Anti-Zionism on Campus: The University, Free Speech, and BDS

Anti-Zionism on Campus: The University, Free Speech, and BDS


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253034069
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 04/22/2018
Series: Studies in Antisemitism Series
Pages: 456
Sales rank: 666,009
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Andrew Pessin is Professor of Philosophy at Connecticut College and Campus Bureau Editor of the Algemeiner. He is author of many academic articles and books, a philosophy textbook, several philosophical books for the general reader, and two novels, including The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of René Descartes. Pessin's current research is focused on philosophical matters relevant both to Judaism and Israel. He can be found online at

Doron S. Ben-Atar is Professor of History at Fordham University and a playwright. In addition to publishing books and articles about early America, he authored (with his mother, Roma Nutkiewicz Ben-Atar) What Time and Sadness Spared: Mother and Son Confront the Holocaust. He has, in recent years, turned his attention to the battles over Zionism in the American Jewish community with, among other writings, his satirical play Peace Warriors.

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BDS and Self-Righteous Moralists

Dan Avnon

Dan Avnon, an Israeli leftist and critic of Israeli policy in the West Bank, tells of his experience with the BDS movement in Australia. His political work for equality and human rights for all citizens of Israel notwithstanding, he became the target of a very public, if personal, boycott by the director of the University of Sydney's Center for Peace Studies, just because he is an Israeli. This episode demonstrates that the peaceful, social justice declarations of the BDS movement are disingenuous, that BDS targets all Jewish Israelis as part of its program to ultimately end Israel's existence. Avnon highlights how overreaction to the incident by the anti-BDS legal organization Shurat HaDin actually undermined the opposition to BDS and criticizes the self-righteous moralism that has come to dominate the discourse of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the course of the years 2012–2014, I was subject to the actions of the Sydney chapter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, led by a University of Sydney faculty member, Professor Jake Lynch. For Lynch and his associates, I was an embodied representation of Israel, a country whose policies they detest and whose scholars and scientists they boycott.

I had not previously been singled out for boycott merely because of my being a Jewish-Israeli scholar and surely had never been boycotted by the left-wing edges of political activism, whereas ironically, in Israel, I have occasionally been condemned by academic and nonacademic self-anointed Jewish and patriotic zealots. The novelty of this experience — being boycotted due to my national identity and organizational affiliation — is in the backdrop of my reflections.

I will address two aspects of my BDS experiences. First, I'll explain how by subjecting me to their propaganda, leaflets, and demonstrations, the BDS activists enabled me to realize that their actual goal is to end Israel's existence as an independent Jewish state. That's the political aspect. Second, my experiences during the two years of having my image formed and used by various political players provided me with an opportunity to reflect on an attendant dimension of the situation: the morality of protagonists from both pro- and anti-BDS sides of the divide. From this perspective, I'll raise some initial speculations about an overlooked political vice and its harmful effects: self-righteous moralism. I will relate a few episodes that cause or lead me to suggest that self-righteousness may be a particular sensation (of self) that transforms potentially sensitive and sensible people into insensitive and dogmatic champions of absolute justice: self-made, if you will.

The Background

I heard about the faculty exchange fellowship of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund, which supports exchanges between the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a chance encounter with a colleague who had been a recipient of this fellowship. It was on a late Thursday afternoon, and the deadline for application was less than a week away. Since I had no prior contacts in Australia, I perused the University of Sydney's website, seeking scholars who would perhaps be interested in sponsoring my application for this grant. I then dashed off a rather hurried email to five unwitting colleagues. Four of them, all senior scholars at the University of Sydney, responded within a couple of hours, agreeing to my using their names on my application form. A fifth, the director of the University of Sydney's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jake Lynch, who, unbeknownst to me, was a zealous supporter of the BDS movement, sent me a surprising response.

Here are the transcripts of my email correspondence with Lynch. The time listed is Israeli local time.

Nov. 16, 2012 02:02

Dear Professor Lynch:

I apologise for dropping into your inbox without an introduction. I am the former Head of the Federmann School of Public Policy and Governance at the Hebrew University, and a political theorist at the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In my political philosophy niche I specialise in the philosophy of Martin Buber.

