In the 1930s, thousands of Jewish professors were kicked out of German universities because they were Jews. Shamefully, today in the United States, Jewish professors are threatened with being thrown out of scholarly conferences, prevented from publishing in scholarly journals, and denied research or employment opportunities, simply because they are citizens of the Jewish state.
In the United States, more than 1,000 scholars on more than 300 college and university campuses across the country have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel.
Make no mistake about it, the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign is pure anti-Semitism masquerading in the cloak of academic legitimacy. It was established in response to a call by Palestinian organizations, including terrorist organizations Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to help eliminate Israel. Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, has publicly described his desire to “euthanize” the “Zionist project.”
Even though the American Studies Association’s recent adoption of a resolution boycotting Israeli universities and scholars has been subjected to scathing criticism by several prominent academic associations — including more than 250 university presidents, hundreds of state and federal legislators, and virtually every mainstream Jewish organization — too many American professors continue promoting the boycott of Israeli professors, advancing lies and distortions about Israel and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.
Faculty members’ unbridled use of the university for promoting the boycott of Israel has had dangerous consequences:
Corruption of the academic mission of the university. The political nature of the campaign to promote a boycott of Israel damages the educational endeavor at the heart of a university. When the focus of a professor or department is political advocacy, the quality of teaching and research is severely compromised. One-sided partisan teaching limits the access of students to vital information and violates their fundamental right to be educated, not indoctrinated.
Creation of a hostile environment for Jewish students. Professors who use their official positions and resources to promote campaigns to harm or dismantle Israel and who encourage students to do the same, contribute to the creation of a hostile and threatening environment for many Jewish students, who report feeling emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated by their professors and isolated from their fellow students.
Since no other racial, ethnic or religious group has been subjected by faculty to such pervasive harassment and intimidation, Jewish students experience this flagrant double standard as a kind of institutional discrimination that is anti-Semitic in effect if not in intent. Unfortunately, Jewish students who feel emotionally or intellectually threatened as a result of a professor’s anti-Israel advocacy are often afraid to confront the professor or complain to an administrator, because they are concerned about potential retaliation.
Giving academic legitimacy to global campaigns to harm Israel. American colleges have become a critical front in the war being waged against the Jewish state. Language and imagery demonizing Israel and portraying it as worthy of destruction are main weapons in this war, along with the BDS campaigns intended as first steps toward that end. They have caused significant harm to Israel’s reputation. Moreover, when anti-Semitic tropes and campaigns are promoted by faculty, a cloak of academic legitimacy attaches to them, considerably enhancing their ability to flourish on campus and contributing to the growth of global anti-Semitism.
What can be done? The problem is serious and it worsens with each campus-based BDS effort that goes unchallenged. Pressure must be brought from outside the university.
Public pressure. Information about faculty members who endorse BDS should be published and circulated widely. Students, prospective students, alumni, parents, donors and taxpayers should express outrage at the university’s collusion with an anti-Semitic campaign. Potential loss of student or donor revenue and the erosion of good will of the taxpaying public will send a compelling message to university administrators.
Legal pressure. When the behavior violates state or federal law, legal action may prove effective.
Legislative pressure. Virtually all universities are beholden to state and federal legislators for funding. To date, legislation that would withhold public monies from universities that engage in anti-Israel boycotts has been proposed in five states, as well as in Congress. Such legislation could go a long way toward curbing the behavior of academic boycotters.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is a lecturer at U.C. Santa Cruz and the cofounder of AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit organization that combats anti-Semitism on college campuses in the United States.