UW’s Simpson Center puts Israel in the dock

By Edward Alexander, Special to the Jewish Sound

“In the modern world, the Jew has perpetually been on trial; still today the Jew is on trial, in the person of the Israeli—and this modern trial of the Jew, this trial which never ends, begins with the trial of Shylock.”

—Philip Roth, Operation Shylock (1993)


Although millions are assaulted daily by the claim that their world’s misfortunes are caused by “Israel,” UW’s Simpson Center has decided to augment this calumny with a “research cluster” entitled “Palestine and the Public Sphere.” Its first featured speaker was Omar Barghouti, stalwart of the “Boycott, Divest, Sanction” movement to expel Israel from the family of nations; its three “faculty contacts”— Silberstein, Cherniavsky, Bawarshi — are all (like Simpson director Kathleen Woodward) UW English professors.

Defamations of Israel by academic boycotters blame this tiny country for every evil on the planet with the exception of avian flu. But let us examine their favorite one: Israel is an “apartheid” state. According to the Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, “All academic exchanges with Israeli academics…have the effect of normalizing Israel and its politics of occupation and apartheid.” On “progressive” campuses, Israel Apartheid Week is a spring ritual in which self-anointed friends of the human species spew fire and vitriol at the country inhabited by over half the world’s Jewish population.

There have never been apartheid laws in Israel. Jews and Arabs use the same buses, clinics, government offices, theatres, restaurants, soccer fields, beaches. (Did I fail to mention universities in my list? Here is Mr. Barghouti to remind me: His academic institution of choice for pursuing a Master’s degree in philosophy was Tel-Aviv University, of the nation he paints as irredeemably biased against his people.) All citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnic origin, are equal before the law. That law accords full political, civil, and human rights to all its people, including the more than 1 million Arab citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli parliament and cabinet. Israel is also the only country in the world to have sought out and brought to its shores, entirely on its own initiative, tens of thousands of black Africans for purposes other than slavery, granting them full citizenship. There is, of course, savage racial, sexual, and religious discrimination throughout the Middle East, where Israel may be the only state where apartheid is not practiced. But do BDSers boycott Syrian academicians and goods because of the 130,000 deaths and 20 million refugees from Assad’s war against his own citizens?

To dispel uncertainty about its own relation to the defamation of Israel as the devil’s experiment station, Simpson recommends, for unmatched “depth, tenor, and thoughtfulness,” The Question of Zion, a frenzied polemic by another English professor, Jacqueline Rose. A critic of the psychoanalytic persuasion, Rose has put Zionism on the couch in a way that almost confirms allegations that psychoanalysis is the disease it purports to cure. She depicts mass murderers as “people driven to extremes,” rhapsodizes about bonding with Islamist fanatics, lashes out against “those wishing to denigrate suicide bombers and their culture.” Appalled at what “the Israeli nation perpetrated in my name,” Rose longs for “a world in which we did not have to be ashamed of shame” and looks forward to curing her shame-sickness by destroying its cause: Israel.

The book’s abysmal level of scholarship is exemplified in the following sentence: “It was the same Paris performance of Wagner …that inspired Herzl to write Der Judenstaat [‘the Jewish State’], and Hitler Mein Kampf.” (Is there a normally attentive middle school student who would not laugh at this historical absurdity?)

Careful observers of organizations that demonize Israel will notice that they feature what Kafka called Display Jews like Rose, who become Jews only by advertising the fact that they are not Zionists. But stoking the fires of Jew-hatred is risky business: Flames get out of control,and Jew-haters are notoriously poor at distinguishing Zionist from anti-Zionist Jews. Like poor Cinna, the unfortunate poet in Julius Caesar who is mistaken by the “firebrands” come to avenge their murdered emperor insisting that he is not “Cinna the conspirator,” they will find it useless to plead “I am Jacqueline Rose the anti-Zionist! I am not Jacqueline Rose the Zionist.” The killers — in Paris or Toulouse or Copenhagen — will nevertheless reply: “It is no matter. Tear her to pieces, she’s a Jew.”


Edward Alexander is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington. This article originally appeared in the UW Daily.