I will be on sabbatical leave during the 2013–14 academic year. I would like to spend time in Australia to learn about Australia's civic education policy and curriculum. This is an area of research (and of active, hands-on curriculum development) that has been at the core of my work in the past decade. This work included the writing and implementation of Israel's only (State-sanctioned) program in civics written for joint Jewish-Arab, religious/nonreligious high-school kids.

I intend to devote my sabbatical to a comparative study of civic education in societies undergoing demographic (and consequently cultural) changes.

As part of my sabbatical I would like to come to Sydney for two months in 2014 to work on this research. I was alerted today to the possibility of applying to a Hebrew University–University of Sydney fellowship that would fund part of my stay at the University. The application deadline is tomorrow. So, I am working frenetically to get this done on time.

My (embarrassingly urgent) request is: can I mention you as a contact person at your university? I have gone through the list of faculty and schools at the University of Sydney, and you seem to be a colleague whom I would like to meet when I am there. This courtesy will enable me to apply.

Attached are the application forms, partially completed. I attach them so that you can see who I am (academically). No need for you to do anything with or about them.

Thank you for your attention. I hope that you can reply "yes" and this will enable me to complete the application and hope for the best.

Best wishes, Dan Avnon

Nov. 16, 2012 04:23

Dear Professor Avnon,

Thank you for your email, no apologies necessary.

Indeed, it is I who must apologize to you, for I am bound, by our Center's policy, to decline your request. My apology to you is on a personal level, for neither I nor the Center have anything against you — and your research sounds interesting and worthwhile. However, we are supporters of the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, and that includes the call for an academic boycott of Israeli universities.

I have attached the letter I wrote to the University Vice Chancellor, after a meeting of my Center's governing Council, and a separate meeting open to the whole university community, when we adopted the policy — along with his response.

Our Center's policy is not the policy of the University, as you will see, but it does foreclose our entering into any such arrangements as you propose.

Yours sincerely, Jake

Associate Professor Jake Lynch BA, Dip Journalism Studies, PhD Director, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies

I sent the email late at night (02:02), and Lynch's reply arrived at 04:23, when I was asleep. When I opened my inbox a few hours later, I found his response. Since the response was written in what seemed to be personal terms — "on a personal level, for neither I nor the Center have anything against you" — I naively assumed that this was indeed a personal communication and that a person-to-person response was in order. Hence my reply:

Nov. 16, 2012 11:02

Dear Jake (if I may),

I had no idea that this is your stand, and that the specific fellowship to which I am applying is a symbol of what you oppose!

I hope to have the opportunity to discuss this issue with you. As an opening comment, I find it ironic ... [that for you I am] a symbol of all that you find reprehensible. It is ironic because like myself, many (probably most) [Israeli] intellectuals and scholars in relevant fields are doing our best to effect change in Israeli political culture. We pay prices for going against the institutional grain. And then we turn around and meet such a "blind to the person" policy.

One common tendency that must be changed if we ever want to live sane lives is to debunk categorical and stereotypical thinking when dealing with human beings. I attach an article that I wrote precisely on this issue. You need not read beyond the first two pages. The gist of what I have to say about this is there.

There is so much to be said about this thorny issue (between principle and practice). ... Should I have the good fortune of receiving this fellowship and coming to Sydney, perhaps we'll meet (personally) and explore fresh looks at the principled position that you outlined in your letter.

Best personal wishes, Dan

Lynch never responded to my email. I later learned from University of Sydney colleagues that within a few minutes of sending his reply to me he had sent a copy of my request and his response to a host of recipients, apparently to gain credit for his ability to boycott Israelis. As for me, I filed this correspondence and went on with my life, for a very short while.

In late November 2012, a week after my nondialogical exchange with Lynch, I was contacted by an Australian journalist, Christian Kerr of the Australian, who was writing a story about Lynch's decision to boycott me. From the moment of front-page publication of Kerr's report on December 6, 2012, Lynch's decision to publicize my personal request and to trumpet it as his anti-Israel catch of the year created for me a public persona with a life of its own. What attracted attention in Australia and elsewhere was the fact that Lynch had chosen to boycott a scholar whose work proactively promoted civic equality in Israel between majority Jews and minority Palestinian-Israeli Arabs. This curious choice helped anti-BDS activists point to deep contradictions between BDS claims to promote social justice in Israel on the one hand and boycotting someone associated with that very activity on the other hand.

