A Response to Michael Kazin on BDS and Campus Activism (Updated)

13 Dec

Writing in The New Republic today, Michael Kazin issues a sharp attack on the BDS movement, particularly the recent vote of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions. (That decision is now being voted upon by the wider membership of the ASA.)

Kazin levels two charges against the boycott movement. First, it is inconsistent: why single out Israel when there are other human rights violators like China and Russia that could just as easily be targeted for an academic boycott? Second, it is ineffective: the boycott movement is “quite unlikely to change anyone’s minds or, for that matter, Israeli policy.” It is a form of theater, professors playing politics.

Kazin contrasts the boycott movement of self-righteous, divisive, “flashy” poseurs with what he calls “a larger and more practical academic left.” That left is engaged in movements for economic justice on campuses across the country. It campaigns for a living wage for university workers and union rights for adjuncts; it works against sweatshop labor in Bangladesh and high student debt at home.

Beyond the justice of their cause, what attracts Kazin to this academic left is that it practices a version of what Michael Walzer calls connected criticism. “They ‘challenge the leaders, the conventions, the ritual practices of a particular society…in the name of values recognized and shared in the same society.’” While “one left talks about something it calls ‘American Studies’; the other actually practices it.”

Kazin’s first charge—inconsistency and double-standards—puzzles me. As a long-time activist, Kazin knows that campaigns against injustice inevitably single out one target, while ignoring others. The farm workers’ grape boycott of the 1960s and 1970s didn’t go after every workplace (or fruit) in the country; it shone a spotlight on one particular set of working conditions. The antiwar movement of Kazin’s youth didn’t go after all wars (or even all unjust wars) being fought around the globe; it targeted the war in Vietnam. The civil rights movement didn’t fix on every racial injustice on the planet; it went after American apartheid.

Nor do these movements necessarily target the worst injustices. Working conditions in the fields of California were awful, but God knows there were far worse elsewhere. American sexism wasn’t the most terrible on offer. South African apartheid wasn’t the most oppressive regime, and the death squads in El Salvador were hardly grislier than the killing fields of Cambodia. Yet the leaders of the domestic movements against California agribusiness, American patriarchy, South African apartheid, and the Salvadoran death squads chose their targets as they did, without burdening themselves with the charge of fighting even worse injustices elsewhere. Many people—including, I’m sure, Michael Kazin—supported them, and the world is better for that.

When Kazin invokes consistency, he reminds me of nothing so much as those rigid and abstract ideologues he so often denounces elsewhere. Indeed, what would Kazin say about a movement that, acting on some cockamamie notion of consistency, decided that it could only go after injustice somewhere if it simultaneously went after injustice everywhere? He’d call it foolish and dogmatic, and he’d be right. Those campus living wage movements he supports, after all, aren’t fighting for living wages everywhere, are they? And what would Kazin say to someone who refuses to support a living wage for workers—or a union for adjuncts—at Georgetown, where Kazin teaches, because workers in Guatemala have it so much worse? (If he hasn’t heard such criticisms, he should go to more meetings. Or read Matt Yglesias.) He’d think they were nuts—or insufficiently connected critics. (I’ll come back to that latter point in a second.)

It is in the very nature of a campaign for social justice that it be selective, focusing on targets that it can mobilize against and perhaps even defeat. And it is in the very nature of such targets that they can be mobilized against and defeated in part because they are not necessarily the most egregious, or oppressive, instances of their kinds. That’s what makes such movements practical, the very virtue Kazin espouses.

Which brings me to Kazin’s second point: he thinks the boycott movement is impractical. What in the world can a group of American Studies professors or campus activists do about the policies of the Israeli government?

According to the Israeli media, quite a bit. Unlike the detractors of the boycott movement in the US, voices in Israel seem genuinely alarmed about the growing power of the boycott movement. Not just in academia or in the US, but throughout the world.

Just yesterday, a piece in Haaretz opened with the following two grafs:

This has happened in recent days: The Dutch water company Vitens severed its ties with Israeli counterpart Mekorot; Canada’s largest Protestant church decided to boycott three Israeli companies; the Romanian government refused to send any more construction workers; and American Studies Association academics are voting on a measure to sever links with Israeli universities.

Coming so shortly after the Israeli government effectively succumbed to a boycott of settlements in order to be eligible for the EU’s Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation agreement, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement is picking up speed. And the writing on the wall, if anyone missed it, only got clearer and sharper in the wake of the death of Nelson Mandela.

As Michelle Goldberg, no friend of the BDS movement, recently reported in the Nation:

Indeed, one of the strongest arguments in favor of BDS is the degree to which it seems to be shaking the Israeli establishment. As Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn wrote in June, “Netanyahu is worried about the growing international boycott against Israel….He hears warnings in the business community about the damage the diplomatic impasse is causing….If he thought it was harmless noise, he would ignore or minimize the problem. But Netanyahu apparently fears being remembered as the leader during whose time Israel was distanced from the family of nations.”

Many in Israel were shocked earlier this year when Stephen Hawking, acceding to the boycotters, pulled out of Israel’s prestigious President’s Conference. Discussing the reaction of Israel’s leadership, former Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner wrote, “Behind closed doors they’re laughing at Kerry’s peace mission; they’re not laughing at Stephen Hawking or BDS, are they?”

It’s not just Israel that’s worried about the boycott movement. So is the White House, as that Haaretz article I quoted above goes onto say:

In recent days, American statesmen seem to be more alarmed about the looming danger of delegitimization than Israelis are. In remarks to both the Saban Forum and the American Joint Distribution Committee this week, Secretary of State John Kerry described delegitimization as “an existential danger.” Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to the same JDC forum, went one step further: “The wholesale effort to delegitimize Israel is the most concentrated that I have seen in the 40 years I have served. It is the most serious threat in my view to Israel’s long-term security.

Whatever one thinks about the BDS movement, it’s clearly having an impact. Its opponents take it seriously, so much so that they have devoted considerable resources to fighting it. Kazin is no doubt right that the BDS movement has chosen a high wall to scale, but what’s most amazing about the movement is how quickly it has not only shifted the discourse but how shaken the most seemingly intransigent defenders of Israel have become. That’s not victory by any stretch—and a shaken Israel can easily respond by drifting even further to the right. But the BDS movement is still in its earliest years, and increasing intransigence in response to a social movement is hardly peculiar to the Israeli government. Indeed, it is a feature of virtually all regimes that come under attack, only to give way years later.

But it’s Kazin’s final point about the “flashy” politics of the BDS movement as against the connected criticism of economic justice movements that I find hardest to understand. For starters, most of the activists around BDS that I know are also involved in economic justice campaigns. Take the activist I know best: me. I first got involved in the left through my work with a TA union in the 1990s, and I’ve continued to be involved in various campus labor activities since then. I also support BDS. And I know lots of people like me. While I think Kazin is right that Israel-Palestine is a line of cleavage on the left, the larger distinction he draws between economic justice campaigns and BDS is not one I see in my everyday world.

And what about this connected critic business? Is there any other country on the planet that the United States is more connected to than the State of Israel? There’s the obvious fact that Israel is the highest recipient of US foreign aid. More than that, there is the deep ideological and cultural connection to the issue of Israel-Palestine felt by American Jews—as well as Christians, Muslims, and Arabs (not to mention other American citizens). While Israel is hardly the only country to be the object of intense interest from a diaspora community in the US, it has the distinctive feature of being the object of intense interest from multiple diasporic and non-diasporic communities in the US. Who happen to stand on opposite sides of the issue. What’s more, many of those individuals happen to be on American campuses.

