As Israel celebrates its 68th birthday, too many enemies still regret its birth, and desire its death. The fight against Israel all too often transcends rational discussion about historical facts or current events. Israel-bashing has become an industry and an identity.
On campus, Israeli Apartheid Weeks and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolutions pop up regularly and repeatedly, no matter how few students might be interested. A loud minority pushes this anti-Israel crusade fanatically. And despite the anti-Israel movement’s many failures on campuses, more and more outsiders speak about “campuses” as being not just anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic.
Modern anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic because of its disproportionate targeting of one country, Israel, the only Jewish state. Modern anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic because its anti-Israel hysteria echoes traditional anti-Jewish hysteria, with extreme accusations about Jewish power, Jewish evil and innocent, Jesus-like Palestinian victims, with their suffering exaggerated and any responsibility Palestinians might have for the conflict excused. And, less abstractly, modern anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic because when campuses erupt with Israeli Apartheid Weeks and BDS fights, the bullying, demonization, and slander often bubbles over into harassment of Jews on campus – and even occasional violence.
It’s easy to despair amid this irrational, seemingly unstoppable hatred. But Israel’s triumphal story teaches that individuals can change history. Zionism launched a revolution against far more lethal forms of Jew hatred and far more paralyzing forms of Jewish despondency.
To honour this Israel Independence Day, Jews and non-Jews, especially on campus, should stand up and say “enough.” At minimum, students, professors and alumni should start signing letters and petitions denouncing the anti-Israel obsession on campus and championing academic freedom.
This year at McGill University, anti-Israel boycott forces launched a third attempt in 18 months to pass a pro-BDS resolution. After the motion passed in student council, but failed an online ratification vote, McGill principal Suzanne Fortier took a stand. Defending “academic freedom, equity, inclusiveness and the exchange of views and ideas in responsible, open discourse,” she issued a statement affirming “the core principles of McGill” and reminding everyone that McGill’s “mission” remains “to advance learning and create and disseminate knowledge by offering the best possible education, by carrying out research and scholarly activities judged to be excellent by the highest international standards, and by providing service to society.”
Unfortunately, 43 professors denounced Fortier’s support of academic freedom. Surprisingly – because McGill’s faculty tends to be apolitical – 158 professors then responded with our own letter supporting the principal’s “courageous stance.” The letter proclaimed: “Boycotts and intellectual bullying have no place at McGill or at any other institution of higher learning,” noting that “in its disproportionate focus on Israel, in its founding declaration, and in many statements by key members of the movement, the BDS movement tries to squelch speech and intimidate those who support Israel’s right to exist.”
The letter, which I proudly signed and helped circulate, also addressed our students’ distress, saying: “We fail when our students don’t feel genuinely safe in our university – and the BDS movement has made McGill students feel unsafe, unsupported and unwelcome in their and our academic home.”
The only documents so many McGill professors have likely signed simultaneously are tax returns and grading sheets. They have shown colleagues throughout North America what to do. Don’t wait for a BDS resolution or a pro-BDS statement from others. This month, celebrate Israel’s independence by championing academic freedom. Let’s see professors, students, and alumni, left and right, issuing broad denunciations of boycotts and academic bullying. This is not for Israel’s sake – Israel will survive. This is a test of our values, our universities, our integrity and our souls.