A racist boycott by any other name

A racist boycott by any other name

If a Mel Brooks screenplay featured an academic association recommending an academic boycott, the irony might be amusing. But when such an occurrence happens in real life, the message is nothing short of chilling.

In its recent 768-167 vote, members of the Middle East Studies Association voted in favor of a resolution endorsing the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions of the State of Israel. This boycott appears to include a call for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The association’s rationale: “a way to hold the [Israeli] government accountable for ongoing human rights violations.”

It is true that innocent Palestinians suffer indignities and violence as a result of the current status quo in Israel, and those hardships must be addressed. But it could well be argued that Palestinian suffering is a result of a legitimate response to terrorism, such as last week’s multiple murders in downtown Tel Aviv, rather than “violations” by Israel.

The Middle East Studies Association made no such statement with regard to any other countries. Apparently they are comfortable with Syria, Yemen, China, Iran, and North Korea. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, these countries were universally regarded as among the worst countries on the planet for human rights and rule of law. The Middle East Studies Association is unconcerned with recent atrocities in Ukraine. Egypt, Burma, Libya, Venezuela, and Nigeria were not targeted by the Middle East Studies Association either.

What do these other countries all have in common? They have few, if any Jews. Except of course in Ukraine’s case, where a Jewish president has heroically stood up in the face of Russian aggression and war crimes. The Middle East Studies Association has not proposed a boycott of Russia, whose human rights violations seem not to count.

The balance between human rights and national safety is always a complex issue, and different countries handle their security issues with greater or lesser degrees of success, — and greater or lesser degrees of criticism. While the current situation in Israel is certainly problematic and often dangerous, assigning blame to the state, let alone to all Israelis, for alleged violations is both inaccurate and deceitful. An academic boycott purportedly staged to address a geopolitical dilemma, in which multiple people legitimately claim rights, is hardly a solution to the powder keg that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presents.

Quite the opposite: It is a cynical cover for anti-Semitism.

As of 2021, 35 U.S. states have passed bills and executive orders designed to discourage boycotts of Israel. Many of them have been passed with broad bipartisan support. Cooler heads — and one would hope the majority of academics—understand that censorship and the eradication of the free exchange of ideas is hardly a step toward peace.

It is, in reality, a way to punish people economically. Certain people.

The shameful truth is that the Middle East Studies Association’s participation in the BDS movement is a discreditable act of discrimination that should be condemned by everyone regardless of their political views. For, indeed, the boycott is not political. It is racist.

Dr. Alan Kadish of Teaneck is president of Touro University.