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14 Conspiracy Pedagogy on Campus: BDS Advocacy, Antisemitism, and Academic Freedom Cary Nelson Cary Nelson analyzes the impact of ideological anti-Israelism and BDS tactics on the professional academy and the classroom. Graduate students and young faculty are afraid to even attend sessions devoted to boycott discussion for fear they will expose their views and so subject themselves to harassment and intimidation and potentially jeopardize their careers. Antisemitism has found a home in the humanities and social sciences, taking over entire departments and disciplines. The classroom is turning into a space not for exploring the complexities of the Middle East but for indoctrinating students to view Israel and Zionism as the embodiment of modern evil. Nelson illustrates this with an analysis of anti-Israel syllabi from Columbia University and an examination of recent widely publicized anti-Israel incidents at Vassar and Oberlin. While BDS activities are unlikely, in the short run, to affect the investment portfolios of universities, anti-Israel curricular and campus activities are shaping the hearts and minds of “tomorrow’s teachers, businesspeople, professionals, religious leaders, and politicians.” Introduction There is now a substantial body of scholarly literature and political commentary explaining why Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is dangerous. It demonizes, antagonizes, and delegitimizes Israel and uncritically idealizes the Palestinians. That will inhibit negotiations, not promote them. Despite some naive followers of the movement who believe otherwise, BDS misrepresents its goal, which is not to change Israeli government policy but rather to eliminate the Jewish State.1 It thus offers no specific steps toward a resolution of the conflict and no detailed peace plan. Moreover, it does not seek to negotiate a Palestinian “Right of Return” to the West Bank but rather to impose a right for all Palestinians to return to Israel within its pre-1967 borders. BDS falsely claims to imagine a nonviolent route to ending the conflict. But there is no nonviolent way to achieve its goal of eliminating the Jewish State. Indeed, BDS demands an end Conspiracy Pedagogy on Campus | 191 to all efforts to build mutual empathy and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. This antinormalization campaign rejects the communication, dialogue , negotiation, and unconditional interchange necessary to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The year 2016 became the year in which BDS-allied groups decided it was a matter of pride to block dialogue by interrupting and silencing pro-Israeli campus speakers. In addition to consistently undermining academic freedom with its boycott agenda and its effort to silence speakers, BDS actually offers nothing to the Palestinian people, whom it claims to champion. Perhaps that is the single most cruel and deceptive feature of the BDS movement. Its message of hate is a route to war, not peace. With these general conditions as a context, this essay will review the most widely publicized BDS agendas on campus and in professional associations, then move on to its special concern, the increasing anti-Israel politicization of humanities and soft social sciences classrooms and the degree to which this suggests antisemitism has found a pedagogical home. The battles over boycott proposals in academic and professional associations have grown increasingly more difficult since about 2012, not only because the number of BDS faculty and graduate students attending annual meetings to promote boycotts has grown, but also because in some cases the detailed reports supporting the resolutions have grown in both length and the number of accusations leveled. But while it only takes a sentence to register an accusation, it may take weeks of research and many pages to refute it definitively. The 130-page pro-BDS report issued by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in October 2015 is a prime example.2 Nonetheless, the strategies necessary in response, beginning with good information and continuing with tactics, rhetoric, timing, outreach, arguments, and organizing, are familiar and well tested. There is a tremendous amount of work involved, but at least the nature of the work is well understood, even if its success cannot be guaranteed. On college campuses, BDS initiates divestment resolutions that have no impact on college investment policy even if they succeed. But the resultant battles do turn some students against Israel and promote some antisemitic perspectives. Those students become tomorrow’s teachers, businesspeople, professionals, religious leaders, and politicians. In addition to promoting anti-Israel sentiment that migrates to Jews in general, this presents a long-term challenge to US policy and thus a long-term security risk to Israel. BDS often takes over the public spaces...


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