Higher education has always been a dicey enterprise, bringing enlightenment as well as threats to the establishment. It is not difficult to find assertions, from ancient times to not so long ago, that providing literacy to the masses is a sure path to hell.
A current worry coming from the poorly educated and overprivileged is the wave of extremism directed at this little country. BDS (Boycott, Disvestment, Sanctions) is the fashion among students and lecturers with too much time on their hands, and too little sense of reality and proportion.
My current purpose is not to convince them of their own injustice by demonstrating once again the relative decency with which Israel deals with extreme threats. Neither is it appropriate to rank once again Israel's social indicators--including those relevant to the Israeli Arab minority--compared to the United States and other countries. Students and faculty members at a fever pitch of political excitement would not pay attention to an Israeli academic, nor would they hesitate to claim that--despite Israel's comparative standing--comparison is less important than their own absolute standards of justice.
Palestinians have no small share in the stimulation of these offenses to truth and balance. If we can believe a Palestinian website. BDS is largely their work. Parents paying upwards of $40K per year are having their kids learn at the feet of Middle Eastern political activists, about a community that is widely viewed as mired in corruption, terror, and religious fanaticism. Enthusiasts may view BDS and related campus activity as part of their nonviolent struggle against Israel, but their contribution to political extremism is no less offensive to the values of truth and comity than blowing up buses and restaurants. The results are less bloody in an immediate sense, but the applause for such a difference should be made with one hand.
The contribution of the BDS movement and other offenses against academic and political decency are also not likely to advance anything within the Palestinian community. Dealing with their corruption and violence would be more useful. Unless there is a major change in world order and the Middle East, Palestine needs the cooperation of Israel in order to develop. However, the present campaign adds to the sense among Israelis and their friends that the level of Arab extremism--intellectual as well as political--is too great to support endorsement of a Palestinian state.
The spread of such nonsense across campuses of the US and Europe is not even. In judging the "threat" to Israel, one should not overlook the efforts of Jews and others among students, faculty and administrators to deal with extremism. Insofar as higher education has a high incidence of Jews, the overall danger may not be great.
Anyone with a sense of history should not be surprised that there are Jewish students and teachers entusiastic about BDS. There is no indication that the disease has spread widely among Jews. Even the moderates of J Street are a minority among Jews. I have seen no indication that the majority of non-Jewish students and teachers care all that much about Israel or Palestine.
Perhaps the greatest shame in all of this is what it says about the quality of higher education in those places where BDS is the fashion.
Students unfortunate enough to have chosen to study in academic departments affected by the malady are not getting what they pay for, either in tuition or the time they could be devoting to more worthy pursuits.
It is not hard to imagine the anxieties, endless arguments and worry about grades felt by students in affected departments, and faculty members concerned about their opportunities amidst crazed colleagues.
Fashions change. Those of us old enough to remember Joe McCarthy, the Ku Klux Klan, the Weathemen and other insults to civilized discourse may hope that those passionate for Palestine may turn to something else, or simply mature from political passion, and go on to passivity or more personal worries.
In the early 1970s it was newly independent Africa that was the darling of those who thought of themselves on the frontier of progress. A glance at Syria may help those with a bit a realism to know what Arab spring has unleashed. Those with curiosity about history may discover that the Middle East was not a paradise prior to this onset of unrest. Who knows when--or if-- the realization of civil violence in the Middle East does what African civil wars did for interest in that continent.
We can hope the best, without expecting that it will be here tomorrow.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at February 19, 2013 09:12 PM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem