The decision by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, one of Britain’s two professor unions, to call for a boycott against Israeli academics and universities unless they disavow its “apartheid policies”, has been rightfully denounced as an affront to the free exchange of ideas, comity among scholarly truth-seekers and, not least of all, common decency. But it is also a most ugly instance of that habit of collective stigmatization now second nature in academe. White Guilt may not seem a very threatening concept when applied to cosseted, non-lacrosse playing, middle Americans, but when–with effortless mutation–it is visited upon a nation of Jews, things turn ominously dark. A demonized majority may, as a whole, seem safe from immediate danger, but it can be sliced and diced to isolate fragments for exemplary treatment. This is an especially inviting maneuver when victims can be cut out on the basis of thinly disguised prejudice.
A yellow-badge mentality shines through the justification given by boycott proponent Mona Baker for targeting Israel in a world filled with brutal oppression. It is valid to focus on Israel, she argues, because “Zionist influence (that is Israeli influence) spreads far beyond its own immediate areas of dominion, and now widely influences many key domestic agendas in the West.” Yet it would be a mistake to attribute too much to the lingering influence of the Protocols. While it gathers what strength it can from historic antisemitism as an intellectual phenomenon, radical academe’s hostility toward Israel is more a miniature of its general assault on free institutions and bourgeois civilization. Each makes an inviting target, immoderately successful, but easily attacked–rhetorically at least–without much cost or risk.
Our campuses specialize in raising elites whose weapon of choice is moral aggression, climbing in status on the bent backs of those they can shame. Lacking the warrior ethos, they seek easy marks. Western Civilization, both wealthy and tolerant, is their immense target of choice. But Israel, a most conspicuous and successful outlier, gets lavish treatment as well. Needless to say, the danger is far greater and pressing for a small country poised on the knife’s edge, but the issue of survival is shared.