From the distance of my Jerusalem computer, it seemed to me that Lynch's actions had backfired. The dean of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Humanities, Professor Duncan Iveson, stood up for the basic values that underpin scholarly exchange and scientific research. Various items in the Australian press indicated that, by and large, the BDS movement was a marginal, peripheral fringe group. Many Australian citizens, scholars, and a few public figures wrote to me private emails with touching messages of support, expressing their disdain for BDS activism and their objection to the use of university positions as bully pulpits. This sentiment seemed prevalent and prevailed until the ill-advised intervention of Shurat HaDin, an international organization that decided to press legal charges against Lynch. The Shurat HaDin interference led to a reversal in the tide of public sentiment. I'll address this aspect of my experiences shortly.

At this point, I want to present arguments that seem to me sufficient to convince readers that BDS is a dishonest project that may be misleading well-intentioned activists to adopt practices that result in unintended, harmful consequences. Following the presentation of my position regarding the BDS movement, I'll turn to a directly related and troubling issue: the use of this case by nationalistic Israeli activists as an opportunity to attack my work in promoting democratic civic education in Israel and — from a different quarter — to use my case in an illadvised manner to delegalize Lynch and his BDS ilk. The two parts of my report are linked by my characterizing the actions of leading activists on all sides of the BDS debate as self-righteous moralists. This feature is relevant to a principled study of civic activism, beyond the context of this particular skirmish.

Why I Oppose the BDS Movement: Their Deceptive Goals

There are many reasoned and, at times, passionate discourses against the BDS movement. I won't try to summarize these claims; they are readily available to anyone with access to the internet and to university libraries and databases. I'll highlight my impression that the activities of the academic boycotters are, in fact, part of a broader and deeply troubling agenda to undermine the very existence of Israel.

Let's begin with the BDS movement's declared goals. Without delving into the intricacies of the BDS program, the summary of its goals is as follows: "Ending [Israel's] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194."

The goals seem to be focused on specific policies or practices. But anyone who knows anything about the circumstances of the founding of Israel knows that the goals are, in fact, oriented to ending Israel's existence as a Jewish nation-state. For example, unwitting supporters of BDS read the words "ending the occupation and colonization" and probably think that the 1967 war was a preplanned attempt to colonize areas that in fact were captured as part of a war of self-defense. They hear "dismantling the Wall" (capital W in the original wording) and are moved to action by haunting images of the Berlin Wall and Pink Floyd's Wall, with their respective bricks and hoped-for downfalls. They read "rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel" and are roused to action by the evocative mention of universal civic rights. Finally, they are summoned to support refugees in terms of UN resolution 194, without knowing when and in what context that resolution was adopted. The language is appealing, using catchy metaphors and playing language games with liberal sentiments through references to colonization, international law, and human rights.

This rhetoric obfuscates realities. Let's consider the first goal. Fences and walls separating parts of pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank (also referred to as "the occupied territories" and "Judea and Samaria") were built during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Their purpose was to radically reduce the infiltration of suicide bombers and other forms of terrorism. The purpose was by and large achieved and, on this account, not objectionable. The physical barrier is objectionable, however, when and where it is built on Palestinian land and when it causes illegal, unwarranted, and, at times, outrageous misery to the Palestinian populace. So, there are specific injustices that are due to the wall. But there are also merits to this obstacle to terrorist attacks. The rhetoric of BDS activists, oblivious to the many dimensions of the issue and dedicated to "dismantling the Wall," may be useful for arousing sentiments but is actually insensitive to context and to circumstance.


