Re: ‘Professors’ endorsement of Israel boycott…’

| Senior Forum Editor

Last week, we printed an op-ed submission entitled “Professors’ endorsement of Israel boycott deserves condemnation” in the pages of this Forum section.

The column criticized two Washington University professors, Bret Gustafson and Maryam Kashani, for signing a letter that calls for the American boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The author of the piece closes by arguing that Gustafson and Kashani “have abused their credibility as educators at our University to promote a biased and anti-Semitic agenda.”

The writer’s conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of a government is a reckless accusation and in no way a defense of the academic freedom or nondiscrimination he claims to hold dear. Israel is an autonomous state with significant political and military influence. This summer, the Israeli Defense Forces killed over 2,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including hundreds of children.

Room for debate exists on the justifiability of Israel’s tactics and the most effective American response. A boycott of academia may not be the most effective route to social change, particularly when American-Israeli professorial partnerships have yielded some of the groundbreaking research that the author cites.

But the idea that moral outrage against massive civilian deaths inherently represents a “double standard” and anti-Semitism is fraught with logical fallacies. For one, the author argues that activists choose to condemn Israel instead of other repressive countries because of bias. In fact, America’s close relationship with Israel is precisely the reason we can be more engaged in a nonviolent movement that affects change. While the author endorses academic freedom, his attempted silencing of Gustafson and Kashani is a suppression of such critical thought and discourse.

As a Jew, I am embarrassed when condemnation of government policy and human rights violations becomes confused with anti-Semitism. It diminishes the horrors and true meaning of the term.

Anti-Semitism is when a fraternity house at Emory University is smeared with swastikas on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Anti-Semitism is when synagogues are torched and desecrated in acts of hatred. To be sure, we saw a surge in the latter event during the latest Israeli-Palestinian clash, with some aggravators who burned synagogues in Europe chanting “Death to Israel.” Media reports exposed a simmering element of anti-Semitism to the anti-Israel protests, from people comparing Jews to Nazis to shouting “gas the Jews.” Such acts are obscene, bigoted and inexcusable.

In addition, hatred for Jews and refusal to recognize a Jewish state still drives Hamas, and Israel has a right to defend itself against the organization’s terrorism. Yet submissively falling in line with Israel’s occupation, rights violations and missile assaults that killed hundreds of children only fractures the ability to gain justice for all in the region.

Blanket condemnations of opposition to Israel are mere obstructions to a resolution, and I am afraid that is what last week’s op-ed accomplishes.

The conclusion that a boycott represents anti-Semitism erases opinions of Jews questioning Israel’s actions after its latest bloody conflict. It assumes lockstep support for a state regime’s policies as a requirement of Judaism—rather than free debate that forms the backbone of democratic values. And make no mistake—a great deal of American Jews are not pleased with Israel’s actions. While we may disagree on what steps are appropriate to take, blocking dialogue is no longer an acceptable option.

Over the weekend, Harvard University hosted the first “Open Hillel” conference, which welcomed the perspective of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) supporters to a truly democratic dialogue on Israel and Palestine. The organization Jewish Voice for Peace, which endorses BDS, has grown to nearly 40 chapters nationwide.

Again, a discussion of BDS’ specific merits and deficits is not the intent of this column, but it is a discussion that must take place in our classrooms, dormitories and dinner tables. For going a step further and signing a petition, Gustafson and Kashani are subject to potential opposition of their students, fellow faculty, neighbors, friends and family. It is subject to opposition in the pages of Student Life, which is why last week’s op-ed ran.

But to suggest that the force of the University come down on these professors and label their “agenda” anti-Semitic is a viewpoint that cannot slip by without an emphatic response.

  • Arafat

    “Why is it Muslims are free to violently conquer lands
    anywhere and everywhere without a word of protest from American Muslims, or any
    Muslims or any liberals?

    But if Jews have a legally established homeland Muslims and
    Liberals and their ilk will never stop protesting against it? Why is this do
    you suppose? What explanation can be given other than as the Qur’an states
    repeatedly that Islam’s goal is to establish a worldwide caliphate in which all
    non-Muslims are subjugated.

