Neve Gordon is a professor at Israel’s Ben Gurion University. He is a long-time activist dedicated to Israeli-Arab peace. A few days ago he published a column in the L.A. Times in which he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. He put it this way:
I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.
It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure…I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.
Gordon also used the dreaded A-word in his column to describe the differences in treatment and rights enjoyed by Israeli Jews and Palestinians:
The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.
Though nothing in particular in this piece is revolutionary or unprecedented, the fact that an Israeli professor has used the A-word and endorsed BDS has thrown the hardline pro-Israel advocates into apoplectic seizures. Haaretz’s reportorial stenographer for the Israeli government, Barak Ravid, reports that L.A.’s consul general claims that scores of local Jewish Ben Gurion donors have contacted him and “all” threaten to withdraw their donations. This is supposed to make Ben Gurion’s president, Riva Carmiel, shiver in her slip:
Israel’s Consul-General in Los Angeles, Yaakov (Yaki) Dayan sent a letter to the president of Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Rivka Carmi, in which he said that such statements may be detrimental to the university.
“Since the article was published I’ve been contacted by people who care for Israel; some of them are benefactors of Ben-Gurion University,” Dayan wrote. “They were unanimous in threatening to withhold their donations to your institution. My attempt to explain that one bad apple would affect hundreds of researchers turned out to be futile.”
“I believe that the definitive answer to anti-Zionist lecturers like Gordon is to set up a center for Zionist studies, which unfortunately does not exist in Israeli academia,” he continued. “This center would help dispel the lies disseminated by Gordon in the name of your university.”
I tell you, what Israeli academia needs more than anything is yet another partisan pseudo-academic institute to promote the right-wing Zionist narrative. Of course, Dayan neglects to mention that the Shalem Center is precisely what he claims Israeli academia does not have. The only difference is that Shalem is an independent think-tank (well, if you forget the fact that it’s primary donor is arch-rightist Shelly Adelson) and not directly affiliated with an academic program. Not that Shalem is not trying to insinutate itself into Israeli academia.
Dayan’s claims about a donor boycott are ridiculous and Ravid is a shoddy reporter for not pointing out that the consul has refused to name any specific donor who has agreed with his implicit call for boycotting Ben Gurion. What interesting about this story is that an Israeli diplomat, whose job, one supposes is to promote Israel, including its universities, is calling publicly for a financial boycott of Ben Gurion. Doesn’t this run counter to what most people believe one’s country’s diplomats are supposed to do? Not to mention that it is shameful, shallow bullying.
Unfortunately, Gordon’s school has been subject to such threats for years. He’s forwarded to me a letter written by an American Jew lobbying the university to fire Gordon. In other words, this is part of a longstanding campaign of intimidation by right-wing American Jews and Israelis to silence dissident academics who refuse to toe the “party line.” This violates every aspect of academic freedom that I know. Luckily, Ben Gurion has not demoted, fired or punished Gordon for his temerity. But it might at some point, which is why this story should be known.