When Kazin describes connected criticism by citing Walzer—challenging “the leaders, the conventions, the ritual practices of a particular society…in the name of values recognized and shared in the same society’”—I think he’s actually describing the BDS movement quite well.  Most BDS activists I know speak on behalf of the most minimal norms of a liberal democracy, which are widely shared in the US: namely, that Israel should be the state of its citizens (and not some far-flung community of an ancient diaspora), and that it should govern itself according to the norms of one person/one vote, as opposed to the hard facts of ethnic privilege and military occupation. When I talk to BDS activists, that’s what they tell me.

It is not the underlying principles or ideals of the BDS movement that make it controversial; it is the application of those ideals to the State of Israel and its patrons in the United States that make it controversial. To that extent BDS activists look like no one so much as those connected critics whom Walzer celebrated in his book: Camus, Silone, Orwell, and the Hebrew prophets.

If Kazin were to hone in even closer, he’d see that many members of the BDS movement are, like myself, Jewish. And while they speak in a variety of registers, they often invoke Jewish norms and traditions against the State of Israel and its defenders. Indeed, just this week, Jewish students at Swarthmore made international headlines when they sought to retrieve the figure of Hillel from the campus institution that bears its name. While the Swarthmore Hillel did not come out against the State of Israel—all it wants is the right to work with non-Zionist and anti-Zionist groups and speakers, a right the international Hillel organization proscribes—it explicitly invoked a Jewish tradition in taking this stance (and I suspect many of the people in the Swarthmore Hillel who are pushing this line are themselves sympathetic to BDS):

…Rabbi Hillel valued Jewish debate and difference – it was at the core of his practice. We do the same. For us, that is what the name Hillel symbolizes.

Therefore, we choose to depart from the Israel guidelines of Hillel International. We believe these guidelines, and the actions that have stemmed from them, are antithetical to the Jewish values that the name “Hillel” should invoke. We seek to reclaim this name. We seek to turn Hillel – at Swarthmore, in the Greater Philadelphia region, nationally, and internationally – into a place that has a reputation for constructive discourse and free speech. We refuse to surrender the name of this Rabbi who encouraged dialogue to those who seek to limit it.

To that end, Swarthmore Hillel hereby declares itself to be an Open Hillel. All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist. We are an institution that seeks to foster spirited debate, constructive dialogue, and a safe space for all, in keeping with the Jewish tradition. We are an Open Hillel.

Again, connected critics.

Let me end on a more personal note. I know Michael Kazin. We’ve spoken at conferences together, I’ve written for his magazine, we email each other. I know him to be a good guy. A very good guy. He’s decent, and he’s a genuinely nice person (rare in academia and even rarer on the left).

But something about this issue—like certain other conflicts with the left—brings out a different Michael Kazin. A less measured, less grounded Michael Kazin. (The New Republic emailer accompanying his piece calls BDS “the worst cause in campus activism.” I’m sure Kazin didn’t write that, but it captures the tone of his piece. I guess the folks at TNR don’t know just how bad campus causes can get.)  A contemptuous, teeth-on-edge Michael Kazin emerges. He starts to sound like a disconnected critic, someone who doesn’t recognize—because he cannot even see—his opponents. Even though they are, on virtually every other issue, his comrades.

I should know. I’m one of them.

Update (December 14, 11: 15 pm)

It occurs to me that there is one other problem with the selectivity argument—and the insinuation, which often accompanies that argument, that there is something anti-Semitic about that selectivity. It does too much work. It is an argument that applies not only to an academic boycott of Israel but also to any statement or action against the State of Israel.

Think about this way. If a bunch of students on campus decide to organize a rally to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza—and don’t organize (or haven’t organized) rallies to protest every other instance of bombing—they are being selective. And thus—in the eyes of many of Israel’s defenders or critics of the BDS movement—anti-Semitic. Therefore, their rally is illegitimate and shouldn’t be supported. If Peter Beinart criticizes the bombing of Gaza, the same argument applies. If Congress passes a resolution—work with me—condemning the bombing, the same argument applies. If the UN passes a resolution, the same.

In the end, the real function of the selectivity argument, particularly when it’s paired with the claim of anti-Semitism (and, let’s be frank, that’s really the point that’s being made), is to make impossible any criticism of or action against the State of Israel.

62 Responses to “A Response to Michael Kazin on BDS and Campus Activism (Updated)”

  1. Josh K-sky December 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Corey, a few months ago I think you linked to a very clear statement from BDS about what the boycott means and doesn’t mean, especially with regard to academic institutions. Does that ring a bell and could you link it again? I was looking for it in the context of a discussion of the Kazin piece today.

  2. Michael Kazin December 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Corey– Thanks for your thoughtful critique of what I wrote. I don’t have time to respond right now and may not for a few days. But one thing I should be clear about: I’m not opposed to all boycotts of Israel. Like Peter Beinart (and many others), I support a boycott of businesses and settlements which operate in the occupied territories. It’s the idea of boycotting universities I find wrong-headed and, yes, stupid. But I love you too.- Michael

  3. Patrick Barrett December 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    Bravo

  4. aletheia33 December 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=11160

    interview with phyllis bennis

  5. JTR December 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    One thing that separates concerns about Israel’s human rights abuses over China’s and Russia’s is that Israel has carried out their actions with the tacit approval of the American public, not to mention having been funded by American tax dollars, as well. In fact, a refusal to speak out and take measures such as BDS insures that the abuses will go on. I find criticism of the criticism of Israel to be completely disingenuous and troubling, much like the anti-semitism canard. Quite the thing that got us here in the first place.

    • hophmi December 15, 2013 at 11:35 am #

      China has MFN status, and it has been renewed again and again. The American public spends much, much, much, much more on Chinese goods than it will ever spend on anything Israeli. Moreover, while Israel does receive loan guarantees from the United States, it does not receive any such consideration from the European countries where the boycott movement is stronger than it is in the US. So the argument that Israel should be singled out for this reason is silly. If your goal is ending loan guarantees, lobby the US Congress, rather than punishing innocent Israeli civilians.

  6. RepStones December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    Michael Kazin – you say like Beinart, you support a limited boycott of businesses and settlements operating over the green line. Why do you ignore the fact that these businesses and settlements are bankrolled directly by the Israeli govt proper. The ability to colonise and operate in the West Bank is afforded to these people directly by the actions of the Israeli state/govt itself. Ignoring this fact and only seeking to boycott past the green line is akin to putting g a sticky plaster on a wound that needs stitches. Pointless. Colonising the west bank has been the policy of successive Israeli govts. To defeat the policy, it needs faced down at source.

  7. Rakiba December 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    There is a problem which no one seems to be discussing: When does the boycott end? In some of the BDS literature it says when Israel stops occupying “Arab land.” In other it implies Arab Land acquired after 1967, in other words the Occupied Territories.

    Is the ABA signing onto 1) the idea that there is such a thing as Arab or Jewish or white or black land? and 2) is the ABA expecting that BDS should be in effect until Israel disappears? This is something highly impractical and probably immoral.

    PS Like the professor, I support a boycott of the Occupied Territories.

  8. Jonathan Marks December 13, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    “Kazin’s first charge—inconsistency and double-standards—puzzles me. As a long-time activist, Kazin knows that campaigns against injustice inevitably single out one target, while ignoring others.” I have seen this argument before. It seems too abstract.

