Deciding to boycott Israeli academic institutions, the American Studies Association has aligned itself with the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, disinvestment, and sanctions against Israel. The ASA resolution, approved by voters who received only pro-BDS materials and no opposing viewpoints, illustrates the moral and political bankruptcy of this approach to one of the world’s most complex conflicts.
Most fair-minded people recognize that in any complicated dispute, responsibility for the situation and the capacity to solve it are shared among the parties. Not the BDS posse! The ASA’s action is but the latest example of a pernicious bias that focuses obsessively on Israel’s flaws – real, exaggerated, and imagined – while ignoring or attempting to justify the misdeeds, failures, mistakes and shortcomings of Israel’s adversaries. This willful blindness, which singles out the Jewish State, and it alone, for condemnation and delegitimization, and holds that nation, and it alone, to standards that it fails or refuses to impose on others, is the newest form of the world’s most enduring prejudice: anti-Semitism.
For a taste of the hypocrisy inherent in condemning Israel for alleged human rights violations and repressing academic freedom, consider some of the countries on which the ASA and the BDS movement exercise the right to remain silent: Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, where dissident teachers and students are targets of violence, the ruling regimes’ ideological opponents are imprisoned or worse, elections are rigged, the media are state-controlled, homosexuality is banned, and the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religion are denied. The ASA continues the proud tradition of those who ignored the atrocities of Pol Pot and Idi Amin, totalitarianism in Burma, mass murder in the Congo, and genocide in Rwanda to focus their moral lasers exclusively on Israel.
BDS is a weapon in the arsenal of those who deny, explicitly or implicitly, the Jewish People’s aspiration to statehood and the right of a Jewish state to exist, while asserting vehemently, and often violently, the Palestinian People’s national rights. Non-state actors like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda, as well as Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, are determined to use all means available, ranging from disinformation to nuclear weapons, to destroy the Jewish State and annihilate its citizens.
Even Peter Beinart, with whom I disagree fundamentally on so much that pertains to the Middle East, denounced the ASA’s action. “BDS proponents note that the movement takes no position on whether there should be one state or two between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But it clearly opposes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders…This is the fundamental problem: Not that the ASA is practicing double standards and not even that it’s boycotting academics, but that it’s denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one.”
Bias and dishonesty aside, BDS does nothing to advance Palestinians’ national goals or improve their quality of life, either in the territories or within Israel. There is much to be learned from Mais Ali-Saleh, 27, the observant Moslem woman from a small Arab village near Nazareth, in Northern Israel, this year’s medical school valedictorian at the Technion, often called “Israel’s M.I.T.,” who observed, “An academic boycott of Israel is a passive move, and it doesn’t achieve any of its purported objectives.” Sooner or later, Dr. Ali-Saleh pointed out, the boycott will impinge upon academic researchers she knows, both Jews and Arabs. Her clear message: Efforts like BDS are unproductive and misdirected. Those who truly seek to assist Palestinians and promote Middle East peace should invest their energies in supporting successes like hers and those of her husband, Nidal Mawasi, also a Technion-educated M.D., and on pressing Arab countries and the Palestinian authorities themselves to emulate Israel’s academic freedoms and democracy.
Fortunately, many in the Arab world are far wiser and more sensible than their erstwhile supporters in the BDS crowd. The Allgemeiner reports that thousands of students from Arab countries have signed up for the Technion’s first course taught in both Arabic and English. Even before officially opening, the nanoscience course has drawn more than 32,000 views from all over the world, including 5,595 from Egypt, 1,865 from Kuwait, 1,243 from Saudi Arabia, and 1,243 from Syria. The course will be taught by Professor Hossam Haick, a Nazareth native and a pioneer in innovative cancer detection, one of the many the ASA now boycotts.
Academics are often accused of inhabiting an “ivory tower,” blissfully and cluelessly detached from the messy reality of the world. In aligning itself with BDS, biased, dishonest, and self-defeating, the ASA’s shameful resolution substantiates that notion.
Rabbi Rick Block is Senior Rabbi of The Temple – Tifereth Israel in Cleveland and Beachwood, Ohio, and President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.