Hebrew University Political Science professor Ira Sharkansky evaluates the latest happenings in Israel.
Fri,Apr 18,2014 18 Nisan 5774
One of the better responses to the ASA boycott came from Charles Krauthamer. Without using exactly these words, he calls it the return of anti-Semitism as the fashion of the politically correct, after a decline due to the exaggeration of the Holocaust.
Jews are easy targets for a cheap shot at asserting what is politically correct.
Some of your best friends may be Jewish, but we are different.
We are concerned with money; some of us don't care very much how we make it, and take advantage of others. More or less than other people in business? That's beside the point. To paraphrase the president of the American Studies Association in defense of its boycott. critics have to start somewhere, and the Jews are easy.
Now the common charge is that the Jews of Israel are stealing someone else's property. If not exactly what Shakespeare wrote about Shylock, the principle is the same.
Palestinian activists are the major promoters of the new anti-Semitism. It is fashionable to accept their claims of always being on the land, being the true and sole possessors of Palestine, most clearly that part between the Jordan and the 1967 borders, but for the true believers all the way to the sea. Those who condemn Israel for its uncivil behavior generally overlook rants by Palestinian school teachers, politicians, and religious leaders that Jews have no rights to any part of Palestine, are inherently apes or dogs rather than human, and that Palestinians who kill Jewish men, women, and children are freedom fighters who deserve designation as national heroes or martyrs..
Jews have always been concerned with money, trade, and ownership. We've been city dwellers at least since the reconstruction of Jerusalem in the fifth century BCE, and being merchants and dealers with goods, money, and property comes with that.
Several Tractates of the Talmud deal with issues of ownership, trade, including the dangers of international commerce under the constant danger of bandits and storms at sea, what to do with wives left behind, the value of money, and fraud.
A chapter entitled "Gold" is fascinating for describing the conditions under which the Jews lived in the early centuries CE. The secular regime was cruel, but weak. There were "official" coins that some people accepted in trade, but others did not. Some used unofficial coins, out of concern that the official ones weren't worth anything. Enforcement of law was sporadic, but could be vicious. Extensive discussions focused on fraud, showing that the rabbis were concerned with the problem. They sought to define standards that could be used in their courts to deal with those who cheated.
We should be proud rather than ashamed of our long tradition. It is associated with literacy. Jews may have learned to read not only to be able to pray (our rituals are more complex than the simple affirmations easily memorized by Christians or Muslims, most of whom were illiterate in earlier centuries), but to make commercial agreements that would facilitate local and international commerce.
Related to education is the multifaceted excellence that flows from it. There is a long tradition that wealthy Jews would provide for the education of intelligent, but poor Jewish boys.
I was a poor Jewish boy, who gained a decent education via scholarships financed mostly by Gentiles. An elite college accepted me under the Jewish quotas that prevailed in the 1950s. I have felt a responsibility to repay my debts, but was recently moved to write a letter of protest to the president of the college. He is also Jewish, which says a great deal about what has changed since the 1950s.
It was prompted by a newspaper article that included a comment by one of the college professors. He signed on to a letter that described Israeli treatment of Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.”
The professor's name suggests that he might be Jewish.
I explained to the college president, that my life has been higher education since I enrolled as a freshman. I cherish academic freedom, the learning that comes from different views intelligently presented, and arguments among those who understand what they express. What I saw in remarks attributed to that professor qualifies as anti-Semitism, as well as boorish ignorance. I cited some of my own activities at the Hebrew University that allow me to ridicule any claim of whatever he meant by "ethnocidal atrocities." My recent PhD's include a Korean pastor, an Orthodox rabbi, and a Palestinian, currently teaching in a Palestinian university.
I received a quick response from the college president, in which he shared my dismay. He said, as expected, that he could not control faculty members, "even even when they talk about things they know nothing about."
He included in his response a link to an op-ed piece he had published in a major newspaper condemning the boycotts of Israeli academics.
Yet his item also included the sentence, "As a Jew, I have argued against the policies of the current Israeli government, many of which I find abhorrent."
I do know know the president personally. He may have reached his conclusion after considerable study. Or he may have taken the easy step of accepting too much of what is politically correct, and agreeing forcefully with critics of Israel.
Some of my Israeli friends, colleagues, and relatives have used similar language about Israeli activities. I can argue with them about the details, or how well unpleasant actions represent Israel's official policy or the behavior of Israelis.
My own experience of close to 40 years, having contacts both professional and personal with people close to the top of the government and the IDF, have exposed me to little if anything that deserves the judgement of "abhorence." I have been more impressed with intelligence, willingness to weigh options and listen to argument, and restraint under great pressures.
What to do when anti-Semitism has become fashionable, and when the pull of the politically correct requires joining with the crowd, to condemn if not to boycott?
If the Jews abandon us we're in trouble
Yet we should not give up on Jewish intelligence, including that which resides outside of Israel.
No longer are we desperately in need of Jewish money. It's nice to have the topping up via donations for our universities, hospitals, and other social services, but now we make a lot of our own money.
It's Jewish to argue, forcefully, and even against the establishment. However, there is a tradition of shunning those who go too far. Noam Chomsky's denial of entry to Israel for the purpose of lecturing at Palestinian universities--most likely hectoring against Israel--is a case in point. The prevailing view about Spinoza is that the Jews of Amsterdam went too far.
Among the fashions associated with the new anti-Semitism are boycotts of products made in Israeli owned industries located beyond the 1967 borders.
Advocates owe it to themselves to consider boycotts of what American and European companies produce in the third world, mostly by contractors, or subcontractors to their initial contractors.. On the basis of what I've read and seen, It is likely that settlement factories are safer for workers and pay higher wages than what is generally associated with American and multi-national firms throughout the third world.
Boycott if you will, but look in the mirror. There are better targets than what comes with an Israeli address.