CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

Anti-Semitism persists in a boycott by academics

Updated: 2014-01-15T01:50:50Z

By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

Washington Post Writers Group

For decades, the American Studies Association has labored in well-deserved obscurity. No longer. It’s now made a name for itself by voting to boycott Israeli universities, accusing them of denying academic and human rights to Palestinians.

Given that Israel has a profoundly democratic political system, the freest press in the Middle East, a fiercely independent judiciary, and astonishing religious and racial diversity within its universities, including affirmative action for Arab students, the charge is rather strange.

Made more so when you consider the state of human rights in Israel’s neighborhood. As we speak, Syria’s government is dropping “barrel bombs” filled with nails, shrapnel and other instruments of terror on its own cities. Where is the American Studies Association boycott of Syria?

And of Iran, which hangs political, religious and even sexual dissidents and has no academic freedom at all? Or Egypt, where Christians are being openly persecuted? Or Turkey, Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, massively repressive China and Russia?

Which makes obvious that the association boycott has nothing to do with human rights. It’s an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism.

Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation — is to engage in a gross act of discrimination.

Former Harvard President Larry Summers called the American Studies Association actions “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” I choose to be less polite. The intent is clear: to incite hatred for the largest and only sovereign Jewish community on earth.

What to do? Facing a similar (British) academic boycott of Israelis seven years ago, Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg wrote an open letter declaring that, for the purposes of any anti-Israel boycott, they are to be considered Israelis.

Meaning: You discriminate against Israelis? Fine. Include us out. We will have nothing to do with you.

Thousands of other academics added their signatures to the Dershowitz/Weinberg letter. It was the perfect in-kind response. Boycott the boycotters, with contempt.

But academia isn’t the only home for such prejudice. Throughout the cultural world, the Israel boycott movement is growing. It’s become fashionable for musicians, actors, writers and performers of all kinds to ostentatiously cleanse themselves of Israel and Israelis.

In this sea of easy and open bigotry, an unusual man has made an unusual statement. Russian by birth, European by residence, Evgeny Kissin is arguably the world’s greatest piano virtuoso. He is also a Jew of conviction. Deeply distressed by Israel’s treatment in the cultural world around him, Kissin went beyond the Dershowitz/Weinberg stance of asking to be considered an Israeli. On Dec. 7, he became one, defiantly.

Full disclosure: I have a personal connection with Kissin. For the last two years I’ve worked to bring him to Washington to perform for a nonprofit organization (founded by my wife and me) dedicated to reviving lost and forgotten Jewish classical music. We succeeded. On Feb. 24, Kissin will perform at the Kennedy Center, his first U.S. appearance as an Israeli.

The persistence of anti-Semitism, that most ancient of poisons, is one of history’s great mysteries. Even the shame of the Holocaust proved no antidote. It provided but a temporary respite. Anti-Semitism is back. Alas, a new generation must learn to confront it.

To reach Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, send email to letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

Deal Saver Subscribe today!

Comments

The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Kansas City Star uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here