Two American academic groups — the American Studies Assn. and the Assn. for Asian American Studies — have called for a boycott of Israeli universities. Those resolutions have met with many objections. Much has been made, for example, of the inherent hypocrisy of attempting to ostracize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and their Israeli Arab cousins when there are so many far worse situations in the Middle East and around the world. But there is another objectionable element in the boycott movement: the abuse of language.
In the discussion that surrounds the call for a boycott, South African apartheid is almost invariably invoked. Say what you will about the Israeli occupation, but the South Africa analogy is false. The word “apartheid” isn’t accurate, but it is emotional and inflammatory.
Of all people, professors should be more precise in their use of language. That they are not, and that they use such freighted language, suggests a goal other than helping the parties get to two states for two peoples.
Let’s use an academic tool — a surprise quiz — to examine the intellectual integrity of the apartheid allegation.
1. The valedictorian of the most recent graduating class at the medical school at Israel’s MIT, Technion, was:
a) A West Bank settler
b) An Orthodox Jewish man
c) A wounded veteran
d) A Muslim woman
2. The only country on the following list in which the Christian population isn’t falling precipitously is:
3. Which of the following is true of Israel’s Arab Christians?
a) They make up about a third of Israel’s pharmacists
b) They are among the winners of the Israel Prize, the country’s highest civilian honor
c) Their high school students have a higher rate of success on their graduation exams than Israeli Jewish students
d) All of the above
4. Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, the number of rockets fired from there into Israel is:
5. Which of the following is not true:
a) Arabs from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza have access to Israeli hospitals
b) Arab doctors and nurses treat Jewish and Arab patients in Israeli hospitals
c) Hundreds of wounded civilians and fighters in the Syrian civil war have been treated in Israeli hospitals
d) By law, Israeli Jews may refuse to be treated by an Arab doctor
6. When West Bank Palestinians have a claim that their rights have been abrogated by an Israeli action, they can file a lawsuit with:
a) A West Bank military court
b) A special court for Palestinians
c) No one
d) The Israeli Supreme Court acting as a court of primary jurisdiction
7. The number of Israeli Arabs currently elected to serve in the Knesset, Israel’s 120-person parliament, is:
8. The Golani Brigade, an elite Israeli army unit, recently made news when it:
a) Blew up a Hezbollah arms depot
b) Stopped a suicide attack on a city bus
c) Disbanded because Israel faces few military threats
d) Appointed Col. Rassan Alian, a Druze, as its commander
9. Salim Joubran is:
a) An Israeli Arab serving a five-year sentence for insulting Israel’s president
b) A human rights organization fighting for Palestinian rights
c) An Israeli restaurant shut down because it doesn’t serve kosher food
d) An Israeli Arab who serves on Israel’s Supreme Court
10. Israel’s 2013 Miss Israel beauty queen was:
a) Bar Refaeli, a fashion model
b) Agam Rodberg, an actress
c) Sandra Ringler, a fashion stylist
d) Yityish Aynaw, a black Ethiopian immigrant to Israel
Before looking at the answer key, try to imagine the condition of blacks in South Africa, the victims of apartheid, in each of the settings in the quiz.
Israel isn’t a perfect country. Criticism of Israel is legitimate, and Israelis themselves do it every day. But as the quiz reveals — D is the correct answer to each question — whatever Israel is, it isn’t an apartheid state.
Perhaps the professors need to study their subject a little harder.
Seth M. Siegel, co-founder of the marketing agency Beanstalk and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is writing a book on water resources in Israel.