Neve Gordon is a professor at Israel’s Ben Gurion University. He is a long-time activist dedicated to Israeli-Arab peace. A few days ago he published a column in the L.A. Times in which he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. He put it this way:
I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.
It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure…I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.
Gordon also used the dreaded A-word in his column to describe the differences in treatment and rights enjoyed by Israeli Jews and Palestinians:
The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.
Though nothing in particular in this piece is revolutionary or unprecedented, the fact that an Israeli professor has used the A-word and endorsed BDS has thrown the hardline pro-Israel advocates into apoplectic seizures. Haaretz’s reportorial stenographer for the Israeli government, Barak Ravid, reports that L.A.’s consul general claims that scores of local Jewish Ben Gurion donors have contacted him and “all” threaten to withdraw their donations. This is supposed to make Ben Gurion’s president, Riva Carmiel, shiver in her slip:
Israel’s Consul-General in Los Angeles, Yaakov (Yaki) Dayan sent a letter to the president of Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Rivka Carmi, in which he said that such statements may be detrimental to the university.
“Since the article was published I’ve been contacted by people who care for Israel; some of them are benefactors of Ben-Gurion University,” Dayan wrote. “They were unanimous in threatening to withhold their donations to your institution. My attempt to explain that one bad apple would affect hundreds of researchers turned out to be futile.”
“I believe that the definitive answer to anti-Zionist lecturers like Gordon is to set up a center for Zionist studies, which unfortunately does not exist in Israeli academia,” he continued. “This center would help dispel the lies disseminated by Gordon in the name of your university.”
I tell you, what Israeli academia needs more than anything is yet another partisan pseudo-academic institute to promote the right-wing Zionist narrative. Of course, Dayan neglects to mention that the Shalem Center is precisely what he claims Israeli academia does not have. The only difference is that Shalem is an independent think-tank (well, if you forget the fact that it’s primary donor is arch-rightist Shelly Adelson) and not directly affiliated with an academic program. Not that Shalem is not trying to insinutate itself into Israeli academia.
Dayan’s claims about a donor boycott are ridiculous and Ravid is a shoddy reporter for not pointing out that the consul has refused to name any specific donor who has agreed with his implicit call for boycotting Ben Gurion. What interesting about this story is that an Israeli diplomat, whose job, one supposes is to promote Israel, including its universities, is calling publicly for a financial boycott of Ben Gurion. Doesn’t this run counter to what most people believe one’s country’s diplomats are supposed to do? Not to mention that it is shameful, shallow bullying.
Unfortunately, Gordon’s school has been subject to such threats for years. He’s forwarded to me a letter written by an American Jew lobbying the university to fire Gordon. In other words, this is part of a longstanding campaign of intimidation by right-wing American Jews and Israelis to silence dissident academics who refuse to toe the “party line.” This violates every aspect of academic freedom that I know. Luckily, Ben Gurion has not demoted, fired or punished Gordon for his temerity. But it might at some point, which is why this story should be known.
Alex Stein says
I don’t get it: if you support BDS (I’m not sure where you stand on this issue), shouldn’t you be pleased that donors are withdrawing funds? Isn’t that the point – divestment? At the very least Gordon must surely be happy.
Threats to boycott an Israeli academic institution to protest a call by a member of its faculty to boycott Israeli academic (and other) institutions are indeed a little ironic. Of course the point of boycotts is not non-patronage in and of itself, but the exertion of pressure in order to further a specific agenda – getting the boycottee to act in a certain way to make it go away. Boycotters demanding MORE reactionary behaviour on the part of the Israeli government and Israeli institutions won’t help the boycott to get Israel to respect international law and human rights, except perhaps in the sense of exacerbating the effect of the predominant boycott. In any event, as Richard points out, Dayan’s claims shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Richard Silverstein says
I often get the impression that you wish you’d really been a lawyer. You think in highly improbable terms so often this must be the case. Or perhaps you just get off on provoking arguments with dubious hypotheticals.
If you read Neve’s article you would see that BDS attempts to be judicious and not attack Israel with a 1,000 lb. hammer. So the object is not to punish Ben Gurion because he teaches there, since if more Israeli professors were as courageous as he, then Israel (or at least Israeli academia) wouldn’t be in the pickle it’s in. Rather the object would be to single out research that Ben Gurion does that facilitates the Occupation and make a point to protest that.
Certainly you’ll find some logical fallacy to pick over like a scab in this. But I warn you in advance I’m not partial to entering into one of yr long drawn out back & forths.
