Wednesday, October 26, 2022

By Daled Amos

Last week, a piece "In Defense of Hamas" appeared in The Amherst Contra, an anonymous student publication at Amherst College. The article whitewashes the terrorist group as "the perennial bogeyman" and defends it against being "consistently portrayed as a terrorist organization". There really is not much more to say about it -- or The Amherst Contra itself, which prides itself on publishing "unpopular opinions," starting this year with "Would We Be Better Off Without Democracy?" But it is an example of the ease with which Israel is condemned on campus.

Unlike that anonymous article, last year, following the outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, a letter was circulated with the signatures of rabbinical and cantoral students, decrying the situation in Israel, and blaming Israel:

What will it take for us to see that our Israel has the military and controls the borders? How many Palestinians must lose their homes, their schools, their lives, for us to understand that today, in 2021, Israel’s choices come from a place of power and that Israel’s actions constitute an intentional removal of Palestinians?

These students inform us: "we are future leaders of the Jewish community" -- though that may not be the way most Jews view cantors. For that matter, not every rabbinical student is a future leader of "the Jewish community."

Be that as it may, there is no indication of what grasp, if any, these students have of the full situation in Israel. But even putting aside the question of the depth of their understanding of current events in Israel and of the history -- issues arguably outside their areas of expertise -- there are also the areas that are supposed to be their area of expertise.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, notes a lack of what one would have expected to find in a letter by rabbinical students and future Jewish leaders:

There wasn’t a word about Ahavat Yisrael – a love and solidarity with our fellow Jews in Israel, with the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our own homeland, to the very real sacrifices this experiment in Jewish national self-expression has imposed from its inception.

But this vacuum goes beyond Jewish students.

There was also a letter from scholars in Jewish and Israeli studies in response to last year's conflict who condemned Zionism as being

shaped by settler colonial paradigms that saw land settlement as a virtuous means of solving political, economic, or cultural problems, as well as modern European Enlightenment discourses that assumed a hierarchy of civilizations and adopted the premise that technological progress and development of an ‘underdeveloped’ territory would be an unqualified good. [emphasis added]

While they follow this with a passing reference to "the challenges and limitations of applying a settler colonial paradigm to the Zionist case, the unique historical Jewish connection to and presence in the Land of Israel," that does not stop these scholars from accusing Israel of "unsustainable systems of Jewish supremacy." 

Jewish supremacy?

No mention of the ongoing integration of Israeli Arabs in the Israeli military, government and Israeli society in general.

They conclude their letter with the obligatory 

commitment to upholding student and faculty free speech and academic freedom. [emphasis added]

by which they mean a commitment to non-violent protests and boycotts at a time when pro-Israel free speech on campus by students and professors can be dangerous both to one's person and profession.

Both the rabbinical students and these Jewish and Israeli scholars proclaim their Jewishness while attacking Israel, all while at the same time lacking Jewish empathy with Israel. 

In his article The Demise of Jewish Studies in America—and the Rise of Jewish Studies in Israel, Joshua M. Karlip writes about how "American Jewish studies, like American Jewry itself, is fast becoming de-Judaized." Karlip is a professor of Jewish history at YU. He sees this rejection of Jewish particularity as a major contributing factor behind these attacks by Jewish scholars on Israel. Whereas in the past, Europe demanded a "disavowal of Jewish national particularism" in exchange for acceptance, today's academic community demands "the de-Judaization" of their scholarship. 

Karlip claims that part of the problem is that these scholars lack depth in their Jewish background:

Their own often scant Jewish knowledge has abetted this process. With up to 80 percent of contemporary American Jewish scholars not able to read Hebrew sources fluently, is it any wonder that they have adopted the progressive left’s rejection of Zionism and Israel as a “settler colonialism” that displaced “indigenous populations”? If they had bothered to master Hebrew, perhaps they would have studied the Jews who prayed three times a day for the return to Zion rather than the acculturated elites who sought home in Russia, Poland, Germany, and France.

What they are missing, he writes, is what makes it possible for Jews from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia and Russia to make aliyah and bond together with an Israeli identity, which is "more than a 'constructed,' 'invented' identity."

Without that consciousness of our own nativeness in the Holy Land, of a people exiled and yearning to return home, the national culture, language, and civil society of Israel would not exist, let alone thrive, today. 

Writing in May 2021, Ruth Wisse gives another example of Jewish scholars who de-Judaize in their scholarship, in this case seeing Jewish self-perpetuation and continuity as nothing more than an exercise in corrupt male power. She quotes from The History and Sexual Politics of an American Jewish Communal Project to illustrate her point:

A Jewish continuity paradigm emerged forcefully in the 1970s as a set of expert pronouncements and community policies that treated women and their bodies as data points in service of a particular vision of Jewish communal survival...Condemning intermarriage and decrying low child-bearing rates became signature features of the affective work of Jewish communal research. [emphasis added]

As Wisse describes this approach, "every sensible Jewish communal initiative to encourage Jewish marriage, family, and education as the sustaining features of Diaspora survival is defined as a suspect tool of indoctrination."

