A third way
Earlier this month, the American Historical Association — the largest society of historians and history professors in the United States — rejected a resolution condemning Israel over alleged violations of Palestinian academic freedom and freedom of movement.
The defeat of the measure by a 111-51 vote was a victory for those who support Israel and reject the BDS movement and for those who recognized that the measure’s proponents were trying to isolate and delegitimize Israel in increments. The resolution did not call for a boycott of Israel, unlike measures passed by the American Anthropological Association and the National Women’s Studies Association. Instead, after a previous call for a boycott was similarly rejected, it called on members “to monitor Israeli actions” — a softer but still insidious form of pressure.
(It probably goes without saying that no other country’s practices — including the Palestinians’ — were on the agenda.)
It was also a victory for a group of academics who are trying to promote what they call The Third Narrative — a way of discussing and studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that allows for criticism of Israeli and Palestinian policies, respects the legitimacy and dignity of all sides in the conflict, and believes academia should engage with the issues without political bias. Known as the Alliance for Academic Freedom, the group issued a lengthy and devastating critique of the AHA resolution that helped lead to its defeat. It scored the resolution for omitting any context for Israel’s actions, for failing to mention Palestinian or Egyptian restrictions on travel or academic freedom, and for misrepresenting the facts on the ground. The AHA resolution blamed Israel for attacks on Gaza’s Islamic University; the AAF pointed out that the resolution ignored well-documented claims that the university functions as a wing of the Hamas military.
Proponents of The Third Narrative say they “reject Israeli occupation of the West Bank” and support a two-state solution. At the same time, they “reject the all-too-common binary approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that seeks to justify one side or the other as all right or all wrong, and sets out to marshal evidence to prove a case of complete guilt or total exoneration.” In fighting BDS and seeking honesty and credibility on the part of other academics, they are showing that it is possible to be pro-Israel and pro-peace — and pro-Palestinian, for that matter — without undermining one’s academic integrity or intellectual honesty.