Tireless Enemies of Israel: America’s Academic Boycotters
1:02 PM, Dec 23, 2013 • By EDWARD ALEXANDER
The American Studies Association boycotters, especially the organization’s president and executive committee, have comported themselves with the dogmatism and dictatorialness that have long been de rigueur among academic liberals: they would not allow their opponents within the ASA to make the case against declaring war on Israel to the organization’s membership. They also acted according to rule in trotting out their Display Jews (to borrow Kafka’s term) to blacken Israel’s image (and turn the pariah people into the pariah state). This stale trick is the ASA’s chief defense against charges that the boycott movement is anti-Semitic. One hesitates to call such Jews self-haters because so many of them are sick with self-love. Seen in long historical perspective, they represent a relatively recent development in the often desperate search for Jewish “identity.” In a famous short story of 1942 by the Hebrew writer Haim Hazaz, a character named Yudka (little Jew) declares that “When a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist.” But in Howard Jacobson’s satirical novel, The Finkler Question (2010), we encounter a fellow named Kugle (Yiddish for pudding) who declares that “I am a Jew by virtue of the fact that I am not a Zionist.” These Jews inspire contempt but also—let me confess it—a certain degree of pity. The creation of the state of Israel just a few years after the destruction of European Jewry was one of the greatest affirmations by a martyred people of the will to live, indeed one of the most hopeful signs for humanity since the dove brought to Noah “an olive-leaf freshly plucked” after the primeval flood had abated. What, I wonder, must it be like for a Jew to be blind to this? (Light is a quality of matter, but blind people don’t see it.)
Perhaps a cautionary and charitable note of warning to the aforementioned Kugles assiduously feeding the flames of anti-Semitism is in order. Stoking this fire is a risky business because the flames quickly get out of control. Jew-haters, whether Nazi or Communist, Islamist or progressive, are notoriously poor at distinguishing between Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews. Like poor Cinna, the unfortunate poet in Julius Caesar who is mistaken by the “firebrands” come to mourn their murdered emperor insisting that he is not “Cinna the conspirator,” it will avail them nothing to plead, “I am Kugle the anti-Zionist! I am not Kugle the Zionist.” The mob will nevertheless reply: “It is no matter. Tear him to pieces, he’s a Jew.”
Jews who eagerly look forward to the elimination of Israel by relentless demonization and its likely sequel, by fair means or foul, might do well to remember the old Yiddish proverb: Come for your inheritance, and you may have to pay for the funeral.”
Edward Alexander is the author, most recently, of The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal (Transaction Publishers, 2012).
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