Zionism and the academy

Jan 19, 2024
Inside quadrangle at University of Sydney showing buildings.

The University is a place of questioning, investigation, reason and discovery. The University is corruptible and perennially corrupted, yes, but always open to such endeavours.

Zionism has no place in the University – period. Other than as a historical subject and as a pathology for dissection.

Political Zionism drove the forging of the state of Israel via terrorism and its endemic expansionist thrust by ongoing ethnic cleansing. The history and innate character of Israel being heinous, Zionism requires commitment to misrepresentation, lies, silences and silencing. Zionism defends the indefensible.

Repressing Palestinian support on campus

Here we have a US Congressional extremist (Elise Stefanik, R-NY) forcing out the President of the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Magill, on claims of things that didn’t happen. With demands that the Presidents of Harvard and MIT follow Magill out the door. Magill should have taken it up to the ignorant and belligerent Stefanik, noting that it was appropriate that Stefanik should go back to school, preferably not UPenn!

But Magill had a quandary. If Magill had engaged Stefanik on the concept of the ‘intifada’, the context for Palestinian intifada would be in the offing. Dangerous territory. Magill was already in the sights of a wealthy Jewish UPenn donor for tolerating a Palestinian literary conference on campus in September. Outrageous! Marc Rowan, private equity CEO, claimed that ‘the administration had lost its moral compass and overlooked the concerns of the university’s Jewish community’. Since October 7, other wealthy Jewish donors have followed suit by pulling donations.

The media joined the assault. Philadelphia gadfly Jennifer Stefano opined in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 October, that ‘four Penn departments sponsored a shocking number of antisemitic speakers at the Palestinian Write[r]s festival on campus in late September’. Stefano continues, full bore hyperbole:

“The only surprising thing about these donors’ actions is that they seem genuinely shocked that antisemitism and anti-Western values have been normalised at America’s most elite institutions. … In this moment, when the basic tenets of Western civilisation are at stake both domestically and abroad, we must put aside partisan bickering here in America to peacefully unite in confronting this moral rot within higher education.”

Magill had no hope. Goodbye Elizabeth Magill and goodbye to the University of Pennsylvania.

Yours truly as virulent antisemite

Over the years, I have had the odd letter in the Australian press criticising Israel and Zionist propagandists. (Those were the good old days; no letter I now write stands a chance.) I also wrote a blog during 2004-06, created to rail against the reactionary Government under Prime Minister John Howard then facing an election. This blog coincided with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the Gaza onslaught in 2006, so I leveraged the blog for commentary on the latter. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the conventional condensed disgust/outrage, save that my University base seems to have aroused the concern of the gatekeepers.

A then apparatchik (‘Director of Policy Analysis’) of the Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Ted Lapkin, called me to push for a debate on my campus at Sydney University. No way was I going to have Lapkin pollute the atmosphere of the University. Lapkin took his revenge by smearing me as perennial antisemite. First with an article in the Australian Quadrant magazine (variously Conservative, reactionary and libertarian) titled ‘Anti-Zionism in Australian Academia’, July/August 2006. Quadrant probably would have had its smattering of genuine antisemites in its early days, but Zionists (and reactionaries) find bedfellows opportunistically. Lapkin writes:

“The ubiquity of left-wing politics in Australian academia means that the task of writing about campus Israel-phobia requires a solid sense of discrimination. The pool of stories is so large, and the horror stories so abundant, that considerable selectivity is required lest the end product be a tome the size of War and Peace.

I have thus employed the principles of journalistic triage, focusing solely on a handful of Australia’s most egregious university anti-Zionists. And while there might be many likely candidates who might be eligible for nomination, the Oscar for anti-Israel virulence undoubtedly goes to the University of Sydney’s Evan Jones.

… there’s nothing that moves him quite like the question of Israel. His anti-Israel animus runs so deep that he exemplifies the argument that hostility to the Jewish state is synonymous with hostility to Jews, per se. Yet the very fervency of Jones’ hostility towards Israel renders him tone deaf to the anti-Semitic overtones of his rhetoric.”

Lapkin’s harangue was reproduced in its essentials in a 2007 collection, Academics against Israel and the Jews, edited by the seemingly hysterical antisemitism hunter Manfred Gerstenfeld, who discovered antisemitism under every rock. Gerstenfeld, before his death in 2021, was feted with numerous awards for his obsession by self-referencing fellow travellers.

One should thank Lapkin for the free publicity accorded my scribblings, but his literary panache does not compensate for his sloppiness with the facts and with his reasoning. Left-wing politics in Australian academia was not then (nor now) ubiquitous; nor is criticism of Israel a left-wing affair. Lapkin’s claim as to my evident antisemitism is simply a calumny. The ‘egregiousness’ is all to his account.

