Phi Beta Cons

The Boycott Israel Movement Loses Big at Bowdoin College

They Never Learn

William Jacobson, who has for some time been providing outstanding coverage of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, just published a column on the situation at Bowdoin College, which I have written about here.

This week, Bowdoin’s undergraduates voted on a resolution to endorse and honor the call, emanating from a group claiming to represent “Palestinian civil society,” for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. This move was bold. Usually, those who favor such a boycott, begin with what they think can win, a resolution to divest from certain companies alleged to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank.

They lost big. Of 1619 voters, only 228 voted for the boycott.  247 abstained, and 1144 voted against the resolution.  

But boycott proponents never learn. Supporters of the resolution had this to say: “While [Students for Justice in Palestine] is dismayed that the majority of those who voted were opposed, the referendum initiated one of the most intense discussions on campus regarding Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and for a moment shattered the merciless silence that lies at the heart of Zionism’s power in the United States.”

There are two attempts at falsification in this one sentence. First, although it’s true that a majority of those who voted were opposed, in fact an absolute majority of Bowdoin’s students altogether were opposed. The referendum had extraordinary turnout, attracting 85% of the student body. Had every non-voter come out and supported the resolution, it would still have lost resoundingly. Second, there is no “merciless silence” about the plight of the Palestinians; instead criticism of Israel is an obsessive interest on college campuses and a regular feature of American politics, whether the critic is  Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, or President Obama.

Let’s not be too quick to blame these very young people, who may merely be mimicking adult faculty members, who can be found week in and week out lecturing at some of our most prestigious colleges and universities about how Zionists silence them.

And perhaps one shouldn’t even be too hard on the faculty members, who may, after all, merely be responding to the call to make college more practical. Like the sophists of old, they can at least claim to have taught their students this: one mustn’t get hung up on the truth if you want to bend people to your will.

Jonathan MarksJonathan Marks @marksjo1 is professor of politics  at Ursinus College and the author of Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Cambridge University Press, 2005). He has written on ...

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