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Erasing academic freedom in America by Congressional legislation

October 1, 2017 at 7:30 am

Senator Chuck Schumer’s plaintive lament before the US Senate decrying the supposedly despicable practice of criticising Israel under the guise of anti-Zionism moves inexorably closer to fulfilment. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act has passed through the Senate unanimously. Shumer’s presentation of his case is classic Hasbara; propaganda disguised as empathy. His emotional appeal casts the Jews as victims of anti-Semitism even when critics of Israel target Zionism and not Jews per se. “Anti-Semitism… has been used throughout history when Jewish people are judged and measured by one standard and the rest by another,” he explains.

As an example of historic anti-Semitism, Schumer claims that Jews could not farm “when everyone else was allowed to.” When, though, were the Jews not allowed to farm? According to Steven Landsburg, “…for well over a millennium … Jews had not been farmers – not in Palestine, not in the Muslim empire, not in Western Europe, not in Eastern Europe, not anywhere in the world.” Indeed, the economist pointed out in a 2003 article (“Why Jews don’t farm”) that you have to go back almost 2,000 years to find a time when Jews, like virtually every other identifiable group, were primarily an agricultural people. “Around AD 200, Jews began to quit the land. By the seventh century, Jews had left their farms in large numbers to become craftsmen, artisans, merchants and moneylenders—the only group to have given up on agriculture. Jewish participation in farming fell to about 10 per cent through most of the world; even in Palestine it was only about 25 per cent. Everyone else stayed on the farms.”

That Jews don’t farm has nothing to do with anti-Semitism yet it becomes an emotionally charged condemnation of those who criticise the state of Israel by citing the truth about its founding ideology, Zionism. From its founding in the late 1800s to the present day, political Zionism has been an ideology determined to bring into existence a nation state for the Jewish people. Prior to World War One, the Zionists argued their right to a homeland, but until the opportunity arose to edge their way into an agreement with a failing Britain for fiscal support through the Balfour Declaration, the possibility of creating that state in Palestine did not exist. (See The Balfour Declaration 1917—2017: 100 years of Deceit, Devastation and Genocide, AHT, 30 March 2017, William A. Cook)

Ralph Schoenman provides a detailed analysis of Zionism in his classic work The Four Myths. Chapter 2 outlines the Zionist Objectives. Nothing so epitomises the reality of Zionism as Vladimir Jabotinsky’s writings on what it asserts and how it must achieve its goals. “We cannot give any compensation for Palestine, neither to the Palestinians nor to other Arabs,” insisted the revisionist Zionist leader. “Therefore, a voluntary agreement is inconceivable. All colonisation, even the most restricted, must continue in defiance of the will of the native population. Therefore it can continue and develop only under the shield of force which comprises an Iron Wall through which the local population can never break through. This is our Arab policy. To formulate it any other way would be hypocrisy… To the hackneyed reproach that this point of view is unethical, I answer, absolutely untrue. This is our ethic. There is no other ethic.”

Read: Opposing Zionism is not racism

This is Zionism, raw and vicious. Today, Zionism is still racist, militaristic and unethical. It is inherently anti-democratic yet proclaims to be democratic; it proclaims victimhood yet it is merciless in its occupation and oppression of the Palestinians; and it proclaims friendship with the people of the United States yet continues to take billions of dollars from its ally caring nothing for the people of America who must shoulder $20 trillion of debt, even though Israel is one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Palestinians hold banners reading ‘Segregated and Unequeal’ during a protest against Israeli restrictions in Hebron, West Bank on 28 August 2017 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency]

How can the US Congress justify protecting Israel and Zionism by erasing the first amendment to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech, with the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act”? How can Senators justify silencing critics of this racist, Zionist state when it is clear to the people of the world at large that its ideology openly defies international law, damns as irrelevant the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and claims an ethical code that supersedes the law? That is what Senators are about to do by “criminalising critics of Israel”. (see “Congress Considers Sweeping Bills to Fine and Jail Backers of BDS”. Democracy Now, July 17, 2017).

Since the US Congress and Israel have been unable to find a solution, it seems logical to look elsewhere. Consider this fifteen-month collaborative study from South Africa which set out to examine legally the following question: Do Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, amount to the crimes of colonialism and apartheid under international law?

Apartheid is defined as an institutionalised form of racism in which states enact laws which function as the apparatus to commit inhuman acts for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them. Apartheid regimes rely on three “Pillars of Apartheid” to maintain their domination:

  1. The state codifies into law a preferred identity: (See full report for evidence)
  2. The state segregates the population into geographic areas based on their identity.
  3. The state establishes security laws and policies designed to suppress any opposition to the regime.

Using these criteria, the May 2009 South African study found that, “Israel, since 1967, is the belligerent Occupying Power in occupied Palestinian territory, and that its occupation of these territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.”

