Proof that groupthink reigns supreme in academia came last month as hundreds of academic departments released statements and thousands of individual professors signed open letters “in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
Following 11 days of war between Hamas and Israel, these shockingly unoriginal statements, which read like carbon copies of each other, do more than express support for Palestinians; they accuse Israel of being a “colonial settler state” and oppressing millions of peaceful people through a system of apartheid equally insidious as the original South African version.
They also demonstrate the extent to which yesterday’s radical, fringe ideas are being mainstreamed and presented as factual to today’s college students.
Ahistorical hyperbole is the order of the day in the Ivy League statements. Princeton University’s statement applauds Palestinians for their “bravery and will-to-survival … as they resist the violence of the Israeli military, settler militias, and lynch mobs.” Harvard’s statement laments “Israeli ethnonationalist violence” and “US support for Israel’s apartheid regime.” The faculty of Yale’s Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration complain about “Israeli state-sponsored attacks against Palestinian life, land, and property.” None of these statements mentions the Hamas rockets that began the 11 days of violence in May or the suicide bombers who made construction of a dividing wall necessary.
Stanford’s statement takes it a step further, explaining that the “Nakba … need not refer only to the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled in terror during Israel’s founding. It can also evoke the many expulsions that have occurred since: the about 300,000 Palestinians whom Israel displaces when it conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.” Stanford’s scholars neglect to mention that most of the Arabs who fled in 1947–48 were heeding the advice of the leaders of Egypt, Trans-Jordan, and Syria, who urged them to join with one of the invading armies in order to turn Israel into “the graveyard of the Jews.”
Vassar College’s statement bemoans “Israel’s ethnic cleansing, dispossession, containment, and expulsion of Palestinians since 1948.” It doesn’t mention the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab states since 1948.
At the University of California’s Berkeley campus, faculty demanded Israel “immediately cease its attacks on the people of Palestine in their ancestral homelands,” and faculty at the Davis campus expressed their outrage over the “asymmetrical assaults by the Israeli state.”
From the City University of New York (CUNY) came both a general “CUNY Community Statement of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” and a “Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People” from the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), a union representing CUNY employees. Both accuse Israel of being a “settler colonial state” and an “apartheid” nation. Neither mentions the 4,600 Hamas missiles from last month.
If individual college and university statements weren’t enough to make the point, groups of professors got together with others in their area of specialization to signal their virtues. Scores of gender studies departments and programs from across the globe issued a statement “In Solidarity With Palestinian Feminist Collective,” declaring opposition to both American and Israeli “settler colonialism” and vowing to create “global social justice in our intersectional teaching, scholarship, and organizing.”
The American Anthropological Association’s statement asserted that “Anthropological evidence makes it clear that there is no justification for settler colonialism.”
The National Women’s Studies Association released a statement warning that “Herstory has her eye on us and will record and remember where we stood when we stood and why we spoke out,” and declaring that “Palestinian Solidarity is a feminist issue.”
Under the banner of “academic freedom,” the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) released a statement declaring “support for Palestinian liberation” and describing “deadly conditions created by the Israeli military attacks in Gaza.” Again, no mention of the Hamas missiles.
Three forces are behind the deluge of these letters: the academy’s obsession with decolonialism, an NGO called B’Tselem, and a document titled “Palestine and Praxis: Open Letter and Call to Action.”
The movement called “decolonialism” is an ugly outgrowth of the obsession with post-colonialism. It has spawned the newest academic buzzword, “settler colonialism,” a term used in every single academic statement of solidarity with the Palestinians.
Another driving force behind the flurry of homogenous statements is the radical, anti-Israel group B’Tselem. The group is about as reliable a source on Israel policy as Code Pink is on American policy, and yet it is treated as a top-notch research outfit.
Until very recently, calling Israel an “apartheid state” was a fringe idea, born at the 2001 Durban Conference and promoted only by the most rabid anti-Israel professors on their annual “Israel Apartheid Week” celebrations on college campuses every spring. But on January 12, 2021, B’Tselem published a report titled “A regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This Is Apartheid,” which mainstreamed the slur. Though thoroughly debunked by Gilead Ini, a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), the report is quoted in virtually every solidarity statement.
B’Tselem has embraced the pattern established by the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) of using Jewishness as an insulating shield to protect against charges of anti-Semitism. Clemens Heni, director of the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA), has dubbed this Jewish form of anti-Zionism the “Kosher stamp,” and it works. The Associated Press calls B’Tselem a “leading Israeli human rights group,” and a “respected Israeli organization.” NPR calls it “a prominent Israeli human rights group.” The academic journal Inside Higher Ed calls it “Israel’s most prominent human rights organization.” When B’Tselem’s CEO/Director Hagai El-Ad is quoted, his name is often followed by the words “who is Jewish” (an epithet he shares with Peter Beinart).
If the decolonial movement provided the mindset that finds Israel always at fault, and B’Tselem offered Kosher cover for radical anti-Zionist rhetoric, the “Palestine and Praxis” statement provided the template for the flurry of academic solidarity statements. Many of the statements (notably Princeton’s) endorse “Palestine and Praxis” by name.
The “Palestine and Praxis” statement begins with a lie in the opening line, asserting that “the Palestinian struggle [is] an indigenous liberation movement confronting a settler colonial state.” There is nothing indigenous about “the Palestinian people.” The icon of Palestinian nationalism, Yasser Arafat, was an Egyptian, and before 1920 the Arabs who today call themselves “Palestinians” called themselves Syrians. They are linguistically, culturally, and genetically identical to the people who call themselves Jordanians.
While most of the solidarity statements fail even to mention, let alone acknowledge the significance of, the Hamas rockets that rained on Israel for 11 days in May, “Palestine and Praxis” stands out from the crowd of imitators. Unfortunately, it does so with the most egregious claim of all the statements, reducing criticism of Hamas as “attempts to transform the conversation on Israeli state violence to a series of stale talking points about Hamas rockets” (emphasis added). Richard Landes characterized the statement as a “call to weaponize … propaganda” and “brainwash students.”
Beginning in the fall 2021 semester, college life should be very different than it was last year, all except for the usual one-sided, ahistorical attacks on Israel and rationalization of Palestinian violence, which will continue as usual from the Ivy League to the community college. The people entrusted to shape the minds of college students are failing miserably in this regard.
A. J. Caschetta is a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a fellow at Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, where he is also a Ginsburg-Milstein fellow.