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BDS Fever
The ASA: Where Foolishness and Ignorance Collide

Anti-Semitism is not absent from the BDS movement. But there’s a lot more going on here than mere bigotry.

Published on: December 17, 2013
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  • Doug

    Thank you Prof. Mead for many very intelligent thoughts about this debacle. I will limit myself to one point. In my humble opinion, it is fundamentally illegitimate for an academic institution to engage in political advocacy. I would urge any legitimate scholars who are members of the ASA to resign as that body has departed from the realm of scholarly inquiry and has become nothing more than another leftist political group.

  • Anthony

    Thanks for a well reasoned and thoughtful exposition WRM.

    • Kavanna

      Hear, hear.

  • From all the Latin and Greek sayings we learnt in school, I remember best the one about boys throwing stones at frogs for fun, but the frogs not dying for fun. So I think there is no need to agonize about what the motivations for boycotts singling out the world’s only Jewish state are — as Larry Summers rightly said, the boycott efforts are antisemitic in effect. This is particularly true in view of the fact that the Jewish state of Israel happens to be the world’s only state whose right to exist is questioned not just by Holocaust-denying Iranian presidents, but also by supposedly respectable academics and intellectuals — and most of the prominent BDS activists (like e.g. the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah) are completely frank about their desire to do away with Israel as a Jewish state.

    That brings me to Prof. Mead’s point re. the New America Foundation’s promotion (for that it was) of a “controversial author of a book very critical of Israel.” Prof. Mead notes “I neither resigned from that board nor criticized the event.” Well, it’s a pity that Prof. Mead didn’t criticize an event where there was not even a single critical question for an author who equates Israel not just with Apartheid South Africa, but with Nazi Germany. For good reason, the book was praised to the high heavens by notorious antisemites like Gilad Atzmon (about whom WRM has written) and by writers for David Duke’s website. Atzmon wrote that the book proves everything he has always said, and on Dukes site there was similar praise. When Roger Waters recently made headlines with an outburst that few serious people would dispute was antisemitic (and that was immediately quoted approvingly by David Duke), he explicitly stated that this was the book that informs his views of Israel.
    So that means quite simply that the New America Foundation promoted a book about Israel that well-known Jew-haters would have been happy to have authored themselves — and unfortunately, Professor Mead, whom I greatly respect, saw no reason to criticize this event. The Boycott-Israel-crowd was very very happy that the New America Foundation helped one of their poster boys to gain mainstream legitimacy. Indeed, already the next day, the Atlantic’s James Fallows opined that opposing the promotion of David Duke-endorsed views was tantamount to opposing free speech (though Fallows of course preferred not to mention Duke).

    • Kavanna

      Excellent points, all, Petra. It’s amazing what and whom this issue brings out of the woodwork.

      As for James Fallows, I lost my respect for him long ago. He’s an older, less obnoxious example of the same evolution we saw with Andrew Sullivan.

  • TommyTwo

    GIVEN the United States’ singular support for the scofflaw state of Israel,

    AND GIVEN the extent to which American institutions of higher education are connected to US authorities,

    MOVED: All American institutions of higher education shall be boycotted.

    Furthermore, GIVEN the egregiously parochial nature of so-called “American Studies”,

    MOVED: The aforementioned boycott first and foremost target shall be “American Studies” programs.

    • Winston Smith

      The real joke is that Israeli colleges and universities are even further to the left than than the member colleges and universities of the ASA. They can’t catch a break solely because they are ‘JEWISH’ institutions.

      How Professor Mead can conclude that that ISN’T anti-Semitism makes me wonder about his ability to logically determine the cause of ANY issue.

  • yeah check out lightstage.

