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Analysis: Education kills fascists

March 27, 2014 4:52 P.M. (Updated: March 28, 2014 9:12 P.M.)
By: Heike Schotten
Heike Schotten is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she teaches political theory, feminist theory, and queer theory (her work is available here). She has been active in the Palestine solidarity movement since 2006.

Remember back in 2010 when Israel denied Noam Chomsky entry into the West Bank?

All the bureaucratic scurrying in the world and embarrassed tsk-tsking about "misunderstandings" with the Interior Ministry could not mitigate the transparently outrageous fact that Israel actively prevented a soft-spoken, aging academic from delivering a public lecture at Birzeit University.

The fact that Chomsky is both Jewish and an outspoken critic of Israel only compounded the awkwardness of the whole thing. Formerly a guarantee of welcome into the country, being Jewish was apparently no longer sufficient qualification for access to the interior of Israeli-controlled borders.

Or, at least, being Jewish could now be sufficiently offset by being critical of Israel, making clear that only certain kinds of Jews are guaranteed a red carpet reception in the Holy Land.

The prevention of Chomsky's entry at the Allenby Bridge looked to all the world like the classic censorious decision-making that is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. Even smooth-talking Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev, who has comfortably finessed such atrocities as Israel's bombing of schools and prevention of the Red Cross from providing aid to dying civilians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, had a hard time spinning this one, protesting weakly that the denial was a "mishap" and suggesting that Prof. Chomsky try again.

I was reminded of this incident by recent events here in Boston, where Northeastern University just suspended its campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine after students distributed mock eviction notices in campus dormitories.

For some years now, Northeastern and its SJP have been the targets of a sustained campaign of slander, bullying, and intimidation by outside Zionist organizations looking to control the campus and silence critique of Israel.

Now, the university has (baselessly) charged the students with violating university policy, sent campus police officers to members’ dorm rooms, threatened the students with expulsion, and singled out two students in particular for disciplinary action—both of whom are women of color with Muslim backgrounds, and neither of whom were in leadership positions in the group.

Acting a lot like the border guard that kept Chomsky out of Palestine on orders from the Interior Ministry, Northeastern's Administration has cut off its SJP in response to pressure from outside Zionist donors.

What's more, they are engaging in a prolonged campaign of intimidation and harassment of these students, sanctioning the group in ways that punish its current leadership (who have been banned from serving in leadership roles later, in 2015, when the group will be allowed to re-convene) and scaring the daylights out of students less involved in the group, such as the two it is currently disciplining, thereby also ensuring SJP's stagnation by discouraging other students from becoming new members.

These actions are atrocious. The students are legitimately terrified of being expelled. A climate of fear and intimidation no doubt silences many faculty who lack the security of tenure, much less staff who may fear for their own jobs if their political views are made known. Ali Abunimah credibly claims this is the harshest repression of an SJP in the US since the Irvine 11.

And yet, I can't help thinking back on those videos of an 81-year-old Noam Chomsky patiently explaining to yet another reporter that he was denied entry into the West Bank simply because Israel doesn't like what he has to say -- about Israel.

I harbor no ill-wishes toward Prof. Chomsky. But I must confess, I was quite delighted when he was denied entry by Israeli border officials. I was delighted because, in moments like these, Zionists do the work of the BDS movement for us. In effect, they reveal themselves to the world as the narrow-minded, defensive, reactionary bullies that they are. They lighten our load by divulging their strategies and tactics openly. And they make clear, over and over again, that the only leg the Zionist lobby has left to stand on is their increasingly shrill -- and diminishingly credible -- cry, "Anti-Semitism!"

How else to react to Northeastern's suspension of SJP other than with shock, disbelief, and outrage? Even if you hate the group’s message, you have to be a real scumbag to cheer-lead a university's administrative squelching of student organizing. Especially when it's blatantly obvious that such squelching is politically motivated.

As Max Geller, an SJP member, has repeatedly pointed out, unapproved flyers are routinely posted all over campus, by all sorts of people and groups and organizations. The only one to ever get in trouble for it, however, is SJP.

So, to return to that image of Chomsky once again, and keeping in mind those young people posting flyers on dorm room doors, I have to ask: is this what the Zionists are so afraid of? An aging linguist from MIT whose political dissidence consists largely of publishing articles and giving lectures? A group of college students who leaflet, host visiting speakers, and sometimes walk out of Israeli-sponsored propaganda events?

The short answer to this question is yes: this is exactly what the Zionists are afraid of.

Even though the Zionists are the ones with the money, the army, and the state (both Israeli and American) on their side, they are profoundly threatened by boring old professors and excited, galvanized young people.

This is exemplary of what Nietzsche called slave morality, by which he means the aggressive moralization of any limitation on one's activity into a form of oppression. It is thus slave morality when the Zionists yell "anti-Semitism!" because claiming to be oppressed by Chomsky or SJP is the only way they can maintain their victim status and purchase moral credibility for their otherwise untenable position (I have written about Israel's penchant for presenting itself as the victim of forces it is, in fact, much more powerful than, here).

But the longer answer to this question is also yes. Not only do the Zionists' fears of both teachers and students give the lie to their critique of academic boycott as an abridgement of academic freedom. They also make clear that it is precisely the free circulation of ideas, debate, and criticism about Israel that Zionists cannot withstand.

From the perspective of liberation, then, we must recognize that the organized power of educators and students -- a demographic that includes many people far beyond the gates of the ivory tower -- does indeed threaten existing regimes of power in the world. In this case, the combined conversations of students, faculty, and a broad public about the Israeli state and its misdeeds threatens a Zionism that depends on silence, obfuscation, intimidation, threats, harassment, and outright lies in order to maintain its hegemony intact.

American folk singer Woody Guthrie had a sticker on his guitar that read "This Machine Kills Fascists." The same is apparently true for pencils, computers, leaflets, and lectures. Indeed -- the Zionists know exactly what Guthrie was talking about.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
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