Campus BDS is Going to Go After Jewish Studies

Zionists off Campus

Will there be a “safe place” on campus for Jewish Studies? Or will it be impossible to teach and to take without fear of disruption or recrimination university courses about Israeli history and culture or courses that touch upon connections, this way and that, between Jews and Judaism to Jerusalem or to the Land of Israel?

Not just at speakers and special events, sooner than later BDS activism is going to take direct aim at core pedagogical structures on campus identified as “Zionist content of education.” That is going to include Birthright, Israel Study Abroad, Hillel, and also Israel Studies and Jewish Studies, whose faculty will be pressured to meet litmus tests in order to avoid censure.

A paranoid thought perhaps, but consider the recent attempt at co-opting another student social justice movement by anti-Zionist activists. Supporting the Million Student March at Hunter College, New York City chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine joined the call against the influence of money on the upper echelon of the CUNY system and voiced opposition to tuition hikes and unfair labor practice.

Into that larger agenda they insert this anti-Zionist agenda:

The Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education. While CUNY aims to produce the next generation of professional Zionists, SJP aims to change the university to fight for all peoples [sic] liberation.

The statement was signed off by: NYC Students for Justice in Palestine; Students for Justice in Palestine at Hunter College; Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College; Students for Justice in Palestine- St. Joseph’s College; Students for Justice in Palestine at College of Staten Island; Students for Justice in Palestine at John Jay College; CUNY School of Law Students for Justice in Palestine; Students for Justice in Palestine at Pace University – Pleasantville; NYU Students for Justice in Palestine; and Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine.

There’s no way around this fundamental truth tagged inadvertently by the anti-Zionist activists. Jewish Studies, at the faculty and undergraduate and graduate levels, is deeply invested in and depends upon library and archival resources, professional and social contacts, and study abroad programming. For students of modern Jewish Studies this is especially so. There’s no way around the fact that Israel stands out as such a complex chapter in modern Jewish history and a place on the contemporary Jewish cultural scene.

Note the identification of university administrators with the and as a Zionist enemy. Combine this statement from the NYC area SJP chapters with Steven Salaita recent foray into Zionist conspiracy theory. For now these are faint rumblings. But one might very well anticipate that, yes, if BDS ups the ante to go after “Zionism” and “Zionist content of education” on campus, then Jewish Studies is going to get caught up in the net.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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5 Responses to Campus BDS is Going to Go After Jewish Studies

  1. efmooney says:

    A year ago in a public letter while teaching in Tel Aviv I anticipated, tongue in cheek, book burning — it wouldn’t be that hard to execute and would not be violence against any one person. Already less academic travel to and from Israel is well-documented. Selection committees for conferences in the states are wary of accepting Israeli submissions. All this is especially hard to take because Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities are by and large anti-occupation and anti-BiBi.

  2. dmf says:

    that’s worrying, any glimmers of cosmopolitanism seem all too fleeting these days.

  3. Instead of freezing like a deer in the headlights of an approaching car, American-Jewish academics must get to work expanding cooperation with Israeli colleagues and institutions. It costs next to nothing to have an Israeli academic guest teach in your courses; I’ve already done it twice over a Skype connection. You don’t have to buy plane tickets and pay for hotel rooms for Americans and Israelis to participate in each other’s conferences and workshops: just use video conferencing. Then you can list the American and Israeli institutions as co-sponsors of the event. It’s time for courage and creativity. Give the anti-Zionists something to cry about!

  4. There’s ample historical precedent for this. In the 1970s, British activists targeted and (on some campuses) succeeded in barring Jewish Societies (their equivalent of Hillel) on grounds that they were “Zionist” (and thereby racist).

  5. Stephen R. Simons says:

    About 45 years ago two militant students entered a lecture hall where Prof. Alexander Altmann was giving a lecture on Jewish Mysticism. The students called out: this class is over. Prof. Altmann turned to them and said, “The last time this happened to me was in 1938. I will not permit it now.”

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