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November 6, 2019 7:42 am

An Open Letter to UMass Professors Who Support BDS

avatar by Asaf Romirowsky

Opinion

Baker Hall at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Below is an open letter to the faculty members who signed a pro-BDS letter to University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy:

We do not know whether you signed the letter because you are knowledgeable on the issue, or you are just trusting the colleague who encouraged you to “be one of the good guys” and sign. If you are of the latter, allow us to address you.

This is indeed about freedom of speech, and about both sides speaking. It is just the opposite of what the document you signed claims. It is not the Jews who are trying to shut down criticism of Israel. Only someone who knows nothing about Israel or is a dedicated enemy can say such a thing with a straight face. No country on the planet has so high a level of internal public critical discussion. Everyone criticizes Israel, including Israelis and Jews. What the Jews who support Israel find really offensive is the moral sadism of calling them Nazis or having people from far more prejudiced, if not racist, cultures call this astoundingly tolerant polity “racist.”

It is not the Jews who support Israel who are preventing discussions on what is going on in the Middle East or shutting down criticism of Israel; it is those who support the BDS movement, for whom any exchange with an Israel-supporter is considered unacceptable. It is not pro-Israel Jews who are pushing “cancel culture” with shouting and violence; it is BDS promoters. According to the BDS narrative, Israel is an irredeemable evil — like the Nazis or white supremacists — with whom no compromise can be made. As runs their chant: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Do you really think that Palestinian sovereignty over “every inch of the land” will bring freedom? For anyone? Even Muslims?

The letter you signed says:

While it is often a good idea to have debates on controversial issues like this one, it is extremely common for departments and student organizations to sponsor presentations that mainly support one side. In fact, many of us see it as a part of the mission of the university to ensure that legitimate positions that are marginalized by the mainstream media and those in political power get a special hearing.

Ask yourself about those who favor BDS: when was the last time they had a debate on this controversial issue, rather than shout down and cancel the voice of anyone who might challenge their narrative of the vicious Zionist oppressor and the innocent Palestinian victim?

And while positions of those marginalized by the mainstream may be legitimate and should be heard more often, some voices may be marginalized precisely because the content of their claims and demands go far beyond what a community committed to fairness and honesty would find acceptable. Certainly, that’s what you feel about white supremacism.

Indeed, there is a direct relationship between the extreme nature of the BDS demands — especially the cancel culture’s motto: “no normalization” — and the dishonesty and irredentism of their narrative. Ask a BDS activist to tell you what an Israeli might say in response, and he or she cannot: for them, Israelis are beyond the pale of humanity.

Bill Burr caught the contradiction nicely:

I just love the arrogance of these people, as if the former Pink Floyd bass player does not show up in Israel, it will finally make all sides sit at the negotiating table and resolve the conflict.

BDS isn’t there to help compromise. It is there to feed the belligerence of one side — the side you signed on to support — in their effort to shut down all negotiations and instead deny another people any recognition, and any right to sovereignty.

Ask yourself: in a matter as morally significant as this, with all kinds of issues dear to the progressive agenda — indigeneity, occupation, oppression, human rights — what rate of unreliability would convince you to distrust testimony from any given side? If 25% of their claims proved false or deliberately inflated, would that be enough? 50%? 75%? If some of us object to the panel as organized, it’s not because those on it criticize Israel, but because we know from past experience that they will demonize Israel with unreliable facts, and will not allow anyone to challenge their claims.

Let’s settle for an extremely low bar: when one can demonstrate that 50% of the narratives promoted by BDS are either false or distorted beyond recognition, will you agree to treat their claims with a hermeneutic of suspicion? Some of us, as veteran checkers of BDS claims, are willing to bet on results of 75-95% false/inaccurate. So why not take an open, balanced approach, and hear another side? The only reason is if you have already adopted one side’s narrative. Do you really want to mainstream marginalized voices as “legitimate,” who take advantage of the platform you give them, to demonize and marginalize others?

Dr. Asaf Romirowsky is the Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Romirowsky is co-author of Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief.

A version of this letter was originally published by SPME.

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