AUT boycotts Israel

by Chris Bertram on April 22, 2005

The Association of University Teachers—the main UK union for university teachers, librarians, computer technicians etc—has voted at its Council to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities and the boycott may be extended to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also. I think this is a big mistake and will not do anything to help the cause of Palestinian statehood. Critics—and Daily Mail columnists—will seize on this decision and claim that it demonstrates that British academics are obsessively anti-Israeli (and possibly anti-semitic). The truth is that the AUT is not particularly representative, that aforementioned librarians and computer technicians often play more of a role than academics, that poor attendance at union meetings means that single-issue activists find it easy to push through resolutions on political topics, etc. Will anyone pay any attention to the boycott? A few, perhaps. But most British academics will continue to work with Israeli academics as before.

{ 143 comments }

1

Yuval Rubinstein 04.22.05 at 7:47 am

Chris,

I’m sorry, but I think you’re deliberately trying to downplay the effect of this latest move. Whether the AUT’s vote spreads throughout British academia is beside the point. It’s the symbolism that matters. Remember in 2002 when Steven and Hilary Rose launched a boycott of Israeli universities? Even though most British academics (including yourself, as I recall) repudiated the Rose gambit, it further fed the perception (rightly or wrongly) that the British academy is rabidly anti-Israeli.

Perhaps the ultimate irony, of course, is that Israeli academics, for the most part, are a vital source of leftist opposition to the Sharon government’s lebensraum policies in the West Bank. Indeed, Juan Cole, who is no friend of Zionism or the Israeli government, pointed this out in 2002 when he expressed opposition to the academic boycott. Cole wrote: “Israeli academics tend to be left of center, and finding one who expresses something other than deep distaste for Sharon is no easy task. It seems especially inappropriate to punish academics for the actions of a government they largely oppose. Many Israeli academics have been involved in the peace movement, which, although badly damaged by the suicide bombings, struggles on.”

Thus, it’s all the more disappointing that Israeli academics, who are on the side of the angels most of the time, are being punished merely because of their nationality. Symbolically, this is absolutely poisonous, regardless of whether it gains credibility within British academia.

2

Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 7:55 am

The most distressing thing about this for me is the loyalty oath aspect of this whole thing. Wasn’t one aspect of this boycott that the union wouldn’t boycott people who signed an oath affirming that they didn’t agree with the Israeli government and supported a checklist of positions on the Israel/Palestine issue? Loyalty oaths make my skin crawl.

What is the history of AUT and boycotts? Have they ever boycotted anything else?

3

Chris 04.22.05 at 7:56 am

I don’t disagree with you about the symbolic impact Yuval. Nevertheless you are right to say that there’s a sense in which I want to downplay the practical significance of the vote. Namely, that I want to reassure Israeli academics — and especially people I know and respect at the Hebrew University — that most British academics will almost certainly continue to work with them as before.

4

Yuval Rubinstein 04.22.05 at 8:03 am

Fair enough.

5

Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 8:12 am

Suppose you are a student at one of these universities and you want to apply for graduate study or a post-doc at a British university. Does this mean you won’t be considered? This has already happened once, though the offending professor was later disciplined.

6

Sam Dodsworth 04.22.05 at 8:32 am

Speaking as a “computer technician” and AUT member, may I say that this is probably the first time anyone’s accused the AUT of paying too much attention to academic-related staff.

7

Dave Fried 04.22.05 at 8:49 am

I have to agree with Dodsworth. My experience here in the U.S. would suggest that librarians and technicians are far more conservative than academic faculty when it comes to hot-button social and political issues. To blame them for the boycott when it is nearly always the social sciences faculty who initiate and support these sorts of actions is dishonest.

Now, of course, if you have low turnout, then those who can be persuaded to come and vote will, and those who don’t care won’t. So it’s very easy for a radical faction of an apathetic organization to come in and dictate policy if it can motivate its members to do so. I think that’s the real key here; do you know how poor attendance really was at those meetings where the votes took place?

8

Aidan Kehoe 04.22.05 at 8:58 am

The argument against the action from the premise that the Israeli academy is much more left-wing than the government is not something that would have been listened to when putting in place an anti-Apartheid ban, I think.

9

Aidan Kehoe 04.22.05 at 9:04 am

Oh, and because I tend to give short comments that leave people to conjecture wider positions on my part that don’t exist; I believe in a utilitarian argument for continued academic co-operation with Israel. The country has many productive, world-class academics, and stronger international sanctions against it will be no more effective than they were for the first couple of decades of its existence.

10

JR 04.22.05 at 9:16 am

Your “reassurance” to Israeli academics that “most British academics will almost certainly continue to work with them” is insulting. It amounts to an instruction that they should ignore the humiliating public snubs and attacks that they will receive when they visit UK campuses.

And the loyalty oath aspect is a scandal. It’s a clear indication that the AUT don’t have the slightest commitment to academic freedom.

Lastly, have you considered that faculty members hold positions of public trust? The editor of a journal of translation (to take a notorious example) holds her position for the purpose of furthering scholarship. She was not hired to institute a private foreign policy in an area outside her academic expertise. The hubris of these people is breath-taking.

11

john b 04.22.05 at 9:21 am

Your “reassurance” to Israeli academics that “most British academics will almost certainly continue to work with them” is insulting. It amounts to an instruction that they should ignore the humiliating public snubs and attacks that they will receive when they visit UK campuses.

No it isn’t, and no it doesn’t. I recommend you brush up on your English comprehension skills…

12

Chris 04.22.05 at 10:13 am

What it amounted to was the claim that the fact that a bunch of people pass a resolution at a conference does not mean that they will in fact suffer humiliating public snubs and attacks.

Of course, someone, somewhere will be snubbed or attacked and that’s deplorable. Personally, I hope that as many AUT local associations repudiate this resolution as soon as possible – I’m sure that many will.

By the way, I didn’t mean to pick on librarians and computer technicians especially. It is just that in my experience many of the members of a particular political organization that has been promoting this boycott within the AUT happen to be “academic-related” rather than academic staff.

13

Sam Dodsworth 04.22.05 at 10:14 am

My experience here in the U.S. would suggest that librarians and technicians are far more conservative than academic faculty when it comes to hot-button social and political issues.

Not really my point, although you’re probably right. I’m just amused to hear that the AUT isn’t representative of its academic members when most of the academic-related members believe the bias runs the other way.

My personal opinion is that they’re not so much biased as generally not very useful. I’m tempted to regard this latest non-outrage as a promising sign of increasing radicalism, but I fear that Chris is right and it’s just a case of too few people attending the meetings.

14

Dirk 04.22.05 at 10:29 am

I don’t think saying that that the boycott won’t really matter is remotely good enough. Since the AUT portrays itself as representing university teachers, it is important that university teachers who disagree with their position come out loudly and strongly against the boycott and condemn the AUT’s shameful action. Silence will be interpreted as tacit approval.

15

Chris 04.22.05 at 10:39 am

I don’t know why you’re accusing me of “silence” Dirk. I said it was a big mistake and I wrote in comments preceding yours “Personally, I hope that as many AUT local associations repudiate this resolution as soon as possible – I’m sure that many will.”

16

P ONeill 04.22.05 at 10:42 am

It’s not just Daily Mail columnists. The proposed boycott will generate a solid week’s worth of columns for the US branch of the VRWC as well.

17

P.T. 04.22.05 at 10:42 am

Precisely, Dirk.

Chris says: Critics… will seize on this decision and claim that it demonstrates that British academics are obsessively anti-Israeli (and possibly anti-semitic).

The decision’s symbolic significance is great. If it is received in silence by British academics, it will signal their acquiescence.

18

David T 04.22.05 at 10:50 am

As somebody who spends at least part of my time calling Chris a fool, its clear to me that Chris means:

a) That he deplores the decision

b) That he thinks it will not be implemented by the vast majority of academics.

I agree with him. He’s absolutely bang on.

I think it is most likely to be a spur to co-operate with these institutions, in defiance of the ban.

19

David T 04.22.05 at 10:58 am

It has not been “received in silence”. Within days, hundreds of academics had signed letters opposing this racist CPGB motion; the letters were published on Tuesday in the Guardian.

20

Mel 04.22.05 at 11:12 am

My, we are a lot of outraged liberals aren’t we! Personally I’m an AUT member who wasn’t at the conference but supports the ban, isn’t anti-semitic and doesn’t believe universities have a mission that involves tolerating everything and anything. And if you read the Guardian article on this you’ll see the issue is more about showing support for Israeli academics who aren’t allowed to criticise their government.

21

RSL 04.22.05 at 11:50 am

The Israeli left may have it’s heart in the right place, but it hasn’t been too effective in securing justice for the Palestinian people over the past half-century or so. Maybe, then, it’s not so bad for someone like AUT to start turning up the heat on the Israeli left–particularly with Sharon seemingly intent on expanding settlements in the West Bank? Boycotts aren’t always effective, but they did help end apartheid in South Africa–and, I’m sorry to be so bluntly honest, but I can’t find anything in Israel’s treatment of its farily large indigenous population of non-Jews with which progressives should be overly comfortable. Israel officially defines itself as an ethno-religious state, has passed laws that significantly favor a particular “desirable” ethnic-religious group over the “less desirable” indigenous population, and continues to prevent a large portion of this indigenous group from achieving political self-determination through a persistant occupation of their territory and a refusal to allow the return of refugees who fled a war zone. Progressives would normally support boycotting a state with practices like these, but we continue to give Israel a pass, in part because we know that so many Israelis have their hearts in the right place. Having the right sentiments, however, only goes so far. At some point, justice actually needs to be done and, as far as I can tell, it is not being done and hasn’t been done in an awfully long time.

