10 thoughts on “British Academics Vote to Boycott Israeli Universities – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
Comments are published at the sole discretion of the owner.

  1. You may have seen Martin Peretz’s response to the boycott. Most of it is simplistic, but the one point he makes below is, I think, an important one.

    “But let’s assume that these British teachers are really concerned about human rights. Have they declared a boycott against China or Cuba? (What was their policy towards Saddamite Iraq?) Have they placed their hex on the crazy doctor’s Iran? All of these are such monstrous regimes when it comes to human rights … and, lo, from these British academics, there is silence.”

    Don’t you wonder why such boycotts were not declared against China, whose human rights violations, massacres, territorial occupations, jailings, are much more massive than Israel’s. Of course, China’s wrongs don’t make Israel right, it just points out the “special” attention that Israel warrants on the intellectual left.

    And that doesn’t even begin to address the argument about academic freedom. Speaking of which, you may have heard that an elected representative to the Florida state legislature, a Cuban American, recently used your argument for his own right wing purposes. I heard this on NPR the other day. I believe that the bill that he was sponsoring would force any university who has dealings with Cuban institutions to relinquish all of their state and federal grants.

    You said that Israelis who choose to support (or not oppose) certain behaviors must be “made to pay”. But who chooses the behaviors? If you can select human rights violations, someone else can select terrorism or Communism or homosexuality. Boycotts are blunt instruments, and to my mind, if you resort to one, you better be damn sure that your own hands are clean, and that your targets are chosen logically and consistently.

  2. Todd: Marty Peretz is a hysteric when it comes to Israel & I’ve read enough of his blather to hold just about anything he writes in the absolute lowest repute. The argument that you can’t criticize Israel until you criticize every morally reprobate country in the world is a recipe for moral paralysis. You act on the issues you care about. Besides, how does he know that the union hasn’t taken positions on those other issues?

    China’s offenses may be greater than Israel’s but only because China is a larger country capable of inflicting greater total damage on its own citizens & its neighbors. I’d argue that per capita the level of misery Israel inflicts on the Palestinians is about as great as any nation in the world currently. Israel doesn’t merit “special” attention. It merits attention as a violator of the norms of international law & common decency. One of the more egregious of such violators in today’s world. There are other countries violating such law & norms & they too are singled out for opprobrium. Anyone who doesn’t believe that, simply isn’t paying enough attention to the level of denunciation of ea. of those societies both in the media & online.

    Regarding FL., no one supporting the boycott is arguing that international funding for research at Israeli universities should be cut. The boycott merely calls for individual British academics to reconsider involvement w. Israeli academics who are unwilling to dissociate themselves fr. the Occupation. The equivalent of what this legislator is arguing for would be cutting off all funding from international academic bodies for Israeli research.

    I agree that targets should be chosen carefully. That’s why I’ve suggested that instead of a wholesale boycott that specific individuals & programs should be targeted for opprobrium. But that would require a lot of specific research & I’m not sure boycotters are interested in or willing to explore this type of proposal.

  3. The boycott merely calls for individual British academics to reconsider involvement w. Israeli academics who are unwilling to dissociate
    themselves fr. the Occupation.

    Here’s something I was thinking about. Academics collaborate with each other, as a matter of course. Just like people in a company or household work together to accomplish goals. In order to collaborate with a colleague in a company, must I make them pass a “litmus test” regarding a political issue of importance to me? When you interview a new nanny, do you ask her whether she supports the Iraq war or whether she supports gay marriage? Maybe you do, I don’t know, but I would not. Work is work, and politics are politics. Some of the best interactions occur between people who work well together but are politically diametrically opposite. I wold treasure the opportunity to do good work with anyone, and beyond that, we can either engage in spirited discussion, or just agree to disagree.

    On the other hand, there are limits. One doesn’t want a nanny who is openly anti-Semitic or racist or homophobic. One doesn’t want to work with people who deny one’s own humanity (rabid anti-Semites, etc.). These are indeed moral imperatives. So I see where you’re coming from in terms of the moral argument. I guess I see the problem of the Occupation as mainly political rather than moral. That’s probably where we differ most, at the root level.

