Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-semitic in their effect if not their intent.
Lawrence Summers, 17 September 2002
When the president of Harvard University declared that to criticise Israel at this time and to call on universities to divest from Israel are 'actions that are anti-semitic in their effect, if not their intent', he introduced a distinction between effective and intentional anti-semitism that is controversial at best. The counter-charge has been that in making his statement, Summers has struck a blow against academic freedom, in effect, if not in intent. Although he insisted that he meant nothing censorious by his remarks, and that he is in favour of Israeli policy being 'debated freely and civilly', his words have had a chilling effect on political discourse. Among those actions which he called 'effectively anti-semitic' were European boycotts of Israel, anti-globalisation rallies at which criticisms of Israel were voiced, and fund-raising efforts for organisations of 'questionable political provenance'. Of local concern to him, however, was a divestment petition drafted by MIT and Harvard faculty members who oppose Israel's current occupation and its treatment of Palestinians. Summers asked why Israel was being 'singled out . . . among all nations' for a divestment campaign, suggesting that the singling out was evidence of anti-semitic intentions. And though he claimed that aspects of Israel's 'foreign and defence' policy 'can be and should be vigorously challenged', it was unclear how such challenges could or would take place without being construed as anti-Israel, and why these policy issues, which include occupation, ought not to be vigorously challenged through a divestment campaign. It would seem that calling for divestment is something other than a legitimately 'vigorous challenge', but we are not given any criteria by which to adjudicate between vigorous challenges that should be articulated, and those which carry the 'effective' force of anti-semitism.
LRB 21 August 2003 | PDF Download