Wrongfully treating academic debate as anti-Semitism – LA Times


The principle of academic freedom at our universities is under attack by those seeking to shield Israel from criticism by silencing dissent, shutting down discussion and imposing a stifling atmosphere of intimidation at the University of California, in particular.

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UC’s Muslim student regent tackles Bill Maher, tuition and more

A coordinated set of petitions, including a letter signed by 57 rabbis, asks UC administrators to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism as a means to “accurately identify” and “publicly condemn” it in campus debate, protest and discussion. That problematic definition conflates principled criticism of Israeli policies with genuine anti-Semitism; if the university accedes to this demand, such criticism — and academic freedom — could be suppressed by administrative fiat.

The State Department definition explicitly draws on a formulation provisionally adopted by a European Union body but long since discarded. It stretches the concept of anti-Semitism to include “demonizing” Israel, comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis and “denying Israel the right to exist.”

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Such emotionally charged language attempts to preempt criticism of Israeli policies. It codifies the kind of rhetorical jujitsu in defense of Israel we already see on campus: When a speaker or a writer calls into question any of a range of Israeli policies (for example, maintaining a perpetual military occupation in the West Bank, segregating housing along racial lines, systematically bulldozing Palestinian homes, bombing civilians in Gaza), the response is not an attempt to produce a rational counter-argument by mustering facts or data, but rather an immediate descent into shrill accusations of “demonization” and “delegitimization” followed, inevitably, by character assassination.

Having lost the actual arguments, Israel’s defenders have now declared war on argument itself. –

According to the State Department definition, a Palestinian student claiming the right to return to her homeland could be considered to be “denying Israel’s right to exist,” given the demographic implications of the Palestinian right of return for the Jewish state. A professor daring to suggest that Israel should be, like the U.S., the state of all its citizens — liberal, secular and multicultural — rather than that of just one ethnicity could be similarly censured. And anyone calling for a boycott of Israel could be accused of “demonizing” it by singling it out (as though all the world’s problems have to be addressed before we can focus on Israel). Rather than constituting positions with which one might agree or disagree, these ideas could be marked for censorship and punishment.

via Wrongfully treating academic debate as anti-Semitism – LA Times.

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