Let the BDS Movement Be a Warning

Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian, former professor of Middle East history, and currently runs Verity Educate, which reviews curricula for academic bias and promotes honest and objective education.


bcLast year, a tiny academic organization, the Association for Asian American Studies, voted in favor of a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.  Last month, a relatively small academic organization, the American Studies Association (ASA), adopted a similar resolution.  This month, one of the largest academic organizations in the humanities, the Modern Language Association (MLA), voted in favor of a resolution calling on the State Department to condemn Israel for supposedly restricting academics from traveling to the West Bank and debated, but did not vote on, a resolution expressing solidarity with the ASA and condemning “the attacks on the ASA” for its boycott.

In a rare moment of unity, both BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) supporters and their critics left satisfied with their accomplishments at the MLA’s annual meeting.  MLA members active in the BDS movement believe they have made significant progress and that a full-fledged boycott resolution will be adopted next year.  Meanwhile, the professors and organizations that oppose the BDS movement have been misguidedly patting themselves on the back for keeping the MLA from voting in favor of anything more serious.

It is dangerous to mistake the outcome of the MLA vote as a victory against BDS, and doing so reflects a limited understanding of the perverse bigotry and dishonesty of the BDS movement and the true nature of such radicalism in academia.  Rather than basking in the number of universities that came out against the ASA’s academic boycott and in favor of “academic freedom,” Jewish and pro-Israel groups should be preparing themselves for a long, protracted confrontation with academia that has been building for years.  Unfortunately, it is likely to become a much more intense fight before any real victory can be claimed.

The real problem with campaigns like those initiated by the BDS movement is not these boycotts themselves or the meaningless resolutions that academic organizations debate and pass.  BDS supporters in academia do not actually believe that boycotting Israeli scholars and institutions will directly affect the State of Israel on an international level.  They seek to vilify Israel and Jews in scholarship and education.  The goal is to make it acceptable and common to teach about Israel the same way students are taught about Nazism, Pol Pot, and the Jim Crow South.  It must be continuously repeated that the true basis for their complaint seems to be old-fashioned anti-Semitism.  We known this because the BDS movement is unable to explain why it singles out Israel, and Israel alone, for vilification.

First, it is vital to recognize the extent to which we are losing the battle in the classrooms in an array of disciplines, many of which have nothing to do with the Middle East or the history of Israel.  In fact, BDS supporters are much closer to their goal than non-academics realize.  The MLA panel called “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” should provide a much needed wake-up.  The MLA’s annual conference is not a gathering of specialized scholars to present works-in-progress.  It is a major gathering where hundreds of graduate students interview for a chance at the elusive tenure track jobs, hopeful scholars pitch new books to publishers, emerging trends in scholarship are featured, and education policies are debated.  The fact that a mainstream conference hosted a panel with the sole purpose of vilifying Israel already demonstrates the influence exerted by the BDS movement in the humanities.  The existence of this panel alone discourages any dissent amongst already cautious academics, particularly amongst those seeking jobs or tenure.

Vilification of Israel begins, however, in the college classroom where students of the humanities and social sciences are introduced to ideas like “settler colonialism,” “cultural imperialism,” “post-colonial theory,” and “western neo-imperialism.”  These methodological tenets, derived from the work of scholars like Edward Said, Michel Foucault, and Antonio Gramsci, blame so-called imperial powers (mostly Western) for physical, mental, cultural, economic, intellectual, environmental, and political wrongs done to indigenous (mostly non-Western) peoples.  These post-modern methodologies have completely captured the intellectual development of subjects like area studies, women and gender studies, ethnic studies, global studies, and development studies, and are de rigueur in more traditional departments such as history, English, comparative literature, politics, and anthropology.

In the bubble we call higher education, the intellectual world-view and the political world-view are one, and this methodology is easily transformed into radical political ideologies that cultivate movements like BDS.  Professors prime students for BDS ideology by employing neo-colonial analyses in their courses.  They introduce the demonization of the West and Israel through these post-modern methodologies.  An example is BDS supporter Samer Ali who has inelegantly stated that “most states … didn’t have the right to exist because of genocide/forced labor at their founding such as those in the Americas and Israel is among them because of its massacres of indigenous populations.”  By attaching their opinion of Israel to these en-vogue post-modern methodologies, academics are able to attack Israel from almost anywhere in the university course catalogue.  For a student, the indoctrination can be as simple as taking a course on the literature of indigenous peoples or the economic development of the “global south” (i.e. Third World).