    1. When a professional scholarly organization like ASA picks a cause, it is reasonable to ask what that cause has to do with its area of scholarly interest. It would be strange if the American Medical Association were to pass a resolution denouncing peanut farmers for the high cost of peanuts if it had never issued a resolution concerning the high cost of medicine. I think anyone can see that the response: “campaigns against injustice inevitably single out one target,” in that context, is a non-response. The only resolution the ASA has passed as far as I know concerning academic freedom in the whole of the Americas was one denouncing America re: visas for Cuban scholars wishing to attend an ASA conference. A glance at Freedom House’s reports will tell you that there is plenty within the ASA’s area of scholarly interest to be concerned about. So yes, the choice of the Middle East is suspect. The same goes of course, for the Asian American Studies organization which acknowledged as much with the fig leaf that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes place in West Asia.
    2. Of course, as people on the left usually are prepared to recognize, it also makes a difference who is being targeted. When a Jewish state is targeted by people who have no particular connection to the Middle East, there is more reason to suspect prejudice than there is where the garment industry is targeted instead of the beverage industry because there is no history of anti-garment manufacturer prejudice.

    For example, if I were going around talking about black on black crime all the time, someone would at some point ask me: “why are you so focused on that–white people commit many crimes.” If I responded: “your question puzzles me; campaigns against crime inevitably single out some kinds of crime and not others,” I do not believe the questioner would drop the question. Do you? On the contrary, they would likely suspect me of racism, just like people often suspect the BDS movement of anti-Semitism. It would not be an effective response to say: “well, Clarence Thomas and Shelby Steele and others are with me,” as Robin notes that some Jews are with BDS. The mildest response to that question–and such mildness is not typical in these discussions–is that unfortunately those people are misguided and working with the racists. It also would not do to say “I’m not saying anything about African Americans in particular but am instead talking about pathologies that affect only some African Americans, like Zionism affects some Jews.” My point is not that BDSers are implicit racists–since I do not think concern with black on black crime is evidence of racism–although the logic of the argument I am describing points in that direction. My point is that no one who has lived on the left can be mystified by the suggestion that one does not actually have to be shouting “I loathe the Jews” in order to be charged with anti-Semitism or at least injustice for focusing on Israel rather than other nations.

    But that is only to respond to Robin’s mystification. More seriously, it seems to me that the BDS movement is unsympathetic to the idea that Jews are threatened by anti-Semitism and that Israel is surrounded by enemies who would like to drive them into the sea. In that context, siding with a movement that refuses to be pinned down on whether the 1967 borders are acceptable (that is whether illegal occupation goes back only to 1967 or all the way to 1948) and thus refuses to be pinned down on the question of Israel’s right to exist is justifiably suspect to people who think that Israel is threatened and does have a right to exist.

    The other part of the argument re: BDS’s effectiveness, I think is also problematic. That Haaretz, a frequent critic of the government is expressing alarm that the government is bringing Israel into disrepute is a sign of its editorial position, not the sign of the strength of BDS. Nor is the Israeli government’s interest in BDS a sign of its strength, unless you think that government responses are always calibrated to the actual strength of a threat. Robin, I assume, knows this in other contexts.

    • Corey Robin December 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

      1. “I think anyone can see that the response: ‘campaigns against injustice inevitably single out one target,’ in that context, is a non-response. The only resolution the ASA has passed as far as I know concerning academic freedom in the whole of the Americas was one denouncing America re: visas for Cuban scholars wishing to attend an ASA conference.”

      This of course is an argument against ever getting involved politics at all. Any newcomer has to begin somewhere. Because ASA has passed no similar resolutions concerning academic freedom, it’s suspect that they start with this one? By your logic it’d be suspect if they started with any one.

      2. “When a Jewish state is targeted by people who have no particular connection to the Middle East,…”

      Well, that’s where we disagree. For starters, as I said, Jewish-, Muslim- and Arab-Americans do have a connection to the politics of Israel and Palestine. On my campus, they comprise the majority of BDS supporters. But American citizens as a whole have a major connection to the Middle East by virtue of the relationship between the US and Israel. This same argument has always been used against progressives who mobilized against human rights abuses in Central America — many of them aided and abetted (if not worse) by the United States. I suppose you could accuse those activists of harboring some ethnic or other antipathy to the rulers of El Salvador but that would be silly.

      3. “It would not be an effective response to say: “well, Clarence Thomas and Shelby Steele and others are with me,” as Robin notes that some Jews are with BDS. The mildest response to that question–and such mildness is not typical in these discussions–is that unfortunately those people are misguided and working with the racists.”

      I don’t know you from Adam, but I can tell you I have a rather sensitive barometer to anti-Semitism. I’ve written about my experience of it while I was a student in Britain. I just haven’t seen it among the people I’ve come to know in the BDS movement in the States. What’s more, I doubt you have any more experience with these individuals than I do.

      • Jonathan Marks December 13, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

        Thank you for your reply. Please indulge me one more time then I’ll drop it (in this forum).

        1. The argument I made is not an argument against getting involved in politics at all. What I said is that when an organization with a particular domain, like medicine for the AMA, or the Americas for the ASA, denounces someone outside of that domain, like peanut farmers for the AMA and Israel for the ASA, while neglecting things they could be denouncing in their own domain (high medical costs for the AMA or academic freedom violations in Cuba for the ASA in its present incarnation), no one should be puzzled when that organization is accused of inconsistency and double standards. The answer you gave, that campaigns against injustice single out one target does not work in the context of the ASA campaign, That’s all.
        2. I agree that every U.S. citizen has a stake in U.S. policy toward Israel. It also has a stake in U.S. policy toward China, from whom we import more goods than from any other nation or Pakistan, which is also a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid. But my point, as the remainder of the sentence whose beginning you quoted shows, is that a selective boycott against Israel has to be considered in its context, namely that Israel is a Jewish state and that there is such a thing as anti-Jewish prejudice and in some places murderous anti-Jewish prejudice. Your argument–again that one inevitably has to focus on some cause rather than some other–is divorced from that and any other context. Yet it seems obvious to me–and I’m surprised that you don’t see it, too, that there is a difference between choosing to focus on the Jewish state instead of China or Syria or Kenya or Pakistan or wherever, and choosing, say, to work to defeat lung cancer rather than colon cancer, or to boycott the garment industry rather than the beverage industry.
        3. Finally, I do not pretend look into the hearts of BDS activists. I do read what some of them write, though, and what I did say is that BDS is hard to pin down on the question of whether Israel has a right to exist which, in a context in which Israel is surrounded by neighbors who would like to destroy it, is a real problem. No one should be mystified that, when there are other Israel critics one could choose to legitimize, people who choose this one are viewed by many as either very misguided or indifferent to Israel’s right to exist. I don’t know you from Adam either, and I think it’s good that your sensitive anti-Semitism barometer finds that the people you have known in BDS here are not anti-Semites. My example concerning black on black crime was not meant to demonstrate that BDSers are as a group in fact anti-Semites but rather that the logic people on the left frequently use concerning implicit racism and sexism seems capable of encompassing implicit anti-Semitism. Why should it be only with respect to Jews that we don’t worry about prejudice until someone is shouting slurs (though I note that one of the great standard bearers of the movement you have joined, Roger Waters, does seem to have forgotten the difference between the “Jewish lobby” and the Israel lobby)? So again, why be puzzled?

        I don’t think, though I think consistency demands that some people on the left ought to worry, that many people engaged in boycott Israel politics here are implicit or explicit anti-Semites or that the Jews engaged in it are self-haters. But I do think the campaign is unjust to Israel and ambiguous concerning its right to exist, that many of the scholars who are engaged in it are cavalier about academic freedom which they too often put in scare quotes, and that the ASA scholars who have tried to draw up a resolution limiting the boycott to institutions are serving a movement, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, that recommends, though it does not require, the boycotting of individual scholars.

