Last week, the American Anthropological Association narrowly defeated a measure to boycott Israel. The debates leading up to this vote, writes Theodore Kupfer, expose the deeply flawed ideas about national legitimacy that underlie much academic hatred of Israel:
To assert that Arabs are exclusively indigenous to the land in question, [as the boycott’s supporters do], is to deny the ancient connection between that land and the Jewish people. . . .
But there is something [even] more disturbing about the way academia embraces BDS. Disciplines in which anti-Israel sentiment is most common come from the cultural-studies line. There, orthodoxy demands denial of legitimacy to states whose history is “colonial.” . . .
The post-colonial instinct is to see indigenousness as the true marker of legitimate sovereignty. This is radical. While the classical tradition contends that states are legitimated by representative government and preserved through a structure of law, this new orthodoxy pretends that such institutions are inherently polluted, and therefore illegitimate, because the “settlers” who erected political structures drove out indigenous people. Such displacement is historical fact in many countries, both Western and non-Western, but it hardly constitutes sufficient reason to throw away the benefits of modern democratic institutions. Academics who support BDS resolutions show their true convictions: they trade John Locke for Edward Said.