In a rare bit of good news from the academy, New York University (NYU) and the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) both decided not to allow the newly formed Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism (ICSZ) to hold its inaugural conference on their campuses. This organization, as Cary Nelson and his colleagues explain, went to new lengths of anti-Israel fanaticism, even as it championed itself as defending academic freedom from the supposed threat posed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism:
Politically one-sided academic conferences are not uncommon. But the organizers initially went one step further. They demanded a pledge of allegiance to anti-Zionism: “We ask that all who attend confirm their agreement with the points of unity before registering.” All those who would enter were required to pass a political litmus test, swearing to what amounts to an anti-Zionist loyalty oath.
Faced with rapid public denunciation, along with some likely internal blowback at UCSC and NYU, the organizers deleted the loyalty-oath demand. At the same time, however, they closed the event to additional presentations. The move represented strategic cynicism, since all the accepted presenters would have already dutifully signed the pledge.
And then there is the ICSZ’s website, which stresses the vastness of the evils that the critical study of Zionism aims to uncover. “Behind the clotted academic jargon,” Nelson et al. observe, “is the allegation of a vast Zionist conspiracy.” This includes “linkages” and “ties” between Zionism and “homonationalism,” “the destruction of Indigenous agriculture in Guatemala,” and American North Korea policy, as well as “Zionist surveillance technology deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Israel’s power and influence, [in the institute’s view], extend everywhere. We are in the presence here of the insidious, anti-Semitic trope of the worldwide conspiratorial Jewish octopus so often depicted by the Nazis. Part of what is insidious about the ICSZ’s conspiratorial menu is that it mounts a project based on guilt by association. . . . Certainly, the suggestion that Israel’s hostile relations with North Korea are responsible for Western condemnations of North Korea’s human-rights violations belongs in the latter category. Christine Hong of UCSC, one of the ICSZ’s founders, has been condemning human-rights complaints against North Korea for at least a decade.
ICSZ is . . . founded on the rock of anti-Zionist animus. It has no other mission or reason for existence. Its formal recognition by UCSC or NYU could well lead a few other institutions to create departments or programs of anti-Zionism. But for many Jewish students and faculty they would in fact function as departments of anti-Semitism.