Israel now so far from founding ideals

March 16, 2017
Sarah Benton

Photo of Michael Walzer from video of a conversation on Political Theory and Social Criticism with Harry Kreisler, U. of California TV. A loyal defender of Israel and opponent of BDS he wonders, for the first time, if he will be welcome in Israel because he supports boycotting settlement goods.

Michael Walzer wonders if Israel ‘will let me in’
By Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss
March 11, 2017

Here is an important item about the degree to which the Israeli government is alienating important friends in the west. Michael Walzer has been nothing less than an intellectual bulwark of loyalty to Israel among liberals who are not sure what to make of the country. The political theorist at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study has long mixed ardent support of Zionism with reservations about Israeli governance of Palestinians.

Well, Israel’s legislature just passed a travel ban against entry into the country by those who support boycotts of Israel or of the settlements; and Haaretz’s Taly Krupkin reports that 100 Jewish studies scholars “have signed a letter in which they threaten to refrain from visiting Israel in protest.” The letter, which urges the Israeli courts to overturn the law, has not yet been published. One of the organizers of the letter, David Biale of the University of California, a regular visitor to Israel, said, “They want to push us into boycotting Israel.”

Walzer is evidently one of those scholars. A longtime opponent of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) aimed at Israel, Walzer told Krupkin the new law strengthens the BDS movement in two ways, by eliminating the distinction between those who support boycotts aimed at the settlements and supporters of boycotts aimed at Israel, and by showing that the BDS movement is working:

“I can assure you that it will greatly help the BDS movement, people who are critical of the government and also critical of BDS may think that the government is scared, that BDS is working.  There will be people moving towards BDS, and I have already received emails from people who have been critical of the Israeli government but also of BDS, writing that at this point, we might as well join BDS”.

Walzer said that he doesn’t think BDS in the U.S. is a threat to Israel, though it has gained the support of “the left intelligentsia in Europe,” which “is hostile not just to the occupation, but to the existence of the Jewish State, which is very dangerous.”

Then Walzer told Krupkin that though he has visited Israel every year, and taught at the Hebrew University, he doesn’t know if he will get in this time, because he has supported boycotting settlement goods.

“I wonder if they will let me in. I signed a letter calling for a boycott of goods from the occupied settlements but I have also been active in opposing BDS on campuses. I have been going to Israel every year starting from the 70s. I’m coming in June, and I would be very surprised and angry if they turn me away,” he said.

Walzer also told Krupkin that Israel’s need to shut down external critics is a very dangerous sign. Even France during the violent Algerian independence era didn’t go that far.

“I’m old enough to remember France during the Algerian war, there was fierce opposition, and the opponents travelled to France. The French did not try to shut them out.”

For a discussion of why boycotting only the settlements fails to target the government that authorizes these settlements, see Yousef Munayyer’s argument at the New America:

I support full BDS, not partial BDS; because if you want to get Israeli state behaviour to change, you must target the state not parts of the state or little hilltop settlements, but the state itself, until the decision makers come to a different conclusion than the conclusion that they have today, which is that the status quo is sustainable.

For a description of Walzer’s importance to the American Jewish understanding, see Jerome Slater’s critique of Walzer’s halfway-criticisms of the last Gaza onslaught:

For many years, Michael Walzer has been a significant obstacle to the possibility that the liberal American Jewish community—increasingly uneasy about Israel, but unsure what to believe—will realize that Israel is sliding into a moral, political, and perhaps, sooner or later, an existential catastrophe, which can only be arrested if it is forced to change its course as a result of the loss of its political, economic, and military support from the United States.

The fact that this scholar is now so alienated by the Israeli government is huge. We said here recently that the discourse of the conflict is polarized; and liberal Zionists are getting crunched between support for Greater Israel and the international campaign to delegitimize apartheid, with the need to choose one or the other. Walzer affirms that understanding when he says that some of his friends say, We might as well support BDS.

Thanks to James North. 

Yesterday we mentioned an open letter signed by scholars of Jewish studies deploring Israel’s passage of a law last week barring travel by those who support boycotts against Israel, including BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and boycotts of settlement goods. The letter is being circulated by University of California scholar David Biale, who shared it with us, along with the names of the 172 signatories. 

