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In the past two years I have been invited to take part in many conferences hosted by the American Anthropological Association. The topic of discussion at these forums has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I agreed to take on a thankless task not as a spokesman for Israel’s education ministers or as a mouthpiece of the right or left. I appeared before an academic audience not noted for its sympathetic views on Israeli policy. This group is more inclined to support the Palestinians, albeit with the belief that neither side holds a monopoly on truth and justice.
I tried to place this awful conflict in the context of two truths, with two claims that contradict each other in terms of historical facts and painful memories, between two national movements that have lost all sense of proportion while striving for a settlement that does not provide either side with complete justice.
Alas, I have no plans to accept similar invitations in the future. In the past year, I have lost the conviction that I can truthfully speak for the current Israeli government’s suicidal behavior. The recent statements by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who vowed to deal with university lecturers and professors who condemn Israel and support a boycott of Israeli universities, reflect the deep abyss the current government has led us down.
I tend to believe that it is only a matter of time before this country’s academic institutions are boycotted, regardless of the wishes of the education minister and other champions of Israeli patriotism. They will be boycotted not because of the handful of Israeli professors who have unabashedly supported such a step, but because Israel is under a global microscope that perhaps unfairly discriminates against it compared with other countries that act unjustly, even violently, toward their minorities and neighbors.
For better or worse, Israel does not enjoy the same luxury as countries like Russia and China, which do not rely on the support of Europe and the United States. Indeed, a look through this microscope reveals the foolishness of Israel’s weak-kneed leadership.
The education minister’s remarks are a sign of the Israeli government’s increasing self-seclusion inside a bunker of delusions, as it distances itself from considerations guided by historical, political and social wisdom. His statements befit benighted regimes that have lost connection to the world, like Iran and other totalitarian states. Israeli academia is losing its international standing on its own account. The brightest students, the hopes of a young generation in academia, prefer to stay abroad.
As early as the 1980s, when I researched yordim – Israeli emigrants – in the United States, I concluded that the overwhelming majority of them will not return. The book in which I included my findings was not translated into Hebrew because at the time it contradicted the dominant ideology. Sa’ar and the rest of this bizarre government of ours would prefer to hunker down and cling to the belief that the entire world is against us and we are in the right.
We have become numb to these eye-popping facts: Operation Cast Lead did not bring back Gilad Shalit, nor did it topple the Hamas government. Instead, it sowed destruction in Gaza and undercut our global standing. Our pathetic cries against the Goldstone report did not help, either. The takeover of the pathetic flotilla once again lined up the world against us. Ultimately we opened the Gaza border crossings.
More than anything, Sa’ar’s recent initiatives will help worsen the brain drain and the university boycott that awaits us. The despair that a vital sector of Israeli society, including academia, finds itself in needs to get the education minister to consider a renewed way of thinking that does not rely on a mob like that represented by right-wing Zionist movement Im Tirtzu. This brings to mind the moving call by late Labor MK Yizhak Ben-Aharon, who urged for “courage to make gains before calamity strikes.” There is no need to silence “treacherous” professors, for the calamity has already struck.
The writer is a professor emeritus of anthropology at Tel Aviv University.