Seattle – On April 12th, The University of Washington Stroum Center for Jewish Studies will host Ivy Sichel, Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who will lecture on Hebrew slang. UW Jewish Studies proudly promoted Sichel’s virtual visit along with her impressive academic credentials. What they did not share is that as signatory to a petition titled Palestine and Praxis: Open Letter and Call to Action, Sichel affirmed “the Palestinian struggle as an indigenous liberation movement confronting a settler-colonial state”. In this, the first sentence of a lengthy invective, Sichel blithely dismisses the multimillennial connection of the Jewish people to their homeland and brands them as illegitimate colonialist invaders tormenting what she claims are the true native population. For a profession that supposedly values nuance and multiperspectivity, there is not much of that there. This is not an anomaly, Sichel is a vigorous activist who appears to spend much of her spare time immersed in efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state.  

I urge the reader to wade through the entire Palestine and Praxis letter where Sichel and her cohort proclaim as “fiction” Israel’s necessity to defend herself. In another golden sentence, the Open Letter proclaims that Israel’s “policies constitute apartheid, bolstered by a brute force that enshrines territorial theft and the racial supremacy of Jewish-Zionist nationals.”   The document demands that scholars imbue their work with a political commitment to the Palestinian agenda and narrative and closes with a pledge to support BDS, a movement that many Jewish leaders have described as antisemitic.

The Sichel lecture comes to the UW Jewish Studies program on the heels of a nearly year-long and ongoing controversy fueled by several UW academics, including Liora Halperin the chair of Jewish Studies, and Devin Naar the chair of Sephardic studies signing on to an anti-Israel exposition. Their actions alienated key donors, one of whom demanded the return of their $5 million endowment.

It should be noted that the consequences of academics engaging in anti-Israel polemics goes beyond offending the relatively small donor community, a study published earlier this month found a correlation between university faculty who have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel and a surge in campus antisemitism.

“This essay is not to argue against the right of scholars to speak and teach freely or that of the University to hire as they please.”

While it may seem bizarre that a Jewish studies program would recruit so many of its academics from a milieu that despises the subjects of their field and advocates for the demise of the Jewish nation-state, this essay is not to argue against the right of scholars to speak and teach freely or that of the University to hire as they please. Frankly, one should not expect an institution populated by and immersed in a culture increasingly hostile to the Jewish state to view Israel or traditional Jewish culture and history with anything but a jaundiced eye. Which leaves us to make an educated choice.

Those who celebrate the diaspora, view Israel as an abomination, and view Jewish identity as a tool to fuel whatever the political fetish of the day will find much to embrace within 21st-century academia.  

On the other hand, those who see the Jewish story, including the rejuvenation of the Jewish state as something of which to be proud and celebrated, will be perpetually disappointed if they expect this worldview to be shared and perpetuated by much of academia. Such individuals would be well advised to invest their time and treasure elsewhere.