The instruction continues in the professor’s office, where students looking for guidance, follow their teachers’ directions to textbooks, articles, and sources deeply biased against Jews and Israel.  Undergraduates lack the techniques to recognize the biases these scholars promote, especially when the professor intentionally neglects to even balance these sources with those from another perspective.  The result is a generation of students who consider Hanan Ashrawi an unbiased source of information on the Oslo negotiations and believe that the Dreyfus Affair was the only expression of anti-Semitism in the nineteenth century, both real examples I have witnessed.

It gets worse.  Secondary schools pick up the scholarship produced under this rubric.  Teachers with little expertise in the Middle East, deliberately or unknowingly, use sources with biased information.  They attend seminars from Middle East Studies outreach centers at universities that are often funded by Saudi Arabia and headed by BDS supporters (like Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies) and bring back textbooks, lesson plans, and curricula that not only misstate facts, but teach students the same biases coming out of the academy, such as the books published by James Gelvin, a professor at UCLA and another BDS supporter.

This dishonest and hateful scholarship and education seeps into policy and the media.  Honesty in education is vital, not only for the sake of a good education, but for the sake of preserving a proud national conscience and a responsible citizenry.  Therefore, rather than celebrate a stalemate at the MLA, it is time to acknowledge the extent of academic bias and damaged caused by it.  This issue should concern not only supporters of Israel, but also those who support academic honesty, oppose bigotry, and are concerned about the future of our civic society.

We’ve become complacent and allowed the umbrella term of “academic freedom” to cover hatred, dishonestly, irresponsible indoctrination, and the miseducation of our students.  There is room for disagreement in the humanities and social sciences, but “academic freedom” should not mean that we fund and give a podium to individuals to spout their falsehoods and hatred.  I’ve heard that once there was a time in academia when scholars followed their sources to reveal the truth rather than molded evidence to fit a pre-conceived political ideology.  The success of the BDS movement at the ASA and MLA conferences is a sign that the tolerance of hatred has gone on too long.  The bigots need to be uncovered, dishonest scholarship refuted as lies, and false education revealed.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

  • Qu’rayzi

    Let’s popularize the word “muslimperialism.”
    Let’s talk about “critical rape theory.”
    Let’s discuss the world after the islam and internazism (international socialism) in terms of “post-colonic irrigation of the global body politic theory.”

    • defcon 4

      How many credits is the class on “Post-colonic irrigation of the global body politic theory” course worth? Is it required to graduate?

  • Insecticide

    Learn the truth about BDS at http://www.pacbi.com

  • JVictor

    The brilliance of the BDS crowd cannot be overstated. They are employing the acceptable tactics of academic freedom and diversity to indoctrinate the next generation against Israel. Anyone who raises concern over the content is immediately accused of censorship and intolerance. Sound familiar? These are the same tactics that have poisoned the minds of the last two generations into mainstreaming the totalitarian ideals of Progressivism. The Vacation Jihadist Schools in the Arab world, that effectively indoctrinate preschoolers and elementary school-aged children with anti-Semitic fervor, are currently frowned upon in the civilized West. How much longer will that be the case?

  • Jeff Ludwig

    I had not heard of Verity Educate until reading the author’s brief bio at the end of the article. Definitely will check it out. The picture she portrays is grim indeed, and I tremble to think that the cycle of anti-Semitism may be beginning big-time in America. Hatred of Jews has run in cycles worldwide for a long time. In the U.S. despite anti-Jewish hatreds in some quarters, it has been pretty well contained. Jews have enjoyed the same freedoms as everyone else. This could be changing. BDS is horrible, but made more horrible by the support it receives from the professors. Amazingly, there are distinguished Jewish scholars in this group like Ian Lustig at the University of Pennsylvania. I was thinking about the psychology of this the other day, and it seemed to that the anti-Israel Jews may be thinking that if Israel is gone, I will be safer, i.e., a form of ‘throw some Jews to the dogs and the others remaining will be safe.’ This type of thinking is pathetic and cowardly as well as false, but there will always be people who, despite having intellectual gifts, have serious character weaknesses and deep-seated fear.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Think of all the doctors, lawyers, scientists, professors, who despite their academic achievement bought into and supported national SOCIALISM.

