Anti-Boycott Legislation, Free Speech and Academic Freedom: A Response to Ed Beck and the International Grass Roots Faculty Committee For Academic Freedom and Integrity

Yesterday, The Algemeiner published my article on “Legislating Against BDS.” In this article, I argue that Representatives Roskam and Lipinski have done creditable service in introducing legislation that would bar federal funding of universities that boycott Israel.  Although their initial bill may not be perfect, it has provoked a healthy conversation about how legislatures can be address the misuse of taxpayer funds to support discriminatory boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policies that arguably encroach upon academic freedom.   To be fully effective, I argued, an anti-boycott bill would address not only boycotts but also divestment, and it should provide a tripartite enforcement scheme consistent with other areas of anti-discrimination law.  Although the article has been generally well received, it has received one critical comment from Dr. Edward Beck that is sufficiently thoughtful and serious to require a full reply.

Dr. Beck posted his reply in the comments to my article on the Algemeiner site.  As Brandeis Center Blog readers may be aware, Beck is the Co-founder and Chairman emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, although he has subsequently left SPME for new ventures.   Although he does not directly criticize my article, Beck posts a position paper that takes a contrary view of the legislation.  “You and your readers might be interested in learning the position of some pretty thoughtful folks with whom I am now working,” he writes, “on the International Grass Roots Faculty Committee For Academic Freedom and Integrity.”  Beck then posts what he calls the “IGRFCAFI Statement on Punitive Legislation For Academic Boycott Actions.” The statement is signed by twelve distinguished academics, several of whom I personally know and deeply respect.

Legislating Against BDS

LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus has just published this article in The Algemeiner:

The backlash continues against the anti-Israel boycott resolution that the American Studies Association adopted last month. Over 200 university presidents have distanced themselves from it. Numerous other organizations, including the American Association of University Professors, have condemned it too. Some critics argue that it violates academic freedom. Others go further, observing that the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) Israel amounts to discrimination against the Jewish state. Now legislators are joining the burgeoning anti-BDS movement, introducing bills to curb anti-Israel abuse. The first few efforts out of the box may be imperfect vehicles, but they have begun a necessary conversation about how public policy can best address the misuse of taxpayer funds to support BDS.

On February 6, Congressmen Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced the “Protect Academic Freedom Act” (H.R. 4009), which would ban federally funded universities from boycotting Israeli academic institutions or scholars. As they introduced the bill, the congressmen denounced the bigotry surrounding the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as the threat which anti-Israel activists pose to academic freedom.

Representative Roskam had been justly lauded for his co-authorship of a January letter, signed by 134 members of Congress, to “strongly condemn” the American Studies Association (ASA) for its recent endorsement of the academic boycott against Israel.  “While ASA has every right to express its views on policies pursued by any nation or government,” the congressmen wrote, “we believe that the decision to blacklist Israeli academic institutions for Israeli government policies with which ASA disagrees demonstrates a blatant disregard for academic freedom.” In addition, the congressmen complained that the ASA’s boycott resolution “exhibits flagrant prejudice against the Jewish State of Israel.”

While Rep. Roskam’s letter was well received, reaction to the new Roskam-Lipinski bill has been more mixed. AIPAC officials have been quoted as saying that they are “reviewing the text.” The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman has praised the purposes of the legislation but conceded that he’s “not sure that this bill would be the most effective means of recourse.” On the other hand, several other groups support the legislation, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Christians United For Israel, and The Israel Project. Ambassador Michael Oren has been an effusive supporter, arguing that Roskam-Lipinski “can be the turning point in the struggle against the delegitimization of the Jewish State.”

Max Blumenthal’s ‘Goliath’ and the Mainstreaming of Anti-Semitism

Blumenthal GoliathActivists devoted to promoting boycott campaigns against Israel and maligning the Jewish state as illegitimate and uniquely evil knew already what to expect when Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel was published last October. As Blumenthal himself emphasized in the acknowledgements at the end of his book, sites like the Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss had “provided essential outlets for much of the reporting” presented in Goliath, while “less courageous publications” had “shied away” from publishing this material. What kind of “courage” it took to publish Blumenthal’s “reporting” on Israel was illustrated when the Simon Wiesenthal Center released its 2013 list of the “Top 10 Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs” at the end of December and included Blumenthal in the category “The Power of the Poison Pen.”

The Louis D. Brandeis Center (LDB) is publishing today a Research Article that provides a detailed documentation of Blumenthal’s efforts to depict Israel as an utterly evil state that can only be compared to Nazi Germany and should be treated accordingly. Entitled “Another Milestone for the Mainstreaming of Anti-Semitism: The New America Foundation and Max Blumenthal’s Goliath,” the paper highlights how inappropriate it is to promote a book on Israel by an author whose related work had been shunned by mainstream outlets for good reason. After all, Blumenthal’s writings and video clips not only appealed to activists campaigning for the delegitimization and elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, but were also promoted on all the major sites popular among conspiracy theorists, Jew-haters, racists and neo-Nazis: from Stormfront to David Duke’s site, Rense, and Veterans Today. Moreover, Blumenthal himself endorsed reviews that praised his book for presenting Israel as the Nazi Germany of our time, thereby arguably undermining the mainstream legitimacy bestowed on Goliath by the New America Foundation’s (NAF) unfortunate decision to provide him a platform for promoting the book.