I hope the jibe wasn’t directed at me. I’m still getting over my last misunderstanding with Richard 🙂
Alex Stein says
I’m not sure if the lawyer jibe was directed at me or Shmuel. In any case, this is what BDS calls for:
“We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel‘s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:
Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.”
That’s taken from the PACBI website.
It may be that you support a watered-down version of BDS which “single[s] out research that Ben Gurion does that facilitates the Occupation and make a point to protest that,” but it’s certainly not what any of the leading advocates of BDS support, and there is little evidence that Neve Gordon supports anything but the whole hog either.
Gene Schulman says
I wonder how long it will be before Neve Gordon is canned from his university post and exiled from Israel, like Ilan Pappe? Reminds me of the red baiting days in Joe McCarthy’s America.
Unfortunately, for all the good principles of these modern day Don Quixotes, they are doing just that: tilting at windmills. Boycotting Israel will not help. It is the USA that should be boycotted!! They are the real culprits behind Israel’s indiscretions.
Has anybody else noticed that CAMERA is listed on Google News?
Go on to CAMERA’s site, pick a few keywords, type them in to the Google News search bar, hit the seach button, et voilà – CAMERA takes pride of place in the results. Quite shocking. I’ve also noticed that they now refer to the occupation as Israel’s so-called “occupation” – occupation always being in inverted commas.
Twice on the Christiane Amanpour piece they say “…Amanpour’s bad guys were the Jews of Israel, for supposedly oppressing the Palestinians.” Supposedly oppressing? Supposedly? And they have the cheek to accuse her of disinformation. Who on earth funds these guys?
Neve Gordon is a brave man. If he was an American professor the powers that be (AIPAC) would have had him sacked immediately.
However, Israel is a somewhat more liberal society than the USA (always excepting the Occupied Territories and the Arab Israelis) so perhaps his job and position will survive.
I do hope so.
Gene Schulman says
Yes, Gordon (he is profiled in David Shulman’s “Dark Hope.”) indeed is a brave man, and if he were an American professor, AIPAC would have put the pressure on like they did for Norman Finkelstein at De Pauw: Canned!
Israel more liberal? How about Ilan Pappe? How about not letting Finkelstein enter the country? How about barring UN rapporteur Richard Falk? C’mon, the USA and Israel are two peas in the same pod. When are people going to grasp that?
Richard Witty says
I believe that assertive engagement, more than boycott, is THE method that could change Israeli psychology.
I believe that the tipping point resulting from BDS is far away, meaning that if enacted it will be a long struggle, compelling periodic and accumulating immoral and unjust means to succeed, and invoking strange and repugnant bedfellows.
I don’t believe that the dissenting community has studied or discussed the varying options for methods of dissent, from the options of end-results.
I also believe that adopting punitive dissent methods, with a vaguely stated objective, is a path to failure in achievement and in collateral damage.
The options for outcome include:
1. Single state (apartheid-like) from right-wing neo-Zionist annexation
2. Single democratic state with Palestinian nationalist majority (imposing suppressive legislation)
3. Single democratic state with Israeli nationalist majority (imposing suppressive legislation)
4. Single democratic state with civil multi-cultural party majority (democracy)
5. Two states originating from external political agitation
6. Two states originating from consented social persuasion, a voluntary declaration of “we have enough, we don’t need to annex and oppress”.
In the process of pursuing these, Israel would currently only consent to option 1 (hopefully it would reject that) or 6, without some war. Option five succeeding would have the strong prospect of resulting in borders, but without peace.
The PA would consent to 5 or 6.
Hamas would consent to 2, 5 or 6, but prefer 2 or 5.
Do you agree with my assessment of likely consented choices?
If you do, then it seems to me that the obvious preferred path is 6, and to actively undertake the efforts and self-discipline to realize that.
Other approaches value anger over determination and moral commitment from my perspective. The democratic one-state solution is a possible alternative, but seems so remote currently as to be impractical (Neve Gordon affirms that).
I don’t understand his advocacy of a proposal that would functionally silence him from the world stage frankly.
I asked the same question of Richard S in a private e-mail, about whether he would honor a cultural boycott and eliminate all Israeli publications and performers from his discussion and sale.
The point of the question was to bring it home. Its always easy to state that others should boycott, but a different question whether someone should boycott you.
He didn’t address the question in his e-mail.
I would assume that the boycott would also apply to liberals, leftists and Arab Israelis to be consistent and effective.
