Israel’s never-ending persecution of Palestinians is opening a chasm between the world’s public, which is growing disgusted by Israeli behavior, and Western elites who shy from criticism because of career fears and financial dependence, observes Lawrence Davidson.
By Lawrence Davidson
Due to Israel’s brutal racism and repeated attacks on Palestinian civilians, it is losing popular support internationally. As this happens, the Zionists appear to be intensifying pressure on societal and political elites, particularly in the U.S. and other Western states, to maintain policies that support and protect Israel’s criminal behavior.
Their vehicle for achieving this goal has always been financial gifts and donations to elite individuals and institutions. These gifts and donations help grease the wheels, so to speak, of the systems of power through which the elites operate, and create a monetary dependency on, among others, Zionist donors. It also creates an obligation to respond to these donor’s needs. The result is a growing disconnect between evolving popular attitudes toward Israel and the static positions held and actions taken by the elites.
American Zionist leaders are aware of this gap and they take it seriously. But they have a problem in that open debate and presentation of evidence can no longer win the argument for their side because the Zionists no longer have a monopoly on the story of how Israel came to be and Palestine came not to be. And without that monopoly the imperialist origins and ongoing racist nature of Israel are can no longer be concealed.
If you cannot win by debate, how do you combat the growing popular suspicion of Israeli and Zionist actions? You do it by pressuring the donor-dependent elite leadership of institutions, such as universities and colleges, to suppress and punish those who criticize Israel.
That such action, if carried forth in public institutions in the U.S., would be a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not bother the Zionists at all. Their standard of rights is that practiced in the discriminatory environment of Israel and not the ideal established by the United States Constitution.
A good example of American Zionists subtly urging what is a violation of the constitutional principle of free expression can be seen in a letter sent by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an aggressive Zionist organization, to top administrators at several U.S. universities and colleges, including state institutions of higher learning.
The letter purports to offer “information and recommendations about how to respond to conflicts that may arise on your campus due to the recent conflict in Gaza.” It goes on to accuse those critical of Israel of “stifling dialogue refusing to work with pro-Israel and Jewish student groups” and pressuring educational institutions to “engage in ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ activities.” The letter goes on to warn that Sept. 23 will be a day of “action on college campuses” by such groups critical of Israel as American Muslims for Palestine.
It is interesting that the letter seeks to turn the tables on pro-Palestine groups by labeling them as the ones that seek to limit freedom of speech by advocating the boycott of Israel. On the one hand, this is a misinterpretation of the tactical rules of the boycott (which principally targets Israeli institutions rather than individuals) and, on the other, it fails to mention that Israel is a country that systematically undermines the civil rights of the Palestinians.
The ADL letter also ignores the fact that Zionist organizations on U.S. campuses (Hillel, for example) actively try to suppress dialogue and debate when it comes to Israel. The letter goes on to accuse those who stand against Israel of “attempting to harass and intimidate Jewish and other students.”
There have been minor instances of such behavior on both sides of what is, after all, a very heated issue. However, when it comes to modeling the suppression of rights, it should be noted that Israel has turned harassment and punishment of Palestinians and their few Jewish Israeli supporters into a high art.
The ADL letter concludes with an invitation that seeks to strengthen the dependency of academic administrative elites on this highly biased Zionist organization. It states, “As one of the country’s premier civil rights organizations, ADL has decades of experience in helping administrators and students on campus respond to bigotry and intergroup strife. We would be happy to discuss the challenges many campuses face today and to assist your efforts to ensure your campus remains a place where all viewpoints can be discussed.” So said the spider to the fly.
ADL might have been a “premier civil rights organization” in 1913, when it was founded, but soon after 1967 it went the way of most major American Jewish organizations by becoming a mouthpiece for the uncritical defense of Israel. To this end it has confused opposition to Israel and its behavior with anti-Semitism and, in doing so, has lost any ability to objectively know what civil rights means within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
So why would a highly placed academic administrator such as Chancellor Linda Katehi of the University of California, Davis, accept this missive from ADL and distribute it to all her vice chancellors, deans and, significantly, the head of the UC Davis police department? Because, unlike her student constituency, which is evolving an accurate view and critique of Israel, she is stuck in the world of elites dominated by donors and ideologues who have always been pro-Israel. In other words, her world remains static while the world outside her clique is changing.
It is because of the continuing vulnerability of higher education’s administrative elites to donor blackmail that we continue to witness the tragic and unjust treatment of scholars and teachers who have taken a public stand against Israel. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times describes the negative institutional consequences:
“For any university, but especially a public institution the encroachment of donor pressure on the administration is a harbinger of the destruction of academic freedom. Wealthy donors are able to step in and exert strong influence because public funding sources, such as the state legislature, have systematically withdrawn support for public universities. They seldom have an interest in independent, objective academic study; they’re interested in advancing their own notions of how the world works or should work – in ideology, not ideas.”
Donor blackmail is the last front line for the Zionists as they continue to suffer defeats in the battle for public opinion. Unfortunately, their activities on this front have resulted the erosion of academic freedom and the ruination of dozens careers.
As Stephen Lendman has observed, American Zionists have collectively taken on the role of a modern-day Joe McCarthy now attempting to purge higher education of those critical of Israel. In so doing they join the ranks of other dubious pressure groups such as those who would purge the teaching of evolution from the classrooms and censor books in our libraries.
And, in the case of the operatives at ADL, they go about this corrupting process while proclaiming themselves a “premier civil rights organization.” Well, you know the old saying: actions speak louder than words.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest;ã€€America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.