We will not give up! CAMERA follows up with the president of the University of Ohio, asking him to make a strong statement condemning the academic boycott of Israel, and a commitment to fighting lies on campus. Our two letters to the administration are reproduced in full, below:
Oct. 8, 2014
Dear President McDavis:
While I await your reply to my September 24 letter (copied below), please let me update you regarding the academic petition opposed to anti-Israel boycotts like those promoted by Ohio University Senate President Megan Marzec and her supporters. The number of signers, as reported today by The Times of Israel, has doubled to 1,240. The names include many from distinguished universities in the United States and abroad.
CAMERA continues to believe, as noted in my earlier letter, that signatures by Ohio University leaders, including yourself, “would be a most opportune way to take advantage of the teachable moment presented by the unfortunate ‘blood bucket’ controversy.”
Although I did not mention it in my earlier letter, even leaders of the Palestinian Authority have opposed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. According to an article by veteran Palestinian-Israeli reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, “Palestinians: BDS Activists Are Troublemakers, Criminals,” May 30, 2014) posted by the Gatestone Institute (link below), some PA officials say BDS promoters “make the Palestinians appear as if they are not interested in peace and coexistence with Israel.”
“The important teachable moment” you referred to, provided by the “blood bucket” controversy, offers an opportunity for substantive learning. That is especially so if properly led. CAMERA trusts that you and other leaders at Ohio will sign the online petition in support of academic freedom and freedom of inquiry in and with Israeli academic institutions and against boycotts aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state, the Middle East’s only democracy.
Perhaps I should note, which I failed to do in my September 24 letter, that CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, takes no policy positions regarding negotiated resolutions of Arab-Israeli conflicts. It is, rather, a communications media monitor holding media to traditional journalism standards including accuracy, objectivity, context, balance and absence of conflicts of interest.
Thank you again for your consideration, and we look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Sept. 24, 2014
Dear President McDavis:
Thank you for your September 19 e-mail letter responding to my September 17 letter to the editor of The Ohio University Post. My Post submission criticized Student Senate President Megan Marzec’s “blood bucket” challenge in support of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
You write that Ohio University’s “focus is where it needs to be—on the safety and security of our students and university community and in helping our students work through this important teachable moment.” You also asked for support of concerned individuals for the university’s educational mission “as we help our students hold constructive dialogues about the issues and viewpoints that are deeply meaningful to them.”
This is appropriate and important. But care must be taken to ensure that getting the process for constructive dialogue right does not obscure the substance of that dialogue. In the case of anti-Israel BDS movement, its dialogue is based on falsehoods and is meant to be destructive.
Therefore, CAMERA trusts that this teachable moment at Ohio University will examine how a movement (BDS) intended to delegitimize and ultimately help destroy the one Western-style democracy in the Middle East, the only country that guarantees religious, gender and racial equality to all its citizens, has became a “deeply meaningful viewpoint” to members of your university community.
Twelve years ago, then-president of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, took note of the already vocal if smaller campaign to divest from Israel. As reported in the Harvard Crimson (“Summers Says Anti-Semitism Lurks Locally; Divestment Strongly Denounced in Morning Prayers Speech,” Sept. 19, 2002) Summers “warned … that Harvard’s campus has not been immune to a global upturn in anti-Semitism. Calls for the University to divest from Israel and a Harvard student group’s fundraising activities are examples of developments on campus in the last year that are ‘anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent,’ Summers said to students and faculty attending the first Morning Prayers of the term….
“ ‘Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities,’ he said. Given recent attacks on Jews in Europe, actions against Israeli academics and profoundly anti-Israel sentiment at last summer’s U.N. conference on racism, the developments on campus are all the more worrisome, Summers said.”
If anything, the trend Summers warned of has worsened. Certainly one can criticize, and strongly, policies of the Israeli government, just as one can do so regarding policies of any government, including the U.S. But calls to treat Israel as a pariah for defending itself against terrorism, for treating Zionism—the national liberation movement of the Jewish people—as criminal when upholding the right of self-determination for all other peoples goes beyond criticism. Anti-Zionism, unreasoning hostility to the Jewish state, is as many have observed, antisemitism under the cover of anti-Zionism, substituting (initially) the Jewish state for the Jewish people.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke directly to this point at a rally against antisemitism in Berlin earlier this month: “The legitimate criticism of the political actions of a government—be it ours or of the state of Israel—is fine…. But if it is only used as a cloak for one’s hatred against other people, hatred for Jewish people, then it is a misuse of our basic rights of freedom of opinion and assembly” (“The Israelization of anti-Semitism; The blunt and forthright Angela Merkel tells it like it is,” Suzanne Fields commentary, The Washington Times, Sept. 18, 2014).
Columnist Fields cited French philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch, who in 1978 “observed that Zionism ‘democratized’ anti-Semitism, enabling it to spread among critics who would never admit they were anti-Semitic.” This may suggest why, when civil war in Syria reportedly has taken nearly 200,000 lives, mostly non-combatants, and created millions of refugees, and various jihadist movements have done likewise in Iraq—including largely destroying a millennia-old Christian community—the cry is to punish Israel for its war against Hamas, an anti-Western, anti-Jewish terrorist movement.
President McDavis, if members of the Ohio University community found anti-French, anti-Mexican, anti-Catholic, racist or misogynist views “deeply meaningful,” I doubt that the school would help them “hold constructive dialogues about such issues.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on September 22 that “more than 620 people from scores of universities have signed an online petition opposing academic boycotts of Israel. The petition, for professionals working in academia, says the undersigned ‘vigorously support free speech and free debate but we oppose faculty or student boycotts of Israel’s academic institutions, scholars and students.” The petition “criticizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, saying it ‘violates the very principles of academic freedom.’ It also criticizes the BDS movement for basing its ‘accusations and narratives’ on ‘overstatements, cherry-picked evidence, outright falsehood’ or ‘disputed or highly-biased data.” (The link to the petition is embedded in this news item.)
CAMERA believes that signatures by Ohio University leaders, of course beginning with yourself, would be a most opportune way to take advantage of the teachable moment presented by the unfortunate “blood bucket” controversy. No doubt such leadership by example would inspire many students, faculty, alumni and potential applicants.
Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to hearing from you again on this crucial issue.
CAMERA—Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America