22

Grantman 04.22.05 at 11:54 am

The whole boycott is absolute rubbish and nothing more than anti-Semitism – anti-Jew hatred – and anti-Israeli hatred, nothing more.

The good news, I suppose, is that’s it’s finally out in the open…hopefully some sunshine will disinfect the British academic envrionment.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves. When will the world see this for what it is? Are we truly going back to the 1930’s?

23

Grantman 04.22.05 at 12:01 pm

To RSL – where, may I ask, has ANY of the ‘indigenous’ population EVER shown justice to any Jew?

And keep in mind that the large ‘indigenous’ population actually moved to the area only after the Jews began to make something of the land – drained the swamps, built the cities, planted the trees, etc.

All the ‘indigenous’ population has ever done is devise more ways to kill Jews.

Please.

If you’re ‘progressive,’ (I’m to take that as on the left) then please know that much of the country was built by the lefties, the Socialists, Communists, the Bund, with little from the right. Israel was one of the very first ‘fights for national liberation’ (to use the hackneyed phrase from a generation ago). Only because they’re Jews, they have ‘no right’ to a national liberation.

24

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.05 at 12:02 pm

Since the AUT portrays itself as representing university teachers, it is important that university teachers who disagree with their position come out loudly and strongly against the boycott and condemn the AUT’s shameful action.

Quite a few have done. Hopefully more will follow.

The thing that really gobsmacks me about this, even more than the usual gobsmack quotient for ham-handed academic boycotts, is twofold:

First, they’re boycotting Haifa University, for heaven’s sake. Anyone familiar with Israeli academia can tell you that Haifa is one of the most left-wing, progressive universities in Israel. Not only does it have a large Arab faculty and student body, but it actively reaches out to Palestinian universities for cooperative programs. Many Israeli rightists in fact call it “PLO University.” To single out Haifa for reasons that basically amount to vindicating Ilan Pappe’s fit of pique is ridiculous.

The second is the sheer timing of it. Had the boycott movement gathered steam three years ago, in the wake of the reoccupation of the West Bank, I would have disagreed but understood. But for a boycott to gain strength now, when Israel is preparing to withdraw from Gaza and fitful but real progress is being made in peace negotiations, sends an entirely wrong message. Basically, Israel has just been told that it’s damned whatever it does, which will play right into the hands of the far right. This will do nothing for the Palestinians or for peace; if anything, it will feed an Israeli siege mentality and empower the very ultra-nationalist forces that we’d all like to see defeated.

Stupid is the only word for it. Well, stupid and wrong.

25

JR 04.22.05 at 12:05 pm

Yes, I’ve read the Guardian letters. There were three- one that opposed the boycott in high-minded terms, one that opposed it more tepidly as “counterproductive,” and one- with many, many signatures — that did not oppose it at all, and said:

“We do not oppose a boycott in principle, but feel it demands strategic evaluation: will it achieve its desired goals… Not surprisingly, there are differing responses. The key issue is not to be diverted from other activities that most of those who seek to end the occupation support.”

This is effectively a letter in support of the boycott, not against. The “key issue” for academics, it says, is to stay engaged in political activities. No mention of the “key issue” of allowing scholars to do scholarship free from political control.

Not one of the signatories threatened to resign from the AUT. No one condemned the boycott as violative of academic freedom or as a betrayal of the position of the scholar in a free society.

You just don’t get it. This is the trahison des clercs on a major scale.

If editors of translation journals assert the right to fire board members who fail to swear a loyalty oath of their own divising, who are they to say that the government may not require all editors of translation journals to swear a loyalty oath of the government’s devising? With this vote, the UK academic establishment has surrendered any claim to the right of independent thought.

26

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.22.05 at 12:19 pm

First of all, why do we keep calling this a loyalty oath? Isn’t the AUT demanding a disloyalty oath?

With respect to: “Progressives would normally support boycotting a state with practices like these, but we continue to give Israel a pass, in part because we know that so many Israelis have their hearts in the right place.”

This is almost certainly wrong. Very few progressive outlets (even so small as the AUT) are boycotting China over Tibet–which is in actuality worse than even the worst lies that people spread about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

27

Alon Harel 04.22.05 at 12:24 pm

I would like to know more what the AUT is and what its influence is. Can somebody provide this information?

28

JR 04.22.05 at 12:30 pm

We call it a “loyalty oath” by analogy with the McCarthy-era oaths were required by law of government employees and union officials, and which many universities imposed on their faculties and employees. The University of California system, for example, required this as a condition of employment: “I do not believe in and am not a member of, nor do I support any party or organization that believes in, advocates, or teaches the overthrow of the United States government by force or violence.”

29

Uncle Kvetch 04.22.05 at 12:31 pm

This is almost certainly wrong. Very few progressive outlets (even so small as the AUT) are boycotting China over Tibet

My tax dollars are neither subsidizing the Chinese military nor keeping the Chinese economy afloat. I consider that an important distinction.

30

Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 12:32 pm

There are three reasons to oppose the AUT motion.

(1) It is blatantly hypocritical. No one suggests boycotting Russia (whose Chechen policies are clearly worse than Israel’s) or China (see Tibet, Xinjiang) or Burma or Sudan or Zimbabwe. This suggests that the organizers believe that Israel is uniquely pernicious – the organizer calls it an “illegitimate state”.

(2) The boycott can be avoided by swearing a loyalty oath set up by the AUT to a political position. What’s next – swearing a loyalty oath to a specific form of economic organization (soft Marxism) or against the war in Iraq?

(3) It is a direct threat to the concept of academic freedom – the freedom to study what one wants without outside interference.

Bad idea.

31

Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 12:33 pm

Uncle Kvetch, my understanding is that British tax dollars don’t subsidize the Israeli military or keep the Israeli military afloat. So that can’t be a motivation for the AUT organizers.

Also, US tax dollars keep a lot of places afloat, like Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

32

abb1 04.22.05 at 12:34 pm

Well, why wouldn’t someone mention any potential benefits of this? Like, maybe it’ll be the last straw for some of those left-wing Israeli academics and maybe some of them leave the country? Maybe it will cause wingnuts in the government to avoid some particularly outrageous actions? Maybe a number of lives will be saved by this? Is this really so far-fetched? I think not.

33

abb1 04.22.05 at 12:38 pm

Very few progressive outlets (even so small as the AUT) are boycotting China over Tibet—which is in actuality worse than even the worst lies that people spread about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Sebastian, you were peddling the same nonsense on another site and I asked you for a proof. Where is it?

Thanks.

34

Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 12:41 pm

Abb1,

Why would making left-wing academics leave the country be a good thing? Why do you want to drive people out of their own country?

How exactly will this save lives? There is a cease-fire right now, and Israel is pulling out of the Gaza strip.

35

bi 04.22.05 at 12:43 pm

abb1: Well said! I myself am still waiting for actual details on the Beijing government’s so-called “oppression” of the Tibetan citizenry. The only thing I’ve heard so far (from both left- and right-wingnuts) is that the Tibetans are undergoing some sort of generic oppression that is generically very bad.

36

RSL 04.22.05 at 12:44 pm

Well, at least we see an awful lot of “Free Tibet” bumper stickers here in Massachusetts. Freedom for Tibet is a cause that many progressives support unabashedly–and generally without fearing any attack from fellow leftwingers. With Israel, however, we keep hearing rationalizations such as China is even worse. Well, two wrongs don’t make a right. And I’m sorry, I’m not buying the idea that everything said about unjust Israeli treatment of Palestinians is a lie. Doesn’t it make you just a bit squeamish when Israelis debate whether Israel can remain both Jewish and Democratic–and when the usual solution to the problem is controlling the demographics of the population to prevent the indigenous Palestinians from increasing their citizenship in the state beyond some “tolerable” level? Sounds just a little problematic to me, but hey, I’m just trying to be consistent. I believe in secular democracies that don’t care about the race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., of their citizens. I think secularism is a good idea that allows all people of all persuasions to live together in peace. Whenever religion gets mixed in, we have conflict. Witness most of the Middle East and the U.S. House and Senate, for prime examples . . .

37

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.05 at 12:44 pm

Well, why wouldn’t someone mention any potential benefits of this? Like, maybe it’ll be the last straw for some of those left-wing Israeli academics and maybe some of them leave the country?

Just out of curiosity, why would this be a benefit? (Hint: if all the progressives left Israel, who would remain, and how would they be likely to vote?)

Maybe it will cause wingnuts in the government to avoid some particularly outrageous actions?

The current Israeli government isn’t notably full of wingnuts, and while I strongly oppose many of its policies, I wouldn’t call them “particularly outrageous.” Thus far, it’s managed to avoid crimes against humanity without the help of the AUT, and I doubt that its policies will be affected one way or another by an academic resolution.

If resolutions like this have any effect, though, it will be precisely the opposite: to send the message that Israel gets no credit for the peace moves it has made, and to strengthen the far right’s call for a fortress state. If you can find a copy of Yossi Klein Halevi’s article The Wall, which ran in the New Republic in June 2002, you’ll get an idea of what I mean. This sort of thing is more likely to make the Israeli-Palestinian situation worse than better.

38

Harry 04.22.05 at 12:45 pm

jr — I think the UC system still requires that oath. At least, it did when I worked for it (1991-2) though not, bizarrely, from foreigners (so I was exempt).