We, the undersigned scholars of Jewish studies, write to express our dismay over the bill passed on March 6 by the Israeli Knesset that would bar entry to any foreigner who supports the BDS movement or supports boycotting settlements or goods produced in the occupied territories. We are researchers with a wide range of professional, social, and personal ties to Israel and a diverse array of ideological positions. But we are unified in our belief that this law represents a further blow to the democratic foundations of Israel, continuing the process of erosion wrought by a recent series of bills including the Regulation Law, the Suspension of MKs Law, and the NGO Law, as well as the earlier Boycott Law. This is unacceptable.

We recall the words of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence promising “full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture” to all in its midst. We also recall the yearning expressed in it to “admit Israel into the family of nations.” Recent policies, culminating in the latest Law of March 6, move Israel further away from these founding ideals. To begin imposing constraints on thought and speech, in this case directed against foreigners, is dangerous in and of itself. It joins a growing wave of anti-democratic acts in regimes the world over. But it also portends a time when these same constraints might be directed against Israel’s own citizens, especially those who do not support the primacy of Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic aspirations.

Among us are those who oppose the BDS movement, those who oppose BDS but support a settlement boycott, and those who support BDS. In spite of our different views, we stand in strong opposition to the new law. It will be bad for Israel, bad for the cause of democracy at this fragile moment, and bad for the principles of free speech and thought on which our scholarship is based. We hope that the Israeli judiciary will overturn the new law and assure us that our political speech will not prevent us from continuing our rich scholarly interactions with Israeli colleagues in the field of Jewish studies. Should the law stand, we may no longer be permitted—nor permit ourselves—to enter the State of Israel.


Inbal Amit-Palombo
Bonnie Anderson, CUNY
Jessica Andruss, University of Virginia
Joyce Antler, Brandeis University
Ari Ariel, University of Iowa
Janet Krasner Aronson, Brandeis University
Dianne Ashton, Rowan University

Mark Baker, Monash University
Michael Barnett, George Washington University
Albert Baumgarten, Bar Ilan University
Elissa Bemporad, Queens College, CUNY
Mara Benjamin, St. Olaf College
Sarah Benor
Joel Berkowitz, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University
Nathaniel Berman, Brown University
Judah Bernstein, NYU/Rutgers
David Biale, UC Davis
Jeffrey Blutinger, California State University, Long Beach
Jonathan Boyarin, Cornell University
Yonatan Brafman
Zachary Braiterman, Syracuse University
Ross Brann, Cornell University
Samuel Brody, University of Kansas
Micha Brumlik, Zentrum Jüdische Studien Betlin, Brandenburg
Andrew Bush, Vassar College

Debra Caplan, Baruch College, CUNY
Jessica Carr
Flora Cassen, UNC Chapel Hill
Sally Charnow, Hoftra University
Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University
Julia Cohen, Vanderbilt
Judith Cohen
Steven Cohen, HUC-JIR
Alon Confino, University of Virginia, Ben-Gurion University
Jessica Cooperman, Muhlenberg College

Max Daniel, UCLA
Galeet Dardashti, NYU
Rebecca Davis, University of Delaware
Carolyn Dean, Yale University
Evelyn Dean-Olmsted, University of Puerto Rico
Rachel Deblinger, UC Santa Cruz
Irit Dekel, University of Virginia
Nathaniel DeutschHasia Diner, New York University
Daniella Doron, Monash University
Jodi Eichler-Levine, Lehigh University
Susan Einbinder, University of Connecticut
Barat Ellman, Fordham University

Marjorie N. Feld
Kirsten Fermaglich, Michigan State University
Reuven Firestone, Hebrew Union College
Talya Fishman, University of Pennsylvania
Louis Fishman, Brooklyn College, CUNY
David Fishman, Jewish Theological Seminary
Arnold Franklin, Queens College, CUNY
Joshua Furman, Rice University

Libby Garland, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY<
Barbara Geller, Wellesley College
Ora Gelley, North Carolina State University
Judith Gerson, Rutgers University
Pinchas Giller, American Jewish University
Erin Graff Zivin, University of Southern California
Cheryl Greenberg, Trinity College
Jeffrey Grossman, University of Virginia
Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union

