SHMULEY BOTEACH COLUMN
Why must they pick on Israel?

PAIN: Dozens of protesters beg Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to free Palestinian prisoners with 'blood on their hands'. But the release of 26 prisoners - many of whom had killed Israeli soldiers and civilians - went ahead in the early hours of Tuesday

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, nearly to the day, I arrived at Oxford University with my wife of six months to become the first rabbi in residence in decades.

I had just turned 22. My mandate was simple: Deepen Jewish identity among the Jewish students and cultivate values-based leadership among the students at large.

What I never expected to be my mission - but what eventually became central to everything I did - was defending Israel against ferocious and unjust assault.

I quickly discovered that universities in general, and elite universities in particular, are breeding grounds for anti-Israel bias.

We beat back many attempts over 11 years to slander Israel as an expansionist, neo-colonialist power and succeeded in portraying the true nature of the Middle East's only democracy.

We hosted six Israeli prime ministers and countless other eloquent defenders of the Jewish state. But since I returned to the United States, the situation among academics has only become worse.

Just after Pink Floyd's Roger Waters compared Israel to Nazi Germany, we have the American Studies Association, comprising about 5,000 academics, voting to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

The group is refusing all collaborations with universities, although not individual scholars. The reason, members say, is Israel's human rights abuses against Palestinians and the occupation.

The ASA has not boycotted any other country in a similar way.

Not, say, China, which regularly jails political dissidents for lengthy sentences and commits them to near-slave labour without any judicial process.

Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, is serving an 11-year sentence on fraudulent subversion charges. His wife, Liu Xia, has been held incommunicado under house arrest for three years even though she has never been charged.

So why would Israel, a thriving liberal democracy that guarantees the right of due process to all of its citizens - including minorities - be singled out?

If you argue that the reason is Israel's "occupation" of Arab lands, the American Studies Association is surely aware of China's brutal occupation of Tibet since 1950.

China faces no existential threat.

It does not have terrorists blowing up schools and buses and does not have a neighbour building a nuclear bomb threatening to annihilate it. Israel, by contrast, has all of these things.

Israel has been under the threat of extermination by its Arab neighbours for six decades, has lost countless citizens to terrorism and has a nuclear-inclined Iran threatening to wipe it off the map.

Surely a group of scholars would understand the unique security situation facing a nation that has suffered a genocide of six million people just 70 years ago.

So why Israel?

According to an article in the New York Post, ASA president Curtis Marez said that his group singled out Israel, knowing that many of Israel's neighbours have worse human rights abuses, because "one has to start somewhere".

At Oxford, I had the privilege of hosting some of the world's leading intellectuals. Never before have I read a more inane quote from a man claiming to be a scholar.

That's your reason? One has to start somewhere and that somewhere just happens to be, yet again, the Jews?

If it's a matter of choosing a place to start, you could draw straws or pull names from a hat.

So, a group of academics just decided it was time to boycott some country and decided, arbitrarily, that Israel was as good as any?

This isn't even a case of antisemitism so much as buffoonery, not a case of prejudice so much as stupidity.

Calling for an academic boycott of Israel for the steps it takes to defend itself is akin to calling for an academic boycott of Britain and the United States during World War Two.

And, mind you, Israel has never even come close to indiscriminately bombing civilian population centres the way the Allies did in that war.

Israel takes great care to protect the lives of innocent civilians even as it fights genocidal terror organisations Hamas and Hezbollah.

Americans who cherish freedom, democracy and liberty should be ashamed that a group of their nation's "scholars" have so viciously maligned a most humane nation.


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