BY PETER N. KIRSTEIN
Emanuel Goldman’s, “Why an Academic Boycott of Israel is Wrong,” appears in the May-June 2016 issue of Academe: Magazine of the A.A.U.P. The article is needlessly inflammatory and dismissive of ethical challenges to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Professor Goldman claims that its supporters, which includes many tens of thousands of students and professors, are trying to “delegitimize Israel” through supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (B.D.S.) movement. This has become the latest codeword for anti-semitism and a desire to destroy the State of Israel, one of the world’s most powerful nations that is bristling with American-manufactured armaments, and an atomic and thermonuclear weapons arsenal. Mr Goldman does not cite a single statement from any professional organisation such as the American Studies Association, African Literature Association, Association for Asian American Studies, or the Native American Indigenous Studies Association that has even remotely suggested that Israel should cease to exist, or that its security should be undermined by external or internal-resistance movements. To suggest otherwise is simply a propaganda tool to delegitimize opponents of Palestinian suffering with random killings, restriction of movement, and endless interruptions of water and electricity during a fifty-year occupation.
It is not the B.D.S. movement that has declared both the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Golan and East Jerusalem, and a Trumpian wall throughout the West Bank as illegal and illegitimate. United Nations Security Council Resolution 446 (1979) and the International Court of Justice have carefully adjudged the illegality of these actions. A nation that seeks legitimacy within the international community should adhere to international law, and rulings within the various regimes that encompass the laws of war and international humanitarian law.
Professor Goldman is either misinformed or purposefully distorting the efforts of historians within the American Historical Association to seek justice in Palestine. The Historians Against the War led the most recent effort to bring the issue of Palestinian suffering before the A.H.A. It did not, despite Professor Goldman’s inaccurate attack, seek a B.D.S. resolution at the 2016 annual meeting in Atlanta. The Historians Against the War did not attempt to “place constraints on the free exchange of ideas.” It sought to enhance academic freedom with a resolution, “Protecting the Right to Education in the Occupied Territories.” It did not support a boycott of Israeli institutions of higher learning, but instead challenged Israel to stop its attacks on academic freedom within West Bank and Gazan universities. I was a signatory of the resolution as were other A.A.U.P. members.
I think Professor Goldman also revealed a callous misunderstanding of the history and gravity of the situation in Palestine. He states that “some” Palestinians were expelled from their homeland in an effort to minimise the ethnic cleansing during the 1947-1949 Nakba tragedy. According to most sources, between 500,000 to 750,000 Palestinians were either expelled from Israel or forced to relocate within Israel so that Jews could fulfill their Zionist crusade for a state in an area that an indigenous Palestinian population had settled.
Only in his final paragraph does Professor Goldman refer to “many indignities associated with Israeli control.” Yet he is more concerned that Israeli high-tech companies may lose market share, and that Israel’s intellectual elite might be trapped within a country with international airports and a non-blockaded Mediterranean coastline.
While Professor Goldman is accurate in citing the A.A.U.P. opposition to B.D.S., its members, unlike those in other professional societies and organisations, have never been asked for their opinion. However, the A.A.U.P. defends the academic freedom of higher-ed faculty to support B.D.S. It opposes legislative efforts to sanction those organisations that support saving the Palestinians from endless occupation and misery in U.N.R.W.A.-run refugee camps.
From Finkelstein to Salaita, we have seen the emergence of a New McCarthyism that is a clear and present danger to academic freedom. Individual professors, students and collective-organisation campaigns are nobly attempting to reverse the humanitarian crisis in the occupied or blockaded territories. They are met with contract revocations, denial of tenure, charges of anti-semitism and attempting to destroy the State of Israel. One has to persevere, resist the disinformation, and keep the eye on the prize: to protect academic freedom and to overcome what John J. Mearsheimer has called, “one of the great crimes of modern history.”