Those agitating for boycotts of Israeli universities, professors, and students have added to their list of fanciful complaints the accusation that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.” But Palestinian universities suffer from a very different threat, as Carey Nelson—a political scientist and stalwart opponent of boycotts of the Jewish state—argues in his new book Not in Kansas Anymore. Jonathan Marks writes in his review:
Palestinian higher education has shown its ability to “provide graduates qualified to fill many necessary medical, technical, administrative, commercial, and service positions.” Individually and collectively, Palestinians depend on higher education, and the intrusion of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict into campuses has caused great harm.
Consider the September 2001 exhibit, mounted in the cafeteria of an-Najah, [a university in the West Bank], celebrating the prior month’s terrorist attack on Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizzeria. That attack killed fifteen Israeli civilians, including seven children, and wounded over 100 more. The exhibit, sponsored by “students supporting Hamas” and serving, Nelson plausibly asserts, as an “indirect recruiting activity,” included “shattered furniture splattered with fake blood and human body parts.”
Nelson’s convincing main argument [is] that Palestinian universities are “fundamentally different kinds of institutions” from their European and American counterparts. More specifically, Nelson for the first time pulls together evidence, scattered in news accounts, academic journals, memoirs, and monographs, of “a culture of campus and campus-related violence that has been sustained for 40 years.” He draws as well on numerous interviews he conducted, including interviews of Palestinian academics, from 2014 to 2019.
At least since the second intifada, which began in 2000, “entering students have received competing glossy brochures and indoctrination kits” from different political factions, the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Bloc among them. Names and photographs of a faction’s martyrs, including suicide bombers, are sometimes part of the sell. . . . Nelson concludes that “most of the trouble in Palestinian universities has little to do with Israel.”