    For instance, Mohammed was born around 571 AD thousands and
    thousands of years after Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism existed. But within a
    few centuries of Mohammed’s birth Islam had violently conquered vast sections
    of Asia, all of North Africa and smaller sections of Southern Europe.

    Now Muslims tell us that all this land belongs to them even
    though, for instance, in Afghanistan they killed every last Buddhist who once
    lived there. According to Muslim logic per Israel shouldn’t this land belong to
    the Buddhists?

    Or in North Africa all the Berbers have been forcibly
    converted to Islam or have been killed and now we’re told all this vast
    landmass belongs to Islam. That’s interesting, if not completely hypocritical.

    And what about Southern Thailand. Did anyone know that in
    the last several years something like 5,000 Buddhists have been killed by
    Muslims because, or so we’re told, the land the Buddhists are on belongs to

    And Southern Russia? Muslims are relentlessly waging a slow
    reign of terror in Russia because, you guessed it, Russians are treating
    Muslims poorly and they should give up the Southern section of that country to
    Muslims since Islam deserves all lands.

    Or, let’s take Sudan as another example. How many millions
    have been killed in Sudan? How many babies and children have starved in Sudan
    while Islamists steal the food from aid compounds? How many women have Muslims
    gang-raped in Sudan all because that land belongs to Muslims and only Muslims.
    All other people can go somewhere else to live, I guess. They can go to South
    Sudan, but wait a minute, now Muslims are killing the people of South Sudan

    And Kashmir? The same. Despite Hindus having lived there for
    3,000 years – something like 2,000+ years before Mohammed was born – Muslims
    tell us Kashmir belongs to them. Amazing logic isn’t it? Muslim logic, I guess.

    And that brings us to Israel. Israel also belongs to Islam
    too. Did you know that? It’s true. Just ask a Muslim or a liberal if you prefer.
    Even though it’s no bigger than a small pimple on the caliphate’s ass it is
    still their land and they will fight to the death to prove their point.

    Doesn’t the logic here make a lot of sense. Isn’t it as
    clear as day? Of course it does. The world belongs to Islam and we’re mere
    players on their stage.

  • Julia

    Thanks for publishing a clear and honest article on that subject. Equating anti-Israeli govt critiques and anti-semitism is damaging to the fight against ACTUAL horrifying anti-Semitism – especially in Europe where it’s growing.

    • dcomplex

      It is growing as a function of anti-Israel agitation, like the BDS movement, which has as a goal the dissolution of the Jewish state.

  • dcomplex

    Hahaha. Boycotting a country with the intention of eliminating it goes far beyond mere criticism. Also, your “as a Jew” nonsense is meaningless. Leon Trotsky and Lazar Kaganovich (both nominally Jewish) presided over the restriction of Jewish practice by the Yevesektsia (Jewish section of the communist party) and the NKVD respectively, but their actions prove their hostility to Jewish life and national self-consciousness.

    As a matter of fact, the anti-Israel boycott is part of an antisemitic movement called BDS, which endorses the dissolution of the Jewish state of Israel. Now, you may oppose nationalism in general, but why then pick the Jewish nation-state for dissolution among the nearly-200 such states in the world.

    But this reveals the discriminatory nature of the boycott. Now you might argue that among nation-states, Israel is unique, in that it controls land upon which a large number of non-citizens are resident.

    However, what people like to forget is that the state of Jordan controlled those people and the land upon which they live from 1949 to 1967, as it annexed that land after Israel’s war for independence. While the annexation was not recognized by anyone but Britain, the government of Jordan extended citizenship to the people in the territory.

    However, Israel maintained claims on that land, and after capturing it in the war in 1967 (a war technically initiated by Egypt’s belligerent blockade of the Strait of Tiran, together with its dismissal of UN peacekeepers in the Sinai and the massing of forces along Israel’s border and belligerent rhetoric promising to annihilate Israel), Israel treated the territory as its own, while obeying the humanitarian provisions of the Geneva conventions regarding the resident Arab civilians (although it was not necessary to do so). Until the late 1980s, Jordan maintained that it was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian Arabs, and Israel always expected that it would give much (but not all) of this territory back to Jordan.

