Anti-Israel historians get a taste of their own medicine

Their proposed resolution charges that “Israel’s restrictions on the movement of faculty, staff and visitors in the West Bank impede instruction at Palestinian institutions of higher learning.”

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January 2, 2016 22:01
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A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]. (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)

A group of historians who will be traveling to a convention in Atlanta next week, where they will present a resolution condemning Israel, are going to get a taste of their own medicine along the way.

The 126 scholars are members of the American Historical Association, which will be holding its annual meeting from January 7-10 at the Atlanta Hilton Hotel.

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Their proposed resolution charges that “Israel’s restrictions on the movement of faculty, staff and visitors in the West Bank impede instruction at Palestinian institutions of higher learning.”

Israel’s policies, these 126 historians assert, constitute a violation of “the Right to Education,” as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution they will ask AHA members to support is a one-sided, unremitting condemnation of Israel, lacking any acknowledgment that the Israeli authorities might have reasons for security checkpoints or other anti-terrorism measures.

In an ironic twist, however, the sponsors of the anti-Israel resolution are about to have their own travels impeded by a different group of security authorities.

Washington, DC-based professors Judith Tucker (Georgetown University), and Andrew Zimmerman and Shira Robinson (George Washington U.) are going to be forced to remove their belts at a security checkpoint if they fly to Atlanta via Dulles International Airport.

The three professors not only are sponsors of the anti-Israel resolution but will also be speakers at the AHA meeting.

Tucker will be chairing a “Roundtable on Violations of Academic Freedom in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Robinson will be giving a talk accusing Israeli archives of “forgetting the Palestinians” and Zimmerman is scheduled to chair a session on “Boycott Campaigns: California, South Africa, Palestine.”

Perhaps at the 2017 AHA gathering, he will be able to chair a session about his campaign against Israel at the 2016 meeting.

It shouldn’t be so difficult for Tucker, Zimmerman and Robinson to understand the imposition of the draconian belt-removal rule at Dulles. After all, American Airlines flight 77 – the plane that was crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11 – was hijacked from Dulles. And the 24 terrorists arrested by the British in August 2006 for planning to place liquid explosives aboard US-bound airplanes revealed that planes scheduled to land at Dulles were among their targets.

Prof. Prasannan Parthasarathi of Boston College, another sponsor of the resolution condemning Israel, will also be speaking at the AHA assembly in Atlanta.

When he arrives at Boston’s Logan Airport, though, he will find his travels impeded a little when he is compelled to remove his shoes.

It’s a pity he will be inconvenienced, although perhaps not such a surprise, since American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 195, the two planes that were crashed into the World Trade Center, were both hijacked out of Logan. And just a few months after that, the infamous Richard Reid was hustled off a plane at Logan after being caught mid-air trying to set off explosives hidden inside his shoes. Prof. Parthasarathi will have to blame Reid, not Israel, for causing the nettlesome shoe-removal requirement.

Those historians who will be traveling from the New York City area to speak at the Atlanta event will have to deal with the impediment of having to remove their laptops from their carrying cases, and perhaps even having to power them up, at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Too bad for professors Barbara Weinstein (NYU), Robyn Spencer (Lehman College) and Luis Herran Avila (New School for Social Research).

These scholars seem unable to comprehend Israel’s security measures, but perhaps they will not be too harsh in criticizing the JFK security authorities when they recall the airport’s recent history.

In June 2007, for example, four terrorists were arrested for plotting to blow up aviation fuel tanks and pipelines at JFK. What an impediment that would have been to their travels! The infamous Times Square bomber (May 2010), Faisal Shahzad, was captured at JFK. So was Manssor Arbabsiar, the Iranian-born terrorist who, in October 2011, was caught preparing to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US and bomb the Israeli and Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington.

SOME PEOPLE might consider being barred from bringing liquids of more than 3.2 ounces aboard a flight as an impediment to their travels. But resolution sponsors Carol Symes (University of Illinois) and Margaret Power (Illinois Institute of Technology) will just have to endure that deprivation if they fly to Atlanta via Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

O’Hare, it will be remembered, is where “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla was captured in May 2002 after returning from an al-Qaida base with plans to carry out mass murder via explosives laced with radioactive material. The financial courier for al-Qaida terrorist Raja Lahrasib Khan – the taxi driver from Pakistan who planned to bomb an American sports stadium – was caught at O’Hare, spoiling the terrorist plot. And O’Hare was the destination of UPS and FedEx planes on which Yemen-based terrorists loaded parcel bombs in October 2010. So it’s not surprising that the security agents at O’Hare might impede professors Syms and Power just a bit on their way to Atlanta.

Scholars traveling to Atlanta from the Detroit airport – perhaps including Prof.

Geoff Eley of the University of Michigan, another sponsor of the anti-Israel resolution – will have to endure another post-9/11 annoyance – taking out and repeatedly presenting their photo identification.

Still, the security officers at Detroit Metro have reason to be jittery; after all, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, better known as the Christmas Day Bomber, was arrested after trying to set off a bomb in his underwear as his plane landed in the Detroit airport.

And the inconveniences are multiplying.

In January 2015, following al-Qaida’s distribution of a new bombmaking recipe, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that travelers at US airports will now face an array of extra security measures, including increased random searches (of both people and their carry-ons) as well as enhanced screenings. On December 18, Homeland Security went further, decreeing that some travelers will be required to have full-body scans and will no longer have the option of a pat-down instead.

These new policies undoubtedly will lengthen and complicate travel for some American university students, just as Israel’s security actions unfortunately sometimes delay the travels of Palestinian university students. No word yet from the Gang of 126 as to whether they intend to introduce a resolution condemning the Obama administration for its latest draconian measures.

The writer, a Washington, DC-based historian, is the author of 16 books about Jewish history, Zionism and the Holocaust. He is also a member of the American Historical Association.


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