As the most visible symptom of anti-Israel agitation, BDS has attracted considerable attention. The Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, as well as numerous organizations in the United States and Great Britain, have been actively fighting BDS. The Ministry’s website states that such efforts strive to undermine “Israel's legitimate position as a national home for the Jewish people.”
However, the anti-BDS effort does not touch on the broader issue of how Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is presented in the vast academic literature on the subject.
Those familiar with the sociology of knowledge of Karl Mannheim know that ideology impacts the production of knowledge on a given topic. Nowhere is Mannheim's dictum more applicable than in the rise of the critical, neo-Marxist paradigm in the social sciences. An umbrella term for varied approaches such as New Criticism, Marxism, deconstruction, and post-colonial theory, it has become the most prevalent paradigm in liberal arts in the contemporary academy. The problem with this paradigm is that it doesn't value rigorous research. For the practitioners, repeating a lie over and over again makes it a truth that needs no evidence.
According to the paradigm, Israel is a par-excellence example of a colonial state which Great Britain and Western imperialists foisted on the indigenous Palestinian population. Consequently, the paradigm does not recognize the legitimate rights of Jews to their country. Some of the critical, neo-Marxist practitioners, including Israeli academics, go so far as to describe Israel as an apartheid state. Not surprisingly, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), has become a hotbed of anti-Israel advocacy thinly disguised as scholarship. For instance, during the 2019 MESA convention, Marc Lamont Hill, a professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University, Philadelphia, delivered the keynote address. Hill has no background in Middle East studies, but a long history of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic expressions. Hill
astonishingly told MESA members to join BDS even if it means the end of the organization. "If MESA must fall for Palestinians to be free, let MESA fall!" Already at the 2018 conference by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), Lamont Hill spoke of Israel as a white supremacist nation and also spoke in favor of BDS.
Deplorable as this incident is, it pales in comparison to the cumulative damage that the academic output guided by the critical, neo-Marxist paradigm has done to the image of Israel. Middle East courses are popular electives among a range of liberal arts students, including those in media and journalism programs, political science, and international relations. Little wonder that younger and college-educated Americans have more negative attitudes toward Israel than older cohorts who lack a college degree, according to opinion polls.
Challenging the dominance of the critical, neo-Marxist paradigm in Middle East scholarship is daunting. As a rule, liberal arts should be a “marketplace” of ideas, but how can such a market fun'ction in a field that is lopsidedly biased against Israel. Creating Israel studies programs, an idea that was popular in the early 2000s, proved ineffective or, in some cases, backfired, when radical Israeli scholars were invited to teach in the program. By all accounts, the initiative made only a slight dent in the negative academic narrative.
Without tackling the root cause of academic animus, the anti-BDS initiative cannot fully succeed.
2019 Keynote Address
Friday, November 15, 7:30-9:00pm, Sheraton New Orleans, Grand Ballroom C, 5th Floor
“THE LIMITS OF FREE SPEECH ON THE MIDDLE EAST
IN AMERICAN MEDIA, ACADEME, AND BEYOND”
Marc Lamont Hill, Temple University
MESA welcomes Marc Lamont Hill, the Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities, and Solutions at Temple University, who will give the 2019 Keynote Address.
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is one of the leading intellectual voices in the country.
He is currently the host of BET News and a political contributor for CNN. An award-winning journalist, Dr. Hill has received numerous prestigious awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, GLAAD, and the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Hill is the Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities, and Solutions at Temple University. Prior to that, he held positions at Columbia University and Morehouse College.
Since his days as a youth in Philadelphia, Dr. Hill has been a social justice activist and organizer. He is a founding board member of My5th, a non-profit organization devoted to educating youth about their legal rights and responsibilities. He is also a board member and organizer of the Philadelphia Student Union. Dr. Hill also works closely with the ACLU Drug Reform Project, focusing on drug informant policy. Over the past few years, he has actively worked on campaigns to end the death penalty and to release numerous political prisoners.
Ebony Magazine has named him one of America's 100 most influential Black leaders.
Dr. Hill is the author or co-author of four books: the award-winning Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity; The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black life in America; the New York Times bestseller Nobody: Casualties of America's War on The Vulnerable from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond; and Gentrifier. He has also published two edited books: Media, Learning, and Sites of Possibility; and Schooling Hip-Hop: New Directions in Hip-Hop Based Education.
Trained as an anthropologist of education, Dr. Hill holds a Ph.D. (with distinction) from the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the intersections between culture, politics, and education in the United States and the Middle East.
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill shouting at a room full of academics that the cause of Palestinians and other oppressed peoples is more important than their careers and organizations will remain the highlight of #MESA2019. No lies told. @marclamonthill
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill just told the members of the Middle East Studies Assoc to join #BDS even if it means the end of the org. "If MESA must fall for Palestinians to be free, let MESA fall!" @marclamonthill #MESA2019