Israel vs. the Academy

What bugs some American academics that they feel a need to single out Israel -- and only Israel -- for an academic boycott?

Members of the American Studies Association (ASA), which represents professors of U.S. history and culture, have voted for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Previously, the Association for Asian American Studies joined the anti-Israel boycott. Granted that both these groups are fairly small compared to the much larger American Association of University Professors, which opposes the boycott as a blow to academic freedom.
Even so, what animates even a small minority of American profs to designate Israeli academic institutions as verboten territory -- beyond the pale?

The New York Times, in a front page article by Richard Perez-Pena and Jodi Rudoren in the Dec. 17 edition, presumes to offer a couple of clues. ASA members voted for a boycott, they write, "to protest Israel's treatment of Palestinians," -- but without citing any specific maltreatment. The only other clue is a quote from a Stanford professor, David Palumbo-Liu, who accuses Israel of "blatant and systematic denial of academic freedom to Palestinians, which is coupled with material deprivation of a staggering scale."

Wow! The good professor certainly knows how to throw up incendiary accusations. But again, where is the evidence for his accusations? "Denial of academic freedom to Palestinians"? Doesn't hold up, as Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. points out. "Rather than standing up for academic freedom and human rights by boycotting countries where professors are imprisoned for their views," Dermer remarks, "the ASA chooses as its first ever boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want."

Having disposed of the spurious charge of denying academic freedom to Palestinians, what's left in the boycotters' briefcase? Well, what about Palestinians being subjected to "material deprivation of a staggering scale," as the Stanford prof contends?

Well, that accusation is completely refuted by a source beloved in academe -- the United Nations. Each year, the UN Development Program issues a report card on living standards in 186 countries around the globe. Each country is rated on the basis of per capita income, educational attainment and the health of its citizens as reflected in longevity. The latest Human Development Index, as the UN terms its report card, lists "Palestinian state" (it's the UN after all; previous HDI reports referred to "occupied Palestinian territories") in 110th place among 186 countries.

This means that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have higher living standards than inhabitants of 76 countries. Palestinians are far from the bottom. Their living standards exceed those of Paraguay, Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, South Africa, Morocco, and India, to cite a few examples.

If this amount to "material deprivation of a staggering scale," why aren't the anti-Israel boycotters also targeting Egypt, or South Africa, or India -- countries with greater "deprivation of a staggering scale" than Israel, by the UN's own figures?

Because targeting only Israel for an academic boycott gives away this sordid game. There is no high motive here. The boycott is grounded in a new anti-Semitism that rejects Jewish rights and existence in a Jewish country in the Middle East.

That's what really animates this academic boycott.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

What bugs some American academics that they feel a need to single out Israel -- and only Israel -- for an academic boycott?

Members of the American Studies Association (ASA), which represents professors of U.S. history and culture, have voted for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Previously, the Association for Asian American Studies joined the anti-Israel boycott. Granted that both these groups are fairly small compared to the much larger American Association of University Professors, which opposes the boycott as a blow to academic freedom.
Even so, what animates even a small minority of American profs to designate Israeli academic institutions as verboten territory -- beyond the pale?

The New York Times, in a front page article by Richard Perez-Pena and Jodi Rudoren in the Dec. 17 edition, presumes to offer a couple of clues. ASA members voted for a boycott, they write, "to protest Israel's treatment of Palestinians," -- but without citing any specific maltreatment. The only other clue is a quote from a Stanford professor, David Palumbo-Liu, who accuses Israel of "blatant and systematic denial of academic freedom to Palestinians, which is coupled with material deprivation of a staggering scale."

Wow! The good professor certainly knows how to throw up incendiary accusations. But again, where is the evidence for his accusations? "Denial of academic freedom to Palestinians"? Doesn't hold up, as Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. points out. "Rather than standing up for academic freedom and human rights by boycotting countries where professors are imprisoned for their views," Dermer remarks, "the ASA chooses as its first ever boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want."

Having disposed of the spurious charge of denying academic freedom to Palestinians, what's left in the boycotters' briefcase? Well, what about Palestinians being subjected to "material deprivation of a staggering scale," as the Stanford prof contends?

Well, that accusation is completely refuted by a source beloved in academe -- the United Nations. Each year, the UN Development Program issues a report card on living standards in 186 countries around the globe. Each country is rated on the basis of per capita income, educational attainment and the health of its citizens as reflected in longevity. The latest Human Development Index, as the UN terms its report card, lists "Palestinian state" (it's the UN after all; previous HDI reports referred to "occupied Palestinian territories") in 110th place among 186 countries.

This means that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have higher living standards than inhabitants of 76 countries. Palestinians are far from the bottom. Their living standards exceed those of Paraguay, Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, South Africa, Morocco, and India, to cite a few examples.

If this amount to "material deprivation of a staggering scale," why aren't the anti-Israel boycotters also targeting Egypt, or South Africa, or India -- countries with greater "deprivation of a staggering scale" than Israel, by the UN's own figures?

Because targeting only Israel for an academic boycott gives away this sordid game. There is no high motive here. The boycott is grounded in a new anti-Semitism that rejects Jewish rights and existence in a Jewish country in the Middle East.

That's what really animates this academic boycott.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

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