Again, Jewish particularity is rejected with a total apathy for the richness of Jewish life, history and culture.

But what are we supposed to make of this "free speech" and "academic freedom" that the scholars above claim to support in the context of their condemnation of Israel and its alleged crimes? Is academic freedom just a variety of free speech for scholars?

According to an article this year in The New Republic, academic freedom not only covers research and teaching, but also statements that scholars make outside of that ("extramural utterances") -- for instance on social media.

The point is that academic freedom of expression is an extension of their recognized expertise and competence in their field, which is why what they outside of academia -- what they say publicly -- gets respect. But by the same token, shouldn't they be held responsible when they go off the rails? 

For instance:

the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) has consistently held that faculty should not be fired for extramural speech unless that speech calls into question a professor’s fitness to serve. Ordinarily, that speech has to bear directly on the faculty member’s field of study. The idea is that a historian who is a Holocaust denier is obviously unfit, whereas an electrical engineer who is a Holocaust denier is just a crank. This position makes perfect sense, though few people realize that it entails the unsettling corollary that professors enjoy greater protection for extramural speech when they have no idea what they’re talking about than for speech within the areas of their research and teaching. (emphasis added)

And academics who talk and write outside of their field of expertise -- and say outrageous things, are not all that hard to find.

One example of this is Joy Karega:

Karega was a professor of rhetoric and composition who promoted a panoply of antisemitic conspiracy theories, including the claims that ISIS is a CIA/Mossad front and that the 2015 Islamist attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo was in fact a false flag operation conducted by Israel. Both were rightly determined to be in the ballpark of Holocaust-denying historians.

Sure enough, Oberlin College originally defended Karega on free speech grounds, and only months later finally fired her.

But what about less blatant examples of academics going outside their area of expertise?

Phyllis Chesler wrote last year about how Academics Use Propaganda, Not Expertise, to Bash Israel. She describes an open letter by Palestinian Feminist Collective, claiming that "once again, Palestinians from the far north to the far south of our homeland are defying settler colonialism's attempts to partition the land and the people." Academic feminists enthusiastically joined in with a statement that ignored both facts and context. Chesler writes:

Subsequently, academic feminists, issued a statement "In Solidarity With Palestinian Feminist Collective," which links to non-scholarly boilerplate propaganda, none of which is concerned with the Islamic gender apartheid that afflicts Arab Palestinian women in Israel, Gaza, and on the West Bank. They focus on "evictions in East Jerusalem" without understanding the history, legality, or nature of this dispute.

...The gender studies people link to facts about the "humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip," which fail to acknowledge that Israel left Gaza in 2005. Whatever the situation there may be, it is due to Hamas's greed, corruption, and terrorist goals.

Dear God: How is it possible to claim that "Palestine is a feminist issue," which they do, without even mentioning forced child marriage, forced veiling, and honor killing – which are indigenous customs – not caused by the alleged Israeli occupation?

Chesler describes how she took a random sample of 1 professor at 10 gender, women's studies and sexuality departments and found only one professor who even addressed the issue of honor killing -- and even then, only to attack Trump and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

But none of these randomly chosen 10 have an advanced degree in the history and nature of the Middle East, the Arab World, Islam, Judaism, or Israel. None are teaching courses in such areas as experts. They are merely using their expert credentials to support propaganda. [emphasis added]

But spreading propaganda in the guise of academic scholarship is not limited to feminist academics. Chesler points to "Palestine and Praxis: Scholars for Palestinian Freedom," an open letter featuring 70 pages of signatories with about 45 names on each page. The signers claim to be "scholars" who identify with "the Palestinian struggle as an indigenous liberation movement confronting a settler colonial state." These "scholars" call for "boycott campaigns – and to anti-Israel campus activism and to "pressure (their) government to end funding Israeli military aggression."


Guess what? Only 11 of the first 450 signatories teach in Middle East, Palestine, and Arabic Studies.

Both the feminist academics and the "scholars" are recycling Palestinian Islamist propaganda and trying to pass it off as scholarly opinion. Do not fall for it. [emphasis added]

This is not just an issue of academics and scholars going outside of their areas of expertise. There is an issue of a lack of objectivity and the pursuit of personal agendas. As Menachem Kellner, who teaches philosophy and Jewish thought at Shalem College writes, the concept of academic freedom is being abused:

the concept of “academic freedom” is meant to enable academics to research and teach evidence-based truths in the fields in which they are competent. It is not meant to protect academics who introduce their personal politics into their research and teaching in order to browbeat their students and foment an atmosphere of prejudice and hate designed to silence rational inquiry.

Such academics share responsibility for the atmosphere of fear that Jewish students suffer on college campuses.

Jews have all kinds of opinions about Israel, and are certainly free to express them -- so does anyone else for that matter. But the fact that someone is Jewish doesn't mean he knows what he is talking about. Jewish scholars are free to condemn Israel, but in turn, we are free to question their motives and agenda, and even whether they really have the expertise to back up what they claim. The same applies to any scholar who signs on to a condemnation of Israel -- we can question what agenda they or their group is pursuing.

And we should.

Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

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