It was one of the most notorious statements of the academic boycott movement against Israel.
Shortly after the American Studies Association adopted the academic boycott of Israel in December 2013, and a firestorm of condemnation by University Presidents and associations erupted, then ASA President Curtis Marez justified singling out Israel because "one has to start somewhere":
The American Studies Association has never before called for an academic boycott of any nation's universities, said Curtis Marez, the group's president and an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. He did not dispute that many nations, including many of Israel's neighbors, are generally judged to have human rights records that are worse than Israel's, or comparable, but he said, "one has to start somewhere."
In that single phrase, "one has to start somewhere," was the hypocrisy and essential anti-Semitism of the BDS academic boycott movement laid bare.
Countries with far worse human rights records and academic freedom abuses were ignored while the only majority-Jewish state in the world was singled out. How else could the boycotters justify ignoring horrible abuses in majority-Muslim countries except to suggest that the boycotters would get around to them in due time after taking care of the Jewish one.
Alan Dershowitz, in response to Marez's comment about "starting somewhere," predicted that the academic boycott movement would both start and stop with Israel (emphasis added):
That is the characteristic response of the bigot. When it comes to condemning violence, we have to start somewhere, so let's target African-Americans for stop and frisk. When it comes to stopping pedophilia, "we have to start somewhere" so let's start with profiling gays. Surely this would be recognized as bigotry personified.
Marez's benighted response is more than simply bigoted, it is mendacious.
His association is not simply starting with Israel, it is stopping with Israel. A vote to boycott Chinese, Cuban, Russian or Palestinian academic institutions— which are worse by every measure of civil liberties, human rights and academic freedom than Israeli institutions – would garner few, if any, votes. This too is the paradigm of bigotry: starting and ending with one ethnic or religious group and applying a different standard to every other group.....
Let those who want to boycott nations apply the simple test of morality: the worst first. Let them apply another moral test: focusing first on those countries in which dissent is not tolerated and in which there is no internal recourse against violations of human rights.
Applying these tests to Israel would put the nation state of the Jewish people at the very bottom of countries deserving to be boycotted. But by ignoring the worst and condemning a nation that is near the very top in terms of human rights, academic freedom and the rule of law, the bigotry of the condemners becomes obvious.
So let the world judge Israel by a single standard and let the world judge those who condemn Israel by that same standard.
Even before the lastest events in Turkey, the arguments used against Israel applied with even greater force to Turkey.
Turkey, as successor to the Ottoman Empire, had a history of colonial domination. Turkey repressed the Kurds, who outnumber Palestinian Arabs several times over, and whose national movement is met with military might without scrutiny given Israel's defense against Hamas rocket attacks. Turkey even repressed and sometimes attacked Kurdish national movements in neighboring Iraq and Syria. Turkey was a country that moved in the past decade from secular public life to increasing Islamization, and for years had engaged in political repression against civil society, including media and academia.
In March 2016, before the recent coup attempt, the American Association of University Professors issued this warning about academic freedom in Turkey:
The American Association of University Professors does not normally take positions on alleged violations of or threats to academic freedom outside the United States, both because we are hesitant to impose our standards on others, whose histories and situations may differ, and because we are usually incapable of conducting in other countries the kind of thorough investigations we require to place American institutions on our censure list.
But the current situation in Turkey, where most recently three scholars have been jailed and a British scholar deported for allegedly "making terrorist propaganda," cannot pass without protest. The arrests and deportation were but the latest actions taken against 1,128 Turkish professors who in January signed an Academics for Peace petition calling for an end to the military campaign against Kurdish separatists in southeastern Turkey. More than a thousand additional academics have signed the appeal since then. Scholars who signed were accused by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of "treason"and have suffered an array of repercussions, including criminal investigations and university-level disciplinary proceedings. According to reports, almost 800 academics who signed the letter have faced action either by their university, state authorities, or both. Thirty-eight have been dismissed, 29 suspended and 531 face an administrative investigation. Other faculty members who signed the petition have been denounced and threatened on social media. Some have received intimidating visits in their campus offices by groups of nationalist students
A similar warning was issued by the Middle East Studies Association in January 2016.
Unlike Israel, where academics are some of the most vocal critics of the government and its policies, the Turkish government repression of academia prior to the recent coup attempt had made Turkish universities increasingly functionaries of state policies, as Times Higher Education reported in April:
.... successive AKP governments since 2003, with Erdoğan as prime minister or president, have been determined to maintain the long-standing state tutelage over Turkey's higher education system. The expected prize is the production of graduates disposed to submit to authority – particularly state authority – without much questioning.
So, prior to the recent coup, every argument made against Israel fit Turkey and then some.
Now the situation is so much worse. As we have reported, in the wake of the failed coup attempt, there is a full-blown purge and repression in Turkish Universities, including 1,557 deans asked to resign, a travel ban on deans and other academics, and a demand that Turkish academics abroad return. It is predicted to get worse as President Erdogan has invoked emergency provisions of the Turkish Constitution which effective suspend civil liberties and freedoms.
I'm against academic boycotts for reasons I have articulated many times at Legal Insurrection and during my public appearances. In addition to the many reasons expressed by University Presidents and associations in response to the ASA boycott, I draw upon my own experience studying in the Soviet Union. That experience showed me that academic interaction even with the most repressive regimes was a lifeline to those struggling for freedom.
I would be against a boycott of Turkish Universities, but the anti-Israel boycotters should not have the luxury of boycotting just Israel and still claim to be acting on principle and not because of implicit if not explicit anti-Semitism.
The Turkish academic purge raises a test for the anti-Israel academic boycotters. Will they devote themselves this coming academic season to an academic boycott of Turkish Universities, in addition to other majority-Muslim nations where minorities are repressed and academic freedom stifled?
Will they, as Curtis Marez said, start but not end with Israel? Or as Alan Dershowitz said, will the boycotters start and stop with the only majority-Jewish nation on the globe?