In “Another view: Academics remaining silent about the perils of Zionism is not an option,” (Sept. 19, 2014) Johnny Williams writes that “In academia, most scholars shun speaking and writing about the state of Israel’s siege and wars in Palestine.” Given what has taken place in academic discourse regarding Israel in the last 20 years, I find this to be a truly outrageous contention and makes me wonder whether Mr. Williams has been living under a rock. Has he never heard of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that counts thousands of college professors among its supporters? Is he unaware that in December 2013, over 60 percent of the membership of the scholarly organization, the American Studies Association, voted to boycott Israel’s higher education institutions? Does Mr. Williams not know that over 200 professors identifying themselves as Middle East scholars, recently called for the academic boycott of Israel in a signed petition?
Mr. Williams would have us believe that academics in American universities are at risk of being ostracized, isolated, or sanctioned if they express criticism of Israel. That’s just at variance with reality. Here are some specific illustrations of how popular it’s become among academics to express anti-Israeli invective:
For four years, David Klein, a mathematics professor at California State University, Northridge, has been using his university’s server to promote his web pages calling for the economic, academic, and cultural boycott of Israel. His web pages contain a litany of false and inflammatory statements and photographs intended to incite hatred and promote political activism against Israel. David Lloyd, a professor of English at the University of California-Riverside organized an event on his campus recently that featured Omar Barghouti, the founder and most vocal advocate for the campaign to boycott Israel. Barghouti accused Israeli soldiers of “hunting children,” saying that soldiers “entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.” At NYU, Professor Lisa Duggan hosted a conference for students that was a platform for over 20 anti-Israel activists to spew their hatred of the Jewish state and promote a boycott intended to hasten its elimination.
Moreover, Mr. Williams utterly misrepresents the circumstances under which the University of Illinois rescinded its tenure offer to Steven Salaita, a Professor of American Indian Studies. Mr. Williams writes that Salaita was “speaking out against Israeli atrocities in Gaza on social media.” Now let’s go to the record. On June 20, soon after three Israelis were kidnapped and killed, Salaita posted to his followers, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing.” So that sort of vulgar and inflammatory language in support of murdering people is just “speaking out”? Mr. Williams appears to believe that a college professor has some sort of inalienable right to spew whatever sort of disgusting, uncivilized commentary he’d like, and if a university then chooses to censure the professor for that, they’re somehow violating his academic freedom.
But it’s clear that Mr. Williams himself is a practitioner of using language, however carelessly, that associates Israel with the worst atrocities in modern history. He writes that Israel uses “extrajudicial measures “ to ethnically cleanse” West Bank and Gaza and “Israel seeks to depopulate Palestine of Palestinians?” Hmm, if it’s ethnic cleansing and depopulating, then we should be witness to a mass expulsion or mass killing of Palestinians, something on the scale of what took place in 1915 when an estimated 1-1.5 million Armenians were killed in Ottoman Turkey – over 60 percent of those living there, or when 3 million or 90 percent of the pre-war population of Jews were killed in Poland during the Holocaust, or when up to 75 percent of the Tutsis living in Rwanda were killed in 1994. Or let’s take an ethnic cleansing/depopulation example closer to home, like the forced relocation of entire native tribes in the American Southeast in the first half of the 19th century.
I’d like Mr. Williams to point to any period since 1967 when the population of West Bank or Gaza has experienced any sort of slaughter or mass deportation on the scale of the examples I’ve given. In fact, the population of the West Bank Gaza has increased from 1 million in 1967, to 2 million in 1990, to 4.4 million today, an unprecedented population boom. Either Mr. Williams is wholly unaware what ethnic cleansing and depopulating has meant in history, or he just feels that he has moral license to attach those label to any instance of a people suffering during a military conflict because it suits his ideological purposes to do so.
Mr. Williams advocates “critical and untampered public debate” and erroneously concludes that he and his cohort “unnerve people because we go beyond the commonly accepted or officially defined version of human events.” That’s not it at all. The unnerving takes place because their primary interest is not in debate, but in flinging as much populist muck as he can at Israel without regard for intellectual accuracy or conceptual clarity
Rob Monyak is a resident of West Hartford.