In March 1941, Nazi theorist and ideologue Alfred Rosenberg launched the Institute for Research on the Jewish Question. Its inaugural conference, "Research in the Struggle against World Jewry," featured talks by many scholars, including the Institute's director, historian Wilhelm Grau, who concluded that the only viable solution to the Jewish question was for the Jews to disappear.
Rosenberg's Institute was one of several established to support the Third Reich's efforts to provide an empirical basis for their anti-Jewish policies. To that end, the scholars affiliated with these institutes endeavored to put in place a new interdisciplinary field of study that would draw on various academic disciplines to promulgate antisemitic scholarship about the Jews.
According to Alan Steinweis' book, "Studying the Jew: Scholarly Antisemitism in Nazi Germany," this new brand of scholarship, which he dubs "Nazi Jewish Studies," demonstrates its practitioners' "cynical manipulation of scientific knowledge, historical events, religious texts, and statistical data" in the service of "justifying the disenfranchisement, expropriation, and removal of Jews from German society."
Fast forward to August 2023.
Two academic leaders of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) – San Francisco State University Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and University of Massachusetts Boston Professor Heike Schotten - co-authored an article explaining why they recently established the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism (ICSZ).
Describing ICSZ as "explicitly anti-Zionist" and "strictly committed to abiding by the BDS picket line," Abdulhadi and Schotten link their new Institute to "the long history of struggle" against efforts "to conflate Zionist politics and ideology with Jews or Jewishness."
In October, the Institute will be holding an inaugural conference entitled "Battling the 'IHRA definition': Theory & Activism" to provide academics and activists with tools for delegitimizing the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism, which rightly identifies anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism, but is being portrayed by conference organizers as "a tool of and a shield for repressive state power."
This antisemitic broadside on Jewish identity and the Jewish state will be held at New York University and University of California Santa Cruz and sponsored by academic departments and faculty groups on both campuses.
Abdulhadi and Schotten believe their Institute is the first step toward establishing a new academic discipline that will wrest the study of Zionism from its "presumed exclusive location in Jewish Studies." Dubbing it "Critical Zionism Studies," the authors claim their new discipline "does not simply interpret the world but also works to change it."
How, exactly, will Critical Zionism Studies change the world? Abdulhadi and Schotten are likely counting on it to provide academic legitimization for what they see as a necessary first step: expunging Zionism and its supporters from the academy. This, of course, is the goal of the antisemitic academic boycott campaign, whose guidelines demand the shutting down of all university activity supporting "the normalization of Israel in the global academy" and promote the vilification and exclusion of faculty and students involved in such activity.
As USACBI co-founder and board member, respectively, Abdulhadi and Schotten also undoubtedly believe that as an arm of the BDS movement, USACBI's efforts to rid the academy of Zionism and Zionists, legitimated by "research" coming out of their Institute, will play a crucial role in the larger campaign coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, whose member organizations include terrorist groups committed to the murder of Jews in Israel and worldwide. Not only do the BDS movement's three conditions for the boycott's removal demand Israel effectively commit geographic, political, and demographic suicide, but the movement's founders and leaders themselves have openly articulated their goal of using BDS to effect the elimination of the Jewish state, home to more than seven million Jews - nearly half of world Jewry.
Current efforts to promote antisemitic initiatives such as Critical Zionism Studies are not officially government-backed, but it is troubling to recognize that academic conditions in the US today are increasingly hospitable to the proliferation and amplification of such openly biased initiatives.
The rampant politicization of many disciplines in the Social Sciences and Humanities has opened the door to the normalization of anti-Zionist advocacy and activism in classrooms and conference halls on American campuses. Consider: thousands of US faculty not only support an academic boycott of Israel but have pledged to bring the boycott onto their campuses and into their classrooms; several academic associations, including, most recently, the large American Anthropological Association, have adopted academic BDS; and entire academic departments on more than 100 campuses have taken official anti-Zionist stances, with some embracing academic BDS. Against this backdrop, faculty who promote Critical Zionism Studies and its goal of eliminating Zionism and Zionists from the academy are likely to be applauded at their universities.
Furthermore, many anti-Zionist faculty are in positions of power and influence, facilitating their ability to spread their antisemitic "scholarship" within and beyond the academy. Three members of ICSZ's Founding Collective are heads of their university departments. One is past president of the American Studies Association, which voted to endorse academic BDS. Another is spearheading a proposal to make a course in "critical" ethnic studies, including its promotion of anti-Zionism, an admissions requirement at the University of California. That proposal, which is currently making its way through the U.C. academic senate, would ensure that virtually every high school in the state will offer an ethnic studies course that embraces anti-Zionism.
Those who ignore the deeply antisemitic nature of Critical Zionism Studies and the warm reception it is likely to receive in the academy and beyond, do so at their own peril.