      Being “educated” is no protection from believing and doing EVIL.

      • Jeff Ludwig

        Thanks for this observation. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Independent

    This situation has been in the making for decades because Israel has been losing the battle of ideas–both in the US and internationally–for decades. In fact, Israel has given every appearance that it has no idea how important this battle of ideas–or propaganda war–is for Israel’s very survival. The one thing that Arabs do well is shameless propaganda. They are relentless. And Israel has simply not engaged in the propaganda battle. But I repeat, engagement in this battle of ideas or propaganda battle is important for Israel’s very survivial.

    Israel should have a large, well-funded ministry or dept of information tasked with this fight. One sub department should be assigned solely to handle wickipedia article disinformation or misinformaion. Another should be assigned to the New York Times because the NY Times sets the tone for much of the mainstream media. Other groups should be assigned to various TV and Internet news broadcasters, etc., etc., etc.

    This should have been done long ago, many decades ago.

    Ignorant young peopel attending our colleges and universities only hear the the Muslim propaganda. Many have no idea that there is another side. Even the well-disposed ones have little or no idea about the facts of the situation and so are powerless to rebut the anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda.

    Our colleges and universities have been turned into propaganda mills for anti-Israel and now antisemitic propaganda. And both Israel and American Jews have allowed this to happen.

    Not only that, many American liberal/leftist Jews have bought into the Palestinian propaganda and have no knowledge of the facts. I personally recently spoke with a liberal California Jew who said that he was embarrassed about Israel and was sorry to be associated with it because Israel was causing antisemitism. This liberal believes the Palestinian propaganda. His viewpoint is now widespread.

    The young people in our colleges and universties are the future of our country. Therefore, the future of our country is one that is anti-Israel and antisemitic. Coupled with the Palestinian and muslim propaganda disseminated in most of the mainstream media and we have a dangerous situation indeed.

    Again, Israel and most American Jews (Horowitz and this website are the exception) have done little or nothing to halt this dangerous trend.

  • Habbgun

    The soft subjects dominated by the Left is not the profit center that the hard sciences are and they are jealous and out for control. The ability to boycott professors means that the gender studies pseudo-department gets to keep out top physicists, biologists, etc. from Israeli universities. Once they get their foot in the door they can have different grievances and suddenly all approval comes through them. Just think of all the control that racial grievance studies, Islamobuttkiss studies and Marxism uber alles studies professors will have when they can demand every science professor pass a loyalty check.

    The University is over. There must be better, cheaper ways of transmitting knowledge than the monstrosity that is purposely impoverishing the middle class in endless debt.

  • NAHALKIDES

    A fine recounting of the BDS movement and the state of the Humanities

    at most universities today. I would only add that this is symptomatic of the Left’s method of marching through our cultural institutions, and that we must resolve to fight them.

  • WackoTurds
  • Silver Garcia

    Vilification of Israel begins when a Muslim group gives a cheque to a University.

  • The Facts

    This is an example of misusing a doctorate to convey a fraudulent sense of authority over one’s opinions. There is nothing in this article that indicates that the doctorate was essential in formulating this boilerplate pro-Israel chauvinism. Where does being a historian fit in? Where does Middle East oil politics fit in? It is overcredentialed racism. Also, if someone had objected that the North Vietnamese were being singled out, or the North Koreans, or Bela Kun, they would be laughed off the face of the Earth. One would not expect this blunder from a purported historian.

    • The Facts

      Also, “Verity Educate,” a kosher-stamping racket on education, which exists in a veritable sea of pseudo-education consultancies with the same name, has only been publishing for 22 days. Already it is receiving exaggerated accolades. This is a form of intellectual stock fraud.

  • defcon 4

    It’s sad how the humanities in universities have become nothing more than islam0nazi propaganda outlets. Then again, the same thing is being taught in our public schools. If public unis, colleges and public schools are teaching nothing but lies about islam, they should lose their public funding.