Since the October 7, there has been a vigorous and vital conversation about the failings and errors that brought on that terrible event. The State Control Committee held a hearing on the 2016 State Comptroller report regarding the struggle against BDS and other antisemitic expressions abroad, a report that uncovered the lack of cooperation between the various responsible agencies.
It would be wrong to say that no progress has been made since 2016, but when Jews are murdered on the streets of the United States for daring to wave an Israeli flag, it is tempting to blame the government departments charged with foreign affairs, public diplomacy and fighting antisemitism. While the Committee Chairman repeatedly blamed the agencies and pinpointed the lack of a “unifying body” as a cause of failure, he completely ignored other failings.
Eleven years ago, I participated in a Knesset committee meeting as a representative of a public diplomacy (“Hasbara”) organization founded to combat the academic boycott of Israel. I told them that I had only two options as a doctoral candidate: write a post-Zionist doctoral thesis in Israel or write an anti-Zionist one overseas. Everyone nodded in agreement, but no one fully grasped the extent of the danger.
Antisemitism doesn’t materialize out of thin air. In the Middle Ages it was led by men of religion, and in the New Age it was primarily governments who led pogroms against Jews. Nowadays, we witness the academic world allowing and encouraging violent protests that call for the destruction of Jews. Where does this originate from?
For decades, a post-colonialist wave of thought from the likes of Frantz Fanon has been sweeping across the world. When it arrived in Israel, academicians decided to map the local story onto a theory that divides the world into oppressors and oppressed. They began spreading a completely false narrative according to which Zionism is a colonial enterprise, Israel is an oppressor and Judaism is white supremacy.
This lie made the rounds at a double pace. Israeli academics cultivated it in Israel, while anti-Israel academics around the world rejoiced at finding “inside” confirmation for their positions. Student research papers lying about the Tantura battle and libeling the Alexandroni Brigade, supervised by academics like Professor Case Pirro and Dr. Ilan Pappe, demonstrate the fact that even when a lie is debunked, it isn’t easy to turn back the clock.
For many years, students around the world absorbed these and similar lies, with student organizations such as “Students for Justice in Palestine”, who sport t-shirts glorifying Hamas paragliders, adding the lies generated by the Arab world and other “Pali-wood” type productions to fabricate modern day blood libels.
Unfortunately, Israeli academics’ shock at the cold shoulder they received from colleagues abroad who were unwilling to condemn Hamas even for torture and murder, encapsulates the bubble they live in. While we take issue with students at elite universities tearing down posters of a kidnapped Israeli child, we must understand that they see a white, occupier, oppressor Jewish boy. This warped perspective is based on information they received from those same Israeli academics, who believed they had found common cause in hostility to the Israeli government and of course, to the “occupation” of 1967. Now they discover their friends see Israel’s establishment in 1948 as the original sin.
I do not advocate for curtailing academic freedom in essays, research papers or post-Zionist philosophy, and that ship has sailed even if I did. However, it is Israel’s duty to invest in departments and academics who research historical fact and real data, not warped narratives that represent a fertile field for Hamas support. It is time to prevent the use of public institutions for the kind of activism that promotes antisemitism.
We should not accept lecturers who publish pictures of their students on a “Hasbara” trip with the caption “war criminals” simply because those students served in the IDF. We should not accept lecturers who send a letter to the Museum of Science in Boston demanding the boycott of the Technion as “an institution with a long track record of developing technologies of death used by Israel’s military”. And we should no longer allow Nakba (catastrophe) ceremonies in universities. If this dubious tradition continues despite the current war, then the upcoming Nakba day will serve, in all probability, as a festival of lies and incitement about Gaza, which will only lead to more and more antisemitic incidents.
Freedom of speech to grieve over the dead who lost the war in 1948 is one thing, but we all know they are not only mourning their dead, but their failure to annihilate the Jewish state and its inhabitants. After October 7, even indirect support for the murder of Jews should not fall within the rubric of academic freedom.
First published in Hebrew in Mida