A paradigmatic characteristic
of all bigotry is to take a fault that is widespread among all cultures, races,
religions and nationalities and to attribute it singularly to one
For example: “Blacks are violent.” “Jews are
cheap.” “Asians are sly.” “Gays are pedophiles.” “Women are irrational.”
“Romanies (gypsies) cheat.”
The truth, of course, is that all groups have
some among them with these negative characteristics.
The bigots who make
these claims correctly point to the fact that some members of these groups
display the negative characteristics attributed to the groups as a
But the bigotry consists of singling out any such group for unique
condemnation on the basis of these widespread faults without acknowledging that
members of other groups have them as well, sometimes in greater proportion than
the group that is singled out.
This is precisely what is occurring in the
context of the nation state of the Jewish people, Israel, being singled out for
boycotts, divestment and sanctions.
As the president of the American
Studies Association, Curtis Marez, acknowledged, after his organization singled
out Israel for an academic boycott: Many other countries, including all of
Israel’s neighbors, have far worse records when it comes to human rights and
Moreover, other countries (including China, Russia and
Turkey) have had longer and far more oppressive occupations than Israel without
offering (as Israel has) to end the occupation as part of a negotiated peace.
Marez’s response to the charge of bigotry in applying the
double standard to the nation state of the Jewish people was “We have to start
That is the characteristic response of the bigot. When it
comes to condemning violence, we have to start somewhere, so let’s target
African-Americans for stop and frisk. When it comes to stopping pedophilia, “we
have to start somewhere” so let’s start with profiling gays. Surely this would
be recognized as bigotry personified.
Marez’s benighted response is more
than simply bigoted, it is mendacious.
His association is not simply
starting with Israel, it is stopping with Israel. A vote to boycott Chinese,
Cuban, Russian or Palestinian academic institutions— which are worse by every
measure of civil liberties, human rights and academic freedom than Israeli
institutions – would garner few, if any, votes. This too is the paradigm of
bigotry: starting and ending with one ethnic or religious group and applying a
different standard to every other group.
When Harvard University adopted
a quota system directed only against Jewish applicants, its president,
A. Lawrence Lowell, justified singling out Jews, because, he claimed,
When told that Christians cheat, too, he responded: “You’re
changing the subject. We’re talking about Jews now.”
He too had to
start and stop somewhere. So he singled out the Jews. Was this anti-Semitic? The
answer to the question, is the singling out of the nation state of the Jewish
people for an academic boycott an act of anti-Semitism, the answer is, if the
shoe fits ...
Here not only does the shoe fit, but like Cinderella’s
slipper, the bigoted shoe in this case fits only one group: academic
institutions in the nation state of the Jewish people.
There are those
who claim that the BDS movement against Israel cannot be anti-Semitic, because
it is directed at a country and not at individuals. But by treating Israel as
the Jew among nations – singling it out for condemnation when others are far
worse by any relevant standard – the advocates of BDS are simply expanding the
notion of anti-Semitism beyond the individual to the nation state of the Jewish
people. When Nazis condemned “Jewish physics,” “Jewish art” and “Jewish business
practices,” they too claimed that they were focusing on Jewish institutions
rather than Jewish individuals. That defense won’t work. Treating the Jew among
nations precisely the way classic anti-Semites have treated the Jewish people is
simply a new adaptation of the oldest of prejudices.
So let the world
condemn those who single out the nation state of the Jewish people for the
application of a double standard. Let the world understand that bigotry is
bigotry whether directed against the Jew among nations or the Jew within
Let those who want to boycott nations apply the simple test of
morality: the worst first. Let them apply another moral test: focusing first on
those countries in which dissent is not tolerated and in which there is no
internal recourse against violations of human rights.
tests to Israel would put the nation state of the Jewish people at the very
bottom of countries deserving to be boycotted. But by ignoring the worst and
condemning a nation that is near the very top in terms of human rights, academic
freedom and the rule of law, the bigotry of the condemners becomes
So let the world judge Israel by a single standard and let the
world judge those who condemn Israel by that same standard.
The writer, a
veteran professor at Harvard Law School, is a prominent advocate for Israel in
the United States