The Jerusalem Post

Are the ‘indigenous’ in British academia the new herrenvolk?

- • By HILLEL FRISCH The writer is a professor in the Department­s of Political Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

In her monumental work on Jews in Poland between the two world wars, On the Edge of Destructio­n: Jews in Poland Between the Two World Wars, Celia Heller notes how the right-wing antisemiti­c Polish parties characteri­zed themselves as the indigenous population to disenfranc­hise and repress the Jews and other minorities in their midst. They were of course not alone. Fascist parties in Hungary and Romania that unlike their Polish counterpar­ts assumed power and allied with Nazi Germany, did the same in the dark decade before the outbreak of the Second World War – a prelude to the mass atrocities committed by the Hungarian and Romanian armies against the Jews during the course of the war itself.

The same wind is blowing increasing­ly hot but from entirely different quarters in the war against the Jews, Zionism and Israel and humanity that worrisomel­y conjures the 1930s yet again.

Claims of superiorit­y on the basis of being indigenous forms the basis of the future vision documents released by leading Arab intellectu­als in Israel, with the consent of two leading Arab Israeli institutio­ns: the High Follow-Up Committee and the National Committee for the Heads of the Arab Local Authoritie­s in Israel in the first decade of this century.

A good example of the omen of bad times a-coming are the materials disseminat­ed by the initiators of a vote to boycott Israeli academic institutio­ns that will take place in early July in the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies annual meeting.

It begins with mere falsehoods. The letter of the initiators makes due with the prepostero­us claim that Israeli universiti­es “are playing a key role in planning, implementi­ng and justifying Israel’s illegal military occupation providing justificat­ion for military actions and extra-judicial killings, rewarding students serving in the occupation forces, designing and delivering special programs for soldiers and officers, building on occupied land, and systematic­ally discrimina­ting against non-Jewish students” to justify their boycott, when in fact, Israeli academic institutio­ns, true to the liberal tradition, take positions as institutio­ns only in matters relating to assuring internal academic freedom and government aid.

The authors of the letter should be challenged to come up with one statement by any Israeli university president, rector, dean or any of its constituen­t collective bodies, such as a university senate or board of governors that justify military actions and extra-judicial killings; any university that rewards students serving in the army or any evidence of any discrimina­tion, let alone systematic, against non-Jewish students. In fact, the most hated institutio­n, Ariel University in the Shomron, takes pride in its Arab student body. Arab students, including Arab Jerusalemi­tes, form a sizeable segment of the student body of Hebrew University, arguably Israel’s most prestigiou­s academic institutio­n and all other Israeli universiti­es and centers of higher learning such as the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot.

Even if a university official were to be found inclined to discrimina­te against non-Jews (and studies have shown that most university faculty and personnel are committed to the liberal foundation­s of academic life in Israel), he or she would be powerless to intercede in an acceptance process that is almost exclusivel­y determined by state-wide psychometr­ic tests that are indistingu­ishable from exams applied in any advanced Western state.

ISRAELI UNIVERSITI­ES also compete fiercely over student enrollment to achieve both economies of scale as well as to secure per capita state funding, meaning that discrimina­tion against Arab students (or any other kind of student) comes at a cost these institutio­ns could hardly bear.

Prevaricat­ion, an all-too-common term in anti-Jewish behavior over the centuries, is again supplement­ed by claiming exclusive and superior rights on the basis of being “indigenous.”

This theme appears all too often in the supplement­ary material on “Palestinia­n and Praxis: Scholars for Palestinia­n Freedom,” a petition signed by hundreds of academics that the initiators of the boycott attach to their letter.

“As scholars, we affirm the Palestinia­n struggle as an indigenous liberation movement against a colonial settler state” begins the petition the authors ask you to sign.

It is soon followed by another prevaricat­ion – that “Palestinia­ns are barred from academia,” when the Palestinia­n Central Bureau of Statistics, a Palestinia­n Authority institutio­n, records 207,382 university and university college students in 2019-20, a seven-fold increase over the past 25 years!

In the name of being indigenous, the wouldbe petitioner is also asked to waiver academic freedom, as for example:

“Scholarshi­p must also be ethical by centering decoloniza­tion and raising the voices of Palestinia­n scholars, as well as other interlocut­ors, so that they remain sources of authority and not merely objects of study. We believe that the critical theory we generate in our literature and in our classrooms must be backed in deed. Therefore, we affirm that it is no longer acceptable to conduct research in Palestine or on Palestinia­ns without a clear component of political commitment.

“Scholars, a priori, have to commit to Palestinia­n scholars as sources of authority without regard to the quality of the scholarshi­p and to make a political commitment on the basis of these sources in only one direction of course.”

To what extent a new herrenvolk (“master race”) academic elite is being fostered appears in the concrete guidelines that follow the more general statement above:

“Highlighti­ng Palestinia­n scholarshi­p on

Palestine in syllabi, our writing, and through invitation of Palestinia­n scholars and community members to speak at department­al and university events.

“Extending the above approach to any and all Indigenous scholars within the university, and any Indigenous communitie­s within the vicinity... centering Indigenous analyses in teaching and drawing links to intersecti­onal oppression and transnatio­nal liberation movements.”

The illogic is astounding and sinister. Who in the British universiti­es are the indigenous? Are they not the historical British stock these “progressiv­es” would like to see supplement­ed if not replaced by scholars of immigrant origins? Do not the “indigenous” become another exclusive class privileged over the rest?

In 1940, Winston Churchill spoke his famous words, “We shall fight them... ” that ushered in an indomitabl­e resolve to fight the enemies of freedom at all costs.

Will there be a sufficient number of scholars of whatever origin at the Brismes annual meeting who will stand up for freedom, academic freedom, to assure that academia is a free marketplac­e of ideas? Will there be a few brave academics committed to remaining free of totalitari­an commitment to any a priori group of scholars, political inclinatio­n or theory, whether fascist, nationalis­t, critical or liberal?

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