Jewish groups used anti-semitism smear to try to stop boycott debate — Holocaust scholar who heads MLA

on 53 Comments
Marianne Hirsch, photo at Columbia University site

Marianne Hirsch, photo at Columbia University site

Sad and amazing piece at the Chronicle on Higher Education from Marianne Hirsch, a Columbia professor and Holocaust scholar who is president of the Modern Language Association, on the campaign against her and the organization for even discussing the boycott movement. “I became the target of an intimidation campaign that took the form of hate-email blasts, public attacks, personal letters and phone calls, and insistent appeals to stop one of the convention’s 800 sessions before it was held.”

That session was this one. Though the MLA also narrowly passed a resolution deprecating Israeli restrictions on academics who want to travel to Palestine.

Hirsch writes:

The specific resolution on the agenda of the MLA’s Delegate Assembly concerned restrictions on the freedom of travel for American students and faculty members of Palestinian descent to universities in the West Bank. Those restrictions are documented on the U.S. State Department website, and the resolution asked the MLA to urge the State Department to “contest” them.

The messages that poured in from individuals and groups like Hillel and the Israel on Campus Coalition persisted in mischaracterizing, exaggerating, and distorting both the session and the resolution. “Shame on MLA for the hate and anti-Semitism,” one email read. Many demanded “balance.” But academic conference sessions are not talk-show debates; speakers explore a topic, raise questions, and advance nuanced conclusions. Disagreement can be voiced during the discussion period. Critics have claimed that academic boycotts violate academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas. Yet the vehemence of the opposition, the hyperbolic fliers that were distributed condemning boycotts, and the portrayal of the session as a foregone conclusion, in fact blocked the open conversation that we in the U.S. academy need to nurture and protect.

At the same time, the MLA resolution to “urge” the State Department to “contest” Israeli travel restrictions was mischaracterized as “condemning” Israel. Eric Fingerhut, president of Hillel, and Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, wrote a letter to university presidents asking them to take pre-emptive action against the MLA. “Rather than speaking after the fact, as we were forced to do with the ASA resolution,” their letter reads, “we urge you to make clear, in advance of the MLA resolution, your opposition to it and to any other effort to hold Israel to a different standard than any other nation.”

Some of the emails my colleagues and I received were accompanied by well-known photographs of Nazis with signs calling for boycotts of Jewish stores. One, in particular, was sent by many dozens of people from around the country and abroad:

“I am writing in protest of the Modern Language Association’s resolution to ‘condemn Israel’s denial of entries to academics invited to Palestinian universities.’ … Boycotts of the Jewish people were commonplace in Europe leading up to the Holocaust, and led to the extermination of 6 million of our people in the Shoah. Less than 80 years ago Jews suffered our biggest losses, but we also made our biggest gain: a homeland for the Jewish people. Finally, after 4,000 years of unwavering persecution, a land to call our own. We will never leave that land, and the MLA can do nothing about it.

“The Jewish people have faced many enemies over the years. We have defeated all of them, including Nazi Germany. Your resolution is simply another attempt to remove us from our historic claim to the land of Israel. In doing so, you only serve to discredit yourselves.”

Note what the email conflates: “contest” with “condemn” and the resolution with a full-fledged boycott and an attempt to remove Jews from Israel. Note, above all, how it distorts history.

As a daughter of Holocaust survivors and as someone who has been doing scholarly work on the cultural memory of the Holocaust for over two decades, I was viscerally upset to read these accusations and to see Nazi propaganda images on my computer screen. But I was more disheartened by how American Jewish organizations and their members insisted on violating the painful history of Jews, including that of my parents, to foreclose discussion of the policies of the state of Israel and their impact on Israeli and Palestinian education.

This piece is important because it takes on that sacred means of shutting down debate, the anti-Semitism charge. Wielded against Jimmy Carter and Roger Waters and anyone else who dared to criticize Israel, often with great effect (others knew better than to open their mouths), the smear is now being used inside American elite circles; and Jewish scholars are sure to bridle. Hirsch was born in Roumania. She is a Holocaust scholar who has written about the power of that narrative over our patterns of thinking.