39

M. Gordon 04.22.05 at 12:55 pm

I’ve said it before: by far the stupidest thing about this is how bad it will be for their union. The only power a union has is through solidarity. Once you start mucking with politics in ways that offend large swaths of people, you drive them away from the union, and the union loses power to do any of the things that a union is actually supposed to do. And, with academics, staking out pretty much any political position is likely to offend large swaths of people. It’s self-defeating and idiotic.

40

Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 12:57 pm

bi,

Part of the problem is that unlike Israel, China’s government is a dictatorship that greatly restricts press freedoms, so it can be difficult to get accurate reports.

Like anything else, oppression in Tibet comes and goes. Religious persecution, for example, is far worse in Tibet than in Palestine. Jail terms for venerating the Dalai Lama are common, and monks and nuns are regularly sentenced to long prison terms on trumped-up charges. It’s even worse in East Turkestan (Xinjiang province) where the Chinese government has used the war on terror to increase government repression of religion there.

And then of course, there are the extremely common harsh penalties and death sentences meted out by the Chinese government. It’s pretty clear that people are sentenced to prison or executed for political crimes. Political demonstrations are put down brutally and with lethal force. There are also advancing measures to destroy the basis of Tibetan and Uigher culture by denying them schooling in their native tongues and imprisoning cultural leaders.

I’d suggest going to this address and poking around. There’s a lot of material:
http://hrw.org/doc/?t=asia&c=china

But I don’t think China is the worst human-rights abuser around right now. There is an ongoing genocide in Darfur right now. The level of human suffering in eastern Congo for the last few years has been almost unimaginable. Burma is still a dictatorship that uses slave labor and often attempts to completely wipe out troublesome ethnic groups. Chechnya is a complete hell-hole right now, and something like 10+% of the Chechen population has been killed in the past ten years. The list goes on.

41

Nudnik 04.22.05 at 12:57 pm

bi, and abb1,

By Chinese count, 87000 Tibetans were “eliminated” as a result of the 1959 uprising. Since 1950, more than 1/4 of a million Tibetans died in prison and labor camps. Freedom of religion is non-existent (as opposed to in Israel or even the West Bank). China has long practiced its policy of importing Chinese to alter the ethnic balance in Tibet, in violation of the Geneva Convention. (completely different from Israeli “settlements” in the WB where “settlers” mopve voluntarily). To anyone who is willing to look at the facts, this is immeasurably worse than what Israel has done in the West Bank and Gaza.

42

M. Gordon 04.22.05 at 12:58 pm

Oops. Apologies for the extended boldface, I failed to terminate my font tag properly. ObOnTopicComment: I agree with Chris’ basic premise, which is that, politically, this is both stupid and more or less irrelevant. Membership meetings of unions are not well attended (at least, ours aren’t.) A few blowhards can run the show pretty easily.

43

Dirk 04.22.05 at 1:05 pm

Chris,

I apologize – I did not mean to accuse you of silence, since, obviously, you are not. My comment simply expressed my opinion that UK academics should loudly protest this bad decision, especially since it is unfortunately publicized as made in their name. I also had not read your comment #12, and I agree with it: many AUT local associations should repudiate this resolution loudly and vigorously.

44

abb1 04.22.05 at 1:07 pm

Just out of curiosity, why would this be a benefit? (Hint: if all the progressives left Israel, who would remain, and how would they be likely to vote?)

I thought that maybe the government still cares about prestige. They are, after all, ultra-nationalists.

If resolutions like this have any effect, though, it will be precisely the opposite: to send the message that Israel gets no credit for the peace moves it has made, and to strengthen the far right’s call for a fortress state.

You certainly have a point here, but, again, like I said, the potential point of pressure would be a mass exodus of scientists, not some British resolution. Doesn’t seem very likely, but who knows. Depends also on the situation in Russia and Russian universities…

45

Mel 04.22.05 at 1:15 pm

The tenor of the majority of these comments shows up, to my mind, the limits of the liberal discourse on tolerance, since in objecting to this boycott what we are supposed to tolerate in the name of ‘academic free speech’ is the intolerant actions of the two Israeli universities towards staff who openly dissent against an intolerant government.

46

RSL 04.22.05 at 1:24 pm

Let me be clear about this: I think it would be very bad if left-wing Israeli academics left Israel. What I want to see is them get more forceful, so they actually have an impact on Israel’s policy. The question is whether the boycott will light a fire under the Israeli leftwing or just snuff the fading embers out completely. I’m not sure, but I’m not totally against AUT making an issue out of this. Boycotts often fail, but I do believe they helped change South Africa for the better. I think the boycott-Israel movement is picking up on the South African experience and for basically the same (non-hypocritical) reason: there is a gut-level feeling that states that officially elevate one particular race/religion/ethnic group over others fall into a particularly offensive category. China, Russia, Burma, etc., are horrible in their own ways, but it’s the race/religion/ethnic issue that creates the gut-level reaction against Israeli policy among many progressives.

47

David T 04.22.05 at 1:30 pm

You will not see an AUT boycott of China over Tibet for a very simple reason.

The people who have proposed this ban are members of extreme political organisations on the ultra left of British politics. As far as I can tell, Sue Blackwell whose campaign this is, is an ex member of the Socialist Workers Party who – bizarrely – now seems to be a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (which is one of the hardline organisations which suceeded the genuine CPGB when it disbanded).

Blackwell appears to be a minor academic of some sort. As Chris suggests, the AUT – like most public sector unions – is open to infiltration by people who are effectively profesional extremist politicians, who choose public sector jobs which allow them to paint themselves as the vanguard of the proletariat.

In order to get these sorts of motions through, deals need to be cut between the various extremist political factions. Some of those potential allies would be offended if a boycott of China, or even North Korea, or indeed Cuba were suggested.

You well certainly find a degree of bien pensant – and often correct and well informed – concern over Israel’s policies among university staff. However, this vote is not, and should not be seen as an expression of the essential racism of British academia. There will be many who try, wrongly, to paint it as such.

It is, however, a good illustration of the racism, and tolerance of racism, which is characteristic of much the extreme fringes of the British left.

It should be combatted on four fronts:

First, academics who oppose this boycott should personally strive to make contacts and collaborate as a matter of preference and solidarity with Israeli academics, either on politically neutral subjects, or on politically progressive projectes.

Secondly, legal advice should be sought, circulated, and followed where the effect of the boycott will constitutes an act of unlawful discrimination.

Thirdly, the government should be encouraged to issue a circular on this matter, defending academic freedom, to ensure that this country’s education and research policy is not dictated by these racists and extremists.

Fourthly, these events might provide a spur to largely apathetic university lecturers to take their union back from the hands of these extremists and racists.

It would be nice to see these unrepresentative delegates kept out of office by, for example, an organised campaign to inform AUT members of the political affliations of persons seeking elected office, and urging members to vote for any candidate but those supported by the CPGB, the CPB or the SWP.

48

Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 1:39 pm

rsl,

In China, Russia, and Burma it manifestly is a race/religion/ethnic issue. In all three cases it is an ethnically and sometimes visually distinct majority attempting by various mechanisms to destroy/oppress minorities.

Don’t kid yourself.

49

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.05 at 1:44 pm

Boycotts often fail, but I do believe they helped change South Africa for the better. I think the boycott-Israel movement is picking up on the South African experience

There’s a non-trivial difference between Israel and South Africa (other than the fact that Israel isn’t an apartheid state): Israel has a much more democratically accountable political system than apartheid-era South Africa did. South Africa between 1949 and 1994 had the forms of democracy but not the substance – it was effectively a one-party state, its courts were supine, its security services crushed real dissent even among the white population, and most of the country was disenfranchised. Under these circumstances, the only way change could happen was through revolution: i.e., by dismantling the existing constitutional system and replacing it with another. Revolutionary change takes a great deal of nudging from both within and without, and in ZA’s case, a boycott may have helped convince a moribund regime that its time had come.

Israel, on the other hand, is a functioning multiparty state which (unlike apartheid ZA) has had multiple democratic transfers of power. Its courts are among the most active in the world, and the degree of self-examination and self-criticism among its citizens is almost frightening. As such, it is far more open to incremental democratic change than South Africa was. Moreover, since what is being asked of Israel (ending the occupation) does not amount to self-annihilation for the existing state, it is possible to achieve this change in non-revolutionary means. In fact, the process of change is arguably well under way – vice the Sharm summit and the upcoming Gaza withdrawal.

As such, even if Israeli and South African policies are morally equivalent (which I do not for a minute concede), the difference in political systems and possible methods of change calls for different strategies. In the Israeli case, where ideological competition is an integral part of the political system, a boycott will strengthen exactly the wrong ideologies. What’s necessary instead is to work with and strengthen the peace-oriented parties and forces in Israel – like, for instance, the professors at Haifa University who regularly reach out to their Palestinian counterparts. Trying to fit Israel into a South African pigeonhole is, IMO, not only wrong but likely to backfire.

50

Nudnik 04.22.05 at 1:45 pm

RSL,

I think you misunderstand the state of the left in Israel. Since the collapse of the Oslo Accords and the Camp David negotiations, most of those who were on the left came to see that their view of the Palestinians was incorrect. They came to see that the Palestinians did not want peace, no matter what was offered to them. Their ideas of compromise based on the Oslo formula were completely discredited. This is why Sharon was so overwhelmingly elected, and why he is still so popular.

As to your final point, if that is what creates the reaction among “progressives”, then they need to check their gut and more importantly the facts. Arabs in Israel enjoy full civil rights; they serve in the Knesset, they serve on the Supreme Court, and like any other citizen they receive their due benfits from the State. Is there inequality among citizens of Israel? Yes, as much as there is inequality in any western, industrialized country, including the US. (Yet I don’t see boycotts of US academics because of the conditions of African-Americans in US inner cities).