      • hophmi December 15, 2013 at 11:43 am #

        “I just haven’t seen it among the people I’ve come to know in the BDS movement in the States.”

        You publish on Mondoweiss. The comment section there is rife with antisemitism.

        No one is saying that academics should not involve themselves in politics, although one would think that they might think twice given that their goal is the pursuit of truth, which is frustrated by the adoption of extreme political views like advocacy of BDS. Frankly, such advocacy is evidence of double standards, and answering the charge of double standards with “it doesn’t matter” doesn’t cut it, not when the target is a democratic state formed in the wake of the Holocaust.

      • Malcolm Schosha December 18, 2013 at 10:15 am #

        Corry, you wrote:

        “Kazin’s first charge—inconsistency and double-standards—puzzles me. As a long-time activist, Kazin knows that campaigns against injustice inevitably single out one target, while ignoring others. The farm workers’ grape boycott of the 1960s and 1970s didn’t go after every workplace (or fruit) in the country; it shone a spotlight on one particular set of working conditions. The antiwar movement of Kazin’s youth didn’t go after all wars (or even all unjust wars) being fought around the globe; it targeted the war in Vietnam. The civil rights movement didn’t fix on every racial injustice on the planet; it went after American apartheid.”

        There are some problems with you argument by analogy, which is what your argument actually is. It needs to be noted that argument by analogy is not deductively valid, and so the premise can be true without the conclusion being true. That is not to say such arguments are inherently false, but they can be. Argument by analogy can be misused, and I think you have misused it. You have misused the argument form by taking examples that are not controversial, (such as a United Farm Workers strike, or the entire civil rights movement in America) and analogizing those to something that is controversial (ie BDS).

        The problem with your argument is that you draw an analogy without establishing its truth. So what we are left with is just the usual BDS outrageously untrue claims about Israeli treatment of Arabs, and no supporting evidence for that at all.

        To sum it up, you have done a good job of kicking up dust to obscure the actual problems of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and done nothing at all to distinguish what is true from false in that whole sad mess.

    • Glenn Hendler December 14, 2013 at 1:48 am #

      I want to respond to Jonathan Marks’s comment that reads:
      “When a professional scholarly organization like ASA picks a cause, it is reasonable to ask what that cause has to do with its area of scholarly interest. It would be strange if the American Medical Association were to pass a resolution denouncing peanut farmers for the high cost of peanuts if it had never issued a resolution concerning the high cost of medicine. I think anyone can see that the response: “campaigns against injustice inevitably single out one target,” in that context, is a non-response.”

      I agree with the first sentence; it is reasonable to ask what a resolution has to do with the organization’s area of scholarly interest. But Marks then goes on to reframe the issue not in terms of the organization’s area of scholarly expertise, but in terms of what its previous resolutions have been. And he also limits his discussion to ASA resolutions that expressly deal with academic freedom. There are good responses to this point even within those limits. For instance, the ASA voted for a boycott of Arizona after that state’s anti-immigration laws were passed (an issue not only concerned with academic freedom, though Arizona’s laws against the teaching of ethnic studies are clearly within that particular wheelhouse). The ASA has boycotted hotel chains for their labor practices (a counter to Michael Kazin’s assertions that the ASA’s resolution arises from scholars that are disconnected from domestic and local politics). These are all important points butut they are responses to different questions than those with which Marks starts out.

      If we stay within Marks’s original frame, the answer to his questions are much richer. That frame would not include just the organization’s formal resolutions (which are relatively few and rare) but would encompass, in his words, its “area[s] of scholarly interest.” There is a long history of American Studies analysis of “the United States in the word,” of US foreign policy, and (slightly more recently, but still several decades old) of US imperialism. Clearly those supporting the boycott see it in that context, and justify their interest based on the fact that Israel is the US’s #1 recipient of military and other aid.

      But more than that, for the past several years a lively and important thread in the field of American Studies, and at ASA conferences, has been discussion of the US in the Middle East, in the Islamic world, in the Maghreb, and in the region in general. One could easily list several dozen panel discussions at the conference, and almost as many articles and books published in the field, that deal with these topics. [If you'd like a list of conference panels and books, it would be easy to come up with one]. In other words, this *is* a area of the ASA’s “scholarly interest.”

      Those who believe it is not have clearly not been paying attention to developments in American Studies in the past decade or more. It is not of course an area of every member’s scholarly expertise (what is?) but I have certainly learned a great deal about this issue, from scholarly experts in the field, through the ASA. It has been a scholarly focus of the organization (not the only one, but a significant one) for several years. In other words, the answer to the question what does “that cause [have] to do with its [the ASA's] area of scholarly interest?” is “a lot.”

      I’ll limit my reply to that single point, and sign off for now.

      Glenn

      • Glenn Hendler December 14, 2013 at 1:50 am #

        One correction: “the United States in the word,” should of course read “the United States in the world.”

    • Stuart Newman December 14, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      Jon – What do you mean by “Israel’s right to exist”? Do states have rights? The Jewish people in Israel/Palestine certainly have a right to exist. There are reasonable debates on how best to ensure that right. But the “rights” of a state in which ethnicity and bloodlines are major aspects of who rightfully belongs in its nebulous borders, and which has incessantly displaced others who don’t fit these criteria, is not a useful starting point. This conclusion does not depend on how hostilely such a state is considered by its neighbors.

      • hophmi December 15, 2013 at 11:48 am #

        Look, there would be no need to have a discussion of Israel’s right to exist if the rest of the Middle East accepted its presence in the region. The Middle East’s lack of acceptance is based almost solely on racism and xenophobia from states that are authoritarian, and it predates any occupation.

  9. BillR December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Why is israel “singled out” for criticism?

    The great Palestinian-American writer, Edward Said discussed Walzer’s literary style and take on “connected criticism” a quarter century ago:

    The backing and filling as well as the complaisant sophistry mobilized for this redefinition of the responsible intellectual’s role are quite remarkable. Not only does Walzer advocate just going along with one’s own people for the sake of loyalty and ‘connectedness’: he also begs two fundamental questions. One: whether the position of critical distance he rejects could not also, at the same time, entail intimacy and something very much like the insider’s connectedness with his or her community? In other words, are critical distance and intimacy with one’s people mutually exclusive? Two: whether in the end the critic’s togetherness with his/her community might be less valuable an achievement than condemning the evil they do together, therefore risking isolation? These questions raise others. Who is more effective as a critic of South African racial policy, a white South African militant against the regime, or an Afrikaner liberal urging ‘constructive engagement’ with it? Whom does one respect more, in the accredited Western and Judaic traditions, the courageously outspoken intellectual or loyal member of the complicit majority?

    Much of Walzer’s recent political and philosophical writing validates the notion of a double standard, one applied to outsiders, another to the members of the intellectual’s own community or, to use an important word for him, sphere…My feeling about Walzer is that his views on the existence of separate spheres have been shaped not so much by Israel as by those of Israel’s triumphs which he seems to have felt have been in need of defense, explanation, justification. If Jews were still stateless, and being held in ghettos, I do not believe that Walzer would take the positions he has been taking. I cannot believe that he would say, for example, that communities have the right to restrict land ownership or immigration so that Jews (or Blacks, or Indians) couldn’t participate equally in an absolute sense. Not at all. But now that Israel holds territories and rules inferior people, he does not question such practices against non-Jews. Rather he speaks about the intimate connectedness of Camus and the role of ‘members’ in a state, as well as that of people marginal to it. As for the root problem — why the discrimination instituted by Jews in power should be any more just than the discrimination against Jews by non-Jews in power — that elicits no comment.