And all the MLA wanted to do was to have open travel to the West Bank. Especially as Israel grows more isolated, we are due for huge unrest in the discourse over the space for talking about Palestinian human rights and resistance. When the two-state solution officially goes down this year– or when the argument over the Framework is framed in just that way, as our last chance for the two-state solution– there is going to be tremendous intellectual ferment in the U.S., rapidly-rising consciousness re human rights abuses in the occupied territories. More and more thoughtful people will want to hear the boycott argument, and the meretricious use of the anti-Semitism charge will at last damage the pro-Israel side.

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53 Responses

  1. Ecru
    February 4, 2014, 1:24 pm

    “The Jewish people have faced many enemies over the years. We have defeated all of them, including Nazi Germany.”

    Pardon me if I’m wrong but wasn’t it the overwhelmingly NON-JEWISH armies of Russia, the USA and Britain that defeated the Nazis?

    • lysias
      February 4, 2014, 6:54 pm

      The Nazis, of course, thought that the Soviet Union was run by Jews, as the Communist movement was, and that the participation of the Western democracies in the coalition against Germany was due to the machinations of Jewish plutocrats. So this writer shares an important element of belief with the Nazis.

      • Ecru
        February 5, 2014, 12:01 am

        @ Lysias

        Probably not the only belief they share with the Nazis.

    • RoHa
      February 4, 2014, 11:15 pm

      You are living in fantasy land, Ecru. We have already been told that no-one lifted a finger.

      I would love to see a list of all those victories over the years, just to refresh my failing memory.

  2. Kathleen
    February 4, 2014, 1:30 pm

    Hirsch “Your resolution is simply another attempt to remove us from our historic claim to the land of Israel. ”

    And this is a scholar?

    • Citizen
      February 4, 2014, 2:27 pm

      Hirsch was quoting from some of the hate mail she received.

    • Hostage
      February 4, 2014, 2:40 pm

      Hirsch “Your resolution is simply another attempt to remove us from our historic claim to the land of Israel. ”

      And this is a scholar?

      She didn’t say. She was just describing an angry email she and others received that “was sent by many dozens of people from around the country and abroad.”

      • Kathleen
        February 4, 2014, 3:35 pm

        Why would she choose a fundamentalist email? ok to prove just who the folks are who are attacking

      • Kathleen
        February 4, 2014, 3:51 pm

        my bad

  3. marc b.
    February 4, 2014, 1:40 pm

    this is bizarre. I don’t get the sense that Hirsch’s critics are even capable of understanding the clear meaning of a simple declarative sentence in English, at least not when it comes to this topic. She/MLA is/are criticizing ‘restrictions’ on the freedom of travel of students and academics, isn’t she? what am I missing?

  4. Balfour
    February 4, 2014, 1:42 pm

    Charges of Anti Semitism are effective when they are leveled in a vacuum of information- when the controversial actions are accurately reported by The likes of The New York Times and respected heads of establishment institutions the charges will backfire upon the smearers.

  5. surewin
    February 4, 2014, 2:13 pm

    “When the two-state solution officially goes down this year…”

    By “goes down” I assume you mean “fails”. It could also mean “happens”. I think a lot of people are underestimating the chances of it happening. I think this administration intends to impose a deal on the parties to the conflict, and I think the chances are pretty good that the next administration will be of the Democratic Party and will see the process through if it’s not finished already. The deep American establishment is behind this; the opposition is becoming narrower. Some think that the U.S. cannot impose a deal, but I think we’ll find out that it can.

    • shachalnur
      February 4, 2014, 6:02 pm


      I mostly agree with your comment.

      But don’t discard the possibilty that Israel and the PA will make a temporary deal just to get the US out of their faces.

      It’s both parties that don’t trust the US anymore.

      There’s not a lot of countries in the Middle East that do trust the US.

      • Ecru
        February 5, 2014, 12:03 am

        @ Shachalnur

        I don’t think there are many countries on the planet that trust the USA these days.

    • puppies
      February 5, 2014, 9:05 am

      @surewin – There s effectively a chance that Kerry will blackmail “both” parties (2?) to sign a two-state deal. Is there is enough sanity somewhere among US power wielders to see that this is the perfect recipe for huge destruction and bloodshed right in front of us, as the puppets of the Abbas party will never be able to present such a deal as even minimally acceptable.