    Jordan eventually, out of frustration with the PLO, revoked its claim on the land and revoked the citizenship of all of the residents of Israeli-controlled territory.

    The problem for Israel is that granting this population citizenship would damage the ethnic balance in the state, and moreover, this population is extremely hostile not only to Israelis but to Jews in general. Around half of all Israelis moved there after being expelled from the surrounding countries, and most Jews are not interested in living under Arab-Muslim rule again (although the PLO under Arafat had in the past made clear that he intended to expel most of the Jewish population from Israel if he won). So a one-state solution is not a real solution, and it would likely end with either the Arabs ethnically cleansing Jews from the area, or, more likely (by mobilization of the IDF), the ethnic cleansing of Arabs by Jews.

    However, a two state solution is not possible either, since the Arab side has promised time and time again to use the commanding terrain (in their prospective state of Palestine) as a launchpad for a further conflict, to “liberate Palestine (of Jews) (from the river to the sea).

    So Israel has no good choices, because the Arab side is not amenable to a compromise.

    You could also make the argument that Israel is unique because it refused to allow refugees to return from the surrounding countries amd therefore “stole their land and their homes”.

    First of all, if Israel did ethnically cleanse the state (which it didn’t), it is hardly unique in the 20th century or even after WW2 in having done so. For instance, in the same year, Czechoslovakia presided over the deportation of millions of Sudeten Germans, and India and Pakistan saw expulsions and large-scale population transfers.

    But as I said, Israel did not ethnically cleanse anyone. The Arabs left or in some cases were forced out in the heat of a civil war that was fought in every village. Irregular Arab forces used Arab villages sited in hills overlooking the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road as bases to enforce a siege on Jerusalem. The pre-state Israeli forces enacted a military plan to seize and remove these villages to prevent their being reoccupied by irregulars (Operation Nachshon).

    Later on, a policy was enacted to evacuate all villages that fired upon soldiers as they came to take control of the cities. Finally, in certain important circumstances (Lod and Ramle), Jewish fighters evacuated Arab cities near the battle-lines with the Arab legion (The Army of Transjordan commanded by British General John Glubb) in order to prevent sabotage or irregular and Guerilla activity behind the lines while the battle raged. This also had the additional benefit of demoralizing and slowing down the oncoming Arab regular forces, clogging the roads with refugees (To clarify, this was only a contingent benefit, and the primary goal meets the test of military necessity).

    But why didn’t Israel let all the refugees and IDPs return to their vacated homes? Well, oftentimes those homes had ceased to exist. But even if not, Israel had just fought a bitter civil war started by precisely this population, and moreover, it was now surrounded by hostile Arab states that had joined a coalition and waged an aggressive war in order to prevent the rise of a Jewish state. On the one hand Israelis felt that these Arab states were responsible in large part for the refugee problem, and on the other hand, the refugees were intensely hostile to their national aims.

    But even then, Israel did discuss accepting a large fraction (around 20%) of these refugees in exchange for permanent peace treaties with these states. Jordan (formerly Transjordan) was in secret talks with Israel to achieve just such an agreement when its king was murdered by an irate member of the Husseini clan, which was furious that he might recognize the Jewish state. His grandson replaced him and refused any talk of a peace treaty in order to prevent being murdered himself. Talks with Iraq, Syria, and Egypt fell apart due to coups-d’état, although they were not really going anywhere. The new leaders of these states, however, defined themselves by their opposition to Israel and pledged to crush it, particularly Syria and Egypt.

    So Israel would have been insane to accept all of these refugees just so its neighbors could use them as a fifth column in their next aggression. Moreover, these states quickly began forcing out or persecuting their Jewish populations, most of whom had to flee to Israel with none of their belongings. The number of such refugees eventually totalled approximately one million.

    • Callow Cantalope

      Thanks for the wildly-inaccurate propaganda. Ancient history is important when we’re talking about abuses committed in 2014.

      • Jay Kay

        comeback and you have nothing to say but that’s not true…or better yet use your Nazi training to say its propaganda!!!!
        Back it up or go drop dead!