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have nothing to do with this since THEY ARE NOT CITIZENS. This is one of the key differences with the South Africa example you bring up – blacks in South Africa were second class citizens, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens. Autonomy and independence have been offered to the Palestinians on numerous occasions (in fact the first time after the capture of the WB was in August of 1967). Each time they have refused.

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charlie b. 04.22.05 at 1:47 pm

Although eligible, I am not a member of the AUT. I will not support policies like the one under discussion in any way.

I suggest that anyone who is still a member of the AUT should resign, stating their reasons for doing so. If they want they can make public their decision to do so, and send a copy to an appropriate Israeli academic organisation.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 1:50 pm

To Grantman,

According to the Statistical Handbook of Jewish Palestine published in 1947 by the Jewish Agency, Department of Statistics, the population of Palestine at the 1945 census (latest published date before partition) was:

1,101,565 Muslims
554,329 Jews
139,285 Christians
14,858 Other

So about 69% of the population was Arab (Muslim or Christian)and about 31% Jewish, even after 60 years of Jewish immigration. So saying the Arabs weren’t there is just plain wrong.

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JR 04.22.05 at 1:52 pm

abb1-
You don’t understand the dynamics of Israeli society. The secular Jewish left in Israel is predominantly native-born and eastern European in origin, with roots of several generations in the country, typically urban and well-educated. The right is predominantly composed of Jews of Arab background, (more recently supplemented by Russians), who tend to be less well educated, poorer, more religious, without much commitment to enlightenment values of tolerance, and with an abiding hatred of the Arabs who oppressed them and their ancestors in their countries of origin. These two groups live in uneasy co-existence. They have slightly different religious rites, live in different neighborhoods, have different accents in Hebrew, root for different sports teams, and support different political parties.

The secular Jewish community has been preaching in favor of peace for quite some time now. But even the secular left will not accept a unified state. No Israeli Jew is willing to envision living as a religious minority in a majority Muslim country. Advocates of a one-state solution might as well tell Israelis that they should move to the moon.

The secularists have not been in power since the assassination of Rabin (one of the most successful political assassinations in history) and the intifada has isolated and disheartened them. A reasonable goal for Europeans of good will would be to support and strengthen the secular Jewish community in Israel, not to undercut its standing within Israeli society by humiliating its most prominent members on the international scene.

One future scenario, as you posit, is that many secular Jews will leave – not because of a British academic boycott, but because of a schism in Israeli society brought on by never-ending war, whereby secular Jews no longer recognize their country and abandon it to the religious right. If that occurs, the Israeli swing to the right will be irrevocable and dramatic, and will take a form that will cause Palestinians distress of a sort that they have not yet imagined. The plight of the Palestinians is unpleasant, but it is nothing remotely like the plight of the Bosnian Muslims, to take an example that European Christians may perhaps feel some responsibility for.

Of course, Hamas and others understand this and don’t mind it, as they view war to the finish as the only acceptable outcome. They intend to defeat Israel militarily and they believe that they will be able to do so in a generation or two. (The Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted 200 years, so Hamas has an encouraging historical example). If for no other reason than the demographic crisis (Palestinians, like third world people generally, have larger families than Israelis), Israel’s only hope is to make a lasting peace with other factions among the Palestinians and thereby deprive the hard-liners of popular support. But the Israeli right does not see the situation this way and intends to use force to suppress Palestinian national aspirations indefinitely.

The AUT boycotters are allying themselves with Hamas and other confrontationists by working to isolate secular Israelis and by strengthening the hand of the Israeli right within Israel. The cause that they are advancing is one of intensifying war and destruction of civilians on both sides over many decades to come. Perhaps- and only perhaps – they do not understand this. If that is so, their ignorance is appalling.

However, if you are a European who supports a one-state solution, then you are allied with Hamas in working to bring about total war, and the boycott is a perfectly logical, if small, step in that direction.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 2:02 pm

To Nudnik and Jonathan,

You are of course right that Israel is far more democratic (and diverse politically) than South Africa was (and, in my opinion less problematic as a state, too, because of that). However, you know as well as I do that Israelis are well aware that if the Palestinians were given the citizenship they currently don’t have, then Israel would have to choose between democracy and Jewishness. Israeli democracy can only be preserved by ensuring that Palestinians do not become citizens (or by the alternative of giving up the ideal of the Jewishness of the state and becoming a true secular democracy). So arguing that the fact that Palestinians are not citizens is some kind of excuse for Israeli policy is silly–it is in fact, part of the Israeli policy objective to deny Palestinians citizenship. And that’s part of what’s offensive, as long as Israel also insists on controlling this population through occupation.

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Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.05 at 2:04 pm

So arguing that the fact that Palestinians are not citizens is some kind of excuse for Israeli policy is silly—it is in fact, part of the Israeli policy objective to deny Palestinians citizenship.

That’s Nudnik’s argument, not mine. As far as I’m concerned, there’s an easy way to solve the problem: allow the Palestinians to become citizens of an independent and viable Palestinian state, as the overwhelming majority of them want.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 2:10 pm

Sorry Jonathan . . . didn’t mean to mix you in on that particular point . . .

I agree with you that the solution is pretty easy . . . an independent Palestinian state would work and it’s probably what most people in both Israel and Palestine want. So why not get on with it? The faster the better, in my opinion.

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Nudnik 04.22.05 at 2:13 pm

rsl,

The stated goal of the Palestinians (at least he moderate ones) has been the establishment of their own state, not citizenship in Israel. There has never been, and never will be a consideration of granting Israeli citizenship to Palestinians in the WB and Gaza. The Palestinians are subject to the laws of the original Palestine Mandate, since the WB and Gaza, under international law, are the unallocated portion of that Mandate.

By the end of the ’90s, the Palestinian population was not under the control of Israel. More than 95% of that population was living under the control of Arafat and the PA.

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Chris 04.22.05 at 2:18 pm

A couple of people in the thread above have written that AUT members should resign. No they shouldn’t. This was a decision of AUT Council that has never been put before most local associations (and most individual members have had no opportunity to oppose it). Rather than resigning, the right thing to do is to oppose the policy within the union.

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Nudnik 04.22.05 at 2:20 pm

I am all in favor of a Palestinian state. The problem is that I think you are mistaken that the majority of Palestinians will settle for a state side-by-side with Israel.

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Alon Harel 04.22.05 at 2:25 pm

The one effect that the boycott will have is to push Israeli students to choose the US rather than Britain when they consider going abroad for graduate studies. The discriminatory climate in Britian has pushed even a very anti Sharon Israeli who is a Phd candidate to go to Yale to complete his Phd rather than accept a JRF offer he had. This will be bad for British higher education.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 2:26 pm

hektor

I’m making no excuses for China, Russia, etc. . . . these countries are in many of their actions far worse than Israel. But just because Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was worse than the U.S., doesn’t mean we should therefore tolerate Guantanamo Bay. In some ways I find Guantanamo Bay more offensive than Saddam’s atrocities . . . and that’s simiply because Guantanamo Bay is “us,” not “them.” And so I feel more responsible for it. Israel, for both better and worse, is more us, too, than Russia or China. And so we have to get more involved . . .

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abb1 04.22.05 at 2:28 pm

Hi JR,
thank you for your comment. I think I do understand the demographic composition, attitudes and all that, I’ve been there.

While I do indeed think that the one-state solution would be the best outcome (and if Hamas agrees – great, that’s one thing we agree on), I understand that it’s probably not going to happen.

So, it’s a two state solution, then. The solution that could be reached literally today, if the Israeli government made reasonable concessions along the lines of any Beilin-negotiated agreement, like Taba or Geneva accord. To make these concessions they have to suffer some political and/or economic pressure. Boycott by this AUT (whatever it is) is a form of pressure; I agree that there is a risk of it backfiring short-term, but someone has to apply pressure and then maybe others join. That’s all.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 2:32 pm

Nudnik,

I’m glad to hear you’re for an independent Palestinian state too. Just suspend your cynicism about the Palestinians a bit and maybe it’s possible. (Of course, I’d ask the same of the cynics among the Palestinians, as well.)

At heart I’m an optimist about human nature and believe that Jews and Arabs can get along side-by-side. But then I sit at the dinner table with my two brother-in-laws (one Jewish, one Arab) and I question my sanity :-)

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Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 2:38 pm

rsl,

So you are a hypocrite in this case, because you feel like Israel is “more us”. I’m glad at least that you have abandoned the idea that China/Russia/Burma somehow don’t have an ethnic slant to their oppression.

Unlike you, I don’t believe hypocrisy on this issue is useful. The Guantanamo Bay concentration camp is a creation of the US government – so of course Americans should feel responsible for it. Israel is not a creation of the US government, so I don’t see why I should feel responsible for it, any more than I feel responsible for the Egyptian government.

I think there are many situations in the world that demand more urgent action than the Israel/Palestine issue – Darfur being the foremost among them. So I think your hypocrisy on this issue is actually damaging. Worry about the Israel/Palestine issue all you want, but don’t kid yourself that you are any better than the Massachusetts residents you denigrate with Free Tibet bumper stickers.

