Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Fisking the HuffPost's Latest Anti-Academic Freedom Article

The coverage of the ASA's academic boycott of Israel decision has actually been somewhat balanced by Huffington Post standards: two in favor and two against. Of course, that isn't balanced by everyone else's standards because the vast majority of academics and pundits are against the decision, but we can't expect miracles. Veteran Huffington Post blogger David Leonard (and Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullmanis here to defend the ASA's boycott with a lot of BDS-style claptrap, and we are here to pick it apart.

Right from the start Leonard wears his biases on his sleeve, calling the ASA's decision a "historic vote" and declared that it's all about "peace and justice" and "freedom for all." I guess no one bothered to tell him that he pretty much stands alone in that analysis as more than one hundred universities rejected the boycott specifically because they realized that stopping Israelis from teaching just because of where they are from is antithetical to freedom. Although Leonard tries the very tired argument that the ASA only wants to boycott Israeli institutions and not the people who work in those institutions, it immediately becomes obvious that he wants to stop talking about the boycott as soon as possible because the facts are not on his side. Instead, he starts the usual assembly line-style argument about how great BDS is:
"I stand with ASA because too many families and communities are confined to enclaves of despair and poverty in Gaza and West Bank; I stand with ASA because of the denied freedoms to Palestinians and African immigrants; I stand with ASA because of the systematic violation of human rights; I stand with ASA because it is responding to calls for Palestinians inside and outside of academia; and ultimately I stand with ASA because I believe it is the right thing to do and because I believe it is a rightful path to justice."
Yeah, this doesn't read like propaganda at all, does it? Interestingly, he quickly stops talking about the poor oppressed Palestinians and instead goes after Israel for the African migrant issue. He spends not one, not two, but three paragraphs talking about it...even though the treatment of Africans in Israel had absolutely nothing to do with the ASA's boycott decision. Go and read it for yourself.

So if the African migrant issue had nothing to do with the ASA's decision (aka the subject of the article) then why did Leonard bring it up? Well, there are always the two most obvious reasons: he just hates Israel and will talk about whatever makes Israel look bad when given the opportunity, or he realizes that the poor suffering Palestinians just isn't giving him enough material and he has to change the subject to something else in order to pad out his article.

It turns out that it's mostly the latter. He does want to change the subject by counter attacking against his critics in an incredibly stupid way:
"Yet the many "thought leaders" who have called ASA "repugnant" and hurl baseless attacks have been silent on these injustices. Where is their outrage regarding the systemic violence directed at African immigrants? Where is their concern about the treatment facing Palestinians in Gaza, in the West Bank, and within Israel. The silence and the selective deployment of discourses of freedom are telling."
What a whiner.

First of all, people aren't obligated to criticize everything in the world before they criticize one particular thing. That's an argument that you pro-BDS types constantly use to justify singling out Israel, so it should sound familiar. American colleges and universities criticized the ASA because it is an American academic institutions doing something they don't like. Academia is their wheelhouse and America is their country. Israeli politicians saying mean things about Africans has nothing to do with secondary education in America, so why would they condemn it? Oh right, because David Leonard doesn't have compelling enough arguments to make a case on his own.

Oh yeah, it also goes without saying that even prominent critics of Israel like Peter Beinart have followed in the steps of Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky against these kinds of boycotts because (wait for it) they knew that they were not only ineffective but morally wrong and actually hurts the so-called 'Palestinian cause.' Leonard is so far in the cult that he won't even see basic facts that are right in front of him, let alone apply some common sense. His argument then turns to "I'm a Jew I'm a Jew I'm a Jew" and a classic Great Anti-Zionist Strawman:
"I support ASA's call for an academic boycott, all of which reflect my identity as a scholar, as an activist, which has been thrown around as an insult, as a teacher, as a commentator, as a white American Jew, and as someone committed to "freedom dreams."...And before you pull your anti-Semitism card, let's put everything on the table: Opposing the policies of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic."
I'm going to ignore the beginning because this discussion isn't about him, but I do think the whining is funny. Why does it matter that he's white? But the second part is nauseatingly dishonest. No one is saying anything about "opposing the policies of Israel." BDS-holes use this same red herring over and over and over again and think that no one notices. Boycotting Israel for defending itself against Palestinian terrorism is actively taking a side against a democracy and in favor of its enemies, not merely disagreeing with what it does. That is besides the uncomfortable fact that BDS and PACBI's intentions toward Israel are genocidal, something that David Leonard probably doesn't know or doesn't care about.

