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Why Should Academic Departments Have Foreign Policies?

When did academic departments decide they had to declare themselves on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute but on no other foreign policy question? And why are they so eager to express their visceral hatred of the Jewish state? A report on this disturbing phenomenon is here: “Academic departments must steer clear of anti-Israel activism,” by Richard L. Cravatts, Israel Hayom, November 12, 2021:

The obsessive loathing of Israel by large swathes of academia was evident this past spring as Hamas showered Israeli population centers with more than 4,000 rockets and mortars. Instead of denouncing genocidal aggression on the part of Hamas, these woke, virtue-signaling moral narcissists took it upon themselves to condemn – in the loudest and most condemnatory terms — the Jewish state, not the homicidal psychopaths intent on murdering Jews….

There is a difference between an individual expressing an opinion on, say, social media. That opinion is his alone. No pressure has been placed on him to express it. But when academic departments put out what are presented as that department’s — presumably unanimous — opinion, those who may not agree with the majority seldom dare to express their minority opinion in the daggers-drawn atmosphere of current academic life, where dissent is only for the tenured, and even they must be very brave, to express solidarity with, or sympathy for, the embattled Jewish state that has been so demonized in the swamps of academe.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cary Nelson, former president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and professor emeritus of English, challenged the propriety of departments authoring statements of support for the Palestinian cause while vilifying and denouncing Israel in the process. Four academic units at Illinois had issued anti-Israel statements in the spring – the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Department of Asian American Studies, and the Department of History – prompting Nelson and 43 of his fellow faculty to write a letter to Chancellor Robert Jones and Provost Andreas Cangellaris.

In that letter, the faculty noted that “the statements in question were not issued by individual faculty or groups of faculty. They were subscribed to by departments … [and] have been placed on websites and disseminated through social media and email, which created the impression that the unit was speaking for all or most of the faculty within it. This represents a worrisome development. And it is worrisome irrespective of one’s views on the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”…

These “departmental opinions” are the result of an atmosphere of intellectual intimidation, with those not subscribing to the majority view nonetheless being “spoken for.” Did absolutely every faculty member, for example, in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, agree that Israel is an arch-villain? Or was such an opinion presented by a handful of anti-Israel activists, without the agreement or even, possibly, the knowledge, of all of that department’s members? Did the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies decide, as in the Soviet Union, that “for the good of the Party” no dissent could be allowed and simply rode roughshod over those who dared to even mildly disagree with the kind of hysterical language that is used to blacken Israel’s image? And did the members of that same department not know, or not care, that it is the Palestinians who, as Muslims, allow husbands to “beat” their wives should they be even suspected of “disobedience”? It is the Palestinians who engage in “honor killings” of girls and women by their menfolk, who may then be let off with a short prison sentence, or too often receive no punishment at all. It is Israel that guarantees the legal equality of men and women, and it is the Palestinians who violate that equality at every turn, yet here is the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies standing foursquare with those who mistreat women, while it rages against those who defend their rights.

Academic life is supposed to be dedicated, among other things, to the pursuit of the truth. Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, professors have the great privilege of time – time to investigate matters of interest to them, time to weigh competing claims, time to analyze, to praise and to blame. The May conflict was only a few days old when academic departments issued their summary judgments against Israel. There is a rush to judgment when it comes to Israel. What led these departments to think they had to express the “department’s” opinion, instead of letting individual faculty members have their say, or if they wished, choose to say nothing at all? Why this insensate urge to force a false consensus, through veiled threats of retribution if someone fails to toe the anti-Israel line – threats that too often are successful? Those who disagree with the consensus find it more prudent to simply remain silent, rather than make enemies of fellow members of the department. For non-tenured faculty, it’s obvious why such a choice is made. But even tenured faculty may want to keep their heads down, avoid trouble, concentrate on their own work, and hope that the madness passes.

For academic departments to pronounce with such authority, on things they know so little, or nothing, about, is intolerable. Academics who have no special knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict presume that their opinions deserve special respect. They should be heeded simply because they are professors, no matter how distant their field may be from what they pontificate about. As an example, let’s look at how four departments at the University of Illinois presented what we were to assume were the collective views of its members.