  4. Todd: You have a point. But here’s what I would prob. do. Before engaging in research w. an Israeli I’d prob. look up both their previous research in my field as well as any public political statements they might’ve made. If they made statements supporting the Occupation I’d be hardpressed to collaborate w. them. Or at least I’d prob. say that I was willing to collaborate but that I objected to their previous statements on this subject.

    If you were a historian would you collaborate with Benny Morris (or invite him to an academic conference), who says that the 1948 expulsion of tens of thousands of Arabs fr. villages in Israel was entirely justified & in fact should’ve been carried out on a far more organized & thorough basis?? This is the type of academic I WOULD boycott. The worst thing about him is that he was one of the New Historians who broke the story of the expulsions in his research. He’s the first who noted the extreme violence including rape used by the Palmach to terrorize Arabs into leaving Israel prior to the War of Independence. Now, he says that while the story of what Israel did is true he only wishes they’d done more of it. It’s absolutely repulsive. For him, a boycott is too nice.

    Of course, the Occupation is a political issue & requires a political solution. But it is absolutely wrong to divorce morality from the equation. People are getting killed on both sides. The Occupation is not just a political problem. It is a dark, dark moral stain on both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. There is evil happening on both sides & that makes it a deeply moral issue.

  5. After reading the boycott resolution, I found it interesting and a bit disturbing that these folks seem to be very concerned with Israeli sponsored violence as well they should be, but unconcerned with Palestinian sponsored violence (by Hamas, Fatah Brigades, etc.). That may not be anti-Semitic, but it is myopic, narrow-minded anti-Zionism.

    Regarding the “boycott” motion, #198C, they cite “Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices.”

    First of all, since when is building a wall apartheid? The Berlin wall was terrible, tragic, and unjust, but was it apartheid? They’re using apartheid as a loose epithet, and it’s not useful. If they disagree with the wall, they should just say that. (Although the connection between the wall and educational policy still bears explanation.)

    And as for discrimination in education, I’d have to see their data on that. I know that Palestinian schools and universities are sometimes closed down during unrest. I know that the curriculum in Palestinian schools is determined by Palestinians, not Israelis. I know that Palestinians may go to Israeli or Palestinian schools. The situation is bad, but it is not as bad as S. Africa under apartheid, nor is it as bad as the U.S. before Brown vs. Kansas Bd. of Educ., 1954. I’m not saying that Palestinians don’t experience some egregious discrimination, I’m just saying it’s not apartheid.

    As for Benny Morris, I have not seen the statements that you refer to:

    Now, he says that while the story of what Israel did is true he only wishes they’d done more of it.”

    I have read two of his books, and found both of them refreshing, even-handed, and illuminating. The statement that you paraphrase above does not sound like him at all. Are you sure that you haven’t misinterpreted his meaning?

    But let’s get to the boycott point. Let’s assume that you are correct about Morris, or let’s just take someone that we out and out disagree with, like Kissinger or Rumsfeld. If I’m organizing an academic conference, should I boycott Kissinger or Rumsfeld or Morris because I disagree with their politics or the conclusions that they draw in their work? Absolutely NOT! Richard, as I’ve said before, this defines the very core of academic freedom. If your opponents’ arguments are logical and well-reasoned, you MUST deal with them. Boycotting someone’s viewpoints because you find them unacceptable is academically… what’s the word… immature. Kind of like using the word “apartheid” even though it doesn’t really apply, but it does get a visceral reaction. Here’s how to organize a cracking good academic conference: you get the best minds you can, those you agree with and those you don’t, and you let them go at each other. May the best mind win. That’s what academic discourse is all about. You don’t blackball someone, you argue with them.

    I mean, think about it, boycotting was what McCarthy was all about. He didn’t want people he disagreed with to be able to sing or write or act. Although you approach this argument from the left rather than the right, I think your approval of the boycott/blackball methodology bears a striking resemblance.

    Don’t get me wrong. Individuals have the right to choose whom they’re going to work with, for whatever reasons suit them. But when you’re talking about keeping an eminent historian like Morris away from an academic conference because he made a statement that you find unacceptable… well, that’s just not how the world is supposed to work. McCarthy, the right wing fanatic, was wrong for the same reasons that Stalin, the left wing fanatic, was wrong: they stifled freedom of expression and human rights. This boycott threat seems to me to be tiptoeing toward the same dangerous ground.

