed since the 1960s.
But if they want to bring campuses back to becoming places that value debate and arguments, then these professors and scholars and students need to push against BDS’ Achilles heel, that they refuse to debate. Insist that they want to debate and emphasize that BDS advocates are babies who cannot defend themselves in open debate.
BDS is aggressive and regressive. Zionism is progressive. Zionism needs to be equally proud, equally public, and equally willing to demonize and expose the haters.
Only then will college students gravitate towards the pro-Israel position. People want to be associated with the proud, not the cowering.
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