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Anti-Zionists Have Every Reason to Feel Defensive
Zionophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism have become the coin of the realm in academic circles. Two significant occurrences are indicative of this widespread disorder, although there have been reactions against it as well.
The first has been DePaul University's decision to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein, an anti-Zionist Jewish professor who willingly collaborates with neo-Nazis, Holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites.
The second occurred in Philadelphia, as Congressman Patrick J. Murphy introduced legislation condemning the union of British academics for boycotting Israeli academics.
In his letter to Finkelstein, DePaul's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, cited a statement made by the university's board on promotion and tenure, saying that they "expressed several concerns touching on his scholarship, specifically what they consider the intellectual character of his work and his persona as a public intellectual."
In a recent debate about Finkelstein's tenure, terrorism expert Steve Emerson noted that "[Finkelstein] cheers for Hezbollah terrorists anytime they kill Israelis ... [and] called Elie Wiesel a 'clown' for his life's work."
It is also well-documented that Finkelstein's biggest boosters include Holocaust-deniers like David Irving, who praise him for his Holocaust "scholarship." Finkelstein is the same individual who did not want to participant in the recent Holocaust denial conference in Tehran because they would not give him enough time to present his work!
The Finkelstein controversy is one of those instances where alumni and donors have finally looked at how their money is being spent and the type of scholarship it promotes, and protested. About a month ago, a group of prominent University of Pennsylvania alumni and Philadelphia philanthropists published an open letter to the university in the Daily Pennsylvanian, accusing the administration of serving as an enabler of hate speech because of the political-science department's sponsorship of a Finkelstein appearance on campus.
It's hard to say how much if any impact the letter had on the man's tenure problem; however, it's certainly an eye-opener for those who want to make a difference in their respective communities.
Murphy's resolution dovetails nicely with the Finkelstein affair, and grew out of a motion put forth on May 30th at the annual conference of the University and College Union, the largest body representing academic staff in Britain. The UCU delegates voted in support of a motion to discuss, and thereby promote, an academic boycott against Israel. Members were urged to consider the "moral implications" resulting in their links with Israeli universities, and to condemn Israel for its "denial of educational rights" to Palestinians.
The desire by British academics' to boycott Israeli universities has provoked the threat of legal action and counterboycotts. Some 2,000 American scholars have already vowed to stay away from any forum where Israelis are excluded.
Murphy's legislation has garnered a wave of support from Democrats and Republicans. He called the union's decision a "hate-fueled boycott" that "stands in the way of progress."
The impetus for Murphy's resolution has to do with the fact that today those who are anti-Israel insist that they are not anti-Semitic -- only anti-Zionist.
That's the message that individuals like Finkelstein help fuel. But the transparency of singling out Israel for condemnation isn't fooling anyone anymore. Finkelstein's university figured him out, and its action has labeled him the pseudo-scholar and hater that he is. Murphy's got the UCU's number as well.
The growing pervasiveness of such statements on college campuses are indicative of a larger problem. Anti-Israel and anti- American advocates are the ones that should be on the defensive, not those working hard to ensure the U.S.-Israeli alliance.
Considering what's happened, for the first time they might be on the defensive.
Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.