Sunday, December 29, 2013

The weight of a fool's wrath / Parshat Bo

A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but a fool’s wrath is heavier than both.

 (Proverbs 27:3)

You probably think I’m going to apply that verse to Pharaoh. I certainly could. In the aftermath of the plague of hail, in the opening of parshat Bo, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:1). His courtiers want to let the Hebrews go, and the next plague of locusts not only reinforces that desire but prompts Pharaoh to admit his guilt and ask for forgiveness, but the moment the plague of locusts subsides, God stiffens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:20) and he reneges. The plague of darkness comes next and following this one, too, God stiffens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:27) and he refuses to allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt. Torah next announces the coming tenth plague, the worst by far, and yet again God stiffens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 11:10). Might we invoke that verse from Proverbs and intone: A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but a fool’s wrath is heavier than both?

Pharaoh’s hardened heart has an assist: God stiffens it. Pharaoh has a vested interested in the slaves: they build his storehouses, integral to his robust economy and crucial to maintaining his power. And while Torah tells us that Pharaoh’s anger is reinforced or facilitated by God, his wrath is initially inspired by vicious hatred. His attempt at the genocidal extermination of the Hebrews, recounted in Exodus, chapter 1—however ill considered from the perspective of economics and power—leaves no room for doubt on that score. Pharaoh will decimate and bankrupt his country: this fool’s wrath is heavier than both stone and sand and, we might add, brick.

But what are we to say of people who hate without investment or involvement, and against all reason and proportion? To say they are misguided is an understatement.  They are fools driven by wrath inspired, propelled and fueled by hatred. I speak of the American Studies Association, which voted on December 16 to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. The ASA describes itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” Why is a group of university professors dedicated to the academic study of American history focused so intently on the Israel-Palestinian situation, to the exclusion of all other hot spots around the world? Why is this the only conflict on the globe that ignites flames of anger in their hearts? Out of the dozens of conflicts in the world outside the domain of their academic raison d’etre, why does Israel alone receive their exclusive, undivided attention and animus?

A clue is seen in the bullying techniques employed by the ASA leadership to insure passage of the now infamous anti-Israel resolution. Jonathan Marks, professor of politics at Ursinus College, in an article he published in the Wall Street Journal entitled “A Vote Against Israel and Academic Freedom” (December 16, 2013) tells us:

Make no mistake: Supporting the U.S. boycott campaign is not merely a way of criticizing Israel or expressing solidarity with Palestinians. The campaign calls for boycotting "Palestinian/Arab-Israeli collaborative research projects or events." In other words, it actively discourages opportunities for cooperation and mutual understanding. And while the campaign does not condone a blacklist of Israeli academics, it does warn that "all academic exchanges with Israeli academics do have the effect of normalizing Israel and its politics of occupation and apartheid."

After describing how the leadership of the ASA went to great lengths to squelch the airing of any other than an anti-Israel viewpoint Marks writes:

The ASA's Facebook administrators made the concession to welcome posts from "all sides" hours after the online magazine InsideHigherEd, widely read among academics, published a blistering piece by Henry Reichman of the American Association of University Professors decrying the "one-sided and disingenuous presentations sadly offered on ASA's website." The same day, InsideHigherEd reported on another letter, signed by the eight former association presidents, exposing how the "membership vote [was] being undertaken with only one side of a complex question presented."

The Wall Street Journal issued a terse editorial under the headline “Shame of the Academy.” After noting that the ASA employed “bullying tactics” to push through the resolution, preventing any other viewpoint to be aired until after the vote, evidence of “the political corruption of the American academy,” the editorial continues:

Yet it's still worth pondering what must go through the mind of a professoriate, presumably dedicated to free political speech, that would choose to boycott the most democratic country in the Middle East. The country in which Arabs are treated far better and have far more rights than they do in most Arab lands. And the country that is America's most reliable ally. We can only imagine what these same professors must teach their students about the supposed crimes of America.

JeffreyGoldberg pointed out that the ASA has taught us a lesson in effective scapegoating. Larry Summers, speaking on the “Charlie Rose” program, deplored academic boycotts of any kind and the double standard applied to Israel in this case. He said that singling out Israel for boycott is “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.”

A more entertaining way to communicate this message may be seen and heard in Ari Lesser’s youtube video rap “Boycott Israel.” Lesser points out the inherent double-standard of boycotting Israel but not China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India, Pakistan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Russia, the Ukraine, and many other nations whose egregious human rights violations are well known… but don’t concern the brilliant minds and conscience of the American Studies Association.

What we are really talking about is unfiltered wrath, unconsidered hatred. What we’re talking about is demonization, the very same demonization Pharaoh inflicted on the Hebrews three millennia ago, alive and well in the hallowed halls of the ASA.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Kenneth Cohen, likens the American Studies Association to the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that lives to hate:

Let's be frank. Although the ASA & the ISM [International Solidarity Movement] talk a great deal about peace, they really don't want it and even seem frightened at the prospect. They want war. They want utter defeat for one side. To them Israel— regardless of any accommodations which might be made to the Palestinians—has no legitimacy. In their Manichaean world view, there are good guys and bad ones. The Jews are the bad ones.

The Palestinians and Israel recognize each other. They are negotiating with each other. The process is slow and a final agreement is elusive, to be sure, but to quote Churchill "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war."

President Abbas had said that he opposes boycotts against Israel. But that doesn't stop these zealots (aka "peace activists") from their extremist agenda. They voted to boycott anyway. They know better than President Abbas. Like the Iranians and Al-Qaeda, they are more Palestinian than the Palestinians. Seems like a lot of fanatics think that way.

Throughout history, foolish fanatics steeped in hateful wrath have demonized the Jews. Today, we see it in the heady world of this group of academicians who disguise their hatred of Jews and Judaism by demonizing the Jewish state. The fanaticism and hatred of the Pharaoh of Egypt lives and breathes more than 3,000 years later in the hearts and minds of the American Studies Association. They have brought shame on the academy.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

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