In late September 2002, Larry Summers, past President of Harvard delivered a speech at the Morning Prayer service of the Memorial Church of Harvard, a non-denominational Protestant congregation. What he said shook the academic world. “Serious and thoughtful people,” he declared, “are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not in their intent.” Summers had earlier rejected a petition signed by 69 Harvard professors calling for divestiture from Israel, a new term calling upon American universities to divest their endowment portfolios of any companies doing business with Israel as a sign of protest and designed to threaten Israel economically.
Today, four years later and in furtherance of this effort, universities, teachers’ associations and several establishment churches in Canada, the U.S. and Britain are attempting to prevent Israeli academic and political leaders from speaking on university campuses and eliminating academic research funds for visiting Israeli scholars. In Europe, petitions such as the Harvard petition have included the blacklisting and removal of Israeli professors and researchers from literary journals in Britain to canceling performances of Israeli song artists in Norway.
Suzanne Fields, writing in the Washington Times, noted that “no longer is the anti-Semite one of the uneducated rabble-rousers of the politically uncouth…The new bigot carries petitions in Harvard Yard in the heart of the Ivy League decked out in running shoes with politically correct labels.” Is this a fair statement? Let’s analyze it.
What made the Summers sermon so outrageously on point, was that he didn’t stop with the divestiture issue, but went on to criticize student fundraising events on campus for known terrorist organizations and observed that college students who condemn global capitalism constantly and unfairly singled out Israel by comparing then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Adolf Hitler. But what really ticked him off was the double standard that was and continues to be applied to Israel on the campuses of America not to mention by religious institutions like the Anglican Church of England, the World Council of Churches and the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, which at its Annual Conference held June, 2005 voted to push for the divesting of funds from companies that supported Israel.
The fact that the anti-Israeli boycott campaigners do not propose boycotts of the hate-inciting Palestinian universities indicates strong discriminatory and even racist attitudes. Dr. Alex Grobman of Divestment Watch has drawn special attention to Irish academia: “Irish academics are particularly adamant in boycotting Israeli academic institutions.” In a letter to the Irish Times on September 12, 2006, sixty-one Irish professors urged academic institutions throughout the world to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education. The Jerusalem Post reported that when Professor James Bowen of the Department of Computer Science at University College Cork was questioned about Hamas’s charter and the organization’s inflammatory language (which openly calls for the extermination of Jews in Israel) and was asked whether those who signed the petition would consider boycotting Palestinian academic institutions, Bowen replied: “The accusation of genocide against Hamas is libelous. The responsibility for ending the conflict lies with the aggressor and Israel is the aggressor.” Soon thereafter, the student government at the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus passed a resolution calling on the University’s Board of Regents to vote to divest from Israel, all of which followed the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) which voted to establish its own academic boycott of Israel.
Funny how campus activists never seem to mention the Syrian de jure occupation of Lebanon or Saudi funding of global Islamic jihad or the treatment of Saudi women or the crushing of all democratic dissent in Egypt. They have no difficulty bemoaning capital punishment in the United States, but say nothing when the Palestinians routinely execute suspected Israeli collaborators including the mothers of young children. They single-out Israeli human rights abuses that pale in comparison to those of Israel’s Arab neighbors which unfortunately, we know less about only because of media censorship in those countries. It is shameful that pro-Palestinian professors and students in America and Europe pretend that the only reason for the problems in the Middle East is because of Israeli obstinacy.
Truth is, anti-Zionism does become anti-Semitism when it reaches a certain pitch and on American college campuses, the pitch is audible. Singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction – out of all proportion to any other parties in the Middle East – is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is intellectually dishonest. So let’s call it what it is – shame, not on Israel (the only real democracy in the Middle East), but on those who arrogantly hold Israel to a standard of conduct to which no other nation in this world is held. Half a million men, women and children are slaughtered in Rwanda and there is silence. The Chinese annihilate Tibetan culture and there is silence. Tens of thousands of civilians are slaughtered in Chechnya and there is silence. Egypt imprisons the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world after a phony trial and not one single student group in America calls for divestiture from Egypt. Syria occupies Lebanon for a quarter century, chokes the life out of its democracy, assassinates its political leaders, attempts a coup d’etat through it’s Hezbollah proxy, sends Islamic terrorists over its borders into Iraq to crush whatever hope that country may have for a secure future and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Syria. Saudi Arabia denies its women the most basic human rights and bans any other religion from being practiced publicly on its soil, and yet no student group in America calls for divestiture from Saudi Arabia. These human rights violations and tragedies dwarf the most outlandish actions of Israel, yet they fail to elicit the same degree of moral outrage that Israel evokes among its campus critics.