      • surewin
        February 5, 2014, 1:20 pm

        I would use the word “pressure”. Blackmail is usually in the mix somewhere. I don’t accept the scare-mongering about bloodshed and disaster. The main obstacle to an imposed two-state solution is the domestic political situation in the U.S., and it looks like that obstacle is in the process of falling. It is also becoming increasingly clear that Kerry is not begging the parties to agree. He’s going to lay out the deal, and the U.S. is going to insist that it be implemented. We’ll have to wait to see in what forms the pressure is applied, but it’s naive to think that the U.S. does not have the power. It does, and its now-dominant political establishment obviously intends to use it.

      • puppies
        February 5, 2014, 10:03 pm

        @surewin – I’m not contesting the power to impose a “deal”. I’m just saying that if the Palestinian puppet administration signs it as laid out, the people are certain to revolt.

  6. Woody Tanaka
    February 4, 2014, 2:15 pm

    ““The Jewish people have faced many enemies over the years. We have defeated all of them, including Nazi Germany.”

    LMAO. No, that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that defeated Nazi Germany, aided, in no small part by the United States of America, the United Kingdom and, to lesser degrees, other Allied powers. “The Jewish people,” as a unit, was essentially irrelevant to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

    • MHughes976
      February 4, 2014, 3:09 pm

      And of course it was Cyrus the Iranian who ended the captivity in Iraq. He claimed to have divine rather than human help.

    • quercus
      February 4, 2014, 3:32 pm

      @Woody Tanaka. Yes, indeed, it was the USSR, and, but here is where I must differ from you, as I would add — “and in a SMALL part” by the United States, if you are to define “small” as the numbers of soldiers who died, which if I am not mistaken were for the USSR something like 14 million ……………….. and US figure about 500,000 (and I believe this is for both theaters of war).

      The victory in the Pacific, however, was largely an American victory.

      • Woody Tanaka
        February 4, 2014, 4:27 pm


        I’m not getting into that fight. I’ve long ago realized that there’s no way to make those kind of comparisons based on numbers, because the war in the West and East were too different, on both sides of the front lines, and that drastically affected the numbers killed, but also because those numbers don’t tell the whole story regarding what each did to contribute to the war effort. I am comfortable to say that the USSR bears the majority of the credit for the victory (as well as no small part in the blame for starting the war), but beyond that, I’m not prepared to say that the contribution of either of the other 2 of the Big 3 was “small.”

      • RoHa
        February 4, 2014, 11:30 pm

        The USSR certainly did most of the tough grunt work. Much of the rest was done by British Empire forces. But the US provided enormous quantities of material for both the other combatants. The Royal Navy Arctic convoys delivered it to the USSR.

        (The British had to pay for most of theirs. Aside from the Lend-Lease, they handed over cash, British owned companies in the US and Canada, huge amounts of gold, and stacks of technical information.)

      • RoHa
        February 4, 2014, 11:48 pm

        And I seem to recall hearing about a few American soldiers wandering around in Italy and France, and actually firing a shot or two.

      • Woody Tanaka
        February 5, 2014, 7:40 am

        “But the US provided enormous quantities of material for both the other combatants.”

        They also suffered 186,000 battle deaths in Europe and Atlantic theaters

        “The Royal Navy Arctic convoys delivered it to the USSR.”

        True. Much of it also crossed the Pacific in American ships, which the Japanese left alone, because they were afraid of pulling the USSR into the Pacific War.

      • RoHa
        February 5, 2014, 8:16 pm

        “They also suffered 186,000 battle deaths in Europe and Atlantic theaters”

        Far more wounded, I would imagine. My earlier comment about “a few American soldiers wandering around in Italy and France” was intended as understatement, not denigration.

        I agree that the “who did how much” comparisons verge on the odious when they are not impossible. How do we decide whether the Polish contribution to cracking the Enigma codes was a greater part of the war effort than the Australian role at El Alamein? Should we downgrade the Canadians because they never declared war on Bulgaria? (I do not know whether this was a cunning ploy or simple inattention.) With so many participants and so much complexity, rankings are a bit trickier than they are for the Olympics.

        In Westminster they still cherish a telegram from 1940 which says “Carry on, Britain. Bermuda is behind you.”

    • marc b.
      February 4, 2014, 3:35 pm

      woody, you’ve read too many so-called ‘books’ and watched far too few movies. eli roth defeated Nazi Germany, didn’t you know?

      • Woody Tanaka
        February 4, 2014, 4:22 pm

        “eli roth defeated Nazi Germany, didn’t you know?”