Despite claims to being a democracy, in practice, Israel’s preferred identity is Jewish, and its separate system gives Jews privileges over non-Jewish citizens. Israel’s domestic law establishes that collective rights extend to Jews only. All other people lack the right to a national life anywhere in Israel proper or in occupied Palestinian territory.

For example, Israel’s state resources, including land in occupied Palestinian territory which Israel has declared “state land”, are specified as being for the exclusive benefit of Jews, administered under the World Zionist Organisation, Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund. Since 1967, when Israel completed its occupation of historical Palestine, it supplanted existing laws governing Palestinian territory with two separate sets of law: Israeli domestic law applies to Jewish settlers and Israeli military law applies to Palestinians.

Israel denies Palestinians the right to an education through indirect measures such as creating obstacles to movement so Palestinian students cannot get to their schools and universities; repeated closure of Palestinian schools; military attacks on schools and students; destroying educational infrastructure; and denying Palestinian students exit permits preventing them from studying abroad.

What Israel does to the Palestinians in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip is cruel and inhumane. From 2000 to 2004, Israel demolished over 2,500 homes in the Gaza Strip leaving 16,000 Palestinians homeless. According to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an estimated 24,813 “Palestinian structures” have been demolished in the occupied territories since 1967. This excludes the destruction caused by Israel’s frequent military offensives.

Under international law, the State of Israel has the duty to:

  1. Cease its unlawful activity.
  2. Dismantle the structures of colonialism and apartheid.
  3. Promote full rights and expression of the Palestinian people.
  4. Pay reparations and damages to the Palestinians people.

Furthermore, third party states are obligated to:

  1. Not recognise the illegal situation as lawful.
  2. Not render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation.
  3. Cooperate to bring the illegal situation to an end.
  4. Not become complicit in the crimes by failing to fulfil the first three obligations.

As a next step the report recommends that states take action to meet their legal obligations under international law and urgently request the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the question of Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory.

I am a Professor Emeritus at an American university; a scholar and researcher; a mentor of a Fulbright Scholar from Morocco; a professional academic administrator at four institutions in four different states, public and private; and a full-time tenured professor at a private university for the past 14 years. I also have an aggregate of 52 years of experience from Instructor to Vice President for Academic Affairs. I believe, therefore, that I can speak with some authority relative to academic freedom, tenure, ethics and values appropriate to this profession.

The action threatened by Representatives Peter Roskam and Dan Lipinski through their HR 4009 proposal seeks to curtail not only freedom of expression voiced against a political entity, the state of Israel, for perceived crimes against humanity in its destructive actions against Palestinian educational institutions and their students, but also presents the American people, most particularly the faculty and administrators at American institutions, with obligations to support a state that has been found guilty of apartheid actions that require international legal action. This could, at some time in the future, result in a finding that convicts this nation and its people themselves of crimes against humanity. The evidence presented in truncated form in this article damns the state of Israel for crimes that are intolerable by any intellectual measure, crimes that cannot be supported by those committed to justice, human dignity and respect for the rights inherent in all humans under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Accords, most especially the definition of genocide as expressed in the UN charter.

Israeli forces brutally arresting a Palestinian youth [File photo]

Israeli forces brutally arresting a Palestinian youth [File photo]

It would be better for these two Congressmen and their peers to offer the American people a gift of peace. They could begin with the withholding of the $8 million per day provided to Israel so that it can maintain the horrendous conditions it imposes on those living under its military occupation. They could also suggest that Israel’s institutions of higher learning demand of their government a commitment to open the gates of the walled-in State of Israel to all people of goodwill, beginning with an interscholastic dialogue on equity for all – the citizens of Israel as well as the citizens entrusted to their care under international law as occupiers – that all may share the gifts of thoughtful interchange as citizens of the world.


After all, the purpose of higher education is to enhance the intellect and promote the expansion of its capabilities; to recognise that all things, both living and non-living, infuse the possibilities of life by providing richness in artistic expression; to nurture compassion in the understanding of differences and creativity in technical advancement for the benefit of all; to seek, in the realm of the unknown, what enriches us and lifts us beyond our limited selves, because we see the joy of fulfilment in the multitude of faces among whom we live, play, work and pray. The great wonder of higher education is in its freedom of thought and expression; its openness to ideas and explorations of the mind; its quest to know, to seek answers, to thrive on speculation, to entertain paradoxes, mystery, fantasy and intuition, and yet know that all accept that journey of the mind and do so without threat to another, without fear of another, without anxiety or anger or hate.

There is no place in that purpose to criticise with vitriol; to lash out at perceived ignorance; to mock others; to devise weapons of destruction whether of the military kind or mental; or to hate and create “exceptionalism” which blossoms against and excludes others to enhance a few. All of these are anathema to learning. We must all learn from this exercise that the criminals in the US Congress should not be the ones responsible for dictating how academia responds to its purpose.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.