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Anon. 04.22.05 at 2:38 pm

if anything, it will feed an Israeli siege mentality and empower the very ultra-nationalist forces that we’d all like to see defeated

I am an Australian scientist/academic (biochemistry) currently conducting research in the U.S. I have several correspondents in Israeli institutions and, frankly, would be at a great disadvantage were I to lose their cooperation. Last year, visiting Israel to meet with one particularly valuable colleague, I had the opportunity to discuss the political situation. She votes Meretz but was vexed by the blatantly anti-Israel climate she had encountered on visits to universities in Sweden and Belgium. Her grandfather, a prominent physicist, was forced out of a Polish university in the late 1930s, and fled to France where the Nazis (via collaborating French police) eventually caught up with him (he died in Birkenau). Understandably, she is especially sensitive about academic boycotts, and when I described the (so far unsuccessful) divestment proposal circulating at the university where I was working, it depressed her deeply. The “siege mentality” is beginning to affect even the most progressive elements of Israeli society.

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Nudnik 04.22.05 at 2:43 pm

rsl,

Those must be very interesting family dinners :-).

To tell you the truth, I am not an optimist. I don’t think that Abbas can survive as leader. And after he is gone, the Palestinians have no one. Jordan does not want a Hamasistan on its borders, and once Abbas fails, I would not be surprised if Jordan were to reassert some kind of control over the West Bank. Maybe that would be the best solution for everyone.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 2:47 pm

Oh hektor!

I didn’t denigrate the Free Tibet folks. I think their cause is a fine one.

And as far as thinking Israel is more “us” than Russia or China, I think Israel is one of our very closest allies, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and a state we have generally supported almost without question in (and often against)the world community (can hardly say the same of Russia and China). And didn’t Congress pass a resolution just over a year ago recognizing a special relationship with Israel?

So, the U.S. government didn’t create Israel (I never made that claim . . . in fact, initially, we weren’t all that warm to Israel) . . . but the relationship has grown quite close over the years. And we certainly have been deeply involved in the peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. So, yeah, Israel is more “us” in my opinion than China or Russia.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 3:01 pm

Oh hektor!

I didn’t denigrate the Free Tibet folks. I think their cause is a fine one.

And as far as thinking Israel is more “us” than Russia or China, I think Israel is one of our very closest allies, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and a state we have generally supported almost without question in (and often against)the world community (can hardly say the same of Russia and China). And didn’t Congress pass a resolution just over a year ago recognizing a special relationship with Israel?

So, the U.S. government didn’t create Israel (I never made that claim . . . in fact, initially, we weren’t all that warm to Israel) . . . but the relationship has grown quite close over the years. And we certainly have been deeply involved in the peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. So, yeah, Israel is more “us” in my opinion than China or Russia.

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Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 3:03 pm

rsl,

Israel is not our closest ally. For example, we are contractually obligated to defend any member nation in NATO from attack. Israel isn’t in NATO, and we aren’t obligated to defend them from attack. I would say that the UK is clearly our closest ally – they followed us into Iraq despite the overwhelming public opinion against it, for example. So don’t give me this “America is directly responsible for everything Israel does” argument, because it doesn’t hold water.

I don’t understand the fixation on Israel, by both its detractors and its defenders, but especially its detractors. There are much worse human rights abuses going on, involving far larger numbers of people. At this point, there are clear movements toward peace and an ending of the occupation in Gaza, and people are trying to boycott Israeli universities? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

As for Free Tibet, you don’t seem to really know much about it. So why don’t you spend 1/10th of the time you spend worrying about the Israel/Palestine issue and worry about that instead. Then you can pop up on websites when discussion of boycotting Chinese universities appears.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 3:09 pm

Nudnik . . .

The family dinners are interesting, but they happen with less frequency, so maybe you’re cynicism is justified, after all.

I think the thing that has become most obvious to me as a result of having both Jewish and Arab relatives is how deep the emotions run on this issue (I was brought up Christian, though I visit churches only for weddings, funerals, and to admire the art or music.) I guess this is understandable given all the pain suffered on both sides, but it’s also a huge obstacle to any progress being made.

I wish we could somehow get over those emotions, because really my Arab and Jewish relatives are all great people . . . I just wish they weren’t so suspicious of each other.

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Sam Dodsworth 04.22.05 at 3:12 pm

I suggest that anyone who is still a member of the AUT should resign, stating their reasons for doing so. If they want they can make public their decision to do so, and send a copy to an appropriate Israeli academic organisation.

Or they could just chill out and continue to enjoy the (small but real) benefits of legal advice on demand and union negotiators to mitigiate the worst effects of the new National Pay Scale. And continue to treat the Daily Mail and its readers with the indifference that they deserve.

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Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.05 at 3:13 pm

RSL:

an independent Palestinian state would work and it’s probably what most people in both Israel and Palestine want. So why not get on with it? The faster the better, in my opinion.

I agree: the faster the better. But this simply returns us to the original topic of discussion: will a boycott accelerate the process of forming such a state, and if so, will its beneficial effect outweigh the harm? For the reasons I’ve stated above, I think the answers are no and no.

Put simply, Israel isn’t South Africa. I mentioned the robustness of Israeli democracy not because it makes Israel a “better” state (although it arguably does), but because it means that a fundamentally different type of pressure is necessary. In ZA, change could not be effected within the system, so it was necessary to employ the type of pressure – such as boycotts and isolation – that would bring the system down. In Israel, change within the system is not only possible but preferable, and a boycott would undermine that possibility, so a different strategy is called for.

Also, if things are moving in the right direction – and they appear to be, although not as fast as either of us would like – why rock the boat? As I said, I would understand if this boycott had been imposed three years ago (although I still wouldn’t have agreed with it). Doing it now seems out of step with events on the ground.

Abb1:

So, it’s a two state solution, then. The solution that could be reached literally today, if the Israeli government made reasonable concessions along the lines of any Beilin-negotiated agreement, like Taba or Geneva accord.

If that were true – i.e., if Israel could unilaterally make peace now along the lines of Taba or Geneva – I’d support any degree of pressure necessary to make that happen. But we both know that Israel can’t make peace unilaterally, because the Palestinians have also held to some maximalist demands (especially with respect to the 1948 refugees). Remember that it was the Palestinians as well as the Israelis, who balked at Taba. Israel is the stronger party and may thus have more of a responsibility to move the peace process along, but placing the onus entirely on Israel (as a one-sided boycott does) is counterproductive at best.

At any rate, I agree with you that pressure is necessary. The question is whether the pressure should be applied against one or both sides, and whether it should be constructive or adversarial. My answers should be obvious.

JR:

The secular Jewish left in Israel is predominantly native-born and eastern European in origin, with roots of several generations in the country, typically urban and well-educated. The right is predominantly composed of Jews of Arab background

Don’t you think you’re being a bit simplistic? There’s a grain of truth to what you say and Mizrahim are more common on the right, but neither the secular Ashkenazim nor the Mizrahim are monolithic; for instance, Uzi Landau is a secular Ashkenazi and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is Mizrahi. Some of the farthest-right political figures in Israel are in fact secular Ashkenazi Herutniks. And saying that Mizrahim and Russians are “without much commitment to enlightenment values of tolerance” and are congenital Arab-haters does a disservice to the many who don’t fit that stereotype. There’s enough stereotyping of Mizrahim in Israel without adding to it here.

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RSL 04.22.05 at 3:18 pm

hektor . . .

You’re putting words in my mouth . . . I said Israel is “one of our very closest allies” not our “closest ally” and I didn’t say we are responsible for everything it does.

In fact, I thought about mentioning Britain as an even closer ally, but didn’t want to get off subject . . .

And, you’re right, I don’t think about Tibet all that often. But I didn’t bring Tibet up. And I spend a lot more of my time thinking about U.S. politics than Israel. Israel just happened to come as a subject today, with the AUT boycott . . .

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Hektor Bim 04.22.05 at 3:24 pm

If we are not responsible for what Israel does, and it and the PA are making steps toward peace, then what is the problem exactly? Why have a boycott? I’m against it out of principle, but I don’t even see the pragmatic justification for it, especially after the postings by edelstein and jr.

What’s the big deal about Israel? Why is everyone always talking about it? Why are there exhibits about Palestinian suicide bombers in Norway? Why are British unions trying to boycott Israeli universities? This is what I don’t understand.

You seem to just accept it and are fine with it. But I don’t understand it.

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abb1 04.22.05 at 3:28 pm

Jonathan, the refugee question was a part of both Taba and Geneva. They agreed on a symbolic ‘right of return’ according to quotas determined by the Israeli government, in the order of 30-50 thousand/year for 10 years – or something like that.

It’s not really that difficult and, as far as I can tell, there isn’t much resistance on the Palestinian side, not from the population, not from the elite, not even from most of the Hamas activists. They know that Israel is not going anywhere and they just want some deal that is not a complete travesty. That’s my impression, anyway.

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Nudnik 04.22.05 at 3:31 pm

Whether the refugee issue was part of Taba is now irrelevant. And Geneva is even mre irrelevant than that. Do you really think that Israel will take in 500,000 Palestinians?

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ppt 04.22.05 at 3:34 pm

What’s the big deal about Israel? Why is everyone always talking about it? Why are there exhibits about Palestinian suicide bombers in Norway? Why are British unions trying to boycott Israeli universities? This is what I don’t understand.

Hektor, there is (at least) one obvious answer. I have adamantly rejected this uncomfortable explanation for a very long time, but it just keeps walking like a duck and quacking like a duck…

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RSL 04.22.05 at 3:43 pm

I’ll try to summarize where I stand on this:

1. I’m not totally sure the boycott is a good idea or not, but I don’t think it’s necessarily totally bad either. I think Jonathan and JR do make good arguments against it, but I do think some pressure on Israel is needed.

