At the Epicenter of BDS

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Over the last 68 years, since the establishment of Israel, we have seen how the Arab world has tried to eliminate Israel through conventional warfare and then by way of intifada and terrorism. But to date, the most effective Arab tactic has been the campaign of demoralization and delegitimization.

As any psychologist would tell you, the human body is capable of miraculously repairing physical wounds, but psychological damage often lasts a lifetime. This psychological campaign is currently underway in many battlefields, including forums of international jurisdiction — the United Nations, the International Criminal Court of Justice and the International Red Cross, to name a few. However, the most brutal battlefield today is the average U.S. college campus, and some of the leaders of this movement happen to be Jewish students, particularly those lacking adequate knowledge of the history of what happened to our people over the last two centuries.

For many of these students, all of Judaism boils down to the words “tikkun olam” — repairing the world. They see Judaism exclusively as a social justice movement. Lacking the context of what our people went through that necessitated a national liberation movement, and having heard only stories of Israel’s successes in high-tech and medicine, their compassion immediately goes to the underdogs, which, to them, are the Palestinians. In fact, their identification with the Palestinian cause may even make them feel like they are being “good Jews.”

About a decade ago, Natan Sharansky wrote that “American university campuses are islands of anti-Semitism within the United States,” and that “American Jewish college students are the new Jews of silence.” In the ensuing years, the situation got much worse. Many of those college students have graduated and have assumed positions of leadership within the U.S., and their commitment to Israel’s survival has been waning.

According a recent Pew poll, a little over half (54%) of Americans sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, while 19% said they sympathize with the Palestinians. Interestingly, the poll indicated clear generational differences, with 43% of millennials (those born after 1980) and 61% of baby bombers (born between 1946 and 1964) feeling sympathy toward Israel.

Jewish millennials often appear to be spearheading this erosion of support for Israel, leading the charge for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement with such organizations as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace.

There is a little-known law at the epicenter of the BDS movement — it was first known as The National Defense Education Act but is now known as Title VI of the Higher Education Act. It was established during the Cold War, in 1958, when our government realized that American students were woefully ignorant of foreign languages and cultures, skills that were desperately needed to defeat the Soviet threat. The government therefore established regional (Latin American, African, Middle Eastern) studies centers on many of our nation’s college campuses.

But the original legislative intent, “to ensure that the national security interests of the United States are being met,” has now been turned on its head. The entire field of Middle Eastern studies underwent a revolution in 1978 when the late professor of English and comparative literature from Columbia University, Edward Said, published his book “Orientalism.” Said argued that anyone who is not native to the region (i.e., an Arab or Muslim) is bound to be prejudiced by a deep-seated and systematic racism, which he called “Orientalism” — the moral and intellectual equivalent of racism, sexism or anti-Semitism. This simplistic treatise caught on like wildfire throughout American academia, which was already riding the postcolonialist wave. Soon the scholarship of reputable Middle Eastern scholars such as Bernard Lewis and Efraim Karsh was called into question. The result was a total politicization of the classroom, with political polemic standing in for sound scholarship.

For over a generation now, our taxpayer dollars have been used to fund professors such as Hatem Bazian, who founded Students for Justice in Palestine in 1993 at the University of California, Berkeley. Students for Justice in Palestine purports to be a human rights movement, but in actuality it is an anti-Israel movement at the forefront of the BDS movement. It is represented on more than 120 of our nation’s college campuses.

Bazian is a faculty member of the Title VI-funded Near Eastern Studies Department at Berkeley. Aside from that distinguished title, Bazian also chairs the Islamophobia Research and Development Project, which, for the past two years, has held a conference on Islamophobia. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the nearby Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, Berkeley held a conference titled “Shooting Rampage in Paris: Free Speech, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Religion and Islamophobia.” The speakers totally ignored the horrific attacks on civilians and deflected any responsibility that the Muslim community might possibly bear for this tragedy. They spoke only about Islamophobia and how Muslims throughout Europe feel “insulted.”

If you harbor the illusion that this is happening only at Berkeley, which is known for its left-leaning tilt, take a look at the writings of Rashid Khalidi or Joseph Massad of Columbia University’s Title VI-funded Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies Department. They are replete with the same sort of postcolonial, anti-Israeli sentiments.

What makes this situation even more pernicious is that in order to get the grant from the federal government, professors at these elite universities have to conduct outreach programs through Title VI-funded resource centers. These programs involve members of the community and teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade classes. This way, the one-sided, political biases that dominate academia are passed on to much of America’s most vulnerable and impressionable young students.

Many teachers view these professors, who teach at some of America’s most elite universities, as real “experts,” and are therefore receptive to their political diatribes as a substitute for sound scholarship. They are also frequently busy, overworked and exhausted, prompting them to use the hand outs provided at these outreach workshops as is in their classrooms without adapting them to their students’ needs.

Many of these handouts have now been compiled into a book titled “The Arab World Studies Notebook.” According to the author, the “Arab World Studies Notebook has been distributed to more than 10,000 teachers, and has affected more than 25 million students, nation wide.”

The book has been underwritten by Aramco and the Middle East Policy Council, both funded by Saudi Arabia.

Although the “Arab World Studies Notebook” attempts to address what the author and her funders see as biases against the Muslim and Arab world, what it actually does is create new biases in the reverse direction, most notably against Israel.

The section on “Palestine” is replete with historical half-truths and total untruths meant to generate sympathy only for the Palestinian cause, cleverly disguising this tactic as “critical thinking.”

Take for example, the poem, “Identity Card” by Mahmoud Darwish. Just one excerpt of which reads:


I am an Arab

You have stolen the orchards

of my ancestors

and the land

which I cultivated

Along wish my children

And you left us with these rocks.

The resource section of the book contains references to such films as “Al Nakba; Palestinian Catastrophe 1948,” “Dreams of Justice and Freedom with Hanan Ashrawi” and “On Our Land” (about the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm). It contains no films sympathetic to any part of the Israeli narrative.

It is no wonder, then, that by the time students arrive on the college campus, irrespective of the human-rights atrocities that are committed daily in North Korea, Syria, Rwanda, Sudan, Saudi Arabia or Iran, the one state consistently singled out for opprobrium is the State of Israel.

Originally published at Israel Hayom:

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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