The elephant outside the room

by Mitchell Bard

No one in the Israeli government cares what academics think, but we should be concerned about how their anti-Jewish bias is reflected in the classroom.

(JNS) It’s become a cliché to say that Jews are our own worst enemies. Nowhere is that truer than in academia, where Jewish professors, often from the field of Jewish and Middle East studies, have become some of Israel’s most vitriolic critics. Several decided to write an anti-Israel screed and solicit signatures from colleagues and, later, anyone happy to sign their name.

The text was originally written by Lior Sternfeld, professor of history and Jewish studies at Penn State (and associate editor of Palestine/Israel Review, whose editorial board also features some of Israel’s most vehement critics); Omer Bartov, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University; Shira Klein, associate professor of history at Chapman University; and Meir Amor, a retired associate professor of sociology and anthropology from Concordia University.

The petition they’ve labeled “The Elephant in the Room” is directed at leaders of North American Jewry who they want to support the Israeli protest movement; equality for Jews and Palestinians; human-rights organizations that defend Palestinians; and reforming Jewish education “to provide a more honest appraisal of Israel’s past and present.” They also ask them to “demand from elected leaders in the United States that they help end the occupation, restrict American military aid from being used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and end Israeli impunity in the U.N. and other international organizations.”

The document asserts a link between judicial reform and what they inaccurately refer to as the “illegal occupation.” It also says, “Palestinian people lack almost all basic rights, including the right to vote and protest.” They imply this is Israel’s fault; however, Israeli Arabs have equal rights, and Palestinians lack them in the territories because Hamas and the Palestinian Authority deny them.

Specifically, the petition mentions the right to vote and protest. Who has stayed in power for 17 years past the end of their term and refused to hold elections? Bibi Netanyahu? No, it’s Mahmoud Abbas. And it is also Abbas (and Hamas) who jails and tortures protesters. So, why doesn’t the petition call for any action against him? Why not call for cutting U.S. aid to the P.A. and U.N. bodies created to propagandize for the Palestinians?

Further demonstrating the lack of balance, context or accuracy, the statement says “Israeli forces have killed over 190 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and demolished over 590 structures.” Why have many of those Palestinians been killed? Could it have anything to do with their involvement in terror? And how many demolitions were due to illegal construction or to punish the supporters of terrorists? Is there any concern for the destruction of homes by Palestinians?

Showing the shocking ignorance that has come to dominate the campus discourse about Israel, the petition makes the specious comparison with Afrikaner South Africa—not once but twice—and falsely claims the judicial reforms are directed at Palestinians. They make the additional spurious assertion that the Nation-State Law enshrined “Jewish supremacism.” A critic of the law, Israel Democracy Institute president Yohanan Plesner acknowledged that the practical impact of the bill was merely “symbolic and educational.” He said it “won’t have immediate concrete implications.” IDI’s vice president Yuval Shani echoed this view: “It is not a game-changer and has very little problematic implications. … It won’t change how the country is run.”

Another of the statement’s venomous smears is that reforms are meant to “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.” Palestinians and Israel’s detractors have repeated this baseless calumny long before the debate about the judiciary. Just as they’ve turned the definition of Afrikaner discrimination on its head to fit their arguments, they’ve redefined ethnic cleansing to ignore the growth of the Palestinian population and improvement in its welfare (which far exceeds their plight in Arab countries).

In another indication of how far-left the document is, the authors gratuitously throw in that “American Jewish billionaire funders help support the Israeli far-right” as if there are no such funders on the far-left (have they heard of George Soros?)

More than 2,600 people have signed the document (some say their names appear without having signed). The page where it appears features a cartoon that says “Jews Fight for Justice” with an elephant whose skin says “Israeli occupation” standing in the middle of a protest where people are holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” “Pride,” “Gun Central” and “Go Green.”

Sternfeld told me: “The idea is that we want everyone who can drive a conversation to join the statement: academics, intellectuals and leaders in the communities.”

Though it was initially meant for academics (people interested in signing are directed to an academics.speak.out email address), it was opened to the “broader community.” Hence, the list of signatories includes anti-Israel activists, Palestinians, a Buddhist monk, primary-school teachers, lawyers, psychologists, artists, 179 rabbis and an official from the antisemitic Council on American-Islamic Relations (better known as CAIR). Some are, if not antisemites, people who have never had a positive word to say about Israel.

After weeding out the non-academics and retired faculty, there were fewer than 800 professors on the list, more than half from the United States (19 from Harvard, 15 from Yale, 34 from the University of California system), more than 160 from Israel, four from the Palestinian Authority and representatives of more than 20 other countries. Nearly 50 are from Jewish-related fields, including anti-Semitism, Holocaust, Israel studies and Jewish history.

Some of the usual suspects you’d expect to be associated with such excrement include Ian Lustick, Juan Cole and Joel Beinin. There are post-Zionists like Oren Yiftachel. Seeing names like Derek Penslar, Steven Zipperstein and Benny Morris was more surprising.

The faculty signers perpetuate the practice of using their university affiliations to give themselves credibility. You would think that universities would prohibit using their names to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with political statements such as this. Their failure to do so is another reason for the public’s loss of confidence in higher education and the belief that these institutions have become politicized.

No one in the Israeli government cares what these academics or the other signatories think, but we should be concerned about how much of the bias reflected in this statement is interjected into the professors’ classrooms for the sake of their students—and the Jewish future.

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