Vis­ceral ha­tred

‘Is­rael De­nial’ presents the anti-aca­demic un­der­belly of at­tempts to dele­git­imize Is­rael in academia

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • GER­ALD M. STEIN­BERG

In April 2002, two Bri­tish aca­demics with a his­tory of anti-Is­rael cam­paign­ing – Hil­lary and Steven Rose – launched a boy­cott of Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties. They claimed to be re­spond­ing to (false) al­le­ga­tions that the IDF had “mas­sa­cred” hun­dreds of civil­ians in an op­er­a­tion against Pales­tinian sui­cide bombers. A few months be­fore, the no­to­ri­ous NGO Fo­rum of the UN 2001 Dur­ban Con­fer­ence called for boy­cotts lead­ing to “the com­plete iso­la­tion of Is­rael as an apartheid state.”

Many years later, uni­ver­si­ties and aca­demics are en­trenched lead­ers in the po­lit­i­cal war­fare known as BDS – Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions. Post­mod­ernism and post-colo­nial­ism, in which his­tory is merely a so­cial con­struct, and the per­ceived vic­tims of West­ern im­pe­ri­al­ism can do no wrong, com­bined with an­tisemitism, have cre­ated fer­tile ground for ex­treme anti-Is­rael de­mo­niza­tion.

In Is­rael De­nial, Cary Nel­son, a pro­fes­sor of English from the Univer­sity of Illi­nois (Ur­bana-Champaign), takes on the most vir­u­lent haters. Nel­son presents him­self “not as an Is­rael ad­vo­cate” but, rather, as a fac­ulty mem­ber who con­fronted BDS in 2006-7 as pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Pro­fes­sors. Rather than stay­ing silent like many oth­ers, he de­cided to ex­pose the al­le­ga­tion that “Is­rael is the world’s worst vi­o­la­tor of hu­man rights.” This al­le­ga­tion, he writes, “is man­i­festly ob­scene. It de­pends on the fan­tasy that Is­rael ra­di­ates evil well be­yond its bor­ders, em­pow­er­ing a new ver­sion of a Jewish aim to con­trol the world.”

This is not a book one reads con­tin­u­ously from cover to cover – the plot has no un­ex­pected twists, and the dis­mal pic­ture gets worse through 427 pages of text (and 370 end­notes). For read­ers un­fa­mil­iar with the de­cline of schol­ar­ship and its re­place­ment by mind­less ide­ol­ogy, this re­search fa­cade might be dis­missed as a ridicu­lous par­ody.

The core con­sists of por­traits of four in­di­vid­u­als with no aca­demic back­ground in Mid­dle East his­tory, whose false dec­la­ra­tions and ir­ra­tional ha­tred of­ten morph into crude an­tisemitism.

Judith But­ler, a se­nior aca­demic spe­cial­iz­ing in lit­er­a­ture, gen­der and queer the­ory, is the Jewish mem­ber of the cast, whose vir­u­lent hos­til­ity to Zion­ism (she’s a one-stater, imag­in­ing “a just and peace­able form of co­ex­is­tence”) be­gan to ap­pear at age 20.

Nel­son cites numer­ous ex­am­ples in which But­ler dis­plays the “anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist jar­gon of the pol­i­tics of pu­rity,” com­bined with the “as a Jew” meme, il­lus­trated by her in­volve­ment in fringe groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, which seek to “drive a wedge” be­tween Amer­i­can Jews and Is­raelis.

In con­trast, the activism of Sa­ree Mak­disi, an English pro­fes­sor at UCLA, is traced to fam­ily ties to the late Ed­ward Said, of Columbia Univer­sity, a pi­o­neer in anti-Is­rael cam­paign­ing in the guise of schol­ar­ship.

The third por­trait presents Steven Salaita, who ap­pears to have adopted Is­rael elim­i­na­tion­ism in or­der to jump-start an un­promis­ing ca­reer in Amer­i­can In­dian stud­ies, pro­duc­ing what Nel­son calls “eight books in search of an en­emy,” with ti­tles such as Is­rael’s Dead Soul and In­ter/Na­tion­al­ism: De­col­o­niz­ing Na­tive Amer­ica and Pales­tine and many crude com­par­isons of Is­rael to Nazi Ger­many. Salaita sought to use this port­fo­lio as a re­place­ment for aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions nec­es­sary for a low-level fac­ulty ap­point­ment, but even­tu­ally he and the BDS move­ment that sup­ported him failed.

The fourth, and the worst on the scale of ha­tred and ab­sur­dity, is Jas­bir Puar, a pro­fes­sor at Rut­gers Univer­sity spe­cial­iz­ing, like But­ler, in gen­der stud­ies and queer the­ory (her doc­tor­ate from UC Berkeley was on Trinidad). Her per­sonal back­ground, in­clud­ing birth­place, is un­clear, as are the ori­gins of her ac­cu­sa­tions of Is­raeli or­gan har­vest­ing, star­va­tion of Pales­tinian chil­dren and maim­ing of protesters (to fa­cil­i­tate the or­gan busi­ness).

In each chap­ter, Nel­son over­whelms the reader with ev­i­dence. Com­pared to Puar’s lurid claims, But­ler’s are pro­saic but no more cred­i­ble. He re­buts But­ler’s false state­ment that “only Jews have full rights of cit­i­zen­ship,” that uni­ver­si­ties dis­crim­i­nate against Arab stu­dents (in fact, Arab stu­dents ben­e­fit from wide­spread af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion), and her clas­si­fi­ca­tion of ter­ror­ist groups such as Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah as “pro­gres­sive so­cial move­ments.” Sim­i­larly, Mak­disi, writes Nel­son, “re­peat­edly gets the facts wrong or mis­rep­re­sents them. His sources are con­stantly bi­ased. His ar­gu­ments are not proven.” Quot­ing Is­raeli High Court opin­ions, Nel­son gives stu­dents who are as­signed Mak­disi’s pub­li­ca­tions the tools to re­fute them.

Nel­son also doc­u­ments the abuses of the aca­demic re­view process. The ex­ten­sive med­i­cal claims made in Puar’s 21st-cen­trury blood li­bel should have been im­me­di­ately re­jected by Duke Univer­sity Press, sim­ply on the ba­sis of her lack of any med­i­cal knowl­edge or cre­den­tials.

There is much more in this book, with dis­cus­sion of cour­ses ded­i­cated to dele­git­imiza­tion, the in­tim­i­da­tion of stu­dents who raise their voices in protest, and the pro­fes­sional in­com­pe­tence that ac­com­pa­nies BDS cam­paigns in aca­demic as­so­ci­a­tions.

To­gether, the chap­ters demon­strate that the at­tacks on Is­rael are not re­sponses to the post-1967 “oc­cu­pa­tion,” but are vis­ceral ha­tred.

In ex­pos­ing the de­gree to which the aca­demic world is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble, Nel­son quotes David Niren­berg’s Anti-Ju­daism: “We live in an age in which mil­lions of peo­ple are ex­posed daily to some vari­ant of the ar­gu­ment that the chal­lenges of the world they live in are best ex­plained in terms of ‘Is­rael.’”

(Juda Ng­wenya/Reuters)

IS­RAELI OF­FI­CIALS exit the World Con­fer­ence Against Racism in Dur­ban in 2001, protest­ing at­tempts to sin­gle out Is­rael as a racist state.

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