Two recent articles by BDS leaders in anthropology have accused boycott opponents of debasing the debate in anthropology, either by playing the “Nazi card” or by introducing the “whiff” or “stench” of anti-Semitism into the arena. The first, Lisa Rofel and Daniel Segal’s piece, “J’Accuse: How Not to Have a Political Debate about BDS,” was recently published in Savage Minds. The second, Nadia Abu El-Haj’s “Disciplinary Peace Above All Else?” was published in Somatosphere.[i]
The first words of the Segal and Rofel piece – “J’Accuse” – strike an odd note. These historic words dominated the open letter by the French writer Emile Zola protesting the trial and conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, one of the most infamous anti-Semitic episodes in French history. Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, who was a journalist in Paris at the time, said that it was the Dreyfus trial that made him a Zionist. Clearly, this has not happened to Rofel and Segal. Indeed, the most important part of their piece is its clear revelation of the true aims of the boycott movement in anthropology: the negation of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and the end of the State of Israel as a Jewish State. Nevertheless, perhaps unwittingly, by invoking the Dreyfus affair Rofel and Segal make plain the difficulty of untangling Zionism and anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism.
Rofel and Segal assert that we should not write out of history the “many Jewish critics of Zionism including scholars, Orthodox and Mizrahi Jews.” It is true that there have been Jewish critics of Zionism in history, including communists, socialists, Jewish Bundists, and early leaders of Reform Judaism.
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