Blumenthal at UPennWhile Blumenthal was perfectly capable to adjust his presentations according to the audience he was addressing, he provided a chilling demonstration of what he hoped to accomplish with Goliath during an event at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was hosted on October 17 by political scientist Ian Lustick to promote his book. Lustick noted at one point in the discussion that Blumenthal showed in Goliath that “Israel is not just a little bit fascist, Israel is a lot fascist,” and according to Lustick, this was the “ultimate delegitimizer,” because after World War II, “nothing fascist can even be allowed to survive.” Referring to the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, Lustick invited Blumenthal to fancy himself in the position of God in order to decide whether there are enough “good people” in today’s Sodom-like Israel to save it from destruction. Blumenthal, who clearly didn’t need convincing that Israel as a Jewish state shouldn’t be allowed to survive, responded by explaining that his first concern was relieving “the suffering of the indigenous people of Palestine.” According to him, the only way to achieve this was by placing “external pressure” – such as the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement is advocating – on Jewish Israelis in order to force them to choose between emigrating and agreeing to “become indigenized” by accepting Arab dominance in political, cultural and social terms.

French Courts Treat BDS as a Hate Crime

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) has an interesting article on successful French efforts to prosecute BDS activists for hate crimes.  The article, appearing this weekend in Ha’aretz and elsewhere, is entitled, “BDS a hate crime? In France, legal vigilance punishes anti-Israel activists.” JTA reports that “some 20 pro-BDS activists have been convicted under the so-called Lellouche…

BDS Fail at Riverside

Jewish students and activists are claiming victory this morning after beating back yet another anti-Israel boycott resolution at the University of California at Riverside in the early hours of this morning.  Professionals at StandWithUs, a leader in the battle against Israel boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS), report that the final vote on this divisive measure was…

Anti-Semitism Around the World Last Week

Students for Israel logoAn organization called “Students for Israel” disseminates a useful weekly digest of anti-Semitic incidents, as well as articles about anti-Semitism, from around the world. Here is a selection of the incidents that SFI is reporting this week:

Why does Facebook do such a terrible job dealing with Antisemitism on their website? Dexter Van Zile on Antisemitism in the social network

On the same topic: the ADL is calling Facebook to take down an Antisemitic page titled “Jewish Ritual Murder”

United States:

Ruth R. Wisse, professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard writes on the Wall Street Journal about Antisemitism and American class conflict and tries to check if there is a connection between them

Berlin Anti-Anti-Semitism Center Publishes New Research

The Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA), headed by German political scientist Clemens Heni, has just issued its first newsletter.  It is available on the internet, and it consists of several articles that may be of interest to Brandeis Center readers.  An article by Ron Jontof-Hutter addresses the abuse of the South African “apartheid” term to vilify Israel.  Dr. Elena Zaharieva’s article describes current trends in antisemitism in Bulgaria and features an analysis of the Bulgarian Center for Global and Middle East Studies (MESBG).  Prof. Gerald Steinberg discusses NGOs and antisemitism, a topic on which he is an internationally recognized authority.  Finally, Heni himself addresses a new book by a member of European Parliament “Deconstructing Zionism,” co-edited by Gianni Vattimo, an Italian philosopher. 

LDB Congratulates ADL’s Abraham Foxman Upon His Retirement

JTA is announcing Abraham Foxman’s retirement from the Anti-Defamation League.  His departure comes at a delicate time as anti-Semitism continues to surge around the world and on many American college and university campuses.  LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus congratulates Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s longtime national director, upon his upcoming retirement.  “Mr. Foxman has had a distinguished career at the ADL, and we salute him upon his departure. He has built considerably on his predecessors’ accomplishments, expanding the ADL’s work to combat anti-Semitism around the world. We wish Mr. Foxman well and we wish the ADL well as they seek to fill his shoes.”The JTA’s report of Foxman’s retirement is as follows:

Abraham Foxman retiring from ADL

NEW YORK (JTA) — Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and one of the longest-serving and highest-profile American Jewish organizational leaders, is retiring from his post.

Symposium at U.K. Parliament Examines European Anti-Semitism

Several important English institutions, including especially the Pears Institute at Birkbeck College London, are bringing public attention to the troubling recent findings of the major survey into antisemitism in Europe carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

These groups will conduct a symposium at the House of Commons on the afternoon of Tuesday March 18 to consider the survey and its new insights into how Jews experience and perceive antisemitism in nine European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Brandeis Center Blog readers will recall that two thirds of European Jews consider anti-Semitism to be a serious problem in their countries, and three quarters believe that the problem has worsened over the last five years. Indeed, we have learned through the FRA survey that a third of European Jews have considering emigrating because of rising anti-Semitism.

This symposium promises to review the FRA report’s findings and its policy implications. It is also expected to introduce new England-specific findings based on the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s analysis of the data.

The symposium is organized by our friends at the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck, University of London (led by Dr. David Feldman) and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in partnership with the U.K. All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.  (LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus appeared last year at a London conference on boycotts co-convened by the Pears Institute).

The Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will open the symposium.  The symposium will then proceed in two panels.