2. I think the pressure on Israel is needed, because honestly, I’m not convinced Sharon is moving in the right direction. If he were getting out of Gaza and the West Bank, I’d be convinced. But the expansion of settlements in the West Bank gives me great pause as to his real intentions.

3. I think Israel is something we talk about a lot because it presents extremely interesting and unique issues to consider, and because there’s a long (and not always glorious) history between Christians and Jews in the West in which modern Israel is another important chapter. Now that the Muslims have become prominent players in this, too, Israel is particularly interesting in a way that other nations maybe just aren’t. Three major religions see this land as holy. The U.S. is heavily involved in Middle Eastern politics. How can we not discuss Israel? It is a core part of Western history.

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abb1 04.22.05 at 3:58 pm

Here’s what the Geneva says:

Option iv [return into Israel] shall be at the sovereign discretion of Israel and will be in accordance with a number that Israel will submit to the International Commission. This number shall represent the total number of Palestinian refugees that Israel shall accept. As a basis, Israel will consider the average of the total numbers submitted by the different third countries to the International Commission.

An important point here, a breakthrough, really, is a recognition of Israeli sovereignty in setting the quotas.

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Peter 04.22.05 at 4:29 pm

Here is Noam Chomsky on the academic boycott (Note: he is referring to an earlier proposal):

Statement by Noam Chomsky “Regarding a Petition for Academic Boycott of Israel”

I understand and sympathize with the feelings behind this proposal, but am skeptical about it, for a number of reasons. One is that our prime concern should be ourselves: it’s always easy to blame others; harder, and far more important, to look into the mirror. That includes Europe too, though the issue is particularly stark here, in the present instance.

The petition states that “the US seems reluctant to act and continues to fund Israel.” That’s quite an understatement. Israel acts within bounds set by Washington, and the US has been providing the decisive military, diplomatic, economic and doctrinal support for the crimes that are condemned. The US does not accept the basic UN resolutions, these and others, and has vetoed the most important ones, which, if implemented, could have largely settled many of the prime issues long ago. That continues; there has been no break. Furthermore, what is said about Israeli intellectuals holds in spades for their US counterparts, who are far more complicit in crimes, even in this case, not to speak of innumerable others. It seems a bit odd for us to be on a high horse about that. Breaking contact with Israeli academics, artists, writers, journalists,… means breaking contact with many people who have played an honorable and courageous role well beyond what can be found here, and are a much more substantial element within their own society.

I also think the emphasis is misplaced. The immediate goal should, I think, be to compel the US government to stop providing the means for enhancing violence and repression, and to stop preventing diplomatic moves towards the international consensus on a political settlement that the US has been blocking, unilaterally, for a quarter-century. That requires a preliminary struggle: to break the doctrinal stranglehold that prevents serious discussion of these issues within the mainstream of opinion, a very broad spectrum, reaching to left-liberal sectors. A call for suspension of arms transfers to Israel would be a natural first step, following the course of Germany, which has already undertaken it. As long as we are not able to achieve simple goals like that within our own society — even to bring them to the arena of general discussion — I’m very reluctant to call for breaking relations with people who, as a category, are considerably more advanced than we are.

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David T 04.22.05 at 4:46 pm

I’d add my voices to those urging AUT members not to resign: an empty gesture which will sound like a leaf, not a tree, falling in a forest.

There will be people in AUT who will fight. They will be mobilising themselves. There will also be university based campaigns to ratify this motion, and some of them will be won, but all, I hope, will at least be opposed.

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raj 04.22.05 at 4:53 pm

THis is not unexpected, but it is a horrible decision. It’s unfortunate that the more liberal (in the classical sense) operations in the West feel a need to divorce themselves from their likely compatriots in Israel.

On the other hand, maybe they’re trying to tell liberals (in the classical sense) that they see no hope for liberalism in Israel, and are encouraging them to emigrate to the West.

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Mel 04.22.05 at 4:58 pm

AUT members resign? What planet are you on? Since when did this become a vilify AUT members website?

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Mill 04.22.05 at 5:26 pm

Some, Hektor, believe that the answer to your question is “Because they’re Jewish”.

To be a little more charitable, anti-Israeli protesters worldwide also have sheer momentum on their side. But the obsession with Israel certainly can’t be based on any objective examination of the facts.

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David T 04.22.05 at 5:41 pm

The strategy of the palestinian advocacy groups in the west is, generally speaking, to present its particular version of the chief accepted “other side of the story”, and increasingly as “the story”.

It is often explicitly rejectionist.

It is not, however, the only story on Palestine going. The majority of people with an interest in this issue are peace-prioritising two state solution favourers. That is the story.

To hear Greater Israel advocates on the radio attacking the boycott, which is then defended by former members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, is to allow an extremist polarisation of the debate, is to be exposed to a kind of rhetorical terrorism.

There’s no reason to let these ideological horrors, with their alliances with chauvenists falangists and fascists, to hog the megaphone.

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David T 04.22.05 at 5:44 pm

Sorry, that first paragraph should have read:

The strategy of the palestinian advocacy groups in the west is, generally speaking, to present its particular version of the truth as, at first, the chief as “other side of the story”, and increasingly now as “the story”.

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Noah 04.22.05 at 6:37 pm

Why the focus on Israel?

Well, why not ask that question of the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, among others? Surely this all can’t be some nefarious anti-Israel plot.

The fact is that Israel is in a region that is of strategic importance (read oil), it is the Holy Land, and therefore is of interest to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and Islamic exremists point to the conflict and US backing of Israel as one of the reasons it attacked and hates the US and it’s allies.

So, it’s a bit rich when people criticize those who notice this and don’t happen to tow the staunchly pro-Isreal line.

As for this being a sensitive, hopeful time – I’d have to disagree. Please see

Sharon dismisses Bush on Settlement expansion

Sharon’s interview in today’s Jerusalem Post

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Luc 04.22.05 at 6:56 pm

I don’t know on what Chris bases his objection to this boycott, but he strongly suggests it is about the principle of academic freedom.

Generally speaking this interpretation is becoming outdated. In a letter to the Guardian, a long list of UK academics supporting the ffipp-i organization, wrote that they don’t oppose this boycott on this ground.

We do not oppose a boycott in principle, but feel it demands strategic evaluation: will it achieve its desired goals or might it hinder attempts to build support for fundamental Palestinian rights? Not surprisingly, there are differing responses.

And apparently the AUT doesn’t think the principle of academic freedom should stand in the way of a boycott.

Second is the strategic/tactical issues. This tends to get muddy because there’s lots of difference in goals. Whether it is the ICJ verdict, on which the opinion splits almost among the same line as the pro and anti boycott people, or for example a strong, and principled, Israeli action like “Courage to refuse”. Again this action is objected to by many who oppose the boycott.

To refer back to the position in the ffipp-i letter –

We need professional associations of academics, in Israel and internationally, to take a stand against the occupation and to issue guidelines regarding the use of academic connections to promote the end of Israeli occupation. We hope such interventions will promote awareness of and resistance to Israeli infringements of human and civil rights.
….
We call on international academics visiting Israeli institutions of higher education, and Israeli academics visiting foreign institutions, to make clear their objection to the continued Israeli occupation. The situation in Israel-Palestine is not normal. Israeli academia has to account for its role in this.

This poses the question of how Israeli academia has to account for it’s role.

And that is where I completely disagree with Chris Bertram (and John Quiggin, who has expressed a similar position in the past).

They object to taking action based on the response of Israeli academia. Those opposing this boycott tend not talk about alternatives or other ways of bringing Israeli academia to account for it’s role. They think that that it is not the responsibility of Israeli academia to account for the occupation and settlements, and they think it is not their responsibility to take any action.

Were they to argue that this boycott would detract attention from another specific action, that they support change through for example the “Courage to refuse” movement or any other credible alternative, they would have a point.

But as it stands now, the group that takes action is a group that wants a boycott. And I agree with them.

Looking the other way is not the right way. Ask a cricketer.

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Peter 04.22.05 at 7:32 pm

Much more disturbing is the intensive resorting to ‘anti-semitism’ claims by Jewish individuals and institutions who do try to maintain a look of integrity. Such claims take many creative forms: for example, some Jews have a morally repulsive pastime of looking for worst cases of oppression – Russian atrocities in Chechnya (whose veterans, by the way, join the Israeli army), Chinese in Tibet – which supposedly “prove” that the media focus on Israel is anti-semitically motivated. As if it were not outrageous enough to be on the shortlist of evil-doers, as if only the gold medal in this satanic competition, but not bronze or silver, is worthy of protestAnd I wonder how many of those arm-chair pro-Israel Tibet specialists ever bothered to actually do something to free Tibet, except for exploiting its suffering to distract from Israel’s atrocities.

Ran HaCohen, Abusing Anti-Semitism, Antiwar.com, 9/29/03.

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u_of_me 04.23.05 at 2:21 am

There is only country in the entire world subjected to this horrible treatment. This country ‘just coincidently happens’ to be the only country of the Jewish people, the only country populated by Jews, living in their ancestral home (unlike the ruling majority of a several countries).

(have you ever known a country not fight for its survival, not defend itself from those who not only talk of their wish to destroy it but also blow up their civilians?)

100 lies and spins and distortions about what Israel is or does or faces will not excuse away the fact that with all that is going on in the world, with all the very real crimes by certain countries, crimes whose statistics and figures stagger one and dwarf Israel’s ‘crimes’ – Israel is singled out for this horrible treatment!!!!!

