A little over five years ago I started reading Legal Insurrection, and nearly two years ago I was privileged to become a contributor. So, I was thrilled to finally be able to meet Bill Jacobson in person last night when he made The Case for Israel and Academic Freedom.

Bill J Talk 001

The talk was sponsored by the Los Angeles  Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS). And while Bill has given many of these talks to promote Legal Insurrection’s push-back on the American Studies Association (ASA) and its boycott of Israeli academic institutions, as is often the case, material evolves with current events.

Just before Bill began speaking, many of the approximately 90 attendees were discussing the three Israeli teenagers (Gil-ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach) who were kidnapped by Hamas last week.  CJHS member Ken Ravin noted that this was a great turnout, and everyone was eager to learn about what has been happening on college campuses.  Ravin mentioned that he was really impressed with the campus work of Stand With Us, a nonprofit organization supporting Israel around the world.

The event started with a prayer for the three teenagers, and Bill noted that the social media celebration of the crime by the Palestinians promoted the dehumanization of Israeli Jews and, furthermore, of Jews in general.

Called “Three Shalits,” the Palestinian social media campaign alludes to Gilad Shalit, the former Israeli soldier who was abducted by Hamas in 2006 and swapped for 1,027 Palestinian terrorist prisoners in 2011.

The campaign’s logo is characterized by a three finger salute in reference to the three Israeli teens kidnapped last Thursday.

Bill reviewed the meaning and the impact of academic boycotts and why they were very rare. In fact, even a truly apartheid country like South Africa was not as targeted as Israel is today. Of real interest for me, from a historical perspective, was when he noted that academic interactions with the Soviet Union were actually promoted and encouraged — even though it engaged in true ethnic cleansing (e.g., Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tartars). [Note: For more on Russia’s treatment of minorities, check out my podcast, “In the Shadow of the Bear”.]

The audience, many of them well over college age, gasped as Bill would recount of specific incidents of anti-Israel activity on campus (such as professors forced to walk an anti-Israel protest gauntlet).  Perhaps the material that disturbed everyone the most was when he reviewed the elements of the “Boycott Call”  stemming from a virulently anti-Semitic Durban Conference push to demonize Israel with the false charge of “apartheid” that eventually evolved into a 2005 plan to boycott the state of Israel culturally, politically and academically.

Yet, there were many moments that inspired and amused as well.  Bill received a hearty round of applause when he described how Legal Insurrection led the charge against the ASA’s vote to implement the elements of the 2005 boycott plan,  which eventually saw over 250 university presidents, major academic organizations, and 134 Congressmen denounce the boycott.  He also got a very enthusiastic response when he discussed challenging the ASA’s tax exempt status because the boycott was counter to the “educational” requirements that the group must meet.

The biggest laugh came when Bill indicated that none of the pro-boycott Vassar faculty took him up on the debate challenge, or the suggestion that pro-boycotters apply the same logic and reasoning to our country and its universities, and set an example by firing themselves.

As always, when an activist like Bill talks, listeners are inspired to get more involved.  Bill encouraged the audience to find out if the universities and colleges in their area, or schools that they or their family members attended, had formally denounced the boycott.  If not, to write the presidents and deans and encourage them to do so.  Also, if people were inclined to donate to those institutions, but were unhappy with a school’s stance on Israel, to direct that money to pro-Israel student groups.

After the talk, there was a question/answer section.  Perhaps the most poignant moment came when a woman passionately disagreed with Bill about the extent of anti-semitism in the country.  Specifically, she was extremely angry and upset over what was happening at the University of California – Irvine:

“During the first years of the 21st century…on the campus of the University of California at Irvine, Jewish students were physically and verbally harassed, threatened, shoved, stalked, and targeted by rock-throwing groups and individuals,” he writes. “Jewish property was defaced with swastikas, and a Holocaust memorial was vandalized. Signs were posted on campus showing a Star of David dripping with blood. Jews were chastised for arrogance by public speakers whose appearance at the institution was subsidized by the university.

In response, Bill noted that it was a Muslim student that invited him to Vassar to give an address to counter the anti-Israel activism on campus. He also said that one of the biggest proponents of the boycott was Jewish Voice for Peace, an ultra-progressive group. Finally, he reported that a Muslim student had recently posted a video that decried the kidnapping of the three Israelis.

It is obvious that the academic progressives are unused to such vigorous challenges to their activism. Bill’s example made an impression, and will inspire people to continue to fight for real academic freedom.

Video of the event should be available next week and will be posted here at LI once it’s available.