U.S. scholars’ mounting boycotts of Israeli academic and cultural institutions are ironic indeed, for they contradict everything that higher education is supposed to stand for – they are wholly ignorant and profoundly narrow-minded.
That Israel is a perennial target on America’s college campuses is hardly breaking news. The Jewish state has long suffered from the singular focus of academics who want to burnish their human rights credentials while convincing themselves that they are doing something to make a difference.
On college campuses, where left-wing political ideology dominates, it’s politically correct and socially comfortable to criticize Israel. The scholar who defends Israel, however, can wind up shunned and lonely.
But, dig a bit deeper and you will see that the emperor of anti-Israel boycotts simply has no clothes.
For all of its out-sized attention, Israel is hardly the world’s worst human rights offender – not even close. Its treatment of Palestinians doesn’t approach the human rights abuses of China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and the Congo – not to mention the humanitarian horror show of North Korea.
But, where are the boycotts of academic and cultural institutions in China, where the government jails dissidents and their families and tightly restricts the internet; or in Iran, where the regime engages in politically motivated torture, beatings, and rape and hangs teen-age homosexuals in public; or in Turkey, where Recep Erdogan is transforming a once-thriving democracy into a rights-abusing autocracy?
Where, by the way, is the boycott of the West Bank where, according to the State Department’s latest annual human rights report, the Palestinian Authority (PA) restricts free speech, press, and assembly while allowing abuses of women, children, and people with disabilities? Where is the boycott of Gaza, where the terrorist group Hamas not only restricts freedom, limits worker rights, and forces children to work, but where its security forces kill, torture, detain, and harass opponents?
Moreover, anti-Israel boycotts presume that, by changing its behavior, Jerusalem alone can forge Israeli-Palestinian peace. But, while U.S. scholars largely look the other way, the reality is quite different.
As noted, the Palestinian leadership is split between the “moderate” PA, which runs the West Bank, and Hamas, which runs Gaza. With Hamas dedicated to Israel’s destruction, any Israeli-Palestinian peace can only be a limited one.
But, even PA leaders have not planted the seeds for peace. They still glorify anti-Israeli murder and violence, preach Israel-hating in their schools, and refuse to tell their people that peace will undoubtedly require compromise – such as by abandoning hopes of a “full right of return” for Palestinian refugees that’s defined so broadly that it would destroy the Jewish majority character of Israel.
Thus, to blame Israel alone for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict defies reality. But, to sanction Israeli academic and cultural institutions for it also defies the highest ideals of higher education.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is controversial, and a university – which should promote free thought – is where it should receive a fair hearing. The anti-Israel boycotters, however, opt for bigotry over open-mindedness.
Worse, they opt for guilt by association. They refuse an open dialogue with their colleagues at Israeli institutions because, presumably, those institutions are complicit in Israeli governmental policy.
That’s not just profoundly ignorant – why would such institutions have more power in Israel than their counterparts do in, say, America? It’s also profoundly bigoted, for those U.S. scholars do not apply the same standard to institutions in any other country – no matter how heinous is its government.
U.S. scholarly boycotts of Israeli institutions are part of a larger global campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. It won’t bring peace any closer, but it will assuage the misguided consciences of Israel haters.
That anyone targets Israel for discriminatory treatment is unjustified. That scholars do it is downright galling.
Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. Readers may write him at AFPC, 509 C Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.