As for this "anti-Semitism moaning", singling out Israel for collective punishment just because you don't like what their government does actually is anti-Semitic in practice if not intention, as Lawrence Summers has already pointed out. Like I said, pretty much the entire American academic community has already figured this out. But don't worry, because Leonard has a prepackaged anti-singling-out talking point ready to go:
"Likewise, claims that ASA is singling out Israel belie reality; ASA and its members engage in scholarship, teaching, and community work that promotes justice in a myriad of locations -- critique and criticism is not in short supply. And for those who merely like to spotlight the atrocities taking place in China, Syria or Darfur as an argument of convenience, I wonder what are they doing for the people of Syria, Sudan, or Eritrea?...I must have missed university presidents collectively denouncing the lack of academic freedom with regards to Cuba. The hypocrisy is crystal clear. It seems that the atrocities facing the people of Syria or Sudan are only of concern when justifying the policies of Israel (minus its immigration policy)."
The first argument fails simply by basic logic: The ASA is demanding that Israel and Israel alone be academically boycotted. Even if Leonard thinks they are justified in doing so, that doesn't change the fact that singling out Israel is exactly what is happening. So these claims do not in fact "belie reality" at all. Don't tell Leonard that, his psyche seems to be fixated on being right here and I don't want to see what would happen if he is proven wrong.

So something that he is forgetting is that most American academics and academic institutions are focused on what they are supposed to be doing: educating people. They almost never get involved in politics, which is why the ASA's decision made such a big negative splash. They don't do denounce Cuba, Syria, Sudan, or China, not because American academics are such big fans of what happens there, but because it isn't their job to go around condemning (or boycotting) everyone who does things that they don't like. Their job is to teach. That's one of the main criticisms of the ASA decision, academic institutions shouldn't be weighing in on politics. The only hypocrisy is coming from Leonard and his camp: if we are going to boycott anyone we should boycott Syria, Sudan, or China. But since we aren't (and never will), then we shouldn't boycott Israel either, no matter how loudly BDS-holes like yourself whine about settlements.

Yes, Leonard is still talking. He quotes a long paragraph written by other people (in classic Huffington Post blogger style) that basically makes the argument that it's okay to infringe on the academic freedom of Israelis because Israel's government infringes on the academic freedom of Palestinians. But his own arguments are pretty ridiculous too (emphasis mine):
"The question of academic freedom is a red herring, in that academic freedom is neither universal nor protected with equal fervor....Worse yet, Palestinian scholars and students endure systemic denials of their academic freedom....The ASA is simply shining a spotlight on these denials. Maybe had university presidents, the media, and countless others spoken out against the denied academic freedom of Palestinian scholars such a resolution would not be necessary."
This is BDS logic in its purest form: this has nothing to do with academic freedom, because academic freedom doesn't really exist. But Palestinians don't have it, which is bad. So let's deny it to Israelis, which isn't bad because...we said so. Leonard is, as usual, trying to have it both ways: if academic freedom isn't universal he has nothing to complain about, but if it is then he is being a hypocrite because he seeks to deny to some what he wants for others. He can go around and around and around as much as he likes but in the end he returns to the same problem with his argument. You can't protect academic freedom by destroying it. Which is exactly why everyone who isn't the ASA and BDS supporters are lining up against their decision: because they've figured that out.

Here's one last paragraph of his whining and psuedo-logic, because I can't take too much more:
"While less severe, the silencing and bullying of anyone who challenges the particular orthodoxies surrounding Israel reveals the preciousness of academic freedom. The labeling of B.D.S., among others things, as anti-Semitic, as "a blow against academic freedom, in effect, if not in intent" certainly doesn't foster exchange, intellectual debate, and open-mindedness."
Boo freaking hoo.

As usual, this is one big strawman argument. You can go ahead and advocate for BDS all you want to. Heck, some people I can think of make a living doing that. But BDS is anti-academic freedom and anti-Semitic. You can't change that by whining on the Huffington Post about it, and people are allowed to say uncomfortable truths about BDS as well. This article might be a roundup of favorite BDS talking points, this paragraph being the old favorite "if you disagree with us you are silencing us."

At this point Leonard starts repeating himself, but I have a life and don't want to do the same, so I will sign off.

1 comment:

  1. The United States has a population of 317,000,000 and 33,000 people from the Sudan and Eritrea have come here.

    Israel's population is 8,012,000. They are coping with 70,000 refugees from the Sudan and Eritrea! In Tel Aviv they represent 10% of the population and they are not citizens.

    The first protests in Israel about the African immigrants followed a horrific crime in a rather impoverished neighborhood. People were not opposed to the racial makeup of the criminals so much as their fear of being kidnapped and held for days of physical assault.

    I don't see why being Israeli should mean giving priority to the needs of everybody else in the world except themselves.


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