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Lawrence J. Haas: Boycott of Israeli institutions is academically dishonest

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 6:41 p.m. MDT

In this Monday, May 9, 2011 file photo, Israeli youths dance with Israeli flags, prior to a prayer at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, marking Israel's Independence Day,in Jerusalem.  (Sebastian Scheiner, Associated Press) In this Monday, May 9, 2011 file photo, Israeli youths dance with Israeli flags, prior to a prayer at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, marking Israel's Independence Day,in Jerusalem. (Sebastian Scheiner, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — U.S. scholars’ mounting boycotts of Israeli academic and cultural institutions are ironic indeed, for they contradict everything that higher education is supposed to stand for — they are wholly ignorant and profoundly narrow-minded.

That Israel is a perennial target on America’s college campuses is hardly breaking news. The Jewish state has long suffered from the singular focus of academics who want to burnish their human rights credentials while convincing themselves that they are doing something to make a difference.

On college campuses, where left-wing political ideology dominates, it’s politically correct and socially comfortable to criticize Israel. The scholar who defends Israel, however, can wind up shunned and lonely.

But dig a bit deeper and you will see that the emperor of anti-Israel boycotts simply has no clothes.

For all of its out-sized attention, Israel is hardly the world’s worst human rights offender — not even close. Its treatment of Palestinians doesn’t approach the human rights abuses of China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba and the Congo — not to mention the humanitarian horror show of North Korea.

But where are the boycotts of academic and cultural institutions in China, where the government jails dissidents and their families and tightly restricts the Internet; or in Iran, where the regime engages in politically motivated torture, beatings and rape and hangs teenage homosexuals in public; or in Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is transforming a once-thriving democracy into a rights-abusing autocracy?

And where, by the way, is the boycott of the West Bank where, according to the State Department’s latest annual human rights report, the Palestinian Authority restricts free speech, press and assembly while allowing abuses of women, children and people with disabilities?

Where is the boycott of Gaza, where the terrorist group Hamas not only restricts freedom, limits worker rights and forces children to work, but where its security forces kill, torture, detain and harass opponents?

Moreover, anti-Israel boycotts presume that, by changing its behavior, Jerusalem alone can forge Israeli-Palestinian peace. But while U.S. scholars largely look the other way, the reality is quite different.

As noted, the Palestinian leadership is split between the “moderate” Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, and Hamas, which runs Gaza. With Hamas dedicated to Israel’s destruction, any Israeli-Palestinian peace can only be a limited one at best.

But even Palestinian Authority leaders have not planted the seeds for peace. They still glorify anti-Israeli murder and violence, preach Israel-hating in their schools and refuse to tell their people that peace will undoubtedly require compromise — which means abandoning hopes of a “full right of return” for Palestinian refugees that’s defined so broadly that it would destroy the Jewish majority character of Israel.

Thus, to blame Israel alone for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict defies reality. But to sanction Israeli academic and cultural institutions also defies the highest ideals of higher education.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is controversial, and a university — which should promote free thought — is where it should receive a fair hearing. The anti-Israel boycotters, however, opt for bigotry over open-mindedness

Worse, they opt for guilt by association. They refuse an open dialogue with their colleagues at Israeli institutions because, presumably, those institutions are complicit in Israeli governmental policy.

That’s not just profoundly ignorant — why would such institutions have more power in Israel than their counterparts do in, say, America? It’s also profoundly bigoted, for those U.S. scholars do not apply the same standard to institutions in any other country — no matter how heinous its government.

U.S. scholarly boycotts of Israeli institutions are part of a larger global campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. It won’t bring peace any closer, but it will assuage the misguided consciences of Israel haters.

That anyone targets Israel for discriminatory treatment is unjustified. That scholars do it is downright galling.

Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. Readers may write him at AFPC, 509 C Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

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