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Academics for Palestine or Academics Against Israel?

avatar by Daniel O'Dowd

Opinion

Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. Photo: Alex Chis.

JNS.org – Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said of universities that they should be “a place of light, of liberty and learning.” Of course, these truths are antithetical to and incompatible with the ethos and actions of anti-Zionist academics and academic boycott campaigns that target and malign the Jewish state. These academics who profess in one breath to support inquisitive thought and free speech contort in the next breath to try to denigrate the State of Israel, which is apparently so uniquely bad among the nations that it merits an academic boycott no other nation on earth is subjected to. However, I wonder: Are these academics really for Palestinians, or are they just against Israel?

A good case study in this regard is the “Academics for Palestine” (AFP) group in Ireland. A 400-strong cohort of academics spanning practically all disciplines — and all of the universities and third-level institutions on the island of Ireland (and Irish academics abroad) — this grouping is dedicated to organizing the academic boycott of Israel in Ireland. Interestingly, the first line about their mission on the AFP website concerns Israel, not Palestine: “Academics for Palestine has been set up to help create awareness about the issue and to build the academic boycott of Israel campaign in Ireland.” So AFP states that its purpose is to organize an anti-Israel boycott? Rather than being about promoting the well-being of the Palestinian people, it is instead about targeting Israel. In fact, the first action AFP asks anyone interested to take is to sign the “boycott Israel” pledge. So to be pro-Palestinian, you have to first be in favor of boycotting the Jewish state? How is being against Israel being for Palestine?

In existence since 2014, the group spends the majority of time criticizing Israel as opposed to supporting Palestinians. The most recent event I can see organized by them is ironically a webinar on “Enforcing Silence: Academic Freedom, Palestine and the Criticism of Israel,” hosted in conjunction with the Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin. The irony, of course, being that a group whose raison d’être is to academically boycott the Jewish state and its defenders is complaining about censorship.

Scrolling further back to April 2019, AFP boldly supports the call to not “recognize Ariel University and to refrain from any institutional relations with it. Ariel University is an illegal institution, and is deeply and directly complicit in Israel’s system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law, including the right to education and academic freedom.” So Academics in Ireland for Palestine/Against Israel are against recognizing an educational institution for political reasons. Denying education to Israelis of all faiths helps Palestinians how exactly?

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Even further back in May 2018, AFP put on an event talking about “the remarkable mass movement that emerged in the form of the Great March of Return.” This refers to mass protests on the Israeli border, infiltrated and supported by the terrorist entities Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Why did the AFP think it was appropriate to promote a march endorsed and infiltrated by designated terrorist entities? Is it their belief that these Islamist entities are in the best interests of the Palestinian people? Or if the boycott of Israel is about peaceful opposition, why would the AFP in any way associate itself with a movement tainted by violence? Suffice it to say, maybe AFP has more to do with being against Israel than for Palestinians.

The most recent activity I came across is a letter that went unpublished by one of its signatories, Jim Roche, though it’s available to read on the group’s Facebook page. Roche’s letter came in response to an Irish Times letter by David Abrahamson that expressed concern regarding Palestinian textbooks financed by UNWRA and the Irish taxpayer — books that contained “messages of jihad and martyrdom.” Roche’s response attempts to dismiss Abrahamson’s concerns as “exaggerated and overgeneralized,” citing a Ha’aretz report that runs in the face of an EU review into Palestinian textbooks exposing antisemitism in the books and the admission of the head of UNWRA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees ) that there are issues surrounding antisemitism and glorification of terrorism in Palestinian textbooks. Roche then goes on to attack Israeli textbooks before stating, “[I]t is beyond disingenuous to dictate to another people, especially one living under colonial occupation, what their narrative around their own dispossession should be.”

So, in the eyes of Roche, it is disingenuous to take issue with radicalism and antisemitism in Palestinian school materials or ask that Irish taxpayer-funded materials promote peace. Instead, in the interests of promoting a narrative, Palestinians should be allowed to define their own narrative as they wish. How exactly does defending the problematic (to put it kindly) content in Palestinian textbooks further the interests of Palestinian people, liberate Palestinians from the oppression of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, or achieve Palestinian statehood? Quite simply, it doesn’t.

The story of “Academics for Palestine” in Ireland is all too typical — one that runs counter to the tenets of academia and that has more to do with opposing the State of Israel than supporting the Palestinian people. All too often, anti-Israel groupings co-opt Palestinian suffering under Fatah and Hamas to attack Israel. Perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps this typical tale is just symptomatic of thinking within the “Palestinian” movement of expecting everything from Israel to solve Palestinian problems and expect nothing of the Palestinians to help themselves. All too rarely does discussion center on Palestinian elevation, as opposed to boycotting Israel. Nothing about boycotting Israel or associating with Hamas-endorsed marches or defending antisemitic textbooks helps the Palestinian people one iota, but you would think that of the more than 400 or so academics at some of Ireland’s greatest universities, someone might have figured that out already.

Daniel O’Dowd is a Campus Associate for CAMERA on Campus. He has appeared on RTE opposite government ministers and senators to defend Israel and oppose BDS.

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