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Leaked messages from an internal listserv of university professors involved in the debate surrounding an effort to boycott Israel have revealed a deep bias against the Jewish state and anti-Semitic accusations that Zionists and Jewish people control academia.
The highly charged rhetoric about Israel, revealed last week on a leaked listserv, show that some professors involved in the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) resolution to boycott Israel are motivated by the belief that Jewish people are nefariously pulling the strings in American academia.
The leaked comments have spurred accusations of anti-Semitism in the MLA’s ranks and prompted outrage among Jewish leaders who say that this type of discourse is motivated by a deep seated bias against Jewish people and the state of Israel.
The charges of anti-Semitism were underscored by a controversial Facebook posting by one of the professors involved in the debate questioning the deaths of 6 million Jewish people in the Holocaust.
Other professors involved in the debate referred to colleagues who oppose the boycott measure as “Zionist attack dogs” and claimed that they “control and twist the media."
The MLA, a 30,000 member-strong organization of academics, is currently considering a resolution to censure the Jewish state. The measure is being viewed as part of the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is behind multiple efforts to isolate Israel from the halls of academia.
While supporters of the measure argue that Israel’s visa policies are unfair to Arab and Palestinian academics, opponents of the boycott resolution say that the debate is rooted in anti-Semitism and unfairly targets the Jewish state for undue criticism.
With the June 1 deadline to vote on the measure approaching, debate about it appears to have spiraled out of control. Recent comments found on the internal MLA listserv show that some supporters of the resolution have engaged in what human rights scholars described as anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Professor Elizabeth Ordonez, a retired Spanish professor from Metropolitan State University in Denver, accused “Zionist attack dogs” of pressuring the resolution’s supporters.
“As on the broader political scene, moves to seek justice and opportunity for Palestinians (or to remove obstacles to achieving those goals) are countered by Zionist attack dogs,” Ordonez wrote in a March 22 post on the listserv. “When the Zionist lobby railroads its way through Congress, universities, and civil society no request is made for equal time for the other side.”
Ordonez, who refers to controversial Palestinian academic Edward Said as “our beloved late leader,” went on to urge her colleagues to vote “yes” on the boycott measure.
Another listserv member, Professor Basem Ra’ad of the Palestinian Al Quds University, defended Ordonez’s comments and condemned the “unfair pressures being exercised on universities by Zionist funders and lobby groups.”
Ra’ad, whose university has faced criticism for holding Hamas terror rallies, goes on to claim that critics of the resolution “control and twist the media.”
“There are some out there who have shown intolerance, who control and twist the media, who silence the truth, who flex their muscle, who organize unfair and biased campaign, who have even pushed the U.S. to wars for Israel's sake, and who have worked their money or influence to destroy academics or students who express solidarity with the Palestinian cause or any criticism of what should be, to any fair human, an unbearable situation that needs to be rectified,” Ra’ad wrote.
However, one professor in particular, Alessio Lerro of Temple University in Philadelphia, flatly accused “Jewish scholars” of manipulating academia, a comment that has sparked charges of anti-Semitism in the MLA debate.
“It is time that Zionists are asked to finally account for their support to the illegal occupation of Palestine since 1967,” Lerro wrote. “This resolution rightly targets only Israel given the humongous influence that Jewish scholars have in the decision making process of Academia in general.”
The comment came as a shock to many on the listserv.
“Prof. Lerro is engaging in anti-Semitic hate speech, and it should not be tolerated,” wrote Peter Herman in response to the comment.
“This age-old anti-Semitic stereotype surely puts the lie to claims that the resolution incites only reasoned, fact-checked discussion,” wrote Phyllis Lasner, a Jewish studies professor at Northwestern University.
Others on the listserv doubled down.
“I am pleased to see the tactfulness of the Palestinian resolution, as I'm tired of Zionists constantly carping at those who support Palestinian rights … such as this Jewish American,” wrote Professor Richard Pressman, a communications teacher at St. Mary’s University in Texas.
Lerro’s comments were particularly shocking to human rights scholars given his recent questioning of the Holocaust on Facebook.
In response to a January post on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Lerro questioned the figure of 6 million Jews dying in the war.
“6 million? mh…. we all know (or should know) that the counting of Jews is a bit controversial,” Lerro wrote. “This said, without the death toll of The USSR, we would all speak German now.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that comments such as this highlight the anti-Semitism that undergirds the MLA debate and the larger BDS movement.
“Human rights icon Natan Sharansky spoke of ‘three Ds’ that should guide us when anti-Israel attack is also anti-Semitic: demonization, delegitimization, or double standard,” said Cooper. “The anti-peace MLA resolution gets three Ds.”
“It should surprise no one that such a draconian, one sided initiative that so fundamentally disrespects and demeans Israel, will also inspire overt Jew hatred, including unfortunately, even Holocaust denial,” Cooper told the Washington Free Beacon. “So much for academic and personal integrity.”
UPDATE 3:03 P.M.: Professor Lerro removed his Facebook post since this article was published. A screen shot of the post was obtained by the Free Beacon.