When professors turn foolish

An Oxford don, the story goes, was overheard putting down a colleague: “On the surface he’s profound, but deep down he’s superficial.” It took George Orwell to point out that higher learning and stupidity make a regular couple.
There are notions so foolish that only an intellectual will believe them,” wrote Orwell in his laconic way. The luminary of his era who left a bonanza of political idioms, among them “Big brother,” “Doublethink”, and “More equal than others,” found that intelligent people can be gullible people. He’s a reminder that professors may lack a modicum of common sense. He learnt that to parley with learned people may be to parley with fools. We don’t have to upturn rocks to uncover Orwell types. Look no further than a fashionable cause or a conventional wisdom and you find them – fool believers clinging for dear life to nonsensical notions.
In our troubled landscape one collecting point attracts more such pairings than any other point. A vast deposit of learned fools sticks to the brouhaha over Palestinian rights and Israeli wrongs. “A sore evil under the sun,” old King Solomon said. He might have been prophesying the cock-and-bull morality play called BDS. The boycott is a fashionable cause that brings learned fools out in droves. Everyone and his aunt glow with righteous wrath when the boycott show hits town. Clever people love to hang faculty gowns on the peg of anti-Zionism. It’s a cause that thought leaders and disciples can afford to miss.
A state for the Palestinians is conventional wisdom writ large. Overbearing professors kicking up dust swell the BDS bubble to the point of bursting. If a rousing brass band accompanied all the fuss and bother it would play a rendition of ‘John Browns Body.Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of Palestine. It will trample over Israel where victims of occupation pine... As foot soldiers for the cause celebre of our time, intellectuals have found their holy grail. And it’s known by three capital letters.
BDS is a rights based movement which is opposed to racism in all its forms – including, explicitly anti-Semitism.” The line, simple though it looks, opens a Pandora’s box. It takes a Professor of Philosophy to profess that boycotters are for human rights, or even for the rights of Palestinians for that matter. True, they bully the world to cut off Israel for the way it treats Palestinians. Not the Palestinians, mind. The focus is more pinpoint. For that part living under Jewish occupation’ and for no other, the boycott brigade goes to war. For the lucky ones. The unlucky ones rotting in the real Middle East can go on rotting. The brains trust won’t bat an eye for Palestinians dying worse than cur dogs under the Arabian sun. The boycott professor does not wear heart on sleeve; he wears a formula on cuff of faculty gown: Arab crimes on Palestinians are Arab business; Jewish crimes on Palestinians are my business.
BDS, we're told further, is more than a rights movement. It is “opposed to racism in all its forms, including explicitly anti-Semitism.” If he put away that banner a professor might take a look at the world as it really is. Racism. The people for whose welfare boycotters go to war are anti-Semites from the head down. Nor are they shy to shout it from the rooftops. Take the Palestinians’ demand for a state wherein Juden will be verboten. You heard right. Jews not welcome in a State of Palestine.
Now the liberal world likes to cut Palestinians an amount of slack it would never cut for any other people. Some would even say that Palestinians are allowed to get away with murder. Surely though, by demanding a Jew-free Palestine they are testing the liberal world’s patience. At least one world leader, the Prime Minister of Israel, thought they were. Was the demand for Juden verboten in the state of Palestine a legitimate demand? Mr Netanyahu asked himself, aloud. ‘Foul!’ cried the liberal world in unison, taking cue from a White House offended by the question. It was inappropriate of Netanyahu to ask it; the demand was a fair and reasonable one for Palestinians to make. Entirely, echoed Obama supporters. It is settlers they don’t want in a state of Palestine. Settlers are the bugbear. No one said anything about Jews.
A cute argument, yet the settlers Palestinians don’t want happen, coincidentally, to be Jews, while the settlements the Obama team denounces like clockwork happen to be Jewish. But there are bigger thorns to be caught on than mere coincidence. Liberal excuse-making is a prickly pastime. If it is settlers that are the bugbear, then why have the Palestinians Okayed Israeli Arabs settling over the Green Line which, if you don’t know, they’ve done in significant numbers? Why not object to settlers, full stop? Maybe Arab settlers are better behaved than the Jewish type.
If an answer comes it will not come soon. Meanwhile something more from the real world may keep a professor of the boycott ensnared. From the day the PLO moved into Ramallah that entity turned to anti-Semitism for the weapon of choice. Even while PLO leaders made as if to cogitate over American-fed peace proposals, Arafat and then Abbas were feeding their young on the Jewish problem.