        LOL. Oh, what a mess of a movie that was.

      • RoHa
        February 4, 2014, 11:57 pm

        As I recall the movies, it was John Mills who defeated the Germans, (with a bit of help from Richard Attenborough). Maybe I’ve watched the wrong films.

      • Ecru
        February 5, 2014, 3:44 am

        @ RoHa

        John Mills? He was way too busy having an ice cold Carlsberg to fight the Germans.

      • RoHa
        February 5, 2014, 8:00 pm

        Great Film! But he fought the Germans in loads of films.

    • seafoid
      February 5, 2014, 3:23 am

      ““The Jewish people have faced many enemies over the years. We have defeated all of them, including Nazi Germany.”

      they won’t defeat mother nature.

  7. Citizen
    February 4, 2014, 2:51 pm

    On a related note, one from the pop culture, not the academic culture: An Interview with Roger Waters–Y he gave up a 10 million dollar gig in Tel Aviv:

    It appears Waters doesn’t know Lauper is Jewish?

  8. unverified__5ilf90kd
    February 4, 2014, 2:54 pm

    We can assist in this fight for the truth by analyzing the smears and personal attacks that were made by Jewish/Zionist pundits (not all jews) against the thesis of Walt and Mearsheimer. This is all in print and signed by the authors. It shares some of the same irrationality as the above and by dissecting the criticism we may be able to explain how reason is cast aside when defending Israel and was consistently ignored when attacking Walt and Mearsheimer. The hubris of the critics was emboldened by their previous success in an environment where the lobby had intimidated and silenced all reason in ensuring the defense of Israel to even the most trivial questions.

  9. Citizen
    February 4, 2014, 3:27 pm

    On another related note, a black American hip-hop artists discovers the reality of Israel, is horrified, writes a song about Israeli checkpoints to help dissolve the hasbara that grips American mainstream media:

    Re the song “Checkpoint,”–is the Black Caucus listening to that tune? Or just to Cindi Lauper playing her True Colors in Tel Aviv after ignoring Roger Water’s plea to her not to go there?

    • Annie Robbins
      February 4, 2014, 4:13 pm

      citizen, you must have been MIA that day.

      but thanks for the link because it goes to Jasiri X’s description of his experience.

      • Citizen
        February 4, 2014, 4:31 pm

        OK, Annie Robbins
        Some days I really am MIA on the issues here on MW. Thanks for scavenging Jasiri X’s description of his experience meeting Israel at the check point, I’d still like to know what the US black caucus has to say about it. I didn’t notice any stirring since he did his song video, did you?

      • Annie Robbins
        February 4, 2014, 6:12 pm

        actually that was Ferrari Sheppard’s description, they were on the same trip. it was you who found/linked to Jasiri X’s description. and i don’t really follow the black caucus. but i think the range of hip hop artists’ is definitely not limited to the black community. actually i know, because my son is very plugged into that hip hop music scene, and he’s white.

        it’s got 28,000 hits in less than a week. that’s impressive. about ten of them are from me tho. i love the song.

  10. Citizen
    February 4, 2014, 3:40 pm

    Black American hip-hop meets Jewish Israelis at their Checkpoints:

    Wake up, America!

  11. Kathleen
    February 4, 2014, 3:44 pm

    “But I was more disheartened by how American Jewish organizations and their members insisted on violating the painful history of Jews, including that of my parents, to foreclose discussion of the policies of the state of Israel and their impact on Israeli and Palestinian education.”


  12. Kathleen
    February 4, 2014, 3:50 pm

    Hirsch “To create the space for the difficult conversations we need to have now and in the future, we must get beyond the silences imposed in the name of academic freedom. We need our academic leaders, our university presidents, not to condemn our scholarly associations, but rather to protect our right to have and to sponsor those important conversations free from harassment campaigns and pre-emptive threats.”


