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At NYU, BDS Goes Stealthy

Divestment movement on campus attempts to link Israel and fossil fuels

Liel Leibovitz
April 08, 2015
(New York University)
(New York University)

In the spirit of an academic community devoted to free inquiry and unfettered debate, members of New York University’s professoriate will get together tonight to partake in a faculty forum, a recurring opportunity to get together informally and discuss matters of great import. Which, academia being what it is these days, could only mean one thing: it’s time to bash Israel again.

But with the BDS movement having suffered its share of blows on campuses lately, with all but the steeliest of Stalinists denouncing it as largely illegitimate and with Mahmoud Abbas himself firmly in opposition, the bar for anyone wishing to single out Israel for opprobrium is pretty high. To clear it, NYU’s BDS gang found an innovative solution: bait, then switch.

Last week, an email from a self-described “coalition of students and faculty called NYU Out of Occupied Palestine” was sent around to the NYU community, with a 14-page packet attached. The upcoming faculty forum, it informed its readers, will focus on the general question of divestment: from questionable labor practices in the university’s satellite campus in Abu Dhabi, from fossil fuels, and from Israel. On that last count, the event’s organizers doubled down on perfidy: ostensibly focusing on companies that “profit from the occupation of Palestine and fossil fuels,” the information packet goes on to highlight the recent boycotts of Israel by academic institutions like the American Studies Association. The message is clear: if you support divesting from companies that profit from fossil fuels, you must also support divesting from companies that do business with Israel, and if you support that, well, you must also boycott Israeli universities and scholars.

It’s an intellectually duplicitous and morally odious move. It’s also not much of a surprise that the vaunted anti-Israel coalition made little effort to consult with actual Israel experts on the NYU campus, like professor Ron Zweig, the director of the Taub Center for Israel Studies.

“The twinning of a radical proposal to divest from Israel with the broadly shared concerns around fair labor and fossil fuels is outrageous,” said Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the executive director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU. “Unfortunately, savvy political organizers are manipulating NYU faculty instruments to advance one-sided moves which mock the freedom to exchange ideas this university holds dear.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.