In the West Bank city of Jenin, in April 2002, Israel was painted as the world’s pariah: “Nazis”, “butchers”, “conducting war crimes”, “surrounding the infant Jesus with Israeli tanks”, claims of 3,000 Palestinians being massacred, claims that Israelis poisoned the Palestinian water supply and claims that Israel dumped Palestinian corpses into secret mass graves. A bishop in Copenhagen even compared former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to King Herod. Newspapers across Europe, especially the BBC, “substantiated” the allegations with reports of grisly deeds by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian went on international media networks accusing Israel of murdering Palestinians for their body parts. The problem with all this – no massacre occurred! Less than a hundred armed terrorists were killed in Operation Defensive Shield and almost as many Israeli soldiers were killed because they were ordered to go from house-to-house to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible. But that was of little consequence to those in the media and on our college campuses who condemned Israel of “unspeakable war crimes.”
The same deceit held true in the recent Israeli-Hezbollah War where Israel was condemned for violating Lebanese sovereignty with scant mention made of the thousands of Hezbollah missiles falling onto Israel’s civilian population centers and Hezbollah’s use of Lebanese civilians as human shields. When the UN hosted the Third World Conference Against Racism in Durban, the nations of the world had an opportunity to address the hatred that afflicts hundreds of millions of people, but they only found time to dwell on Israel accusing it of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, and apartheid while the vicious racism of the Middle East and Africa was ignored. In the name of “human rights” and “justice”, these advocates and self-proclaimed “protectors of the Free World” decry any and every Israeli action and seek to punish it by conducting academic and cultural boycotts while Palestinian clerics call for the murder of Jews without eliciting any protest. The Saudi and Egyptian media report on Jewish conspiracies causing 9/11 and run TV programs on Ramadan alleging blood libels (i.e.: that Israelis are murdering Arab children and using their blood in “Jewish rituals”), but there is no outcry against them for an international boycott.
It is this absence of balance, this flagrant unforgivable deceit, not the criticisms of Israel that are most troubling. I do not choose to call this double standard a guise for anti-Semitism, but even a fool must acknowledge that the cumulative effect of these double standards carries such consequences. Israel is not utopia. But in its governance and transparency, it is as democratic as any other democratic nation in the world and certainly more democratic than any Arab country in the Middle East. For those who argue that their right to “fair criticism” is being infringed, let them understand what “fair criticism” is not. It is not “fair criticism” to portray Israel’s presence on the West Bank as an illegal occupation, yet never utter a word of objection about Chinese, Serbian, Syrian, Turkish or Russian ethnic cleansing. It is not “fair criticism” to place the blame for Middle East violence at Israel’s doorstep while ignoring fourteen centuries of Sunni-Shiite hatred, the damage done to Arab society through decades of misrule by dictators and despots and the immense risks that Israel has taken in withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005 not to mention the sacrifices that it continues to make in its quest for peace with the Palestinians. It is not “fair criticism” to accuse Israel of apartheid when it is the Arab world that preaches “Death to the Jews”, spreads anti-Semitic hatred from its mosques, teaches “martyrdom” in its schools and summer camps and dances in the streets when terrorists succeed in murdering Israelis in their homes, pizza parlors, marketplaces and during their Passover Seders.
Demanding that good German Aryans boycott Jewish shops in Nazi Germany in 1935 is no different in its essence from demanding that good Western universities boycott the Jewish State in 2007. Injustice in any language is still injustice. It’s all part of the same poison that feeds on the fabric of human decency. If a 5-year old child can understand that slaughtering innocent people is wrong, then why can’t these campus student organizations, religious establishments, the international media and the academics on American and British college campuses see it and voice their dissent?
If we cannot tell the difference between a democratic Israel and an apartheid South Africa or a terrorist from a peacemaker, then we are all parties to the greatest moral failure of our time – the inability to distinguish between those who defend basic moral values and respect the sanctity of a single human life and those who are the enemies of such values by justifying the murder of the innocent in the name of some religious or ideological cause. We have every right to expect more from those who teach our children on the campuses of America or from their pews. Their positions of authority do not entitle them to foster anti-Semitism in the name of ‘justice’ and ‘moral decency.’