The University of Toronto is not known as a particularly progressive institution. Like many universities, it has adopted neoliberal thinking and practice, becoming part of Academia, Inc. But two seemingly unrelated events during the 2014-2015 academic year showcased the increasing political activity of the school’s graduate student body.
American Zionism has made any serious public discussion of the past or future of Israel — by far the largest recipient ever of US foreign aid — a taboo. To call this quite literally the last taboo in American public life would not be an exaggeration. Abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, even the sacrosanct military budget can be discussed with some freedom. The extermination of native Americans can be admitted, the morality of Hiroshima attacked, the national flag publicly committed to the flames. But the systematic continuity of Israel’s 52-year-old oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians is virtually unmentionable, a narrative that has no permission to appear.
The New York Times has done it again. For the second time in a month its op-ed page features an article calling for a (qualified) boycott of Israeli products. The latest installment, “To Stop Israel, Boycott the Settlements,” is from Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic, former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and now senior political writer at the Daily Beast. In addition to Beinart’s impressive credentials as a left-of-center Establishment thinker, he is also a practicing Orthodox Jew and sends his children to Jewish school, as his article informs us.
On September 23, Farouq Husni lost a close vote for the post of head of the UN cultural and educational body, UNESCO, to the Bulgarian Irina Bokova. Husni, the sitting minister of culture in Egypt, had become the “controversial” contender for the position, his candidacy marred by accusations of anti-Semitism. His narrow defeat came after months of high-level negotiations, sparring in the international press and an intense debate in Egypt and the Arab world over the emotionally loaded subject of “normalization” with Israel.
The 1979 Camp David peace treaty may have brought an end to formal hostilities between Egypt and Israel, but their peace is a cold one. Moreover, there has always been a wide gap between how this treaty shapes Egyptian foreign policy and popular Egyptian sentiment toward Israel. Since Camp David, Egyptian academics, artists and professionals have expressed their opposition primarily through a policy of “anti-normalization,” whose logic is simple. While Egyptian citizens cannot erase President Anwar Sadat’s signature from the accord, they can ensure — by refusing to travel to Israel, by blocking the kind of cultural and professional ties expected of neighbors at peace — that relations between the two countries will remain distinctly abnormal.