Suzanne Fields

It's particularly bizarre for academicians to single out Israel to be the most imperfect of imperfect nations, because Israelis debate with each other, with a passion that would set off a rush to the fainting couches in almost any American university, such subjects as the treatment of the settlements, prospects for peace and the two-state solution. But the ASA academics are so accustomed to listening to each other compete to scorn America and Israel that outrages across the world never intrude on their intellectual isolation.

They share their prejudices and attitudes with colleagues on smart phones and laptops made in China, which imprisons dissenting academics who speak their minds. The Palestinian Authority does not allow discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Palestinian schools and colleges. Iran executes dissenters, Russia imprisons outspoken feminists, neither gays nor women can be hired at a university in Saudi Arabia, and dissenters are treated brutally in Cuba. There's rarely a peep from the faculty lounges about any of that.

The boycotters singled out only academic institutions in Israel, "whose universities have affirmative action programs for Palestinian students and who boast a higher level of academic freedom than almost any country in the world," writes Alan Dershowitz in Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper. Larry Summers, who was bounced as president of Harvard because he urged an honest discussion of why women often don't do well in math, observes that boycotts that single out Israel are "anti-Semitic in their effect, if not necessarily in their intent." Prejudice is as prejudice does.

It doesn't really matter whether anti-Semites see themselves as hating Jews; it's how they manifest their prejudice and how others react that ultimately count. To their credit, many members of ASA have dissented from the boycott, along with academic institutions including the American Association of University Professors, and at least eight past presidents of the ASA, cutting across political persuasions.

Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg have dropped their ASA memberships. Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, urges his colleagues to reject this "phony progressivism" as dishonest and morally obtuse. Many professors worry that the prejudice inherent in the boycott will "stain" the reputation of scholars in American studies, an argument hard to refute. Henry Kissinger famously observed that "academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." The professors who voted to boycott academic contact with Israel expose their own vicious small-mindedness, which hurts them most of all.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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