Credit: Oxfam International

On Thursday, December 7, Sarasota Herald Tribune published an op-ed by New College of Florida President Donald O’Shea in which he heaps praise on the education system of the apartheid state of Israel. The article ran one day before illegal Israeli airstrikes recommenced on Gaza and injured dozens of civilians, including six children.

O’Shea’s piece, entitled “Donal O’Shea: Universities’ role in an innovation economy”, emerged after President Trump announced on Wednesday that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, destroying the decades-long pretense that the U.S. was brokering a peace process in the Middle East.

The opening sentence of the op-ed reads like a tourist ad for Israel: “I’m writing from Jerusalem [the occupied capital of Palestine], where the sun has just set on the lovely limestone buildings.”

Writing dotingly about the Israeli university system, O’Shea fails to mention Israel’s routine bombings of schools in occupied Palestine, demolitions of education facilities, detentions, arrests and killings of students, and prevention of access to schools by military checkpoints and settler harassment, among other documented crimes

In the article, O’Shea even endorses the close relationship between Israeli universities and the Israeli military, while lying through his teeth about the nature of the conflict: “Israel is under constant threat, and their universities respond with programs that address security concerns. In Florida, we are not under threat from neighbors seeking our destruction…”

Along with other university presidents, O’Shea traveled to Israel as part of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Project Interchange. The AJC is a longstanding and prominent organization in the Zionist movement. AJC’s Project Interchange has brought “opinion leaders and policy makers” to Israel since 1982.

Like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), AJC works to create a political firewall around Israel by promoting Islamophobia, slandering critics of Israel as “anti-Semitic”, and sending delegations of influential people to Israel for seminars that whitewash the occupation. Both ADL and AJC also engage in some legitimate civil rights work, partially obscuring their reactionary nature.

AJC has received substantial funding—millions, in fact—from three major funders of anti-Muslim groups identified in Center for American Progress’ report Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America. It therefore is unsurprising that from 2001 to 2015, AJC’s Executive Director David Harris broadcasted anti-Muslim messages to millions of people through his biweekly 60-second spot on 400 CBS radio stations. AJC has also supported a range of causes and legislation targeting Muslim Americans and Palestine solidarity activists. 

O’Shea’s embrace of Zionist organizations and Israel is even more outrageous given his role as president of a public university—one that attempts to portray itself as progressive and multicultural. His visit to Israel and deceptive op-ed fly in the face of the academic boycott growing internationally.

As stated by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement: “Israeli universities are major, willing and persistent accomplices in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. They are involved in developing weapon systems and military doctrines deployed in Israel’s recent war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza, justifying the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land, rationalizing gradual ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians, providing moral justification for extra-judicial killings, systematically discriminating against ‘non-Jewish’ students, and other implicit and explicit violations of human rights and international law.”

The academic boycott of Israel is supported by academic associations around the world, including associations in the United States such as the American Studies Association, National Women’s Studies Association, African Literature Association and Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

In 2011, the senate of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa voted to allow its formal relationship with Ben-Gurion University in Israel to lapse after an appeal signed by 400 academics from all South African universities, including 9 university heads, against Israeli apartheid.

Individuals and institutions who care for the human and civil rights of Palestinians should be signing on to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Instead, Donal O’Shea’s visit to Israel and subsequent article show that he is comfortable with Israel’s war crimes and system of apartheid, crimes that are condemned by the vast majority of the international community.