  10. Palermo, Joseph A December 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Great piece I for one am very tired of Kazin inserting himself into every debate as an arbiter of what “the Left” should or should not do He recently shat all over Howard Zinn and Walzer supported the Iraq war so both if them could go to hell as far as I’m concerned — thanks for the piece – sincerely a humble prof in CA – Joseph Palermo

    Sent from my iPhone

    • BillR December 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

      Joseph, you may find a piece by the late Matthew Phillips of interest who despite being a third of Walzer’s age showed more courage and decency than the self-proclaimed exponent of a “Decent Left” has shown since the era of Civil Rights struggles of the Sixties:

      Walzer has critically evaded or obfuscated the most important questions about war; and his ethical framework is, at best, hardly more illuminating than most people’s intuitive responses. … He has used the majority of his energy not to oppose our many wars, but to berate the left for failing to conform to his correct mode of (always ineffectual) opposition.’

    • Corey Robin December 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

      I don’t think Walzer actually supported the Iraq war.

      • jschulman December 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

        He didn’t. Mitchell Cohen and Paul Berman did, however.

      • Stuart Newman December 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

        Here is George Scialabba in 2004 on Michael Waltzer’s views on recent wars, including Iraq: http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/2004/12/arguing-about-war-by-michael-w.html
        Maybe Waltzer ultimately parted ways with Bush, but he was definitely one of the liberals who had been laying the ground for his campaign.

      • BillR December 14, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

        The funny thing is that Walzer’s level of casuistry is at the undergraduate level (the only mildly interesting question is whether it’s sophomoric or belongs to the latter half of a college degree) and yet there’s an entire cottage industry of academics who have for more than a generation been taking this joker of a “moral philosopher” seriously. George Scialabba is not an academic so perhaps he’s better able to see through what Edward Said described as a “fog…exhaled by [Walzer's] prose to obscure those problems
        entailed by his arguments but casually deferred and avoided before they can
        make trouble.”:

        This evasive maneuver is characteristic. Frequently, what is most important – and objectionable – in these essays is what is taken for granted, implied, mentioned only in passing. Important questions are deftly closed off or passed by; dubious or indefensible premises go unstated but are somehow insinuated; opposing positions are subtly deprecated as implausible or irresponsible without quite being formulated or even attributed to anyone.

    • Michael Kazin December 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      Even humble profs in CA should know that Walzer OPPOSED the war in Iraq — and I did not “shit on” Zinn’s big book; I pointed out where he goes wrong.

  11. Freddie deBoer December 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    I see that wing of Dissent is still alive and well, all the new blood notwithstanding.

  12. JohnB December 14, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    Let’s not forget Noam Chomsky’s colorful response to a questioner who once accused the professor of neglecting one atrocity while being seemingly obsessive about another. He first corrected the questioner by saying he hadn’t neglected the first atrocity, that he had written quite extensively and cared greatly about it; Chomsky then went on to say that he wasn’t ‘a one-man UN,’ that there are only so many hours in a day, and that you have to pick and choose your fights based on where you live and where you can have the most meaningful impact.

    • Poyâ Pâkzâd (@PoyaPakzad) December 14, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      You are thinking of the exchange between Chomsky and Frum perhaps? The exchange can be heard here, in the first minutes of this video (but it doesn’t pertain to the issue of academic boycot, or Chomsky’s views on BDS): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkK7t3VZwmM

    • Michael Kazin December 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      If the ASA has recently criticized the Chinese or Russian government and called on its members to boycott universities in those countries, I must have missed it — and so did everyone else

      • Glenn Hendler December 14, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

        But now you’re demanding that the ASA take stances that really are outside of its “areas of expertise.” Perhaps unfortunately, there are few scholars in American Studies working on China and Russia in relation to the US. If there were, I expect there would be some lively discussion about the best strategies for opposing human rights violations there. Whether or not the best strategy would be an academic boycott would be part of that discussion. So would the question of the ethical responsibilities of mostly US-based academics in relation to those nations’ bad actions. To state the obvious: neither, of course, is a major recipient of US aid; China in particular is a major trading partner and a site of significant academic exchange. There are ASA members involved in questioning their institutions’ ties with repressive regimes around the world, including China, Singapore, and various Arab states. Thus far no one–neither scholars on the ground nor activists in those nations–has made a case that it would be helpful for the ASA to take a stand on their situations.

        In contrast, multiple nonviolent civil society organizations in Palestine, and scholars in Palestine and Israel, have asked scholarly organizations in the US to take up this institutional boycott. Members of the ASA with academic expertise in the area as well as personal and political commitments to the issue have worked for years to bring the Palestinian’s call to the attention of the ASA. And their organizing has worked. If those same conditions come about in relation to another issue, I trust that the ASA will discuss it similarly. But (to argue by means of another analogy, and to make the same argument Corey Robin makes and that I still haven’t seen directly addressed): would you argue that if someone comes to you to ask you to sign a petition in support of their cause, you are obligated to say no if you have not signed petitions in support of other, comparable causes? That is the kind of demand for consistency that you are making of the ASA.

        Now, if a constituency within the ASA had brought to its National Council an argument for an academic boycott of Russia, and supported it with evidence that civil society organizations there had called for such a boycott, and there had been years of scholarly talks and publications concerning the US implication in the issues motivating the boycott, and then the ASA had actually refused to consider or support that boycott: then, yes, an accusation of hypocrisy would be warranted. In fact, I’m not sure every one of those conditions need to apply, but at least some of them should.

        What many of the critics of the ASA seem not to see, or to want to see, is that serious work–scholarly work and organizing work–has been done to prepare the organization to consider this boycott. [I should note here that while I am a longtime active member of the ASA, I am not part of the National Council; have not been involved in doing this work, and do not work in this area of American Studies. I am speaking as someone who has learned from reading and hearing the work of others). If this resolution had come before the organization four or five years ago, before much of that work had been done, I would not have supported it, because I would have thought it was precisely what your piece in the New Republic says it is: “flashy” politics disconnected from the situation on the ground, self-righteous position-taking by an organization without the credibility to take such a position. In my view, that’s no longer the case, thanks to some very hard work by a substantial group of scholars in the organization.

        In sum, I’m asking you to reconsider two of your characterizations of this situation: that taking this position is hypocritical because the ASA has not taken up others such as China and Russia; and that the politics of the ASA are “flashy” and ungrounded. I can respect a principled position against all academic boycotts (even if I differ from that position). But these two points seem to me both factually and logically wrong.

  13. Stephen Zielinski December 14, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Israel consistently implements policies which produce a process of genocidal ethnic cleansing. This fact alone provides prima facie evidence which supports reasonable criticism of these policies and for common forms of non-violent political intervention into its affairs. It is due to these policies that the Palestinians in the occupied territories exist in a condition of war with the Israeli state. They can thus justly claim the right to violently defend themselves against Israeli aggression. Finally, the state of Israel and the Palestinians are not morally equivalent political entities. Israel stands as an existential threat to the Palestinian people. The Palestinians do not threaten the existence of the Israeli state or the Jewish people as such. They only threaten Israel’s imperial project. The significantly weaker entity, unable to properly defend itself against an aggressor state, elicits support.

    RepStones easily debunks Kazin’s support for a boycott limited to the occupied territories. If one wants to modify the behavior of a cat, one addresses the cat as such, not just the offending cat’s paw.

    • Michael Kazin December 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/12/abbas-attacks-bds.html#
      unfortunately for your case, the head of the Palestinian Authority disagrees with your “easy debunking…”

      • Stephen Zielinski December 14, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

        I can live with Abbas’ opposition to BDS movement’s state centered strategy.