Let’s start with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois, which denounces Israel in hysterical terms, charging it with the “illegal occupation of Palestinian land”; a “siege, indiscriminate destruction and massacres in Gaza”; “state-sanctioned execution of Palestinian people”; and, echoing the venomous blood libel promoted by Rutgers professor Jasbir Puar, among others, the “deliberate maiming of Palestinian bodies.”

First, there is no “illegal occupation of Palestinian land.” Israel, in a war of self-defense started in May by Gamal Abdel Nasser, won by force of arms both Gaza and Judea and Samaria (a/k/a the West Bank). The victory in the Six-Day War did not create Israel’s claim to these territories, but allowed it to exercise its preexisting claim. Israel has a right, under the Mandate for Palestine, Article 6, to establish “close settlement by Jews on the land.” What land? All the land from the Golan in the north to the Red Sea in the south, and from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean in the west – the land that the League of Nations intended to be part of the future Jewish National Home. Have these professors of urban planning read the Mandate for Palestine? The San Remo Treaty? Article 80 of the U.N. Charter? U.N. Security Council Resolution 242? Don’t be silly.

Israel gave up Gaza in 2005, pulling out all 8,500 Israelis who had been living the Strip. There is no “siege” of Gaza, as the Department of Urban Planning at the University of Illinois insists. Electricity, water, and natural gas are all supplied by Israel to the people of Gaza. There is no attempt to keep out any medicines or food. There is a blockade, but that is on goods that can be used by the terror group Hamas, which has run Gaza since 2007, in attacks on Israel. Thus, the supplies allowed into Gaza of some building materials, such as cement, are limited. For they are deemed to be “dual-use” materials, because they can be used innocuously to build apartments, but can also be used to build such things as emplacements for rocket launchers and terror tunnels.

There are no “indiscriminate destruction and massacres in Gaza.” Israeli pilots pinpoint their targets; there is no carpet bombing. Hamas places its weapons, its rocket launchers, its command-and-control centers, in or next to schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, even mosques. Israel tries very hard to minimize civilian casualties. When a target has been chosen, the Israelis warn inhabitants to leave the building, through various means – telephoning, leafletting, emailing, and use of the “knock-on-the-roof” technique. Ordinarily the Palestinians have between 15 minutes and two hours to leave. There have been no “massacres in Gaza.” In the 11-day conflict this past May, of the 260 Palestinians killed, 225 of them were determined, through the tracking of death notices, to have been Hamas fighters; 25 of them were senior commanders of the terror group. Only a few dozen of those killed could have been civilians. And there were no reports of any “massacres.” The professors in the Department of Urban Planning were simply throwing in Israel’s direction whatever grotesque charges they could fabricate against the Jewish state, counting on some of it to stick.

Similarly, there has been no “state-sanctioned execution of Palestinian people.” The IDF, as British Colonel Richard Kemp has noted, is the “most moral army in the world.” It makes heroic efforts to protect civilian lives through every possible method of warning inhabitants in or near buildings soon to be hit. Israeli pilots have been known to call off their mission if they spot children too near to the target; this happened several times during the May war.

Let’s look at the less extreme statement of the History Department at the same university.

The Executive Committee of the Department of History issued a briefer statement by email that condemned “the state violence that the Israeli government and its security forces have been carrying out in Gaza” and “standing in solidarity with Palestine and support for the struggle for Palestinian liberation” – “liberation” being a euphemism for the Middle East without Israel and free of Jewish sovereignty on Muslim land.

The statement was put out in an email, as if all members of the History Department agreed to its contents. By what right did the “Executive Committee” presume to speak for the whole department? And why does it describe as Israeli “state violence” a war that began on May 10, when Hamas launched hundreds of rockets at civilian areas of Israel, and Israel did what any nation-state would do – it fought back in defense of its people, hitting in response Hamas rockets, rocket launchers, command-and-control centers, fighters, and a network of terror tunnels? What should Israel have done? Simply let those 4,500 rockets that Hamas flung toward Israeli cities such as Ashdod and Ashkelon land without trying to hit back, in self-defense, at Hamas – its weapons depots, its rocket launchers, its fighters – so that it could no longer launch those rockets? Why is this self-defense described as “state violence”? Would America have done differently?

