Andrew Pessin, a professor of philosophy, and Doron Ben-Atar, a professor of American Studies, don’t share a discipline or research interests, but they share the experience of being Jewish faculty members targeted and harassed by anti-Zionists at their respective universities. Together, they have edited a volume of essays titled Anti-Zionism on Campus: The University, Free Speech, and BDS. In his review, Jarrod Tanny comments on one of the themes that emerge from the book: the highly porous line between hatred for the Jewish state and hatred for Jews.
Much as 19th-century anti-Semites saw the Jews as the chief perpetrators and beneficiaries of the widespread misery unleashed by political modernization and industrialization, today’s anti-Zionists have centered the Jewish state—a tiny entity that allegedly wields a disproportionate amount of power through its covert machinations—in their cosmology of global oppressions. Social justice and liberation entail the liquidation of Jewish power. . . .
“If the Palestinians stand . . . as symbolic of all the victims of ‘the West’ or ‘imperialism,’” writes [the British scholar of anti-Semitism] David Hirsh, “then Israel is thrust into the center of the world as being symbolic of oppression everywhere.” In this sense, the Palestinian is the universal victim, the 21st-century incarnation of the Marxist’s proletariat whose liberation would lead to the liberation of all. All that stands in the way is the Jewish state and the diasporic communities who advocate for its existence. Social justice and freedom will come only when Jewish self-determination is undone and Israel is forced to vanish into history.
But it is primarily the Jews of the diaspora, not Israel, who are paying the price for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement because its goal, write Pessin and Ben-Atar, is “to change the conversation about Israel and Zionism” in America, not to help the Palestinians. In fact, they go on, “they have changed the conversation quite significantly. It is now permissible to say things about Israelis and Jews . . . that not long ago were impermissible.”