Fear of academia is also central to an academic article, part-titled ‘The Israelisation of Jew-hatred (sic) …’, published in 2023 in Israel Studies, a ‘peer-reviewed’ academic journal (emanating from Indiana University, a seeming enclave for Zionist sentiment). One author, a linguist, is an expert in finding antisemitism in innocuous language.

The abstract reads, in part:

“A new wave of antisemitism has lately emerged, mostly directed against the Jewish state of Israel. It justifies itself with a new formulation that obfuscates Jew-hatred and its main bearers are Western left-oriented academics. A worrying fact is the large number of Jewish intellectuals, among them Israelis, who support such positions.”

Here’s this spurious ‘left-orientation’ again (anyone labeled ‘leftist’ is automatically suspect), diverting from the subject. The main problem is that academia offers too much independence of thought, with myriad residents therein abusing the privilege by lacking the requisite allegiance to accepted ‘truths’ and falling into grievous error regarding the Zionist project.

Why is Israel sacrosanct?

Let’s spell out the implications of ‘the Israelisation of Jew-hatred’. Any criticism of Israel is merely another manifestation of antisemitism. This is precisely the IHRA agenda, of which more below.

Can an individual of Jewish ethnicity be capable of unconscionable or criminal actions? Of course. Can a group of individuals, all of Jewish ethnicity, be capable of unconscionable or criminal actions. Of course. So what’s the problem?

There have existed Jewish organised crime gangs, their stories documented at least in the US – see Wikipedia’s entries on Jewish-American Organised Crime and List of Jewish-American Mobsters. Is being jaundiced about the character of Jewish mobsters an antisemitic sentiment? Is there hate speech involved? Surprisingly, the Anti-Defamation League is not going for Wikipedia’s throat.

Jewish-American mobsters have been cast adrift, freely available for potential denigration or contempt. Isn’t this then an important precedent? Why not another collective of individuals of Jewish ethnicity – Israeli leaders, from 1948 on? Criminals all, if to varying degrees – terrorists, mass murderers, ethnic cleansers, petty thieves, abusers of public office.

Ah, but there is a sense in which successive Israeli leaders are acting beyond their individual initiative. They are creatures of the Israeli state. A nation-state exercises raison d’état – beyond legality or morality. Surely, Israel can be readily criticised. There is here a structured criminality in which successive leaders, whatever the specific personal initiatives, are vehicles. But no, Israel cannot be criticised. To criticise Israel, as a Jewish state, means that criticism is directed at Jews for being Jews. Criminality, collective criminality, has vanished off the stage.

Zionism, the ideology that conceived of Israel, that drove its creation and sustains its existence, demands that Israel cannot be condemned or criticised. More, it places itself beyond criticism. By anybody and everybody, including ‘Jewish intellectuals, among them Israelis’.

Universities, by their nature, are a threat to this mendacity. Tangibly, so also is the South African government’s December 2023 submission to the International Court of Justice alleging that Israel has and is violating the 1948 Geneva Convention on Genocide. The stakes are enormous.

The IHRA prohibition of criticism of Israel

The most egregious issue of relevance here is the phenomenon of the ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’ (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which institutionalises the feint as above. IHRA has nothing to do with real antisemitism. Supposedly a ‘working’ definition, first appearing in 2005, it is omnipresent, being pushed on states and official institutions everywhere, including universities.

Thus did Melbourne University adopt the IHRA definition in January 2023.

This, as elsewhere, is an outrageous capitulation by an academic institution. One subject becomes out of bounds a priori for interrogation. And not just any subject but a state constructed out of terrorism, entrenched as an ethnocracy, an apartheid state, a pariah state, endlessly displacing a subject population contrary to international law, and currently engaged in genocide against incarcerated millions of that subject population.

Given that the actions of this essentially criminal enterprise have significant regional and global implications, how far does the attempted prohibition reach? Can one adequately teach current U.S. (or German) politics, for example, where crucial explanatory forces are replaced by gaps, white spaces or blackouts?

A Melbourne University spokesperson claimed that the University ‘would use it [the IHRA definition] as an “important educative tool”’. No doubt said with a straight face. On the contrary. The spokesperson also claimed that “We, like all universities, must continue to welcome and enable vigorous political debate and difference of view based on rigorous academic investigation”.

The Guardian link above also notes:

“The Australasian Union of Jewish Students said the IHRA was “created to remember what can happen if hate and discrimination are not called out. … In order to ensure that antisemitism and all forms of discrimination have no place on our campuses, we must be able to define it by amplifying the voices of those who experience it”.”

This is just so much palaver. Israel, the point of the censorship, is nowhere to be seen in this diktat. Do these particular students know what being a student entails? Well-educated people, not least those with a conscience, are supposed to take this shit seriously?

