Ethos

I had an iphone “moment of truth” last week while attending one of the many “Ignore the Fact that the Arab World is in Flames and Instead Listen to Us Rehash Accusations Against Israel for the Umpteenth Time” events that take place at Boston College every Spring.

This one featured Tel Aviv University professor Anat Biletzki (file her origin in your mind for now, as it will be relevant soon) talking about The Goldstone Report. More specifically, she was talking about how since Righteous Jew Richard Goldstone published his landmark report, Israel has become even more repressive, more McCarthyite, more (dare she use the word) fascist than ever before in order to prevent its truth from becoming global policy.

Now I haven’t heard Professor Biletzki talk before but others I know have and, more importantly, she is just one of a class of speakers that have been providing similar background noise in the area for decades. This class consists of relative lightweights with impressive sounding titles who, despairing of getting their countrymen to vote the way they want, instead travel the globe to denounce their nation and fellow citizens to the cheers of a ready market of Israel-dislikers hungry for content (preferably delivered with an Jewish or Israeli accent).

Such talks are usually peppered with un-provable accusations (is Israeli military intelligence really tapping the phones of BC students?), and easily exposable fabrications. Which is why talks like this must be engineered to avoid any actual exchanges with the audience during which lies can be exposed.

My iphone moment came when Ms. Biletzki claimed that Alan Dershowitz, during a lecture at Tel Aviv University, called for the firing of two professors (by name) for their political views and activity.

Now I have been exposed to Alan Dershowitz since he first yelled at my mother in the 1970s (a story for another time), so even though I understand him to be one of the best assets supporters of Israel have against legions of accusers like Biletzki, I also know that (especially during heated exchanges with hostile audiences) he tends to say controversial things.

But given that everything I’ve ever heard Dershowitz say on the subject of academic freedom involves countering bad academic speech with good speech (not punishing professors for their beliefs), I couldn’t imagine him calling for the firing of professors as part of a planned public address. And so I pulled out my phone, fired up Safari and Googled his address.

Interestingly, the full text of the speech was linked from another sitewhich denounced his talk in terms similar to those used by the BC speaker. But nowhere in the speech itself could I find a single reference to what Biletzki had just said. In fact, Dershowitz seems to go out of the way to re-enforce the point he makes regularly: that the best way to deal with professors telling lies is for other professors to tell the truth.

And far from being an example of McCarthyism, his speech is actually an accusationof McCarthyism directed against Biletzki and several other Tel Aviv academics who he claims have been routinely using their influence and authority within the university to undercut those with whom they politically disagree, as well as using the classroom as a platform for political indoctrination, rather than educational enlightenment.

Now I have no idea if Dershowitz’s accusations against Biletzki and like-minded academics at her institution are true or not, but I can confirm that at least one player in this heated exchange (Biletzki) was easily exposed as using lies to smear a political adversary, something that certainly smacks of McCarthyism more than any Israeli or pro-Israeli activity she denounced from the stage that evening.

Since the highly controlled Q&A session did not allow for the type of give and take that would let this lie be fully exposed, I instead questioned her about it after the event, during which time she assured me that she had the whole talk on tape and would provide me support for her accusation by e-mail (I’m still waiting).

After thinking the whole event over, I can only think of a few alternative explanations for why Ms. Biletzki said what she said:

* She spoke the truth and does have the evidence she claimed, but has not yet found the time to provide it. (Given that others I know who have challenged her in other forums were also promised supporting data that was never delivered, I think this explanation the least likely.)

* She made the whole thing up in hope that her audience (mostly BC undergraduates) would simply accept what she said at face value, given her role as a professor (i.e., an argument from authority)

* Her self-regard is so huge that any accusation that she or people who believe as she does can represent anything other than the pure distillation of virtue can only be understood as the attack of a McCarthyite fascist

This last option is re-enforced by the nature of the audiences speakers like Biletzki choose to speak before: like-minded Palestinian hasbarah ditto-heads who willingly lap up any accusations against Israel and lash out at anyone who uses their free speech rights to criticize such anti-Israel propaganda masquerading as peace activism.

It should be noted that Ms. Biletzky is a professor of philosophy, which may explain why she made reference to rhetoric on more than one occasion. Which brings me to the title of this piece which is one of the three modes of persuasion identified by Aristotle which include logos (an appeal to reason), pathos (an appeal to the emotions) and ethos(an ethical appeal to the audience based on the integrity and character of the speaker, usually demonstrated through the strength of the presentation itself – i.e., not as an appeal to authority because of the speaker’s title or broader reputation).