      • Glenn Hendler December 14, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

        BDS comes from sectors of Palestinian society that are trying to come up with nonviolent forms of resistance that differ from the Palestinian Authority’s strategies and in many ways oppose both that corrupt institution and the even worse option of Hamas. Abbas knows this, so it’s not surprising that he finds it a threat.

    • Malcolm Schosha December 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

      Stephen Zielinski wrote: “Israel consistently implements policies which produce a process of genocidal ethnic cleansing.”

      I find this statement staggering in its ignorance. If Israel is implimenting a policy genocidal policy against the Palestinian people why is the average life expectancy in Gaza 73.42 years and the Palestinian territories 72.17 years? The world average life expectancy is 66.57 years. Palestenian life expectancy is longer than in Iran, Turkey or Pakistan.

      If Israel is implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing, why has Isreal’s Arab population increased from 1,413,500 in 2006 to 1,617,000 (about 20.5% of Israeli population) in 2012?

      The average life expectancy for an Oglala Lakota male at Pine Ridge an incredibly low 48 years! I mention this often in discussion, but few seem inclined to hit the panic button over our own failures here in the US.

      • Stephen Zielinski December 17, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

        Israel’s policies result in a form of genocidal ethnic cleansing because the goal of these policies will remove the Palestinian’s from their land, diminish the bonds which hold them together, which make them a people, a nation, and kill many of them as the process progresses.

        Genocide, the word means the intentional destruction of a nation or people, either in whole or part. The life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Gaza are weakly related to the claim that Israel has implemented policies which result in a process of genocidal ethnic cleansing. It is the social and political extinction of a people or nation which is at stake there, not the fate of individual members of that people or nation. Thus killing every Palestinian would be an instance of genocide; but so also would be the intentional dispersal of the Palestinian people from their ancestral land, thereby destroying the material and social basis of their self-identification as a coherent people.

        Finally, American leftists have not been indifferent to the plight of the indigenous peoples of the continent. It is one cause among many.

      • Malcolm Schosha December 18, 2013 at 8:04 am #

        @ Stephen. Your definition of genocide is mistaken. Genocide is a particular form of mass murder, such as the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide (committed by the Turks), or the Rwandan Genocide. The Israelis have committed no such crime against the Palestinians. But even by your own definition you are wrong, because Israel commits government money to maintain the schools and culture of its Arab citizens and makes no effort to, as you claim, to remove them “from their land, diminish the bonds which hold them together, which make them a people”. In fact, the Arab population in Israel, in the West Bank, and in Gaza, has increased substantially since the creation of Israel. Neither is their culture in any danger from Israel.

        Nor is there any ethnic cleansing. I personally would rather see an end to the building of settlements on the territory claimed by the Palestinian Authority and support a two state solution. But building Jewish settlements on land that was long inhabited by Jews is not ethnic cleansing. In fact it is the Palestinians who want that land ethnically cleansed of Jews, and they insist that land must be, in effect, Judenfrei.

        As for your statement that “American leftists have not been indifferent to the plight of the indigenous peoples of the continent”, I have heard of no effort equivalent to BDS to boycott Mexican academics, artists, or businesses because of Mexico’s racist treatment of its Native American population. Neither is there any leftist orgazination that I know of that is doing anything to relieve the desprate situation at Pine Ridge. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJdp8J3HN1E

  14. Corey Robin December 14, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    Jonathan Marks: You write the following: “But my point, as the remainder of the sentence whose beginning you quoted shows, is that a selective boycott against Israel has to be considered in its context, namely that Israel is a Jewish state and that there is such a thing as anti-Jewish prejudice and in some places murderous anti-Jewish prejudice. Your argument–again that one inevitably has to focus on some cause rather than some other–is divorced from that and any other context.”

    The problem with this argument is that it does too much. It’s not merely an argument against BDS but an argument against saying or doing anything against the State of Israel. UN resolution condemning some abuse by the State of Israel? Well, if those voting for the resolution haven’t already taken similar votes against every other human rights violator in the UN, we know “that there is such a thing as anti-Jewish prejudice and in some places murderous anti-Jewish prejudice” and so can conclude that that vote is illegitimate. Congressional resolution condemning some action by the State of Israel? Same thing. A rally against the bombing of Gaza? The invasion of Lebanon. Same thing.

    You’re right that there is anti-Semitism out there; I don’t dispute it. But if we allow that reality to occupy our entire field of vision then there is nothing we can do or say about the State of Israel at all — at least not until we have eliminated anti-Semitism from the face of the earth.

    And meanwhile there is a real people — the Palestinians — who are forced to pay the price for that.

    Sorry, I’m not willing to go there.

    • Everett Benson January 15, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

      [Re-edited post]

      The fragility of the anti-Israel arguments is shown, among other ways, by the blatant exaggerations that their advocates so frequently make, a kind of over-kill seen also on this thread, in terms of “genocide,” “illegal occupation,” and the like. And those demonizations, in turn, lead quite naturally to suspicions of special obsessions with “the Jewish question,” and the antisemitism at its base, lurking in the background — which can afflict some Jews too. For example, Karl Marx himself.

      As an example of the inflated and often hysterical claims that are made to justify “special treatment” of the only, embattled Jewish state in the world, there is a lot of angst expressed on this thread about Israel’s allegedly “illegal occupation” of “Palestinian land.” The BDS position is based on such suppositions and accusations. So let us consider it.

      Legal possession of something, in both civil law and international law, can be shown if: 1, the thing was taken possession of legally, 2, it is currently being held legally, and/or 3, there is legal title or claim of ownership. Israel fulfils all three criteria.

      1: Israel won the post-67 territories legally, in the course of fighting a war of legitimate self-defense — which, if it lost, it would have been wiped out.

      2: the UN Resolution 242 after the 67 war stipulated that the final disposition and boundaries of territories won in that war had to be settled in the context of final peace negotiations between the contesting parties — since that has not yet happened, Israel continues to hold those territories entirely legally. (However, it must be acknowledged that Gaza is entirely independent at present, under its own government, and that the P.A. also is the autonomous ruler of Palestinian areas of the West Bank, so both areas are effectively non-occupied in fact, at present.)

      3: the San Remo Conference of 1920 set up the British Mandate specifically to establish the Jewish national home in the Jewish homeland. This was put into effect by the UN partition resolution of 1947, endorsing the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab one in the remaining former Mandate territory (a Jew-free Jordan having already been improperly excerpted from it). The Arabs, including those in the Palestine region, rejected a separate state for themselves, and a Jewish state, so they relinquished any legal title. Israel therefore is the only state still having legal title to any part of the former Mandate Palestine. That it wishes to separate from a Gaza state and a P.A. West Bank state is obvious, so it is willing to grant the “Disputed Territories” terminology, but rejects the “Occupied Territories” terminology as the opposite of the legal truth itself.

      Conforming with these considerations, the European Council’s European Court of Human Rights, in July, 2009, upheld the ruling of the highest French appeals court that Israel’s presence in the Disputed Territories was not illegal, and furthermore that it was illegal and discriminatory to boycott Israeli products. No other court of international law has focussed on and dealt in any depth with this specific issue of the legality or illegality as such of Israel’s presence in those territories. All the international hoo-haw about the supposedly “Illegal occupation” is mere echoing of the Islamist/Arab fictional propaganda line pushed at the UN, part of a much more extensive retreat from real human rights values by the West in capitulation to fanatical pressures from the Muslim and Arab world.