As for that claim of “standing in solidarity with Palestine , and support or the struggle for Palestinian liberation,” as Richard Cravatts, correctly notes, that is code for the replacement of Israel, “from the river to the sea,” by a Palestinian state. That’s what the History Department’s members – all of them – are made to seemingly endorse. How many of them are happy with that?

Immersed in the ideology of multiculturalism and the intersectionality of oppression, the Department of Asian American Studies condemned “the ongoing 73 years of settler-colonial violence against Palestine and the Palestinian people” and “the exploitation, theft and colonization of land and labor everywhere, including in Palestine. To this, we say no more.”

According to the Department of Asian-American Studies, then, since its very founding in 1948, Israel has been engaged in “settler-colonial violence against Palestine and the Palestinian people.” But there were no “settlers” in 1948, or 1958, or 1968. There was “violence” in 1948, but it was the violence started by five Arab armies that attacked the Jewish state on May 15, 1948, ignoring Israel’s offer of peace, as they tried to snuff out the young life of the nascent state of Israel. Israel was fighting for its survival, as it would have to again do so in the wars of 1967 and 1973. Those people denounced as “settler-colonials” in 1948 consisted of the following: Jews whose families had been living uninterruptedly in the Land of Israel for centuries; Zionist pioneers who had, beginning in about 1900, been making aliyah, buying land from Arab and Turkish landowners and settling on it; Jews who had fled Arab lands where they had lived for centuries, with many more of them –some 850,000 in all – fleeing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with most of them choosing to settle in Israel; Jews who had managed to escape from Europe just before World War II; Jews who had survived the Nazis and arrived in Israel from DP camps after the war. These were the people, so many of them survivors of terrible ordeals in Europe and in Arab lands, who are now being denounced by this all-knowing “Department of Asian-American Studies” in Illinois as “settler-colonials,” for managing to find refuge in what would become, in 1948, the tiny Jewish state, and then for helping to rebuild that ancient Jewish commonwealth in the Land of Israel.

Another point to consider: the Asian-American Studies Department statement includes this: “the exploitation, theft, and colonization of land and labor everywhere, including in Palestine.” So, we are told, this “exploitation, theft, and colonization” by Jews goes on everywhere, including Palestine. Isn’t this a statement that would not be out of place in Mein Kampf?

The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies signed a statement, “Gender Studies Departments in Solidarity with Palestinian Feminist Collective,” along with some 100 other gender-studies departments. With the characteristic pseudo-intellectual babble that currently dilutes the scholarly relevance of the social sciences and humanities, the “solidarity statement” pretentiously announced that “as gender-studies departments in the United States, we are the proud benefactors of decades of feminist anti-racist, and anti-colonial activism that informs the foundation of our interdiscipline” [sic] and that “‘Palestine is a Feminist Issue.’”…

The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies asserts that “Palestine is a Feminist Issue.” And so it is, but not in the way the good professors in the department seem to think. To repeat what I wrote yesterday on the subject: It is the Palestinians who, as Muslims, allow husbands to “beat” their wives should they be even suspected of “disobedience,” it is the Palestinians who engage in “honor killings” of girls and women by their husbands, fathers, brothers, who may then be let off with a short prison sentence, or too often, receive no punishment at all. It Is the Palestinians who enforce dress codes on “their women,” who value the testimony of females as half that of males; who have girls and women inherit half what a male inherits. Israel, by contrast, guarantees the legal and social equality of men and women, while the Palestinians violate that equality at every turn, yet here is the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies standing foursquare with those who mistreat women, while it inveighs against those who defend their rights.

Three points suggest themselves:

First, let every man and woman speak for himself or herself. Don’t force people into letting their Department speak for them. Not even professors should be made to suffer that.

Second, academics, like cobblers, should stick to their last.

Third, “whereof we do not know, thereof we should not speak.”

Come to think of it, the third point is really just the second one, expressed less succinctly. But it bears repetition.

COLUMN BY

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