        • Julia

          Wow, what civilized discourse

      • dcomplex

        Really, what did I say that was inaccurate? The Arabs started the civil war in 1947 by their own account, when the UN proposed a partition.

        If you want to point to activity of the Irgun from before that, you have to take into account that Muslim violence against Jews started in 1920, accelerated in 1929 after the huge massacres of dozens of men, women, and children at Hevron, Safed, and Jerusalem, and moved into open warfare in 1936, which was when the first Irgun reprisal raids took place.

        Or do you deny the facts about 1967?

        If you want to argue a point, please, go ahead.

        • Julia

          I think many people dispute the right of the West to declare a state in the first place.

          • dcomplex

            The West did not declare a state. The western allies in the first world war presided over the dissolution of the Ottoman empire (and the Austro-Hungarian empire as well as certain parts of the German empire and the land it had annexed in 1917 from the Russian empire), and that is the context of the Balfour declaration and its integration into the mandate system. They assigned land to different peoples, for instance, the Czechs were given Czechoslovakia, the Poles were given Poland, the Hashemite clan of Bedouin Arabs, originally from the Hijaz) were granted Syria and Mesopotamia, (and later, after a French intervention, East Palestine (soon renamed the emirate of Transjordan and later the Kingdom of Jordan)), the Italians were granted parts of Austria, and Hungarians were given an independent state.

            Before the first world war,, the British were convinced by Chaim Weizmann that the Jews were facing a terrible predicament, and that the Jews needed a place to live where they could be a majority, since the early Zionists traced Jewish helplessness and the roots of Jewish persecution to the fact that Jews were everywhere a minority, and therefore everywhere reliant on the goodwill of the populations hosting them.

            The British did offer some other territory first, but the Russian Zionists tried to convince the British that the place for Jewish settlement should be in the Sinai peninsula, which the British controlled. The British decided to think about it, but then the first world war broke out. Jews, due to their minority position, were treated harshly during the war, and without aid organized by American Jews in the form of the Joint Distribution committee, many would have starved to death.

            The British, seeing this, and also understanding that they would ultimately defeat the Ottomans and obtain control of Palestine among other Ottoman territories, decided to promulgate the Balfour declaration in order to solve the Jewish problem in Eastern Europe (that is, a constant stream of Jewish refugees fleeing Eastern Europe to England and the United States. There are some other cynical reasons as well, for instance the idea that support for Zionism would convince the new revolutionary government in Russia (which the British believed was run by the Jews) to stay in the war. Some of it was also religious and romantic as well, that the British empire would finally set right an ancient wrong and return the Jews back to their ancient homeland.

            Unfortunately, the later British governments (after Lloyd George’s victorious government) were either indifferent or hostile to Zionism, and moreover, much of the hierarchy of the British military forces stationed in Palestine held seriously antisemitic views, and several top officers instigated attacks on Jews by Arabs, by scheming with Arab notables, particularly the Husseini clan) to whip up murderous riots against Jewish immigrants.

            Eventually, in order to appease the Arab population and notables, the Chamberlain government essentially canceled the mandate by means of the 1939 MacDonald white paper, which was condemned by the Permanent Mandates Commission as an abrogation of the letter and spirit of the mandate. When MacDonald tried to justify it, the Commission declared his explanation to be “an insult to our intelligence”.

            Unfortunately, the League never met again in order to revoke Britain’s mandatory control, as this was the beginning of the second world war.

            The Jews, furious at Britain’s barbaric policy of turning away Jews seeking refuge from the holocaust, and later, the survivors, rose in resistance to overthrow the mandatory government.

            Israel was founded by those men and women, not by the West. All that the Britisn did was facilitate and administer the mandate and allow Jews free immigration there, preventing the Arab residents from expelling or murdering them (although elements in the British administratiom scandalously facilitated this barbaric behavior).

        • Nasri Jacir

          My family was displaced from west Jerusalem in 1947. I currently live in Jordan; hold a Jordanian passport and as a Christian; not allowed the right to the birthplace of my parents. A jew born in New York; I suppose can get Israeli citizen and live in Jerusalem; the city from which my ancestral tree dates back at least 500 years (Recorded family tree). How is that not racism? How am an anti-Semite for joining BDS-Jordan branch? HOw do you live with yourself knowing that. As a jew who has gone through indignity, humiliation and genocide. How can you do the same. Shame on you.