      A further irony in the “Occupied Palestine” claim is that there never has been an Arab state of Palestine, so it cannot in law or logic be “occupied.” Such a state can only come into existence, and its proper borders determined, in the context of a final peace treaty with Israel. That has not happened yet, so it is impossible to know what land will be “Palestine” and what land Israel’s in the future.
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  15. David Weinfeld December 15, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Surprised to learn that Mahmoud Abbas opposes BDS:

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-we-do-not-support-the-boycott-of-israel/

    I’ll add that I agree with Michael Kazin that academic boycotts are stupid.

    Last, I’ll throw into the discussion the concept of “ahavat yisrael,” literally the love of Israel but really referring to the love of the Jewish people. And here’s the thing, I know many leftwing critics of the state of Israel. I am one of them. But the ones I like genuinely criticize Israel out of a love of the Jewish people. They think the practices of the Israeli government are actually bad for the future of the country. They sympathize with Palestinians and the Palestinian aspiration for statehood but/and also recognize that a Palestinian state would be good for Israel.

    But there are other critics of Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike, who just wish that Israel would go away. Because really they wish that Jews would just go away. Not to the gas chambers, but just assimilate and fade into history. Maybe they’re Marxists, or just liberal universalists, or just people that this all ethnic and religious identity is stupid. I know these people. Went to college and grad school with them. They are my friends. But some of them, this is the sad thing, think that some cultures are worth preserving. Cultures in the developing world, where people are poor and “native” and should not be disturbed by the West. But Judaism, or Yiddishkeit really, that’s no good. That’s Western, that’s oppressive, that’s colonialist, that’s a relic. That should just go away. These are people that wish that ALL Jews would have just left eastern Europe for the US or Canada or Australia and never founded Israel and just assimilated into the masses.

    I agree that it’s fine to choose Israel as a particular target of sanctions. We all make choices. We give change to this homeless person but not that one. But there is something sinister about this focus on Israel. People in BDS should say this: “we recognize that there are other countries out there that are far worse than Israel in terms of human rights. We recognize Israel’s many flaws while still sympathizing with the historical reasons for its existence. But we’re focusing on Israel because we think we can make a difference here.” Just have a smidge of humility Because humility is a quality sorely lacking among activists, on the right and the left.

    This attitude, this focus on Israel, is best summed up in this criticism I heard of the late and great Tony Judt:

    “Tony Judt thinks that all ethnic nation-states are anachronisms and should disappear… starting with Israel.”

    Well you know what, I loved Tony Judy but that is crap. I think you can support BDS and the two-state solution. But so many don’t. There is little ahavat yisrael in BDS. So many just want Israel to go away. So many think you can have one democratic secular Palestine that won’t devolve into fratricidal warfare that makes the current conflict look a schoolyard scrap. Of course, these people don’t want that. They want Jews to go away. Again, these are Jews and non-Jews. I’m not sure what this is. Not sure if it’s antisemitism. But it’s pernicious and wrong and I don’t like it.

    • Corey Robin December 15, 2013 at 8:49 am #

      Believe it or not, one can want ethnic nation-states to go away without wanting Jews to go away. I am Jewish, and I love being Jewish. I don’t love the State of Israel and I’d like it to be a different kind of state. Not a Jewish state. I don’t doubt that there are some Jewish and non-Jewish leftists who support BDS because they want the Jews to assimilate and disappear. But as I said above, that problem applies to any criticism or action against the State of Israel. You say you’re a left-wing critic of Israel, so I presume you’ve supported some actions against the state. Well, guess what: I bet among those who also support those actions there are people who want the Jews to disappear.

      • Everett Benson January 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

        A major problem with this response is that it ignores the antisemitic tone of much said by the mainstream representatives of BDS advocacy, and the general disinclination of BDS advocates to draw the line clearly at openly antisemitic discourse or to ban it from their webpages and own discussions. They are often unsure that there really is even a line that can be drawn. As a consequence, antisemites of all sorts flock nowadays to Palestinian solidarity demonstrations, and contribute their views unchallenged to BDS-advocate websites. Antisemitic demonizing discourse has again become a mainstream and permissible thing in this way, as BDS advocates politely countenance and thereby silently legitimate the sort of language and wholesale double-standards accusations that people once thought had been utterly discredited following the Holocaust. Mondoweiss is certainly an instance, and there are lots of others right around the world. The left is where the serious Western antisemitism is these days, not the right. It is tiring to have to point out yet again that in such matters, the left, including the moderate and quasi-centrist left, is supportive of modern forms of authoritarian and even totalitarian states and societies, the ones most guilty of massive crimes against humanity and highly illiberal themselves. The BDSers endorse and justify, for example, the terrorist atrocities and totalitarian/authoritarian governments of Hamas/Fatah, whose chief interest is in killing Jews, not building decent societies themselves.

        In fact, the center-right is the chief support of Israel, while the center-left gives solace to extremists in their complicit silence or actual statements. I recommend on this Bernard Harrison, The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion (2006). Also good are Robin Shepherd, A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel (2009), along with Nick Cohen, What’s Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way (2007). Of course, center-leftists do not support BDS and I would not wish to ignore that. BDS remains a fringe movement attractive chiefly to far-leftists. But this is only an acute form of what afflicts more centrist leftists. The end result is that antisemitism is now legitimate again, precisely because of such attitudes.

        What can we say, for example, about the expressed wish to do away with only one state in the world, the Jewish state, while endorsing its enemies and remaining silent about their open terrorist orientation and their repetition of Nazi stereotypes and literature? This becomes more serious when one adds that Israel is coincidentally the only Jewish country in the world, created through heroic sacrifice and effort, a refuge for a small, oppressed and persecuted people, which is daily having to deal with genocidal enemies. There is no desire to give any consideration to that crucial context and history. Ironies get yet more intense when one adds that Israel is actually the only genuinely liberal or even stable democracy in the Middle East. The justifications ring very hollow indeed in this light that one is just against the nation-state as such or against this or that specific problem requiring Israel’s disappearance, for after all “One must begin somewhere” (never going on to anything similar anywhere else, of course).

  16. partisan December 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    There’s something fishy about “connected criticism.” One supposedly admires Orwell’s patriotism against a supposedly ubiquitous, hegemonic but oddly unspecified deracinated intelligentsia. One admires Camus for defending the pieds-noir, supposedly against the elitist scorn of Sartre and Fanon, but of course against the clear wishes of the overwhelming majority of Algerians. One admires “critical” defenders of Israel who always seem to be more indignant about Noam Chomsky than, say, the assassination of Count Bernadotte. One admires African-American intellectuals whom the American right and centre right whose loyalty to their country is only matched by their scorn for their “community/” While near the end of his life Christopher Lasch admired the resistance to northern integration, on the grounds that they represented a more authentic sense of community. The failure of northern African-American to achieve that community can be blamed on modernity, capitalism, the therapeutic culture, a declension from Lasch’s quasi-Calvinism, but it has nothing to do with the refusal of most Northerners to accept them as true equals. By contrast V.S. Naipaul is admired for his unmitigated scorn for both his native Trinidad and the larger Indian community. But then this has a lot to do with the fact that most people in Trinidad are black.

    • BillR December 15, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

      Another curious phenomenon is the brave dissident who manages to escape clutches of the cruel despotic Dictator and then has the temerity to bite the hand that fed him. Result of which is that he’ll be summarily dispatched if not to the Gulag then the memory hole. Who remembers Victor Kravchenko? Reinaldo Arenas despised Castro but when he spoke out against “repressive tolerance” toward gay men like him in Reagan’s America his speaking engagements and arts funding suddenly became scarce. I suppose critics like these should have “connected” better with their new societies and learnt the fine art of “connected criticism” somewhat better than they did to be able to truly enjoy their hard-won freedom.

