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 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.
And don't tell me this is merely about Zionism. The ruse is transparent. 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.
And discrimination against Jews has a name. It's called anti-Semitism.
Former Harvard President Larry Summers called the American Studies Association's 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.