  6. Todd: I didn’t say the boycotters weren’t anti-Zionist. Clearly, some of the supporters & their rhetoric gets into that territory. But I don’t wholly disqualify the enterprise because of that. The evil of the Occupation is too great (for me) for that.

    As for the Wall. It is a heinous edifice for many reasons. First, there’s the humanitarian devastation it causes to countless Palestinian villages where one side of the fence contains their fields & the other their homes effectively destroying their livelihood. Second, there’s the violation of international law. The International Court of Justice has already ruled the Wall illegal on those terms. If Israel wants a Wall there is absolutely NO reason it can’t be built on the Green Line. That’s an international border recognized by Israel and the rest of the world. The Wall’s current route steals 10% of Palestinian territory in a horrible land grab. As far as I’m concerned they can call that Wall whatever they want. Apartheid may not be the word I’d choose. But they won’t get an argument fr. me. It’s pure evil.

    Opportunities for Israeli Arabs in higher ed. exist but their primary education system is so inderfunded that not enough get the chance to go to university. Israel just graduated its first Bedouin medical student, it’s FIRST in 55 yrs. That should tell you there’s something wrong. As for Palestinian education–it’s not just that there are temporary closures–they close universities for years at a stretch. Troops invade campuses to arrest students. Classes have to go on as Hebrew classes went on in the former S. Union–in secret. Imagine trying to teach a chemistry class w/o access to yr lab–for a year or even two yrs.! The IDF treats Pal. universities as offshoots of militant organizations rather than educational institutions.

    As for Benny Morris, you might try reading this to discover how horrible his views have become since he wrote those books you read. Ronald Reagan too was once a progressive who fought for civil rights till he became a Neanderthal (which is what Morris has become I’m sorry to say). It isn’t that I find a statement of his unacceptable. I find his entire academic oeuvre to be unacceptable. He justifies the rape of Arab women, murder & pillaging of communities that had existed for centuries in Israel for God’s sake! This is beyond the pale for me.

    I am absolutely opposed to any of the individuals you quoted participating in an academic conference I might organize. I would NEVER invite them & might consider boycotting a conference that included them. What could they possibly add to intellectual discourse that I’d find valuable? They are POISON morally & intellectually. That’s precisely the pt. of the boycott. It tries to force you to add moral considerations to yr. academic choices. You view academic freedom as trumping, or divorced from morality. Or perhaps you view them as existing in separate spheres. I don’t. In more normal situations it’d be perfectly OK for academic freedom & morality to stand at arms length fr. ea. other. But this is not one of those times.

    There is a major diff. bet. McCarthy & the boycott. McCarthy targeted Communists (& those who weren’t but whom he accused of being Reds) who were never anywhere near the threat to America that he made them out to be. He created a trumped up hysteria for political gain. The Occupation, on the contrary, is a policy which kills people every day. It starves young children to death as we write these words. It oppresses millions of Palestinians every day. That’s why I’m forgiving of any aspects of the boycott with which I might otherwise disagree.

  7. The argument that you can’t criticize Israel until you criticize every morally reprobate country in the world is a recipe for moral paralysis.

    And now you have just echoed one of the arguments that was used for taking out Saddam. Well done.

  8. Jack: I\’d like you to provide me with an example of someone who made this argument to justify the Iraq war as I\’ve never heard it before. And there is a difference bet. engaging in a boycott against the Israeli academic system and \”taking out\” the Israeli political leadership. Furthermore, I found Saddam certainly at least as odious a figure as the Israeli Occupation & probably more so. So you\’re comparing apples & oranges.

  9. Boycotting individuals is useless. The moral and political beliefs of individual academics is moot. The issue is that Israeli academics are free to study, free to travel, free to be full participants in all aspects of academia.

    Why should Israeli academics get to reap the benefits of a system that its government denies Palestinians full entry into?

    How does boycotting an individual academic here or there change the situation for Palestinians?

  10. Judy: Your pt. is well-taken & I’ve acknowledged it here. But let me turn the question around on you. If I’m an Israeli academic who’s devoted my whole life to opposing Occupation, isn’t it foolish for my academic peers outside Israel to refuse to cooperate with my research & turn me away from international academic conferences–esp. when I might be advancing the goals of ending the Occupation in my research?? It’s not as simple a question as you make it out to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share via
Copy link