    • BillR December 16, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

      Chomsky’s thoughts on anti-Semitism in the West today seem reasonable (“not even a toothpick on a mountain”). They’d probably sound even more reasonable if you’re a member of a non-white ethnic group in an inner-city area or a barrio near the Mexican border or any of the fine Indian reservations of the Midwest.

      Another “brave dissident” who quickly wore out his welcome (except among old-school reactionary religious types) when he got here:

      Once in America and feted by Western leaders, he urged the US to continue bombing Vietnam. He condemned Amnesty International as too liberal, opposed democracy in Russia, and supported General Franco.

  17. Malcolm Schosha December 16, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    A core problem remains the statement that BDS is a “global movement against Israeli Apartheid”. That is on the BDS website. When I once challanged the BDS supporters here to name an Israeli aparthide law, nothing was produced.

    On the other hand, states surrounding Israel do have laws that are certainly Aparthide-like laws. For instance, Jordans Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality, which states: “Any person who, not being Jewish, possessed Palestinian nationality before 15 May 1948 and was a regular resident in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between 20 December 1949 and 16 February 1954″ may be deemed to be Jordanian national. See Article 3 (2) here: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b4ea13.html

  18. henry December 16, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    First, people in the US have a greater moral responsibility to criticize and act against Israeli policies than, say, Sudanese policies because their own government is more responsible for them. In doing so, they must also criticize their own government — which the vast majority of BDS activists do.

    Second, the BDS movement incorporates the best activists from all the social movements of North America, Europe and beyond. Palestine is seen as part of the struggle for global justice. Only someone outside these movements would fail to see this.

    • Malcolm Schosha December 17, 2013 at 9:18 am #

      @ henry. As I have said there are no Israeli aparthide laws. Too many BDS supporters assume that such laws exist, but they do not. Moreover, BDS is narrowly focused on Israel only and is not part of any “struggle for global justice”. Additionally, I do not see why you think the US has a responsibility to act in the case of Israel (where Arab rights are protected by law), while ignorging, for instance, the miserable conditions and deprivation of rights of Native Americans in Mexico.

      Also of particular concern is the very act of the academic and artistic boycotts, which are the foundational purpose of BDS. When I was younger I never thought I would see the day when (supposed) Leftists would support the blacklisting of academics and artists. I think Martha Nussbaum did a fairly good job of summing up the problems with such boycotts in her paper ‘Against Academic Boycotts’. For those with library access to EBSCO (Academic Primer) her paper can be read in full there. It can be read in part here: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/dissent/v054/54.3.nussbaum.html

  19. Mike frank December 18, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    But all this still leaves us with the original question: why israel? In a world where academics hardly shrug at 99% of all human right violations, what is it about israel that causes so many on the left (both in and outside the u.s.) to single it out? Just to be clear, I’m not saying its unfair to single israel out, but I’m curious about the specific reasons israel is targeted over whatever other country.

    • glenntwo December 19, 2013 at 12:21 am #

      I can’t speak for the ASA, but for me the reasons “why Israel” are threefold. First, American studies scholars study the US in the world, and US support of Israel–through money, and through UN security council vetoes–is one of the most prominent and distinctive features of US foreign policy. Second: in the past decade or two there has been a lot of scholarship on the region: about the US and Palestine, the US in the Arab world and the middle east, the US in the Maghreb, etc. It’s a lively area in American studies. For better or worse, there isn’t a comparable history of such scholarship on the US in relation to some of the other countries that are egregious violators of human rights. Third, the ASA was asked by Palestinians in the organization and by the organizations there backing BDS to consider this resolution. That’s of course not the only way that an issue can come to the attention of the National Council of the organization, but for a variety of reasons it’s unlikely that civil organizations in, say, Tibet would come to the ASA with such a request. If they did, and the organization refused to consider it, then yes, the ASA would be hypocritical and would be singling out Israel.

      • Malcolm Schosha December 19, 2013 at 9:13 am #

        Mike frank, there are several aspects to the explanation. I will mention just two possible explinations.

        A part of the explanation may be in is what has been termed the New Antisemitism. If you do a web search for that term you will get plenty of hits, with arguments presented on both sides of the question. A typical argument supporting the idea is this:
        http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/112386
        A typical article opposing the idea is this:
        http://mondoweiss.net/2013/08/the-new-anti-semitism-and-the-campaign-to-silence-american-critics-of-israel.html

        Also, in my view, a second explination is that writers like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, et all, derive income and support as suppliers to profitable Nakba Industry.

        Michael Lerner wrote an interesting book called ‘The Socialism of Fools, anti-Semitism on the Left’. Concerning some of the Jews who are so vehemently anti-Israel, he writes:
        <>
        and
        <> p.104-5

        You will note that Lerner uses the term “self-hating Jew”, a term I prefer not to use, but which means a Jew who is antisemitic, of which there are many.

    • Malcolm Schosha December 19, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      The Michael Lerner quotes I inserted in my previous post (which are apparently waiting Corey’s moderation) appear to have dropped, perhaps because of the formatting I use. I will recopy the entire post below.

      ……………………………….

      Mike frank, there are several aspects to the explanation. I will mention just two possible explinations.

      A part of the explanation may be in is what has been termed the New Antisemitism. If you do a web search for that term you will get plenty of hits, with arguments presented on both sides of the question. A typical argument supporting the idea is this:
      http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/112386
      A typical article opposing the idea is this:
      http://mondoweiss.net/2013/08/the-new-anti-semitism-and-the-campaign-to-silence-american-critics-of-israel.html

      Also, in my view, a second explination is that writers like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, et all, derive income and support as suppliers to profitable Nakba Industry.

      Michael Lerner wrote an interesting book called ‘The Socialism of Fools, anti-Semitism on the Left’. Concerning some of the Jews who are so vehemently anti-Israel, he writes:

      “One of the classic ways they act out this internalized self-hatred is to engage in ferocious criticism of Israel, use double standards, and then justify the double standard because, after all, they too are Jewish.”

      and

      “If your Jewishness over the past several years has consisted solely in saying what is wrong with Israel or Jews, then that Jewishness is not a warrant to use a double standard….But if you do use a double standard, even though you can’t honestly say that you’ve been involved in positively affirming your Jewishness, chances are that you are legitimately considered a self-hating Jew. p.104-5

      You will note that Lerner uses the term “self-hating Jew”, a term I prefer not to use, but which means a Jew who is antisemitic, of which there are many.

  20. Todd Gitlin December 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Corey, I wrote this as a response to Claire Potter’s blog. Forgive my double-dipping, but I think it’s apropos here too.

    Claire, I’m impressed by your appeal to civility, so wish to reply in this spirit. In the first place, please note that I was an outspoken defender of the right of the Poli Sci department at Brooklyn College to co-sponsor a BDS event last year. I take your point about the particular responsibility an American may feel–should feel–toward Israeli sins and crimes given the American role in supporting the Israeli government. This strikes me as the strongest possible argument in defense of BDS. But it is not, in my judgment, a *convincing* argument because there’s a decided disjunction between the end and the mean. The question to me is, Since (not “if” but *since*) Israeli’s policies in the West Bank are indefensible; and since, therefore, the US should cut back on military aid to Israel (as I believe)–why is advocacy of an academic boycott a just response? Shouldn’t the proper response be to campaign, as vigorously and intelligently as one knows how to do, against US military aid to Israel. Denounce that policy. Work for candidates who dissent. Lobby. March. But why single out Israeli academic institutions for opprobrium and shunning?

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