I study genocide – accusing Israel of carrying out one cost me a job – The Forward

Genocide is the culmination of a process that turns the world upside down – that portrays defenseless people as dangerous enemies; violent states that threatened innocent communities with blind hatred and fanaticism; and lies as truth. Genocide – the destruction of a people and the destruction of their world – is ultimately falsified and rationalized as heroic, as righteous.

We are now witnessing a terrible spectacle: senior administrators at universities across the United States who, when it comes to Israel and Palestine, are engaged in such falsification and rationalization.

In recent months, students at hundreds of universities around the United States have camped out to speak the truth about Israel’s actions in Gaza, calling them genocide. They have demanded that their universities disclose their financial ties to Israel and divest from companies that facilitate and profit from Israel’s assault on Gaza. In response, many university leaders suggested that the protesters actively threatened the safety of Jews on campus—despite the participation of many Jews in the protests—called in the police to violently break up the encampments, and initiated various disciplinary processes against students involved in the camps.

In my own case—as an Israeli-American, Jewish scholar of Jewish history and Holocaust and genocide studies—senior administrators at the University of Minnesota became so alarmed by my evidence-based argument that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza that they withdrew my offer to lead UMN’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. My treatment is emblematic of a much broader problem within American universities: As a whole, their administrators have utterly failed to understand the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism—and so they ended up reproducing an anti-Semitic stance themselves.

My appointment only came into question after Professor Bruno Chaouat, a former director of CHGS, resigned from the center’s advisory board upon my appointment, and the accused me to “justify the atrocities of Hamas.”

I hhas never justified the atrocities of Hamas. In fact, I have said clearly several times – i October and in Novemberto take just two examples – that the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7 was a case of mass murder and war crimes.

What I have done is describe Israel’s attack on Gaza as genocide, like many others scholars in my field.

We have pointed to dozens of statements of genocidal intent by Israeli leaders; their use of dehumanizing language such as “human animals” to refer to Palestinians; Israel’s “total siege” policy, which has deprived the people of Gaza of food, clean water, fuel and medical supplies and have is created conditions of mass starvation and famine; the use of the most destructive US-made bombs in Israel’s arsenal against Palestinians in areas of Gaza designated by Israel as “safe”; the large number of Palestinian civilians killed, injured and forcibly displaced by the Israeli army; and the systematic targeting of everything and everyone in Gaza, including healthcare staff, poetsteacher, aid workers, journalists, childrenhospitals, schools, universitymosques, churches, libraries, archives, bakeries and agricultural fields.

Still, Chaouat’s words triggered one campaign against me by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, through which critics argued that my characterization of Israel’s attack on Gaza as genocide disqualified me from serving as head of CHGS. The university initially hit back, explaining that I was “enthusiastically” recommended for the position after a regular application process. But as the JCRC’s campaign intensified, the university quickly changed course. Within days, on June 10, the interim president of the university, Jeff Ettinger, sent me an email withdraw the job offer.

This unprecedented decision not only hurt me. It legitimized gross political interference in a public university’s hiring process.

The serious attack on academic freedom that my own situation represented was noted in a mail by the UMN chapter of the American Association of University Professors; and in statements signed by more than 1,200 people in the greater UMN and Twin Cities community and by over 1,000 scholars all over the earthincluding many Jews and many Israelis who teach at Israeli universities.

For anyone paying attention, it would not have been surprising that Israelis were part of the coalition speaking out against the university’s decision. They have experienced similar crackdowns in Israel, most notably the one targeting the famous Palestinian professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a scholar who has written several books on Israeli state violence. Shalhoub-Kevorkian has spoken publicly about her anti-Zionist stance and her belief that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. After months of threats, harassment and intimidation, including by the leaders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she eventually relented arrested and was beaten by Israeli police in mid-April—an event that shocked many in the Israeli and international academic communities and revealed the repression and violence inherent in efforts in Israel to silence scholars who speak out against Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

At least some Israeli Jewish academics understood that Palestinian scholars are the first to be targeted in this way – but certainly not the last.

A similar pattern has characterized the university leaders’ attack on the camps. Palestinians and other Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, often bore the brunt of the attacks. But university authorities also tacitly tolerated the arrest and academic disciplining of large numbers of Jews involved in the camps—even when these Jews organized Sabbath prayers and Passover seders; engaged in interfaith discussions; and joined in solidarity, as anti-Zionist Jews, with people protesting nationalist and racist violence.

When I visited the camp at the University of Pennsylvania on April 26, the students I spoke with expressed a clear and strong objection to anti-Semitism. I discussed with them how white supremacists target Jews in addition to Muslims, Arabs, LGBTQ+ people, Blacks and others. It was clear that they understood all too well the connections between different forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.

Too many university leaders seem to lack precisely that understanding.

In response to the protests, a number of universities set up anti-Semitism task forces which have largely based their work on the distortion of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The relied on on the language of the “working definition of antisemitism” of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – although hundreds of scholars of Jewish history and antisemitism have strongly rejected that over its conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Zionist Jews joined the effort, with some even on campus describes anti-Zionist Jews as “non-Jews.” There is an irony here, as some Zionist Jews faced a very similar attack before the Holocaust. As I have discussed in my work on Jewish life in the Carpathians, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis sometimes saw Zionist Jews as terrible in a way that made them un-Jewish. It was their political response to the threat that Zionists were luring Jews away from their communities.

This kind of political rigidity within the Jewish world, in the past and today, reflects an ideological fixation that, as with all ideological fixations, ignores the truth and resorts to unabashed lies.

The Jewish students who were attacked while protesting the war understand, as I do, that senior administrators at American universities have steered our institutions down a sinister path. For years, they have used the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism to silence, intimidate, and persecute Palestinians and their supporters on campuses across the United States. Both former President Donald Trump and current president Joe Biden has leaned into this mix-up.

This is, of course, ahistorical: many Jews have been identified as anti-Zionists since the rise of Zionism. And there are many ways to identify as a Jew beyond a Zionist or anti-Zionist framework. What those who insist on an absolute unity between Jewish identity and Zionism fail to understand is that it constitutes an attack on anti-Zionist Jews because of the way they express their Jewish identity. In other words, it is in its own way a form of anti-Semitism, attacking Jews for being Jews.

This, too, is a feature of our world turned upside down, a weaponization of the fight against anti-Semitism that includes an anti-Semitic attack – moreover, in support of Israel’s destructive assault on Gaza. The fight to stop this genocide is thus also a fight against anti-Semitism. A struggle to protect a people facing an extremely violent state. A fight for the importance of truth, both in Israel and Palestine, and in our universities in the United States. A fight for our world.

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