Melbourne University’s home page boasts “Research facilities Where our researchers are working on humanity’s most critical problems and complex questions facing the world.” One of humanity’s most critical problems is Israel and its destructive global impact. That subject has been pre-emptively ruled out of bounds.

When the rot is institutionalised by an institution’s executives, can it be bounded without spreading? Can prospective students take Melbourne University’s boasts on anything at face value?

Harvard President Claudine Gay has now fallen on her sword provided and sharpened by the Zionist lobby, the coup shoddily camouflaged by the plagiarism canard. Ardent Israel defender and longtime Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz was exposed as a plagiarist, powerful evidence in support, compiled by Norman Finkelstein and reported on by Alexander Cockburn. Dershowitz kept his Harvard job but Finkelstein, not least thanks to Dershowitz’s intervention, lost his. Go figure. Can Harvard’s stellar prestige be taken seriously, as it orders priorities according to the dictates of large-scale donors?

Sydney University

Sydney University plays its own small part in contributing to the Zionist cause. The University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) has been closed down under the formal rubric of administrative clean lines. But CPACS, non-partisan but naturally having Israel in its sights, has been a victim of the Zionist lobby. Who needs a centre devoted to peace and conflict studies anyhow?

Sydney University also sacked my Political Economy colleague, Tim Anderson, after a concerted campaign by the Israel lobby in conjunction with an activist media. In November 2020, the Federal Court of Australia endorsed the sacking, essentially on the grounds of ‘managerial prerogatives’. In August 2021, an Appeal Court overturned the lower court judgment, sending it back to the lower court for a re-trial. In October 2022, the same lower court judge did a 180-degree turn and decided for Anderson on grounds of academic freedom of speech. Unrepentant, the University is currently appealing the judgment in Anderson’s favour.

On 26 October 2023, Sydney University’s Head, Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott, advised the University Community that:

“While many members of our community have strongly-held views on the Israel-Hamas conflict, and we uphold the right to free speech and academic freedom, in line with provisions of our Enterprise Agreement … during the current conflict and at all other times, we support the rights of students and staff to engage in political discourse, including by making pro-Israel and pro-Palestine statements or commentary, but we will not tolerate any pro-terrorist statements or commentary, including support for Hamas’s recent terrorist attacks.”

The political theorist and activist, John Keane, now Sydney University Politics Professor, penned an open letter in response on 6 November. Keane claimed that Scott’s approach to ‘tolerance’:

“… is founded on silence about such ugly matters as non-stop aerial bombardment, the illegal use of white phosphorus bombs on civilians, settler violence, bulldozers wrecking the homes of fearful innocents, death by suffocation under rubble, devilish propaganda dropped from the skies, the wilful destruction of mosques, churches, schools and universities, and crazed plans for the forcible removal of millions of people from their ancient homelands. If toleration depends upon silence about these grim matters then it’s an objectionable principle that has no place in the life of our University. …

in these circumstances of war, our university community must be free to say the unsayable, to speak more honestly about how it came to pass that a state born of the ashes of genocide is now hellbent on the ‘physical destruction in whole or in part’ (Genocide Convention Article II c) of a people known as Palestinians.”

An ensuing exchange was soon shut down by those seeking to reinforce their blissful isolation from and ignorance of real-world horrors in the fabled ivory tower. In the meantime, however, a joint email from 17 academics (Jewish) condemned Keane for his seeming blind prejudices.

“You accuse Israel of promoting indiscriminate warfare and genocide and the murder of innocents without compunction [an accurate portrayal], and your letter culminates in a repulsive reversal of victims and perpetrators in which you liken the actions of Israel to those of the Nazis [an entirely appropriate parallel]. … We believe that in the context of war, any loss of civilian life is tragic: Palestinian, Israeli, and any other nationality. To draw an equivalence, however, between the acts of terror witnessed and documented via bodycams from Hamas themselves, and the awful civilian deaths of Gazans (many of whom are deliberately placed in the line of fire as human shields) by Israeli army fire, is unconscionable.”

Another omnipresent canard – Gazans ‘deliberately placed in the line of fire as human shields’. Here are Hamas operatives presumably hiding behind 2.3 million Gazans in their own homes, in mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, universities, businesses, cemeteries, camps for people displaced for the nth time, etc. They are also presumably hiding behind all those journalists who keep getting murdered in record numbers. The entire Hamas operation was no doubt hiding behind Refaat Alareer who was thus inadvertently killed along with members of his extended family. Did these academics get their ‘facts’ from the back of a hasbara cornflakes box over breakfast?