I occasionally read your comments, Witty, just to savor your massacring of the English language, I find it perversely pleasurable. In a more literate passage, you talk about BDS “accumulating immoral and unjust means to succeed, and invoking strange and repugnant bedfellows”.
I’m not sure what is immoral and unjust about the means of BDS. This is about the application of economic and social pressure to get Israel to change its repugnant behavior. The “means” of this would cause nowhere NEAR (in fact there’s no remote comparison) the suffering being currently inflicted on Gaza by Israel’s seige, and I have yet to hear you criticize or call for the end of the blockade. It’s hard not to come away with the conclusion that you are hypocritical, and do not operate from a universal ethical frame.
In fact, the only way to make sense of your comments at all (even then it’s iffy), is if one accepts the assumption that Israeli Jewish life is intrinsically more worthy of protecton and dignity than Palestinian life. For an ethical person, such an assumption is unacceptable.
On a broader level, your main deficiency is that your arguments are so removed and abstracted from the on-the-ground concreteness of this conflict. Any solid ethical framework is smothered in a haze of empty moral equivalency between Israel’s daily infliction of harm and the call of liberals and progressives to hold Israel accountable for its unjust behavior.
Look at it this way, at some point, you don’t just reason and ‘dialogue’ with someone who has committed and who’s committing capital crimes (especially when they’re as un-receptive to criticism as Israel is & with the tendency to rationalize it all as Jew-hatred ), you put them on trial. It’s this aspect of justice which I think is lost on you.
Just as the boycotting of South Africa was important, so is the boycotting Israel, even more so since Israel’s depredations in the occupied territories are quantitatively and qualitatively worse than the crimes committed by apartheid South Africa, and this is not to minimize South African apartheid, which was awful and needed to be overthrown.
“…compelling periodic and accumulating immoral and unjust means to succeed, and invoking strange and repugnant bedfellows.” How so immoral and unjust? Strange and repugnant bedfellows such as?
There is an excellent piece by a Palestinian student on the Electronic Intifada site:
It must be really frustrating to the AIPAC and israeli-firsters crowd that haven’t been able to squash independent voices from israel as much as they have those from America. Neve Gordon supports a targeted boycott (which is what BDS is) because he knows it’s effective and may be the only thing over which they have little control. More than anything else israelis – and blind supporters outside – are sensitive to signs of withdrawal of affection and approval from a world grown increasingly tired of their thuggery. They like to wallow in self-satisfied complacency where they are in the right and everyone is in the wrong. OK, so they had centuries to perfect this art through real persecutions when they were a real minority. Now they still want a share of the righteous indignation of a persecuted, powerless minority while practicing the thuggery and brutishness of an persecuting priviledged majority. And while in Israel they do see some merit in maintaining a small cadre of dissenting voices (Avnery, Gordon, Halper, levy etc), in the US all dissent to the dogma is seen as a threat to the so-called jewish collective. So-called because it’s a collective in name only – with increasingly diverse voices and little evidence of converging unanimity – especially on the matter of zionism and israel.
The very vicsiousness of that consul’s response, the obvious attempt at intimidation of an independent Israel institution and the sheer Chutzpah of calling the truth a lie, is a testimony to the effectiveness of BDS. It is something that every individual can do to show their disgust with what’s being done to an entire population. It’s a way of atoning for the passiveness in the face of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in days gone by. But its targeted nature makes it difficult for israeli-firsters to control or cow. Its practitioners can now point to Gordon’s article as evidence that even israelis believe it can have an effect – and some are righteous enough to be publicaly willing to suffer the consequences.
Israel and its supporters hate the idea of israel becoming a pariah – an object of contempt among the civilized people of the world. More than anything they hate being shunned. But that is where they are going because that’s all any of us can now do to voice revulsion at what’s being done to the palestinians. It’s also the only way we have of expressing what we know to be true – that our values as progressive members of the US enterprise (for such it still is) have radically diverged from those of the Israeli ethnocentric collective. America may still be a work in progress (IMO) but israel is a work in regress – back to the days of dark history where injustice could have its fill. If not for the likes of neve gordon and other israelis of moral stature, most of the civilized world (ie, exclusing birthers etc) would have long ago washed its hands off that malcreant, misbehaving little country as the juvenile delinquent that it turned out to be.
Rabbi Tony Jutner says
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Howard Cort says
Gordon deserves our widespread support. Also, Jeff Halper and perhaps other allies also teach there. Let’s insure that it stays an oasis of health. Has a petition started and where can it be found?