Excerpted from "Anti-Zionism on Campus"
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction and Overview: The Silencing / Andrew Pessin and Doron S. Ben-Atar 1

I. Scholars’ Essays

1. BDS and Self-Righteous Moralists / Dan Avnon 43

2. Consensus, Canadian Trade Unions, and Intellectuals for Hamas / Julien Bauer 58

3. Bullies at the Pulpit / Doron S. Ben-Atar 66

4. A Traumatic Professorial Education: Anti-Zionism and Homophobia in a Serial Campus Hate Crime / Corinne E. Blackmer 75

5. Slouching toward the City That Never Stops: How a Left-Orientalist Anti-Israel Faculty Tour Forced Me to Say Something (Big Mistake!) / Gabriel Noah Brahm 83

6. On Radio Silence and the Video That Saved the Day: The Attack against Professor Dubnov at the University of California San Diego, 2012 / Shlomo Dubnov 91

7. Fraser versus the University College Union: A Personal Reflection / Ronnie Fraser 105

8. If You Are Not With Us: The National Women’s Studies Association and Israel / Janet Freedman 122

9. Rhodes University, Not a Home for All: A Progressive Zionist’s Two-Year Odyssey / Larissa Klazinga 134

10. Loud and Fast versus Slow and Quiet: Responses to Anti-Israel Activism on Campus / Jeffrey Kopstein 142

11. A Controversy at Harvard / Martin Kramer 151

12. Attempts to Exclude Pro-Israel Views from Progressive Discourse: Some Case Studies from Australia / Philip Mendes 163

13. Anti-Israel Antisemitism in England / Richard Millett 174

14. Conspiracy Pedagogy on Campus: BDS Advocacy, Antisemitism, and Academic Freedom / Cary Nelson 190

15. When Did We Abandon Academic Integrity for Academic Freedom? / Denise Nussbaum 212

16. BDS and Zionophobic Racism / Judea Pearl 224

17. Friday, November 13, 2015, at the University of Texas, Austin: Anti-Zionists on the Attack / Ami Pedahzur and Andrew Pessin 236

18. Colonel Richard Kemp at the University of Sydney, Australia, March 11, 2015 / Jan Poddebsky, Peter Keeda, and Clive Kessler 253

19. “Oh! Now I’ve Got You!”: In the Sights of Anti-Israelists at the Claremont Colleges / Yaron Raviv 266

20. The Magic of Myth: Fashioning the BDS Narrative in the New Anthropology / David M. Rosen 280

21. Retaliation: The High Price of Speaking Out about Campus Antisemitism and What It Means for Jewish Students / Tammi Rossman-Benjamin 298

22. A Field Geologist in Politicized Terrain / Jill S. Schneiderman 317

23. Fanatical Anti-Zionism and the Degradation of the University: What I Have Learned in Buffalo / Ernest Sternberg 333

24. What Is It like to Be an (Assertive) Israeli Academic Abroad? / Elhanan Yakira 348

II. Students’ Essays

25. A Wake-Up Call at the University of Michigan / Jesse Arm 357

26. On Leaving the University of California, Los Angeles, Due to Hostile and Unsafe Campus Climate / Milan Chatterjee 363

27. Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions and Antisemitism at Stanford University / Molly Horwitz 366

28. On Being Pro-Israel, and Jewish, at Oberlin College / Eliana Kohn 372

29. Battling Anti-Zionism at City University of New York John Jay College / Tomer Kornfeld 379

30. Students for Justice in Palestine at Brown University / Jared Samilow 384

31. Battling Anti-Zionism at the University of Missouri / Daniel Swindell 390

III. Concluding Thoughts 32

Inconclusive, Unscientific Postscript: On the Purpose of the University, and a Ray of Hope / Andrew Pessin 401

Index 409

What People are Saying About This

Thane Rosenbaum

The single biggest crisis facing the academy is the attack against free speech, objective truth, rigorous scholarship, and campus activity—all under the pretense and guise of progressive identity politics. No other book covers the politics and strategies of BDS and the insidious motives of those who are its champions better.

Kenneth L. Marcus

These essays make a huge contribution to our understanding of the deleterious impact of anti-Israel activism on contemporary academia in the United States and around the world. The breadth of these essays is breath-taking, their poignancy is heartbreaking, and their analysis is astute.

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