Your Jewish Community Relations Council, a part of JCL, serves as an interface between the Jewish community and the general community on a wide variety of topics. Of course, we are not alone in this regard. The rabbis and cantors and their congregations have always been, and remain, major sources of dialogue with our non-Jewish neighbors. This is true as well of JFCS and NCJW. Indeed, in 21st Century Louisville all Jewish organizations play a role in community relations. When it’s working right, we’re all pulling in the same direction.
But Jews in Louisville, like Jewish populations everywhere, do not speak with one voice.
This is especially true regarding the State of Israel. For some of us, unquestioned support for Israel is the beginning and the end of the conversation. Others of us have a more nuanced approach, willing to be critical of certain policies of the Israeli government. And there are a few of us – less than a handful – for whom Israel is the enemy.
Why bother mentioning this last group at all? I liken them to a talking dog: What’s newsworthy is not that the dog has anything important to say, it’s that it talks at all. Unfortunately, that’s how the media looks at Jews who are espousing not just criticism of Israel, but its destruction as a Jewish state. Examples abound.
Recently, the American Studies Association, a relatively small group of academics, voted to boycott Israeli academics. The resolution of the ASA, supported by some Jews, sited as a rationale the lack of “effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation” and calls for the association to boycott Israeli higher education institutions, which are described as being “a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”
I should point out that the ASA failed to adopt a similar resolution against apartheid South Africa. Or, for that matter, against any of the many violent and totalitarian regimes around the world. When asked why single out Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, the head of the organization said simply, “We have to start somewhere.” A similar resolution was passed by the even smaller, Association for Asian American Studies.
Alarm bells went off. The ASA has been roundly criticized. Many of the nation’s most prestigious universities publically denounced the ASA resolution. Some have withdrawn their membership. The American Association of University Professors has had a long-standing policy against academic boycotts and they joined the chorus of criticism of the ASA.
I am proud to say that here in Louisville President James R. Ramsey of the University of Louisville has written to the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), of which UofL is a member, to express the University’s opposition to “any boycott of academic institutions regardless of the political systems in which they operate. The University of Louisville stands for the free exchange on our campuses and the ability of our faculty to share knowledge, research, and ideas with university faculty throughout the world … the free exchange of ideas is paramount to academic freedom.” He asked that UofL be listed among the institutions represented by the APLU as standing against the effort to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Likewise, Eli Capilouto, president of the University of Kentucky, has stated that he disagrees “with the ASA’s resolution to boycott academic institutions in Israel.”
While the JCRC stands for free speech, we needn’t provide a forum to those supporters of the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. I view those people as, at best, wrong and at worst, anti-Semitic.
So we applaud president Ramsey and the University of Louisville for doing the right thing and we commit to be ever vigilant against the forces that, through ignorance, anti-Semitism or both, seek to isolate the State of Israel from the family of nations and destroy it as a Jewish state.