          • dcomplex

            Because the Arabs tried to pull off another genocide on the Jews in 1947. That is the sad truth. They failed and therefore lost their homes. Actions have consequences. The Sudeten Germans lived in Bohemia and Moravia for hundreds of years. But their aggression against the Czechs led to their almost complete expulsion from the Sudetenland in 1948 by Czech authorities. That is what happens.

            If you go back further, Arab aggression against Jewish residents of mandate Palestine goes back all the way to 1920.

            Here is an excerpt from Dutch Canadian Christian reporter Pierre van Paassen’s memoir published in 1939 detailing the Hevron massacre of 1929:

            Falsified photographs showing the Omar mosque of Jerusalem in ruins, with an inscription that the edifice had been bombed by the Zionists, were handed out to the Arabs of Hebron as they were leaving their place of worship on Friday evening, August the twenty-third. A Jew passing by on his way to the synagogue was stabbed to death. When he heard of the murder, Rabbi Slonim, a man born and bred in the city and a friend of the Arab notables, notified the British police commander that the Arabs seemed to be strangely excited. He was told to mind his own business. An hour later the synagogue was attacked by a mob, and the Jews at prayer were slaughtered. On the Saturday morning following, the Yeshiva…was put to the sack, and the students were slain. A delegation of Jewish citizens thereupon set out to visit the police station, but was met by the lynchers. The Jews returned and took refuge in the house of Rabbi Slonim where they remained until evening, when the mob appeared before the door. Unable to batter it down, the Arabs climbed up the trees at the rear of the house and, dropping onto the balcony, entered through the windows on the first floor.

            Mounted police–Arab troopers in the service of the government– had appeared outside by this time, and some of the Jews ran down the stairs of Slonim’s house and out into the roadway. They implored the policemen to dismount and protect their friends and relatives inside the house and clung around the necks of the horses. From the upper windows came the terrifying screams of the old people, but the police galloped off, leaving the boys in the road to be cut down by Arabs arriving from all sides for the orgy of blood.

            What occurred in the upper chambers of Slonim’s house could be seen when we found the twelve-foot-high ceiling splashed with blood. The rooms looked like a slaughterhouse. When I visited the place in the company of Captain Marek Schwartz, a former Austrian artillery officer, Mr. Abraham Goldberg of New York, and Mr. Ernst Davies, correspondent of the old Berliner Tageblatt, the blood stood in a huge pool on the slightly sagging stone floor of the house. Clocks, crockery, tables and windows had been smashed to smithereens. Of the unlooted articles, not a single item had been left intact except a large black-and-white photograph of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. Around the picture’s frame the murderers had draped the blood-drenched underwear of a woman.

            We stood silently contemplating the scene of slaughter when the door was flung open by a British solder with fixed bayonet. In strolled Mr. Keith-Roach, governor of the Jaffa district, followed by a colonel of the Green Howards battalion of the King’s African Rifles. They took a hasty glance around that awful room, and Mr. Roach remarked to his companion, “Shall we have lunch now or drive to Jerusalem first?”

            In Jerusalem the Government published a refutation of the rumors that the dead Jews of Hebron had been tortured before they had their throats slit. This made me rush back to that city accompanied by two medical men, Dr. Dantziger and Dr. Ticho. I intended to gather up the severed sexual organs and the cut-off women’s breasts we had seen lying scattered over the floor and in the beds. But when we came to Hebron a telephone call from Jerusalem had ordered our access barred to the Slonim house. A heavy guard had been placed before the door. Only then did I recall that I had inadvertently told a fellow newspaperman in Jerusalem about our gruesome discoveries.

