WASHINGTON - For decades, the American Studies Association has labored in well-deserved obscurity. No longer. It's now made a name for itself by voting to boycott Israeli universities, accusing them of denying academic and human rights to Palestinians.
Given that Israel has a profoundly democratic political system, the freest press in the Middle East, a fiercely independent judiciary, and astonishing religious and racial diversity within its universities, including affirmative action for Arab students, the charge is rather strange.
Made more so when you consider the state of human rights in Israel's neighborhood. As we speak, Syria's government is dropping "barrel bombs" filled with nails, shrapnel and other instruments of terror on its own cities. Where is the ASA boycott of Syria?
And of Iran, which hangs political, religious and even sexual dissidents and has no academic freedom at all? Or Egypt, where Christians are being openly persecuted? Or Turkey, Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, massively repressive China and Russia?
Which makes obvious that the ASA boycott has nothing to do with human rights. It's an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism.
And don't tell me this is merely about Zionism. The ruse is transparent. Israel is the world's only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation - is to engage in a gross act of discrimination.
And discrimination against Jews has a name. It's called anti-Semitism.
Former Harvard President Larry Summers called the ASA actions "anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent." I choose to be less polite. The intent is clear: to incite hatred for the largest - and only sovereign - Jewish community on earth.
What to do? Facing a similar (British) academic boycott of Israelis seven years ago, Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg wrote an open letter declaring that, for the purposes of any anti-Israel boycott, they are to be considered Israelis.
Meaning: You discriminate against Israelis? Fine. Include us out. We will have nothing to do with you.
Thousands of other academics added their signatures to the Dershowitz/Weinberg letter. It was the perfect in-kind response. Boycott the boycotters, with contempt.