Take the hypocritical comment above my own.
It is as ridiculous as it is malicious to pretend Israel deserves the ‘bronze or silver’ for wickedness – but there is that nagging question: How is it that the several brilliant candidates for the gold medal aren’t on the boycott list already? That comment suggests China and Russia as prime candidates for the gold and yet I cannot find the AUT decision to boycott these two countries nor do does anyone expect the AUT to boycott them in any future time. Needless to say, there are several other prime candidates (Syria, and the Palestinian Authority not least among them, Egypt even or according to some, America and GB) but none of these countries will be boycotted nor will their citizens need to sign a pledge by which they denounce their countries’ actions.

No. Israel is the only country to be singled out for this awful treatment. Only Israel’s civilians are to be subected to this! This fact alone makes the stench of racism palpable and no amount of sour smelling propaganda can cover it up or explain it away.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.23.05 at 3:23 am

“The fact is that Israel is in a region that is of strategic importance (read oil), it is the Holy Land, and therefore is of interest to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and Islamic exremists point to the conflict and US backing of Israel as one of the reasons it attacked and hates the US and it’s allies.”

What complete rubbish. The Sudan has far more oil than Israel–which is precisely why China and France are protecting the genocidal government there. You focus on Israel either because (positive spin) you have greater hope to influence a democratic government than you do for China or the Sudan and you aren’t willing to resort to the violence necessary to deal with either of those real evils, or (negative spin) you are anti-Jewish but don’t like to admit it.

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Michael Otsuka 04.23.05 at 3:28 am

_The truth is that the AUT is not particularly representative …_

I’m not up to speed on the structure of the AUT, but “according to this AUT web page”:http://www.aut.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=206 the “voting delegates at the councils are drawn from the AUT’s local associations, having been nominated through local meetings.” So it appears that the AUT council which passed this resolution is literally, formally quite representative of local associations (which is not to say that it manages to reflect the views of the AUT membership as a whole).

Note that “today’s Times reports that”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1581214,00.html the vote for the boycott was very close: 96 for and 92 against.

I’d suggest that AUT members ask their local representatives how they voted and whether this vote was based on a survey of the views of their members.

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Jon Pike 04.23.05 at 3:36 am

This awful decision will be opposed – and overturned as soon as possible – by those of us in the AUT who don’t buy into comprehensive hostility to Israel. That this is behind the move is made clear in Blackwell’s comment in today’s Guardian that ‘we now have a boycott of a quarter of the universities in Israel and intend to continue the fight.’
In the short term, I’ll ignore and repudiate the boycott and seek to overturn it at my own institution – the Open University – which proposed the resolution. In the medium term we’ll try to get an emergency special council of the AUT to reverse the decision. Of course it’s important that AUT members do not resign (though that was my first reaction) but clearly repudiate this decision and fight to overturn it.

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Nate Roberts 04.23.05 at 5:19 am

Most Israeli academics (unsurprisingly) oppose this boycott. It is clearly a difficult and tricky issue that is not at all as clearcut as some of the above comments suggest. Here is a soul-searching piece by an Israeli academic who does in fact support the boycott, but with some reservations. He concludes, in the end, that it will work in the favor of academic freedom in the Israeli academy:

“Calling for a boycott of your own state and academia is not an easy decision for a member of that academia. But I learned how the concerned academic communities, worldwide, could mobilise at the right moment when I was threatened with expulsion by my own university, the University of Haifa, in May 2002. A very precise and focused policy of pressure on the university allowed me, albeit under restriction and systematic harassment, to purse my classes and research”

If anyone wants to read the whole article, it might contribute to this conversation:

“To Boldly Go”
by Illan Pappe
The Guardian, 20 April 2005

http://web.ask.co.uk/redir?u=http%3A%2F%2Ftm.ask.co.uk%2Fr%3Ft%3Dan%26s%3Dy1%26sv%3Dz6f065bd3%26uid%3D0B72AD25961A1A624%26sid%3D180AFD25961A1A624%26o%3D0%26qid%3D13DE21410A7B8640B816D689D42A8C8F%26io%3D0%26ask%3Dthe%2Bguardian%26uip%3D518166c6%26en%3Dte%26eo%3D-100%26pt%3DGuardian%2520Unlimited%26ac%3D0%26qs%3D0%26pg%3D1%26ep%3D1%26te_par%3D102%26te_id%3D%26u%3Dhttp%253a%252f%252fwww.guardian.co.uk%252f&bpg=http%3A%2F%2Fweb.ask.co.uk%2Fweb%3Fq%3Dthe%2Bguardian%26o%3D0%26page%3D1&q=the%20guardian&s=y1&bu=http%3a%2f%2fwww.guardian.co.uk%2f&qte=0&o=0&abs=Home%20of%20the%20Guardian%2C%20Observer%20and%20Guardian%20Weekly%20newspapers%20plus%20special-interest%20web%20sites.%20Each%20includes%20news%2C%20comment%20and%20features%20plus%20breaking…&tit=Guardian%20Unlimited&bin=&cat=wp&purl=&Complete=1

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Alon Harel 04.23.05 at 5:35 am

It is not difficult for Dr. Pappe to support the boycott of his own institution because he made his career largely on the basis of his quite exceptional support of the boycott. Since his stance on the boycott he has become the darling of numerous conferences and public lectures in Europe and in the US. He is therefore one of the few Israeli academics who would greatly benefit from the boycott.

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bi 04.23.05 at 5:36 am

Sebastian Holsclaw: um, so when’s the US going to attack Sudan, since it’s so bad? I think you’re just anti-Palestinian, anti-Chinese, and anti-France, but you don’t want to admit it.

Anyway, it’s refreshing that someone actually provided a link to some semblance of a concrete description on what goes on in Tibet and Xinjiang, but since this thread’s primarily about Israel and not China, I’ll refrain from polluting it… maybe some other place.

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abb1 04.23.05 at 5:44 am

As if it were not outrageous enough to be on the shortlist of evil-doers, as if only the gold medal in this satanic competition, but not bronze or silver, is worthy of protest.

The fact is that they do hold gold medals in many of these competitions. 38 years of illegal military occupation, who can beat that? Official policies of ethnic discrimination. Official policies of political assassinations, torture, collective punishment, ethnic segregation. And more. Neither Russians nor Chinese have anything like that. Not even Sudan.

What you see in Russia and China is suppression of garden variety regional separatist movements, not much different in essence from the US civil war.

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Brendan 04.23.05 at 5:52 am

Isn’t it interesting that with one exception everyone in this debate has been careful to point the finger of blame away from the United Kingdom? The most adventurous of all are prepared to hint that the United States might be in some vague way responsible for some of the world’s ills, but will not suggest doing anything about it.

The fact is that the United States and the United Kingdom illegally and immorally invaded Iraq, have killed somewhere in the region of 100,000 people (possibly far more) as well as being directly responsible for the deaths of many more (through malnutrition etc.). Moreover, the occupation is permanent. There will be no exit strategy. The military bases being built are permanent. Just as Israel has no intention of returning to its 1967 borders, the UK has no intention of returning to its pre-Iraq borders, as it were.

Just to make this clear BY ANY OBJECTIVE STANDARD THE UK’S POLICY VIS A VIS IRAQ IS MORE INIQUITOUS AND BRUTAL THAN ISRAEL’S VIS A VIS PALESTINE.

Therefore clearly academics of the world (including Israel) should be discussing a boycott of the United Kingdom’s universities and anyone who argues otherwise is simply playing the ‘anti-British’ card.

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Nate Roberts 04.23.05 at 6:05 am

brendan,

“Isn’t it interesting that with one exception everyone in this debate has been careful to point the finger of blame away from the United Kingdom? The most adventurous of all are prepared to hint that the United States might be in some vague way responsible for some of the world’s ills, but will not suggest doing anything about it.”

Absolutely! In fact, some (myself included) would hold the United States largely responsible for Israel’s repression of the Palestinians as well since it is the US that pays for it and does everything it can to allow Israel to pursue its policies unchecked.

And so if I, as a US citizen, criticize Israel’s policies (as distinct from its right to exist –which for any sane person is beyond question) I must do it on the basis of a sense of shared guilt. This is quite different from any criticism I may have of China, Iran, etc.

It is morally imperative to begin critique at home. Fortunately, many Americans, British and Israelis are doing that. Unfortunately, there are not enough of us!

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Nate Roberts 04.23.05 at 6:10 am

alon,

What you say:

“It is not difficult for Dr. Pappe to support the boycott of his own institution because he made his career largely on the basis of his quite exceptional support of the boycott.”

Is simply not true. Dr. Pappe’s work is widely respected and he has been well known to scholars working it the field for long before this boycott issue was ever mooted.

Why should you feel so compelled to misrepresent? I myself am very much undecided on the boycott issue, though I tend towards thinking it is counterproductive (along the lines argued by Noam Chomsky).

It would add more to our collective understanding of the issue if you were to engage with Dr. Pappe’s arguments on substantive grounds rather than resorting to silly ad hominems.

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Alon Harel 04.23.05 at 6:23 am

Nate,

I do not know whether the work of Dr. Pappe is respected among his peers or not. I have heard mixed views from reputable historians.

The case of Teddy Katz (which was used as the reason for boycotting Haifa) is not one which reinforced Dr. Pappe’s academic reputation. I think any historian I have talked with who has read the work of Mr. Katz stated that it was clearly incompetent. Dr. Pappe was the supervisor of Mr. Katz.

I do however know that much of Dr. Pappe’s reputation and fame in the academic community comes from his stance on the boycott and other politically contested issues not from his academic writings — writings which I am not competent to evaluate.