  • Matan Vardi

    regarding one point in the article:

    although it is true that, ethnically, the Israeli population of today is not of
    European or West-European origin to describe it as an
    “overachieving Turkey” or “a miraculously liberal and tolerant
    Lebanon” seems to me, not to understand the intellectual and historical
    origins of the Jewish state. the Zionist movement did not originate among the
    Jewish-Arab population of the middle-east, but rather in the
    cauldron of the Russian Pogroms and burgeoning national movements in central
    and east-Europe at the second half of the nineteenth century.

    the ideas and institutions on which the state is grounded and which stood at
    the heart of the Zionist movement are western and so are its
    political and cultural institutions (universities and press and so on…)
    though there is no denying (nor should there be) a strong and unique Jewish
    heritage which sometimes can be at odds with its western component, but
    which give the country its distinctiveness.

    it is not just qualitatively different, it is essentially different from its
    surroundings and in that sense it is certainly an “implant”. but
    Zionism was not a colonial implant. it is, in its essence, a profound
    (profound in it historical and mythical origins) national movement which
    sought national regeneration (a point which incidentally merits comparison with
    the much more brittle Arab nationalism).

    the misconception of those who claim to hold Israel to “western standards”
    is not, than, their misconception of it as western but rather their ignorance
    and misjudgement on their part of the unique position that Israel is in and in
    which no other western country find itself as well as for the “heart
    of the matter” which is that the Palestinian-Israeli (and actually the
    Arab-Israeli) is not just a conflict between two people on a piece of
    real-estate. rather, it is a war of cultures.

  • “But to the degree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come to serve as a symbolic stand-in for colonialism and resistance to it, across the developing world and on trendy western campuses, there‚Äôs a sincerely felt if often poorly reasoned sense that to pass anti-Israel resolutions today is like passing anti-apartheid resolutions a generation ago”.

    That’s probably the core, if there is any. But is that not antisemitism? When Israelis are compared to European settlers in Africa, the subtext is really “you don’t belong here”, which is exactly what Arabs tell us in private conversation when they’re sincere. After all, some African dictatorships were a lot worse in objective terms than the old SA, but still it attracted more odium because it was perceived in some way as not belonging,

    However, Jews heard this “you don’t belong” not only from Palestinian Arabs. They heard it throughout their history from more or less everyone. Our history is not one of imperial expansion. It’s one of subservience and persecution, and the constant allegation that we are strangers; that we do not relate organically and authentically to the environment, do not work on the land, are not attuned to the natural rhythm of the host countries, that our tongues do not easily roll their languages, that we follow alien gods that rule a different heaven than the one visible from the meadows of the Ukraine or the casba of Baghdad.

    So where the political narcissists see a guerilla fighter, we see a Cossack. Where they see Nelson Mandela, we see Adolph Hitler. They think they’re liberators, we think that they are – essentially – bigots who repeat every slander and lie that was hauled at us.

  • Brad_Brzezinski

    I differ with this sentiment in the article: “I believe that the Palestinians have an equal right to self-determination …..”

    UNGAR 181 calls for a Jewish and an Arab state. The reason for the Jewish one should be well known and relates to Judaism’s long history. The call for an Arab state was an appeasement to the recalcitrant Arab nations; it did not mention “Palestinians” because that word had a totally different meaning then. Palestinian unity (and disunity) is an artificial construct that has arisen from according Palestnian Arabs special treatment by the UN and mistreatment by other Arabs.

    Equating “the Jews” with “the Palestinians” is not helping the situation at all and the need for a Palestinian state is not clear. This does not mean there should not be one. I suggest that fixing the refugee problem – by treating them like the world’s other refugees and pressuring the other Arabs to treat them thus – should be a first step. After that, other options will present themselves and not be as limited as it they are today.

  • Diana Muir Appelbaum

    It’s overachieving Denmark, which last managed to defend itself from foreign invasion in 1659.

  • Kavanna

    More lunacy from America’s collapsing humanities departments. Post-modern junk marinated into toxic waste, laced with “noble savage” lunacy, rebottling old poisons, peddled as “progressive.”

    Time to stop treating these groups and people as reasonable, and time to cut off the money and dismantle the departments.

    • mahood

      What departments took this stand? The ASA’s resolution was stupid and vicious, but has nothing to do with either humanities (American Studies tends to be centered in the social sciences) nor with departments.

