The Los Angeles Times has done it again, handing U.C.L.A. Prof. Saree Makdisi space on its commentary pages for another virtually fact-free, anti-Israel column. The third this year (and at least tenth in The Times since 2004), Makdisi’s “Wrongfully treating academic debates as anti-semitism” (May 26) relies on semantic and factual inversion to hide the goal of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the company it keeps.
The professor, an advocate of the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, cloaks his objective with appeals to academic freedom. He claims critics of boycotting Israel engage in “an immediate descent into shrill accusations of ‘demonization’ and ‘delegitimization’ followed, inevitably, by character assassination.’ ”
Unfortunately for Makdisi, any character assassination regarding BDS advocates is self-committed. On this we have the recent observations of Pope Francis and President Obama.
The pontiff reportedly told Portuguese-Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman late last month that “anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel — and their right to exist — is guilty of anti-Semitism.”
A few days earlier, speaking to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama—reflecting on contemporary antisemitism and Israel—said he thought of the entwined issues this way: “Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? …
“If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”
Makdisi and the BDS effort he champions insist on holding Israel to double standards and isolating it. They reject the principle that the Jewish people is entitled to its own state on even part of the land of Israel. So yes, as defined by the Pope and the president, they’re guilty of antisemitism.
Makdisi pretends proposals to ban BDS would outlaw criticism of specific Israeli policies. But that would amount to invoking a double standard on behalf of Israel, when opponents of the boycotters insist only that Israel be judged like any other country.
Makdisi relies on a chain of historical omissions to sanitize his boycott mania. First, he fails to note the importance of the Nazis’ boycott of Jewish goods and services as part of their isolation and delegitimization of Germany’s Jews, an early step toward the destruction of European Jewry.
Then the professor omits mention of Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini’s support for boycotting Jewish businesses in British Mandatory Palestine. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem would go from boycotts to partnering with Hitler in Berlin during World War II for the “Final Solution.”
Third, Makdisi was silent about the Arab League’s imposition of an economic boycott within months of Israel’s birth. This embargo likely stunted Israel’s growth by impeding international trade—so in 1977 Congress made it illegal for U.S. companies to participate in anti-Israel boycotts.
Makdisi uses scare tactics to equate recognizing and defining BDS as antisemitic with censorship. But a look at Makdisi’s BDS associates suggests free intellectual inquiry isn’t their aim. Among the “Palestinian civil society” groups that formed the campaign were Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade of Fatah, U.S. government designated terrorist organizations, non-Palestinian Syrian movements, and others who have called for the genocide of Jewish people.
Makdisi’s long paper trail makes clear he opposes a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace. What he wants, championing BDS, is the end of the world’s one Jewish country.
Antisemitism is inseparable from BDS, as much as the professor may want to gloss it over and call such criticism “emotionally charged language.”
Why was it necessary this past March for UC President Janet Napolitano and Board of Regents Chair Bruce D. Varner to state that “recent instances of anti-Semitism at U of C campuses compel us to speak out against bigotry and hate, wherever it might occur and whoever might be targeted”? Why, because quite frequently accompanying BDS is hostility toward Jews, as many Jewish college students report.
Makdisi shrugs off boycott calls in connection with the world’s numerous, much larger actual cases of human rights violations, saying “as though all the world’s problems have to be addressed before we can focus on Israel.”
But he isn’t calling for boycotts towards any of the other world’s problems. Such selective, narrow-focused outrage suggests hypocrisy, hypocrisy hiding BDS’ particular bigotry: antisemitism.
The writers are, respectively, media assistant and Washington director for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.