    From my understanding the Univ of Colorado’s World Affairs Conference board here in Boulder have not allowed panel discussions on this issue. Have only attended the conference the last three times over the last seven years. Last time I attended regularly was 40 years ago and the I/P conflict certainly was not on the Universities radar screen then. But now from my understanding full court administrative press to keep these flood gates closed

  13. justicewillprevail
    February 4, 2014, 3:57 pm

    Another spectacular own goal from the Zio Klan. What makes them think that setting the baying mob of anonymous haters (with copy and pasted ‘arguments’) on intelligent, reasonable people will further their cause? Only some demented fanatic could think that hysterical, hyperbolic claims and spectacularly offensive threats will stem the tide of debate about the future of the Israel-Palestine entity, and the status of human rights there. It wouldn’t take a genius to surmise that that is exactly what they are trying to stop, which would also imply that the validity of their own case is so wafer-thin that they are threatened by any discussion of Palestinian rights. Even the mention of them seems enough to trigger an apoplexy of hatred, which to the outside observer might well look like unadulterated racism. Such is the blind alley they have driven themselves into, and their only apparent reaction is to step on the accelerator. The more they do so, the more they alienate and appall reasonable people who have no particular axe to grind, but have a strong belief in the basic principles of equal and fair treatment of all, regardless of ethnic origin, belief systems or religion. Hatred and bigotry is not a persuasive attitude, or likely to gain you friends or supporters.

  14. David Doppler
    February 4, 2014, 4:22 pm

    Well said, Marianne Hirsch, and the tools of thought-control so clearly revealed. Mischaracterization, exaggeration, conflation, personal smears are poor choices of weapons in an academic debate. Fighting and losing publicly for thought control in the MLA, in defense of a brutal occupation coupled with naked land grab, takes both chutzpah and stupidity, which, unfortunately seem to be in abundance in Israel and among its staunchest American supporters. Maybe if they shout a little more loudly and shrilly, that will make the difference, turn it all around?

  15. Helena Cobban
    February 4, 2014, 4:31 pm

    Hey, Phil! Nice piece. But please don’t forget the freedom to travel to and from GAZA…. and indeed, freedom to travel between the West Bank and Gaza, and even around and within the West Bank itself (which also includes occupied east Jerusalem.)

    By the way, people who want to see the archived video of the hour-long Hangout we held last week with five young writers from Gaza, can do so here.

    • Justpassingby
      February 4, 2014, 5:16 pm

      Why havent you been writing any articles here on Mondoweiss? After all you seems to be a somewhat recognize name with alot of knowledge. You even have a Wiki page. :).

      • Philip Weiss
        February 4, 2014, 11:34 pm

        Agreed! Thanks Helena for popping in and thanks for amendment

  16. German Lefty
    February 4, 2014, 5:22 pm

    OT: The linked episode of The Good Wife about the I-P conflict is premiering on German TV right now. I will check tomorrow if there are any reactions by German viewers.

  17. Annie Robbins
    February 4, 2014, 6:15 pm

    that’s a beautiful photo of Marianne Hirsch. nice smile.

  18. American
    February 4, 2014, 6:46 pm

    “I became the target of an intimidation campaign that took the form of hate-email blasts, public attacks, personal letters and phone calls, …”

    lol…poor woman…sounds like this is the first time she has experienced the zio venom.
    She can look foward to a lot more abuse if she tries to have any rational debate with that crowd.

    • seafoid
      February 5, 2014, 12:16 am

      The bot special. But it hasn’t been the same since they tried to bitchslap the Presbyterians.

  19. NickJOCW
    February 5, 2014, 10:36 am

    Distressing as this must have been for Marianne Hirsch there is a danger, surely, in taking too seriously accusations that defy common sense and are patently absurd. Doing so gives them a dignity they simply don’t justify. Such attacks on her are being
    anti-Semitic themselves by seeming to suggest that the actions addressed are in some way quintessentially related to the race, ethnicity or religious identity of Jews, else questioning them might be all sorts of things but hardly anti-Semitic.

  20. German Lefty
    February 5, 2014, 5:31 pm

    Senior German official meets with Natorei Karta
    Sect infamous for seeking to destroy Israel; purpose of meeting unknown, Jerusalem requests clarification for German government about session.

  21. Robert767
    February 5, 2014, 11:36 pm

    Of course the ironic thing is that all Palestinian are Semitic but most Jews are not as they do not speak Hebrew or Arabic or Aramaic or Maltese as their native language. To call a Semite anti Semitic is ludicrous. But for a simple minded soul such as me the whole idea of Jews as an ethnic identity rather than as adherents to a set of religious beliefs is strange. This I think is no small issue I can become a Jew but I cannot become a Maori or Samoan or any other race.

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