Amid BDS Activism, Divestment Falters on College Campuses (Part 2)
Note: Part one of this article was originally published here.
As I have repeatedly argued, the real anti-Israel menace on campus comes from faculty. On that front, the news is not as sanguine.
On the positive side, the fear that after the adoption of boycott resolutions by three minor associations in prior years would lead more significant professional academic associations to follow their example has not come to pass.
One reason may be the backlash that followed the decision by the American Studies Association to support a boycott. Yair Rosenberg noted in Tablet that the ASA “lost nearly 20% of its affiliated universities in the wake of their boycott, and were condemned by the American Association of University Professors, and by 250 schools, including most of the Ivy League.”
Undaunted, in December 2015, the National Women’s Studies Association adopted a resolution calling for the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel. Only about one-third of the membership voted and the result was expected, given that the association sponsored sessions at its conference that only presented the pro-BDS point of view.
Far more important was the decisive rejection of the boycott by the American Historical Association. Had this prestigious group of scholars fallen for the BDS narrative, the faculty situation would be even more grave.
In the most closely watched debate, the 10,000-member American Anthropological Association agreed to put the call for a boycott to a vote of the full membership after more than 1,000 members approved the proposed boycott at its fall business meeting. Given that the proponents were active and vociferous (more than 1,500 had already signed a petition supporting the boycott), a BDS victory seemed likely.
Knowing this, faculty mobilized in perhaps an unprecedented way to inform the AAA membership of the truth about the antisemitic BDS movement. In the end, only about half the members voted, and the boycott proposal was narrowly defeated. As in the case of the associations that did approve boycotts, a positive ASA vote would have had no impact on Israel or on relations between scholars who engage with Israeli institutions; nevertheless, it would have given the boycotters something to crow about and claim as a great victory. (Ironically, what they consider victory is the denial of academic freedom for others that they demand for themselves.)
The failure to win over a group as politicized and hostile to Israel as the ASA is encouraging, and may be a harbinger for future boycott campaigns in academic associations. Another positive development was The Academic Council for Israel’s mobilization of more than 1,000 faculty to sign an anti-BDS petition.
The bad news was that more than 2,000 sociologists from around the country did vote for a boycott. As I noted in Should Your Child Go To A College Whose Faculty Supports The Anti-Semitic Boycott Against Israel?, parents might want to think twice before sending their children to universities with ideological faculty who may, and often do, bring their anti-Israel biases into the classroom. And this was just the sociologists; faculty in nearly every field — even those in disciplines unrelated to Middle East affairs — hold similar views.
This highlights the importance of shifting resources from the overemphasis on students to support for faculty who are confronting the antisemites rallying their colleagues to boycott Israel. More important, is to invest in Israel Studies so that students have an opportunity to learn from leading scholars who have a scholarly basis for their lectures. At many colleges, it is still difficult, if not impossible, for students to find courses on Israel. A separate field of Israel Studies has become essential because of the stranglehold the anti-Israel ideologues have in Middle East Studies (see, for example, Looking for Israel at Harvard and Still Looking for Israel at Harvard).
The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) brought more than 100 visiting Israeli scholars to 72 universities, and we saw the impact on the campus environment and an increased appreciation of Israel’s complexity. Nearly 150 new courses related to Israel were created by these scholars in a variety of fields, such as film, literature, psychology, art, and music, in addition to the expected fields of political science, history, and Jewish studies. This variety of perspectives gives students the opportunity to see Israel through a variety of lenses as opposed to the narrow prism of the conflict with the Palestinians that dominates the media and student politics.
The Arabs understand the importance of faculty and have invested nearly $2 billion in universities while Jewish philanthropists have donated a tiny fraction of that amount on Israel Studies. It is certainly not due to a lack of generosity; after all, one need only look at the donors to university medical centers, business and law schools, athletic departments, and Holocaust studies. In the case of Israel Studies, however, most philanthropists don’t see the impact faculty has on students’ knowledge of Israel. Many want to see immediate results, which is easier with investments in students who they can meet with and hear their enthusiasm after visiting Israel or attending a BDS conference.
Far-sighted donors, however, understand that investing in faculty is a long game. Instead of a conference that reaches a few hundred students, a professor will inform thousands of students over the course of a career, and they will do so with greater credibility than advocates. Students come and go but faculty are fixtures on campus who shape the environment, the curriculum, and the hiring decisions of their departments.
On the positive side, our visiting Israeli professors were catalysts for the investment of more than $40 million in Israel Studies. Thanks in large measure to the success of our visitors, chairs, programs and centers were created in schools around the country, including American University, Maryland, Ohio State, San Francisco State, Berkeley, UCLA, and the US Naval Academy.
We can already see the impact of these programs. At Berkeley, known for decades as ground zero for anti-Israel movements, a program run through the law school is flourishing with visiting Israelis from different fields coming to teach each year, and a wide variety of courses and events held on almost a weekly basis. Within a few months of the program’s establishment, it had already brought more Israel-related programming to the campus than Berkeley had seen in its entire history.
I have found it impossible to disabuse most Jews of the notion that the campuses are on fire, so let us at least redirect our hoses to focus more on the faculty who are igniting the fires and keeping them smoldering, and reducing the water pressure directed at students.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel, After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine. This article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.