Puar, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, has a problem: BDS wishes to accuse Israel of genocide, but Israel isn't engaged, and has never been engaged, in one. Puar's solution is to contend that Israel's doesn't respect the Palestinians enough to murder them: "the Palestinians are not even human enough for death."
As Puar said at Vassar College in 2016, the Israelis cannot "afford to hand over genocide" and thereby their victimhood bonanza, "to another population." So, yes, those who commit genocide are to be condemned, but the Israelis are to be specially condemned because they are even more demonic than mass murderers. When Puar shared, during that same Vassar lecture, the speculation she attributed to others that Israelis were holding back Palestinian corpses to mine "organs for scientific research," she wasn't making an offhand remark or departing from her published views. Whatever may be in Puar's heart, her message is anti-Semitic. Yet many academics continue to honor and defend her.
Puar will speak at Scripps College, part of the prestigious Claremont Consortium, on March 12th. She will be sponsored not only by the anti-Israel group, Students for Justice in Palestine, but also by multiple academic departments. Her talk is the keynote of "(Re)Centering Wounds," a series put on by the Humanities Institute at Scripps. Consider those parentheses and the program, and you get a sense of the one-part jargon, one-part justice conception of the humanities at play here.
Scripps is a campus sensitive to group feelings. In Fall 2018, organizers of an anti-Kavanaugh protest reportedly apologized and rescheduled when they realized the protest might distract attention from Indigenous People's Day, the anti-colonial substitute for Columbus Day. Earlier that year, the Humanities Institute had hosted Zahra Billoo, the Council on American Islamic Relations activist, whose incendiary tweets about Israel ("Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at [Apartheid] Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.") would later get her booted from the board of the Women's March. The previous academic year, our band of humanists found not one but two pro-BDS speakers, Thomas Abowd, and Lori Allen, relevant to its mission. And now, Jasbir Puar.
It's almost as if Scripps's sensitivity to the feelings of groups doesn't extend to one group in particular.
Puar, Abowd, Allen and company have a right to speak. And although academic departments and centers show a deplorable and imprudent disregard for their own reputations when they merge their missions with the missions of political activists, they have a right to sponsor such speakers. But the overwhelming majority of Jews who have not joined the BDS movement have a right to call the promotion of Jasbir Puar's anti-Semitic work what it is: a slap in the face. And academics, Jewish or not, have a duty to challenge it.
Jonathan Marks, a contributor to Commentary's blog, is professor of politics at Ursinus College.