      • Kavanna

        Yes, apologies, not in the humanities. Counted, as far as I can see, in the social sciences.

        Not that it should be considered a science (*cough*, *cough*) ….

    • Peter

      I agree. Yes, I support freedom of speech. But these people have no right to do so on my dime. WRM has written repeatedly about the crisis in America’s higher education system, which is going broke. Why keep people like Judith Butler on the UC payroll, which is taxpayer funded? I do not want my tax dollars supporting her soap box.

  • Peter

    Well said. Thank you.

  • dwpittelli

    When I saw the headline, I thought it was about Bush Derangement Syndrome (in my defense, I had just woken up), and I wondered, what could be new on that front? The first paragraph of course set me straight. But I think there is a connection. Academic leftists have to be angrily protesting something, and with Bush out and Obama in, attacking the US President is so much less fun that a new cause du jour had to be fore-fronted.

  • Pait

    Excellent essay, in my opinion. I would add another source of support for anti-Israel attitudes: the anti-American, anti-freedom extremist groups that thrive on a culture of resentment. I don’t know how prevalent they are in the ASA, but they are certainly a significant influence in South American universities. You probably left them aside because to focus on the more rational influences, however irrational extremism, whether right or left wing, is a force to be reckoned with, even within the supposedly more rational confines of academia.

  • bottomfish

    I do not understand why the writer does not take into account the fact the Israelis are, for excellent reasons, anxious about terrorist attacks from Palestinians, which are occurring all the time. They are tabulated every month by the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) and can be found here:


    For the most recent month, November: “an increase in the number of terror attacks: 167 attacks as opposed to 136 in October. The main increase is noted in Judea and Samaria with 107 attacks as opposed to 99 in October; as well as an increase in Jerusalem with 53 attacks as opposed to 32 in October. The Gaza Strip kept a similar number of attacks as in October with five attacks.” The checkpoints and other restrictions on movement (also house demolitions) are an attempt to minimize the frequency of terror incidents.

    The problem with Mead’s essay is that he looks at the problem from an Olympian point of view, as if the conflict were merely about settlements and boundaries. How can Israel reasonably be expected to see it this way? Palestinian violence against Israel continued even immediately after the public signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn in 1993, because certain Palestinian groups did not agree. It was not until 1998 that the PLO goal of destroying Israel was (by a show of hands, anyway) abandoned. How seriously this show of hands was taken by many Palestinians is doubtful given the outbreak of the Second Intifada over what amounts to no more than a bit of political showmanship from Sharon. Continued population movement to settlement areas is one way of pushing back against continued Palestinian violence.

    Perhaps the ASA is simply ignorant of the above facts. But my suspicion is that they don’t really care. As an “indigenous people”, the Palestinians have the right to “resist the occupation”, and that’s all there is to it. Suicide bombs away.

  • sammyeppel

    Just look at next year ASA’s financial records and see who were the new big donors. BDS runs on money, lots of it. Just follow the cash!!

  • Robexaminer

    Not entirely accurate: e.g. re “their entirely legitimate complaints” – like Israel poisoned arafat, etc, etc? Yeah, right!

    • Peter

      And that Jesus was a Palestinian crucified by the Jews.

  • Peter

    Well stated with one exception: you neglect to mention the Palestinians’ personal responsibility for their predicament. But for Palestinian terrorism and incitement to terrorism, the situation would not be what it is. Relatedly, the Palestinians have been offered, and rejected, peace numerous times. Does no one hold them responsible for their bad decisions and never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity?

  • Peter

    Well stated with one exception: you neglect to mention that some, if not all of the current situation was caused by Palestinians themselves. But for Palestinian terrorism and incitement to terrorism, there would be no checkpoints or security barrier. Why do you not hold the Palestinians to account for their repeated rejections of Israeli offers for peace? Bill Clinton wrote about one such offer in his autobiography and Saudi Prince Bandar spoke of it in an interview he gave in the New Yorker magazine. http://www.saudiembassy.net/files/PDF/03-ST-Bandar-0324-NewYorker.pdf

  • rhondawain

    impressive thanks

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