Members of Sydney University’s Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies are amongst the 17 signatories, as is the previous Head of that Department, now emeritus. On the Department’s website, one notes:

“Our advanced exchange program provides life-changing experiences in Israel with our partner university, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, …”

Life-changing experiences in Israel indeed. No doubt the itinerary includes walled-in Bethlehem, Hebron and Jenin under siege, burnt-out Hawara, etc. And that’s just the West Bank. The 17 signatories ignored a previous post from Sydney University’s David Brophy:

“More serious, though, is the need to look at the university’s ties to Israeli institutions, which are deeply implicated in the violence being inflicted on Gaza. It is astonishing to me, for example, that we are seeking to run an OLE [Open Learning Environment] unit in partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which itself partners with the Israeli military in myriad ways. Far from tolerating competing views on the current conflict in Gaza, the leaders of Hebrew University publicly berate dissenting faculty and call on them to leave the university.

To maintain such academic exchanges at a time like this represents a vote of confidence in Israel, a willingness to look past its violence and aid in its false self-promotion as a liberal society. To choose this path, I am sad to say, renders our own institution complicit in the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians.”

The aforementioned CPACS had been pressing Sydney University management for some time to sever the University’s links with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, both institutions complicit in the Occupation, to no avail. Rather, shoot the messenger.

In September 2009, CPACS hosted a meeting for interested University staff and students as part of an ongoing process in responding to the Israeli massacre of Gazans at the turn of 2008-09 (‘Operation Cast Lead’). The then head of the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies (amongst the 17 above) turned up with a handful of her students. The latter proceeded to talk hasbara rubbish. The meeting going nowhere, I left prematurely in disgust.

Here, it appears, are academics formally employed in scholarship and teaching of Jewish history shitting in their own nest. It appears that tribalism (with the most errant of the tribe dictating the dominant culture and modus operandi) rules over intelligence, leave alone morality and humanity.

A Zionist university?

We are perennially enlightened that some Jewish students at tertiary institutions don’t feel ‘safe’ in an environment in which the state of Israel is exposed to critical scrutiny. Antisemitism is bubbling, potentially rampant, and no-one in authority is stamping on it!

Possibly such students attended Jewish ‘faith’ schools, some with an explicit Zionist orientation and a commitment to the installation of ‘a love of Israel’ in their ‘core values’ (we have them in Australia). At university, the cocoon is burst, with people brazenly expressing unsavoury opinions about this Promised Land.

My view is that Zionists should start their own universities, where they will naturally find themselves in a safe and secure environment with their values.

Outrageous? Not at all.

Hillel Foundation and Reform Judaism (using Hillel figures), for example, make much of estimating and highlighting the proportion of a university student population that is Jewish. Presumably, the implication is that one follows the crowd for a more sympatico environment. There is ‘security’ in numbers. (Does the learning environment matter?) It is only a small step to Zionists creating their own universities to ensure maximum belief reinforcement.

Sometime, in the early 1970s I think, Esquire magazine sent a questionnaire to various Conservative and/or right wing and/or reactionary and/or Bible Belt organisations, seeking to elicit the organisations’ preferences for tertiary enrolment so that budding young tertiary matriculants should be shielded from the depravity of the real world. The organisations took the questionnaire seriously and responded accordingly. Alas, I have not retained a copy of the affair. I do remember, however, that Oral Roberts University and Bob Jones University figured heavily in the responses.

There is a university out there catering to your (and your parents’) peculiar needs. Zionists take heart – there are precedents to follow!

The Zionist inquisition

However, Zionists don’t want their own universities. Rather, they want the power and privilege to control relevant discourses and scholarship across the entire tertiary sector.

Committed troublemakers have to be dispensed with. Hence the sacking of Norman Finkelstein at DePaul University in 2007 (with subsequent denial of employment elsewhere), the sacking of Joel Kovel at Bard College in 2009, the sacking of Tim Anderson at Sydney University in 2019, the sacking of David Miller at Bristol University in 2021.

On the Israeli home front, Ilan Pappé was forced out of his native Israel in 2007. Just prior to that in late 2006, Tanya Reinhart quit her prestigious appointment at Tel Aviv University and left her native Israel in disgust. Neve Gordon was forced out of his native Israel in 2012. Israel Shahak was the object of perennial abuse and threats for his outspokenness on human rights.

No doubt there is widespread self-censorship amongst academics with these instances in mind.

Simply, the Zionists are engaging in an inquisition globally against the University sector as a key vehicle for scholarship and education. The preposterous and scandalous IHRA definition of antisemitism, purely an obfuscatory defence of indefensible Israel, is an important recent weapon in the attack.

The IHRA trojan horse needs to be repelled and comprehensively neutered. It is appropriate that a scholarly (and moral) blowtorch be applied to the Zionist denial and de facto defence of the ethnic cleansing, now genocide, that is intrinsic to the apartheid state of Israel.


First published in COUNTER PUNCH on January 12, 2024

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