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Thursday, December 19, 2013

The American Studies Association and Fascism

The American Studies Association or ASA approved a boycott of Israel and NOW we are concerned that these bigots will influence others by their eliminationist agenda.  I read an excellent piece by Peter Beinart, the bĂȘte noir of American Jewish literary circles and it is really well written as one would expect from him. In it he deconstructs the hypocrisy of the politically dubious ASA and what he refers to as its ‘morally myopic’ agenda in denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one.

What is the controversy all about? Simply put, the ASA is a small association of American professors who teach a discipline that is called “American History.” On Monday 16th December they voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli universities. They did not vote to boycott any other country nor would they. Curtis Marez, chief gauleiter and association president did respond to criticism of their particularistic approach to Israel by limply telling the New York Times “one has to start somewhere.” But while I am not a betting man I would lay very long odds on the chance that the ASA will boycott any time in the foreseeable future any Muslim country, or for that matter, China, Russia or Venezuela.

The issue that the left has with Israel has been crystallizing over many years. The Left is not a hegemonic faith group – so to ascribe to them a universal belief system would be as bigoted as is the ASA. But the characteristic prejudice of the purist is a stain that many would publicly deny but privately wear with pride.  Here are the articles of faith:

  1. All Jews are Western.
  2. Following on from the crime of being Western, all Jews are colonizers and imperialists.
  3. Similarly racist is the contention that all Jews are white skinned.
  4. All Jews are middle-class.  Therefore they are the timeless enemy of the workers. This is justified by education and ‘cultural inclination.’

We have brought the problem onto ourselves and not because we have been insufficiently critical of Israel or ourselves as Jews. God knows that we are the most intellectually bellicose, argumentative and too often obnoxious know-alls on the planet.  Our group identity is based on us being a caring and therefore hyper-expressive, thinking people. But because we are not a hegemonic, a missionary faith, we do not silence our internal critics and by allowing a thousand flowers to blossom we are far too often not just at odds with ourselves but in open warfare against each other.  A person who is born of parents who profess a Jewish ‘identity’ who in turn professes a similar ‘identity’ but only in order to use this spurious distinctiveness to attack Jews is a too common intellectual instrument of our enemies.  Jews who use this weapon do so as racists, far too eager to gain acceptance from people they fear will never truly accept them as equals.

The final characteristic of this ‘leftist’ group is that they are fascists.  No matter what proof you provide in contradistinction to the four articles of faith to which I refer above, they will never accept the validity of your arguments because they adhere to formal fallacies or if you wish, fallacy by association.

Because Jews (those that do not agree with them in absolute terms) cannot be anything but as they see them (or us) we have no right to disagree with them and therefore any argument we put forward that contradicts them must be ipso facto, wrong.

Under these circumstances the only remedy is to use identical stratagems.

What do people like Mister Marez fear? It is oblivion. Money is what drives them – lots of it. The louder they are, the more well known they become – the greater their status, the bigger the wad of cash they can claw from the bodies that employ them. There is a balance – academic freedom is not about truth but about what we can ‘get away with saying.’   The professional political racist knows his audience.  Mr. Marez will not be attacking Afro Americans or Latinos nor will he be open to discussion on Chinese or Muslim crimes against humanity. He will certainly hold his tongue and look the other way when the right kind of bigots visits UC San Diego.  Student numbers are directly proportionate to the influence and wealth of the institutions themselves. So discouraging student numbers by attacking the group to which they belong would be an unwise strategy.

Selective morality is unusual neither in nations nor in their universities. Deceit in academia is certainly nothing new.  Self –justification for taking an amoral or actively immoral stand is always easier if we enjoy the support of our fellow academics.  When Iraq was torturing and slaughtering Shiites by the tens of thousand “the Left” kept silent because the anti-war movement deemed resolution of the conflict to be an expression of Western imperialism and therefore, “the Left” would not tolerate any discussion.  Humanitarian concern was met with violent opposition.