            On the same day of the Hebron massacre, the Arabs had rioted in Jerusalem, crying: “Death to the Jews! The government is with us!” The fact that the attacks on Jewish communities in different parts of the country had occurred simultaneously was interpreted by the Mufti’s newspaper Falastin as irrefutable evidence of the spontaneity of the outburst of Arab indignation. The Acting High Commissioner, Mr. H.C. Luke, had informed newspapermen that the government had been completely taken unawares. Yet a full ten days earlier it was he who had ordered the various hospitals, and especially the Rothschild clinic of which Dr. Dantziger was chief surgeon, to have a large number of beds in readiness in view of the government’s expectation of a riotous outbreak.


            BDS is based on a lie that the Arabs were innocent victims. The Palestine Arab military leader Abdul-Qadr El Husseini and his kinsman Grand Mufti Haj Mohammed Amin el Husseini slaughtered any Jews they could get their hands on.

            The Jews had to protect themselves, and that is what they did. Antisemitism is all about lying about and demonizing Jews, and lying about Zionism, Israel, etc to make the Jews look evil is antisemitism

    • Nasri Jacir

      As a Palestinian; my family was displaced from West Jerusalem in 1947. As we returned after the war’s aftermath, the Israeli inhabitants of our homes were kind enough to give us our furniture back! I am a proud member of BDS. I am part of the history and have lived the truth. How can you live with yourself as a jew; seeing how I as a Palestinian with a 500 year history in Jerusalem cannot return to my homeland; whereas a jew born in New York city can claim citizenship over our land? Do not you feel any shame as you see what your army has done to my family? You are free to your opinion; but I can say one thing; enough with the historical bullshit; as I am history and truth ; and you are but a defender of an apartheid genocidal state. Psychopaths don’t see themselves as such. Will Israel ever. I hope for their sake they do. At least I can live knowing that I have not hurt anyone ; but karma will have no mercy on Israel. What goes around comes around. I just hope Israelis see the pain they have inflicted on a population that had nothing to do with the holocaust or their traumatic experience in Nazi Germany. One of my best friends in the U.S. was an IDF soldier; so guess it may be hard to label me an anti-Semite. God knows; maybe you will find a way!

      • dcomplex

        It is not Arab land. The Arabs lost any moral right to it when they attempted to exterminate the Jewish people in Mandate Palestine.

        The Arabs were not innocent, and they began attacking Jews all the way back to 1920. Moreover, the Palestine Arabs actually did collaborate with the Nazis.

        But anyway, you will never return to Eretz Yisrael. Not in a million years. The Jewish people has returned to its ancient homeland, and no force on earth will bring about its recission. Every Arab who left or was forced out deserved it for complicity with the attacks on Jews who did nothing but return home. Not only that! The returning Jews made sure to buy the land.

        Guess what. It didn’t save their lives. The Arabs killed Jews because they were Jews, and for no other reason. Also, I like how you call Israel an apartheid genocidal state when Jordan has killed more Palestine Arabs total than Israel, and also that Jews are legally not allowed to buy land in Jordan. That sounds pretty racist to me.

        Aww are you sad? Next time tell your family that they shouldn’t try to torture their Jewish neighbors to death.

        The Nakba was your own fault for being uncivilized murderers and criminals.

      • dcomplex

        Only one group of Jews in the world did not concur in these secret plottings and underminings of Jews. This was the Irgun Zwei Leumi—that fought and publicized with their blood each step of the robbery—whether it was robbery of honor, freedom, or land. And with their help, for they are now being forged into the fabric of the new Jewish state—the State of Israel will not, when the time comes again—be as daft and dizzy as we American Jews were. It will not be spun about by the fear of divided loyalties as we were. It will not be duped by the siren song of patriotisms that ignore the carnage of the Jews.

        However muddled such a Jewish state of Israel may be, it will have a long memory—and a clear head toward Jews. And when the time of pogrom comes again—it will raise a clear voice, backed by a strong arm—for Jews. And this is the only weapon the Jews need to prevent another time of butchery. For the world is not a place of evil. The conscience of the world is a Godly and aspiring one. Its head is perpetually in a fog, but there is a light in its heart. A clarion voice such as will come from the nation of Israel—and such has never come from the scattered, duped, and bewildered Jews wooing their way in other lands—such a voice will halt the pogroms and mass executions of tomorrow.