Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee March 16, 2007 in Washington, D.C.Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Navigate to News section

Valerie Plame’s Invitation to Speak at Smith College is the Latest Example of the Cult of BDS

Devoid of reason and disdainful of critical thinking, Israel-haters continue to hijack academia

James Kirchick
November 27, 2017
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee March 16, 2007 in Washington, D.C.Mark Wilson/Getty Images

At first glance, the news that former CIA agent Valerie Plame has been invited to speak at Smith College on the topic of “Social Media and U.S. Foreign Policy” is laughable. Plame’s once-active Twitter account has been silent since September 24, the day she offered a mealy-mouthed apology for retweeting an article with the headline “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars” to her 50,000 followers. Plame initially defended as “provocative, but thoughtful” a piece which called for publicly identifying “those American Jews who lack any shred of integrity” like “a warning label on a bottle of rat poison.” Next at the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute? Harvey Weinstein on gender equality, Richard Spencer on American race relations, and Donald Trump on Social Media and U.S. Foreign Policy.

The invitation to the disgraced ex-CIA agent, however, speaks to something more serious, which is the way in which the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is finding an institutional home in American academia. Only in an environment where it has become banal to exclude the world’s sole Jewish state would no one bat an eye at welcoming a blatant anti-Semite like Valerie Plame to address a roomful of young impressionable minds. A perverse consequence of the laudable progressive desire to be inclusive – which, taken to an extreme, has resulted in “safe spaces” for every conceivable minority group – is the exclusion of Jews at the behest of rejectionist Muslim voices who reject wholesale the existence of a Jewish state.

For a particularly egregious example of where things could be headed, consider Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. There, a trifecta of anti-Semitism scandals has engulfed the campus. First, there is Michael Chikindas, the professor of food science who has turned his Facebook page into a digital Der Stürmer and claims that Judaism is “the most racist religion in the world.” He’s joined by Jasbir Puar, a women’s studies professor who in the past claimed that Israel harvests Palestinian organs and whose latest peer-reviewed book, The Right to Maim, argues that the Israeli Defense Force’s “purportedly humanitarian practice of sparing death” is actually part of an ingenious strategy “to control” Palestinians. (Such outward benignity is not unlike the Jewish State’s LGBT-friendly policies, the ulterior motive of which, Puar argues, is the “homonationalist” “pinkwashining” of occupation. Those Jews can’t do anything right). Finally, Rutgers has brought into its taxpayer-funded employ a career Syrian diplomat named Mazen Adi, who, in his position as legal adviser at his country’s mission to the United Nations, echoed Puar’s claim that “international gangs led by some Israeli officials are now trafficking children’s organs.”

Asked to address these matters at a town hall, what bothered Rutgers President Robert Barchi was not the presence of so many Jew-haters on his faculty, but that their calumnies were all publicized by the Algemeiner, a website which he flippantly referred to as “a blog out of New York, which is the follow-on to what was a Yiddish-language newspaper that folded ten years ago.” As if the meaning of these insinuations were not clear enough, Barchi instructed students to “trace it back to where it’s coming from and ask why is it coming from there and what’s going on, and you may often get a little different perspective on those happenings.” Were black or gay or Hispanic students targeted by faculty in such vile fashion, one can hardly imagine Barchi so casually (and patronizingly) dismissing their well-founded concerns.

Unsurprisingly, then, Barchi tried to divert the controversy to ground more comfortable for a university president. “We are faced with a difficult challenge to thread the needle on free speech and academic freedom,” he said. The overriding concern about this terrible trio, however, isn’t whether their jobs should be protected. It’s why any of them got jobs in the first place. To understand how deep the rot goes, consider how Barchi, in his defense of Puar’s sinister book, called her “a well-respected scholar.” That Puar is esteemed amongst her peers is undoubtedly true. But that’s less a testament to Puar’s intellectual capacities than it is an indictment of the field in which she teaches, Women and Gender Studies, largely populated as it is by other members of the BDS cult who, befitting members of a cult, speak an esoteric language that only they and their acolytes can understand. Among the Editorial Advisory Board and staff of Duke University Press, which published The Right to Maim, at least eight people “have appeared to publicly support initiatives related to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, appearing as signatories of various BDS-oriented initiatives, and often using social media to promote and defend BDS,” writes Peter Reitzes in the Durham Herald-Sun.

And so, in a world in which all of the above inanity is becoming normalized, why wouldn’t a top-tier liberal arts college host a lecture on the use of social media by someone whose own use of social media is distinguished solely by its anti-Semitic incitement? It makes perfect sense.

James Kirchick is a Tablet columnist and the author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington (Henry Holt, 2022). He tweets @jkirchick.

Join Us!

All of Tablet’s latest stories—in your inbox, daily. Subscribe to our newsletter.

Please enter a valid email
Check iconSuccess! You have subscribed to the Tablet newsletter.