Israel Boycott or Censorship?

, Amanda Winkler, Leave a comment

There are many organizations around the world calling for Israeli boycotts in the economic, political, and academic realm in an effort called “BDS” or Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions against Israel. According to the official BDS website, the aim of this movement is to oppose and halt Israeli settlements. However, many Israeli supporters believe BDS is a movement to delegitimize either the country’s existence or her right to defend herself.

One grass-roots community, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), has been active in the anti-boycott effort since 2005. SPME is composed of nearly 55,000 university and college professors, researchers, administrators, and students on over 3500 campuses worldwide. As a faculty organization, SPME has limited its scope to dealing with academic boycotts. However, just because SPME does not support anti-Israeli boycotting, that does not mean it is also anti-Palestine. SPME’s website says it is committed to a “world in which Israel exists as a sovereign Jewish state within secure borders and her neighbors achieve their legitimate peaceful aspirations.” SPME is driven by a desire to encourage responsible academic dialogue and its belief that “anti-Israel slanders exacerbate conflict and undermine prospects for peace.”

SPME has rallied Nobel Laureates to speak out in opposition to academic divestments in 2008 and 2010 stating that the movement is  “antithetical to principles of academic and scientific freedom, and to principles of freedom of expression and inquiry.” Also, Nobel Laureates states that the movement “may well constitute discrimination by virtue of national origin.”

At least one visiting lecturer got to experience this treatment up close and personal. “It elucidated for me the perception that hatred is alive and well, and that the line we mention in the Passover Hagaddah, ‘In each generation they try to destroy us,’ is a reality,” said Noam Bedein of his recent speaking engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Bedein, who runs the Sderot Media Center, is an articulate speaker knowledgeable on the conflicts in the Middle East. Bedein, who grew up in Israel, frequently goes on tour of educational and community institutions in the US in an effort to educate Americans on the real conflict in the Middle East.

However, while visiting UT at Austin, Bedein was met with particular sharp opposition. Normally, there are protests to his visits on college campuses, however, this time Bedein said “they [protesters at UT at Austin] edited the video [of the speech] to make me look like a demon. They put a mask on my face and made me look red around the eyes. As someone who grew up in Israel, served in the army, and works as a reporter and photographer, I can say that this is the first time I have ever experienced [this form of] anti-Semitism,” in which Jews are depicted as the Devil.

Amanda Winkler is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

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