(October 10, 2018 / JNS)
Perhaps the critics of Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and the supporters of American student Lara Alqasem, who has been denied entry into Israel over her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are right. It would have been better to avoid law-enforcement measures fashioning her as the latest on-duty prisoner of Zion for the Palestinian cause.
It is even possible that, in the wake of the inquiry into her case, the authorities will agree she can study in Israel, despite her connections to the BDS movement as a foreign student.
Thus far, the debate has revolved around organizational and image-related considerations. On the fundamental level, Erdan is right. The criticism leveled against him has been mocking: What, a young student is so scary to the mightiest power in the Middle East? What has she done anyway to rattle the “thought police,” boycott hummus?
This argument is aimed to deceive. Anyone familiar with American campus life knows that anti-Israeli activity is established by small, localized cells; they know that the fight to boycott Israel is decentralized, lacks a hierarchical structure, and that it’s campaigners dot the landscape of Western campuses. Anyone who has ever attended a symposium on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a Western campus, or “Apartheid Week” or any other anti-Israel happening, is cognizant of the impact of these messages espoused by the apprentices of the economic, legal, media and diplomatic elites.
The public-relations campaign to minimize Alqasem’s activities is first and foremost an affront to the political conscience of her supporters. It is curious, to say the least, that these people—who on a daily basis heap praise on any display of resistance to the occupation and hope to arouse an awakening of Israeli conscience—are so quick to present anti-Israel activity on an American campus as a trivial biographical detail.
The drag on the public’s resources and the detriment to the national interest is even more of an outrage. What do those who call to boycott Israel—if not to inflict serious economic, academic and cultural damage on the Jewish state—expect? How can it be that people who only yesterday decried “wasting” public funds on cultural initiatives in settlements are suddenly so generous at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer?
This is also directed at Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s board of directors, whose members ceremoniously hopped on the bandwagon calling for Alqasem’s release and whose leaders even declared that academia believes in “diversity of opinion,” and therefore, this “raises the banner of tolerance towards those who call to boycott us.”
With all due respect and utmost forgiveness, at whose expense exactly?
The boycott movement has made Israeli academia a primary target; an academic boycott against Israel is de facto in place, openly and hidden. It takes just one leading periodical or prestigious scientific conference to reject a paper or lecture for political reasons to wash countless hours of research and technological resources down the drain. Is the call to boycott our scientific output, that in which the Israeli taxpayer invests a fortune to fund labs, facilities, research and researchers—part of the legitimate “diversity of opinion” you espouse in your halls?
The arrogant contempt for the fight against the BDS movement is a slap in the face of every Israeli citizen.
Dr. Eitan Orkibi is a senior sociology and anthropology lecturer at Ariel University.