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23 Fanatical Anti-Zionism and the Degradation of the University: What I Have Learned in Buffalo Ernest Sternberg Ernest Sternberg examines the decidedly nonacademic antisemitic tropes that dominate academic discourse at his university and beyond. Falsehoods, misrepresentations, and slanders against Jews and Israel are uttered and accepted with minimal interest in facts, evidence, or argument. The theme of the Jews as demonic Nazis is repeatedly uttered, along with modern incarnations of the blood libel as a kernel of truth about an Israeli pathologist morphs into enormous charges of institutionalized organ harvesting by the Jewish State. Academics not only don’t resist this morphing process but openly contribute to it. Sternberg challenges some of these claims, showing how even minimal effort can easily debunk these lies—an effort that too many academics don’t bother to exert. These slanderous claims about Israel and Israeli Jews, he concludes, are not “ordinary claims, to be answered with argument, evidence, and reason.... They are solidarity-building rituals of execration.” That they are thriving in the academy reveals “the university’s intellectual debasement, its corruption as an institution of higher learning.” On the fanatical, bizarre, and irrational hatred toward Israel that some professors and students espouse, my wake-up call came on April 28, 2004. It was during a lecture on my campus, the University at Buffalo (UB), by the anti-Israel activist and then DePaul professor of political science Norman Finkelstein, who in those years spoke by invitation at dozens of colleges. He was just one of what is now an entire industry of Israel antagonists invited to American campuses to foment extreme anti-Zionism—in essence, to describe the Israeli Jew as the execrable enemy, the global fiend, the new Nazi. In the pages below, I use this and other UB occurrences to show how antiIsrael events on academic campuses turn into decidedly un-academic nightmares of demonization. I should say now that in my analysis of these events I have gained particular insight from Bernard Lewis, who explained that 334 | Ernest Sternberg antisemitism is rather more than ordinary racism. It attributes to Jews, and by extension, to the Jewish movement known as Zionism, cosmic evil, and it judges them by standards applied to no other.1 In the decade and more that has elapsed since that ugly evening, I have struggled to understand the form of malice that his talk exemplified and to decide what my ethical obligation was in response. An Evening of Hate Addressing around 150 people crowded into an auditorium that night in 2004, Finkelstein initially contended that Jewish authors such as Elie Wiesel and institutions such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center were peddling the Holocaust story. Their reason: of course, what we would expect of Jews, to make money. Thousands of books about the Holocaust appeared after 1967, the year of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, Finkelstein said, because Jewish leadership needed a new way to defend what he alleged was Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. He did not explain what kind of entity—what shadowy emanation of the Elders of Zion—could give marching orders to so many scholars to write books on this terrible subject. As it happened, I had searched Finkelstein’s name on the internet before his speech and found in the online Israel-bashing site CounterPunch an interview in which he commented on the then-recent Post-Soviet migration, which led Israel to give entry to Russian migrants, some of whom turned out not to be Jews. The “reason why,” Finkelstein declared, “is because the Israeli establishment likes the blue-eyed, blond-haired Aryan types as a racial group.”2 In the Q&A just after his talk, I asked what evidence he had to indicate that Israelis wanted to racially transform themselves into Aryans. He hesitated. Some works of pro-Israel literature had blond and blue-eyed characters, he finally said. By way of example, he continued, was Leon Uris’s Exodus (1958) with its blond and blue-eyed protagonist Ari. And that name, Finkelstein said in front of an audience of academics, is short for Aryan. Like many of us who make our lives in academia, I had up till then entertained the pleasing thought of the university as a place where intelligent people devote themselves to the search for knowledge, seeking the truer or better through dedication to evidence, good reasoning, and open debate. Yet this speaker, Finkelstein, was warmly introduced by a professor of English who, after hearing...


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