Corrupt and treacherous, allied with the devil, descended from apes and pigs – these are Jewish traits which young and old are taught and incited to go to war against to this day. Mosque clerics put in their twopence worth. The Palestinian –Israeli conflict is “Allah's project vs. Satan's project." The controlled media couches the enemy in more down-to-earth images. “The Jews are thirsty for blood to please their god, and crave pockets full of money." Or, Jews were “forced out of Europe in the past because their evil nature posed a threat to the European.” Or, “if a fish in the sea fights with another fish, the Jews are behind it.
BDS is opposed to racism…” Honeyed notions drip off the tongues of boycott professors who look upon records as of no account.Who knows what facts are anyway,” exploded one, revealing the bedrock philosophy that passes for academics in our day. These professors like to grumble that apologists for Israel misrepresent the boycott movement. Given the rank and file that operate under the BDS umbrella, you don’t need apologists for Israel to muddy the movement. When they ignore the script, rank and file activists muddy the brand better than adversaries could hope to do. Dubula iJuda! chanted a Xhosa mob as patrons filed into a campus jive in Johannesburg. The artists were Israeli and the promoter a Zionist body;combustible elements for boycott hotheads. Dubula iJuda – kill the Jews!
BDS does not prevent anyone from doing anything, but rather asks people to exercise their discretion.” A slogan, even professors may forget, has to filter down to operatives on the ground, or the slogan won’t be worth a can of beans. If campusniks don’t get the message they’ll drop the tolerant mask. And they do, countless times. A piano recital at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg was invaded after mobsters learnt that the artist was Israeli born. Bursting onto the stage they blew football hooligan horns, making the pianist, Yossie Reshef, flee and patrons to go home in shock. The boycott rank and file then are preventers and spoilers, and no amount of professing or sloganeering will make reality different.
True, here and there professors begin to squirm in their gowns and shuffle in their socks. Student disciples are exposing a shameful amount of what lies beneath. A South African professor, academic and columnist by day, BDS activist ‘by night,’ anguished over the bigotry that had wriggled into the body to which he’d staked his colours. “Those who have taken over the struggle for Palestinian rights from the anti-racists who used to run it are destroying the movement by allowing it to be linked to crude racial bigotry.
What had prompted the professor to come out on Face Book? It was a black student leader admiring Hitler’s knack for organization, and who, for good measure, added that within every white man lurked a Fuehrer. On the one hand the professor is praiseworthy for staring reality down. On the other hand he must have seen it coming. Had he not approved course modules that were bound – that were designed – for the word ‘Zionist’ to raise hackles? Had he not sat on platforms with academics who spoke of Nazi and Israeli atrocities in one breath? Had he not kept his tongue after students had chanted “Kill the Jews?” Had he not failed to stand up to intimidation of Jews on campus?
When professors turn foolish they turn cowardly. Even Harvard and Yale have adopted correct ideas: safe spaces, cultural relativism, Black Lives Matter. Think of a gripe and for sure it has been institutionalized. Permissible discourse contracts by the day. In hallowed halls debate has given way to grievance-mongering, identity gripes and sloganeering. The Wall Street Journal carried an article titled, “The Rise of the College Crybullies. The author Roger Kimball wrote of a “lethal mixture of trembling sensitivity and mob ruthlessness in academia that have turned American universities into a vast bedlam with a thousand wards.
Larry Summers, a past President of Harvard, fumes over phony course modules and grade inflation. As if to borrow from George Orwell, Summers bemoans the “pedantry of professors who know so much about so little that they can neither be contradicted, nor are worth contradicting.
He might well have had a particular professor in mind. Judith Butler of Berkeley is a gender and queer theorist who probably knows more about so little than most. Indeed, her theory of “gender performativity” already put Butler on the celebrity A-List. For those unfamiliar with her theory, the professor will explain it, enabling one to ask with Larry Summers: Can Judith Butler be contradicted, or is it even worth contradicting her?
Performativity,we learn,is constituted by the very expressions that are said to be its results. If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called 'sex' is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.” Here is language not to move mountains but to confound inquisitor pests from throwing the public into doubt: ‘Lord above, surely the empress wears no clothes!