“The Left” is morally indigent, viewing any concept of morality as governed by purpose and result.  By this reasoning the “oppressed” can do no wrong and the “oppressor” can do no right.  If morality is an instrument of politics then terms are defined not by ethics but by ideology – concepts of morality become not just time specific but also location and community dependent.  Under these conditions the Law is at best a guide and at worst, a conceit.

Peter Beinart summed up the issue with perfect precision when he stated that the issue is “Not that the ASA is practicing double standards and not even that it’s boycotting academics, but that it’s denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one.”

And we should be concerned because outliers create unease but little else, until that is, they build a momentum dictated by fashion.   Hitler did not succeed because all Germans were genocidal racists but because a small and ideologically committed group was able to convince the rest that their way was acceptable; that violence and murder was alright.  And academia actively and enthusiastically collaborated in this program because in it, they saw the benefit to themselves.


  1. This editorial takes the easy way out here, abetted by a NY Times editor who cut back Marez’s quote to 5 words after the first version of the story included two paragraphs explaining the ASA’s position in more detail. Here is the rest of the quote: “He argued that the United States has “a particular responsibility to answer the call for boycott because it is the largest supplier of military aid to the state of Israel.” While acknowledging that the same could be said of a number of oppressive governments, past and present, he said that in those countries, civil society groups had not asked his association for a boycott, as Palestinian groups have.” Both of these things are true, but it’s far easier for right-wing hacks to generate a reductive meme that pretends this is all Marez said. Right-wing hacks cut back a substantial quote to 5 contextualized words, and you and others ran with it in an effort to have an easy “glib” story. This is irresponsible, shoddy journalism. You should be ashamed.

    1. Regardless of what Marez said, the ASA is now boycotting Israel and only Israel. Not any other, far more deserving of boycott country - and we could all name at least a dozen - but only Israel.

      Deeds speak far louder than words. If the ASA added Israel to a list of countries whose governments or actions they took exception to, then I have no problem with that. But they didn't. They singled out just one country for their boycott. Their action stinks of hypocrisy and racism and any attempt by anyone to excuse or explain their actions is either complicit or unbelievably naive. Which are you?

    2. IMO they also base their boycotts on half truths, misleading statements and propaganda to an audience that isn't very smart (regardless of how many degrees one has earned), hasn't studied the factual and proven history and that the Jews are indigenous to that land, and jump on the anti-Israel boycott as if it's the "trendy" thing to do.

      There should be open dialogue and free expression, not a bigoted silencing and isolating of one of the globe's most excellent models of freedom, democracy and equal rights.

  2. Why should I be ashamed? The ASA have demonstrated their fascist credentials over a number of years and their excuse that a Palestinian group asked them to do it is a gigantic, pathetic cop-out. In fact it is the behavior of a child excited by the attention that their action delivers to them and not of a responsible academic institution. Trying to understand the moral failures of "the Left" does not excuse them - the rest of the quote I deliberately omitted - it was not relevant to the purpose of the article. Far from being shoddy I suggest that your need to attack is more to do with your own moral failure than anything else.

  3. the ASA is boycotting Israel because they are the largest recipient of US foreign aid. deal with that; how is it "not relevant:" to this article? it should be...

    1. Do you know that over 75% of US "aid" to Israel goes to military support - AND that Israel turns around and spends it right back in the US via its purchases? Putting US people to work, and giving the money back. How about anybody else? Palestinian aid is, well, charity, and obviously funds for them to reward terrorists and murderers. $50,000 get out of jail prize. $25,000 to mom and dad if you kill yourself. That's where American money is going to the Palestinians. So don't even attempt to make US to Israel an issue.

  4. they are the largest recipient of US foreign loans - and a percentage of that loan is not genuinely aid - i.e. most of it is repayable - if we factor in the US military aid to nations such as Iraq (around a trillion dollars in less than a decade and Afghanistan (around $200 billion dollars in non-repayable aid) and Saudi Arabia (only God knows the true cost) then Israel - at the present rate will not in a thousand years - be the largest recipient of US foreign aid. Deal with that.

  5. it's not about money unfortunately otherwise the solution would be simple, buy their silence. it's simply about irrational hate.