If I were to subject Biletzky’s talk to an analysis based on these three categories, she seems to be feigning logos by presenting accusations (many untrue) as unquestionable facts (usually backed up by nothing more than appeals to authority, either by individuals like Goldstone or organizations like the United Nations). The heart of her talk was actually pathos which is the cornerstone of all BDS-style arguments, counting on they do of the emotional impact of gut-wrenching stories and picture of suffering Palestinians, absent any context (or logos) to ensure their effectiveness.

Which leaves us with ethos, i.e., the integrity of a speaker who engages in this type of behavior in order to please one audience at the expense of, among other things, the truth. And as far as I can tell, Ms. Biletzky, like those that invited her, indeed like everyone making up the BDS “movement,” has none.

BDS and Human Sacrifice

I promised myself to give the whole Berkeley thing a rest, which I plan to do although not before using the last few week’s experience to illustrate a theme I’ve written about in the past (although not much on this blog): the sacrifice BDS demands of those institutions it tries to bring into the fold.

When the leadership of Mainline Protestant churches like the Presbyterians and Methodists were embracing divestment between 2004 and 2006, they did not do so simply as organizations with multi-billion dollar pension and retirement funds looking to modify their ethical investment policy to include the Middle East. Rather, their pronouncements on the matter were written in the most religious of rhetoric, again and again noting that their political divestment program was coming from a sacred place, was (using a phrase that’s appeared again and again in their communication) an example of “bearing witness” to human suffering.

It is no accident that the Palestinian organizations (notably the Sabeel Eccumenical Liberation Theology Center) which lobbied these churches for years provided a religious (rather than a political framework) to undergird the Presbyterian and Methodist divestment projects. For someone making a political choice can always change his or her mind. But if you’re asked to place everything you hold sacred onto the alter, to claim that a political choice is actually a religious requirement, it then becomes harder (if not impossible) to reverse course, even when doubt over the effectiveness or morality of your choices comes to the fore.

To take another example, when leaders of the UCU (the British educator’s union) chose to join the BDS bandwagon, they did not go the divestment route but rather spent year after year trying to begin academic boycotts of their Israeli colleagues. Echoing the churches, what is more sacred to educators than academic freedom? And so, naturally, it was the commitment to academic freedom that the UCU was asked to sacrifice in order to join “the movement.”

In both these cases, the cost for these sacrifices has been high. In the UK, teachers have faced one economic blow after another during the last few years. Yet the one thing that would give this union a moral platform when asking for public support (their devotion to academic freedom) was jettisoned years ago to make room for their impotent attacks on the Jewish state. And when was the last time political leaders or the media turned towards the Presbyterians or Methodists for answers to moral or religious questions of the day?

At Berekely, it seems that battle lines of the recent divestment debate were drawn between the two major political parties in student government. Now I won’t pretend to understand that political landscape in any great detail (having been surprised that any university can sustain organized political parties for decades, as has Berkeley). But while the party that’s been driving divestment votes (called CALSERV) would never consider itself a wholly own subsidiary of Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP), I suspect that SJP does not return the favor.

And so, even with the vote all-but lost the BDS partisans have used parliamentary maneuvers to ensure the issue gets dragged out for weeks on end, hoping that they can sway (i.e., bully) a crucial Senator needed to override the veto that doomed divestment weeks ago. And, possibly in violation of the Senate’s rules, these meetings have been held behind closed doors. While I can understand the desire to avoid more circuses like the recent all-nighters where the fate of divestment was recently debated, it seems the decision to go behind closed doors was made to allow some kind of BDS “surprise” resolution to be put on the books before the year is out.

Why the rush? Well apparently the other major campus political party (Student Action), which has pretty much stood against BDS during the recent conflict, won a handy majority in an election that fell right in the middle of the whole divestment brouhaha. In other words, rather than taking their recent loss at the polls as a possible example of students having a say on the divestment matter, the pro-boycott partisans are doing everything they can to stuff the BDS message into the mouth of that student body before their term expires.

So just like with the churches or the unions, student government is being asked to sacrifice the things upon which their authority rests (in this case, democratic responsibility), hiding behind closed doors in order to ram something down the campus’ throat, even after it seems pretty clear that they have no mandate to do so.

No doubt the pro-divestment Senators would claim that they are “bearing witness,” that a higher calling requires them to bend or break the rules in order to screw their constituents. But, in fact, they are simply being asked by their SJP/BDS handlers to throw everything under the bus: the rules, their reputation, those people they claim to serve, not to serve a higher calling, but to do something that the boycotters (and the boycotters alone) are telling them is their only moral choice.

Berkeley Nu?

While I’d hoped to have some news vis-a-vis Berkeley by this morning, it sounds like the debate which started last night at 7 PM is still going on…at 3 AM West Coast time!

Perhaps this wasn’t just a simple little generic human rights resolution (with Israel just used as an example, of course) after all…