Aaron Hahn Tapper, University of San Francisco
Liora Halperin, University of Colorado Boulder
Sarah Hammerschlag, University of Chicago
Rachel Havrelock, University of Illinois at Chicago
Alma Heckman
Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College
Bethamie Horowitz, NYU
Aaron W Hughes , University of Rochester
Sarah Imhoff, Indiana University
Daniel Itzkovitz, Stonehill College

Jack Jacobs, City University of New York
Ari Joskowicz, Vanderbilt University
Jonathan Judaken, Rhodes College
Marion Kaplan, NYU
Brett Kaplan, University of Illinois
Debra Kaufman, Professor Emerita Northeastern University
Michael Kaufman, Retired Professor
Martin Kavka, Florida State University
Agnes Kelemen, Central European University
Ari Y Kelman, Stanford University
Evan Kent, Hebrew Union College
Arthur Kiron, University of Pennsylvania
Michael Kochen, University of Goettingen
Rachel Kranson, University of Pittsburgh
Jonathan Krasner, Brandeis University
Joshua Krug, NYU

Jacob Labendz, Penn State
Hartley Lachter, Lehigh University
Yitz Landes, Princeton University
J. Shawn Landres, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Berel Lang, Wesleyan University
Lori Lefkovitz, Northeastern University
Paul Lerner, University of Southern California
Arielle Levites, Hebrew College
Laura Levitt, Temple University
Lital Levy, Princeton University
Jason Lustig, UCLA

Shaul Magid, Indiana University
Nadia Malinovich, Université de Picardie/Sciences Po
Charles Manekin, University of Maryland
Barbara Mann
Jessica Marglin, University of Southern California
Tony Michels, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan
Leslie Morris, University of Minnesota
Eva Mroczek, UC Davis
Harriet Murav, University of Illinois Urbana
David Myers, UCLA

Margaret Olin, Yale University
Ranen Omer-Sherman, University of Louisvlle
Bruce Phillips, Hebrew Union College/USC
Noam Pianko, University of Washington
Shachar Pinsker, University of Michigan
Hannah Pollin-Galay, University of Massachusetts
Riv-Ellen Prell, Univesity of Minnesota
Shari Rabin, College of Charleston
Elliot Ratzman, Swarthmore College
Annette Yoshiko Reed, University of Pennsylvania
Gail Reimer, Jewish Women’s Archive
Kate Rosenblatt, University of Michigan
Bruce Rosenstock, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lawrence Rosenwald, Wellesley College
Michael Rothberg, UCLA
Nora Rubel, University of Rochester

Jennifer Sartori, Northeastern University
Stuart Schoefeld, York University
Joshua Schreier, Vassar College
Daniel Schwartz, George Washington University
Don Schwartz, California State University, Long Beach
Joshua Shanes, College of Charleston
Noah Shenker, Monash University
Eugene Sheppard, Brandeis University
Amy Shevitz, Arizona State University
David Shneer, University of Colorado, Boulder
Sam Shonkoff, University of Chicago
Jeffrey Shoulson, University of Connecticut
Sam Shuman, University of Michigan
Mara Sobotka
Daniel Soyer, Fordham University
Deborah Starr, Cornell University
Sarah Abrevaya Stein, UCLA
Rebecca Stein, Duke University
Lior Sternfeld, Penn State University
Max Strassfeld, University of Arizona
Mira Sucharov, Carleton University

Shelly Tenenbaum, Clark University
David Teutsch, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Ruth Tsoffar, University of Michigan
Irene Tucker, University of California, Irvine
Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan
Alana Vincent, University of Chester
Kora von Witelsbach, Cornell University
Jeffrey Wallen, Hampshire College
Mira Wasserman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Deborah Waxman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Lauren Weingarden
Alan Jay Weisbard, University of Wisconsin
Shayna Weiss
Beth Wenger, University of Pennsylvania
Sebastian Wogenstein, University of Connecticut
Diane Wolf, UC Davis
Diane Wolfthal, Rice University
Michael Zank, Boston University
Saul Zaritt, Harvard University
Yael Zerubavel, Rutgers University
Maja Zuckerman, Stanford University

172 signatories as of March 12, 2017, 11 AM PST

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