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Brendan 04.23.05 at 6:37 am

Nate
you are absolutely right. The key point is this: who will point out the unbelievable, grotesque hypocricy that of us criticising Israel when we are still in Iraq? The comparision shames us: whatever one thinks about the Israel-Palestine situation, it is objectively true that there are suicide bombers who kill Israeli civilians. The British faced no such threat from Iraq as we now know. It was blatant open aggression.

‘”The incredible sensitivity of the British is very encouraging precisely at this time, while the British army is still in Iraq,” said prominent Israeli writer and peace activist A. B. Yehoshua. “Are these esteemed academics also boycotting their British and American colleagues who are not speaking out against the war in Iraq? ‘

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1112668198058&apage=2

It makes us all feel very noble to blame others, especially when they are thousands of miles away. But who is going to lead the call for a world boycott of British academics?

If you really want to see what I am getting at, go through all the posts about Israel’s ‘crimes’ and substitute the word ‘United Kingdom’ for ‘Israel’. And remember that the UK is only differentiated from Israel by the degree of violence used: it was the UK (and the US) that slaughtered perhaps up to 200,000 Iraqis. Can you imagine the fuss if Israel had done the same?

Finally, how would we, as academics, all feel if other academics in other countries refused to collaborate with us until we left Iraq? If our papers were rejected from academic journals because we were an imperialist power? If our sons and daughters were not allowed to study abroad until we accepted our guilt over Iraq?

Are we all still feeling quite so self-righteous?

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Nate Roberts 04.23.05 at 7:26 am

brendan,

“Finally, how would we, as academics, all feel if other academics in other countries refused to collaborate with us until we left Iraq? If our papers were rejected from academic journals because we were an imperialist power? If our sons and daughters were not allowed to study abroad until we accepted our guilt over Iraq?”

If others boycotted us, I hope that I would respect their right not to associate with those of us who are complicitous with imperialisma and brutality (even if only through our silence).

As for whether academic boycotts are the best strategy I cannot say.

But I certainly think that “we” (meaning US and UK citizens) must accept our guilt over Iraq (and many more things besides). This is not too much to ask, and if our children couldn’t study abroud because we steadfastly refused to do so, then this might not be such a bad thing.

I happens to be the case that many many people in the US and the UK have been quite active in trying to stop this Iraq war. Of course, not enough of us have. But if the demongraphics of the country reflected those of the university faculties, the war would never have started in the first place. On campuses there is overwhelming opposition to the was and “acceptance of our guilt”.

I do not get the sense that the same thing is even remotely the case in the Israeli academy with regard to Israel’s crimes. And perhaps that is a significant difference.

As for your previous point that the US/UK aggression exceedes what Israel has done, I agree. But if your point is that people who are in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, your argument would only work if it were the case that critics of Israeli policies are not also critics of their own governments as well. In fact I do not know of anyone who is critical of the occupation who is not also critical of the Iraq war (though the oppposite is not necessarily the case).

So it is not a matter of anyone feeling “so self-righteous”.

And the other slight disagreement I have with your argument is that most intelligent critics of Israel’s policies (in the US academy anyway) are well painfully aware of the fact that Israeli actions are very much underwritten by US policy and dollars. So when people critize what is happening in Israel they are doing it on the basis of a sense that they themselves (or at least their government) is equally responsible for what is going on.

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Alon Harel 04.23.05 at 7:35 am

Nate,

The claim that a larger proportion of US and UK academics oppose the war than the precentage of Israeli academics oppose occupation strikes me as false. The universities in Israel are typically considered leftist. I do not have statistics on the matter but if you can substantiate your claim by providing us some statistics please do so.

This is clearly the case with respect to Haifa University which for mysterious reasons is a victim of the current decision concerning the boycott.

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Noah 04.23.05 at 7:58 am

Sebastian – You took my comments out of context. So then, you explain why the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox News, the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, focus on Israel and the Palestinians, rather than the Sudan or Tibet.

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Nate Roberts 04.23.05 at 8:18 am

alon,

If I am wrong, then this is important information (and if so, I stand corrected!). I suppose we also have to take into account the degree and nature of the opposition (in both cases). In the US there was widespread and very active protest on campuses before the war began, and then things quited down once troops had been committed. Gradually, then there has been a build up of active opposition since then. The range of actions taken by faculty is quite wide. Many oppose it in principle, fewer write letters to the editor, editorials. There is also a range of demands on the part of those who oppose the war, but my impression is that most (who can even be said count as anti-war at all) call for rapid withdrawal of troops and condemn the whole thing as a totally misguided and /evil/ venture.

What is the scene in Israel? I get emails from one Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, and they seem quite committed and serious. Is the level of opposition to the occupation on campuses similar to that? Are the majority demanding total withdrawal of all settlements and return to 1967 boarders?

If so, then I stand doubly corrected. And also this would be an important fact to make use of in arguing against an academic boycott.

Regards and thanks for the info,

Nate

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Alon Harel 04.23.05 at 8:41 am

Nate,

It is quite difficult to evaluate the degree of the opposition and measure it on a scale. The universities in Israel are clearly much more leftist than public opinion. If the elections were to be conducted in the universities the Labor would probably win by a large margin. There are large univeresity-centered groups such as: The Campus is not Silent” and Taayush which are active against the occupation. University of Haifa is probably the most leftist university in Israel and this is one reason why I was quite astonished to find out that it was boycotted by the AUT. It is obviously the personal influence of Pappe who has been conducting long and well publicized battles against Haifa.

At the same time Gush Shalom (which you mentioned) represents a small minority within the universities themselves. Gush Shalom is a mixed body but many of its supporters oppose the idea of a two states solution and support the idea of a one democratic state. If the partisans of the boycott believe that in order to qualify as a true leftist one ought to support this agenda (supported by some of Gush Shalom members) then you are right that the universities cannot be considered “true leftists”.

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Nate Roberts 04.23.05 at 9:44 am

Alon,

Thanks for the further clarifications. I certainly don’t think that a “one state solution” could ever count as a litmus test for anyone’s sincerity in wanting peace (or, for that matter, justice).

I assume that when you say “oppose the occupation” that would simple mean, as a minimum, calling for the full withdrawal of all settlements and return to the 1967 boarders. This seems like enough.

-Nate

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Noah 04.23.05 at 10:16 am

“What complete rubbish. The Sudan has far more oil than Israel—which is precisely why China and France are protecting the genocidal government there.”

One more thing Sebastian – Besides taking my words out of context you also distorted what I said. I didn’t say Israel had more oil than the Sudan, I said that Israel was in an area of strategic importance (read oil).

I said that Israel was the Holy Land, and therefore of interest to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

And I said Muslim extremists point to the conflict and US backing of Israel as one of the reasons it attacked and hates the US and it’s allies.

All that stands. But I’ll tell you what is complete rubbish. All the smoke and mirrors supporters of Israel’s occupation, settlement policies, and oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people throw up to distract attention from Israel’s policies.

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Jonathan Edelstein 04.23.05 at 10:30 am

I assume that when you say “oppose the occupation” that would simple mean, as a minimum, calling for the full withdrawal of all settlements and return to the 1967 boarders.

What about “supporting a viable and independent Palestinian state along the lines of Geneva or Taba?” Both are, at least according to recent opinion polls, acceptable to a majority of Palestinians, and neither involves a full return to the 1967 borders. Instead, both proposals would require Israel to cede land from within the 1967 borders in exchange for the large seam-line settlement blocs, in order to minimize dislocation.

If I were going to define “anti-occupation,” I’d include anyone who supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on terms that are fair and acceptable to the Palestinians. In other words, bantustans aren’t OK, but a Taba-style solution would be.

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raj 04.23.05 at 10:39 am

It’s a waste of time to try to pose anything interesting on a thread relating to Israel vs. the Palestinians. It really is. I don’t know why web blog bothers. Are they trying to enhance their hit rate for advertizing purposes?

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Jonathan Edelstein 04.23.05 at 10:43 am

It’s a waste of time to try to pose anything interesting on a thread relating to Israel vs. the Palestinians.

Actually, with a few exceptions (and even those not very egregious), the discussion on this thread has been remarkably civilized. Henry, if you’re paying attention, such a conversation is sometimes possible.

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raj 04.23.05 at 10:43 am

Just one more post

The fact is that Israel is in a region that is of strategic importance (read oil)

Um, there’s no oil in Israel. Thirty years ago, there was a joke going around that Moses wandered around the desert for 30 years and settled on the only part of the region that didn’t have any oil.

That was from a Jewish comedian.

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Noah 04.23.05 at 11:06 am

“Um, there’s no oil in Israel.”

No kidding! I wrote that Israel is in a region that is of strategic importance (read oil).

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Noah 04.23.05 at 11:09 am

Sorry, the operative word here is REGION. Damn italics.

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Dan Kervick 04.23.05 at 12:06 pm

What’s the big deal about Israel? Why is everyone always talking about it? Why are there exhibits about Palestinian suicide bombers in Norway? Why are British unions trying to boycott Israeli universities? This is what I don’t understand.

I cannot speak for Norweigians and Brits, but so far as the United States is concerned, the passionate concern with Israel, and the intensity of opposition to it in some quarters, are quite intelligible on grounds that have as little to do with political idealism and moral outrage as they have to do with anti-Semitism. Pure cold, craven self-concern are sufficient to drive it, with no assistance required from either ideology or bigotry.

The United States has developed, over the course of several decades, a most extraordinary relationship with the state of Israel. For many years, the United States has served as Israel’s protector and patron. It has a very unusual record of standing virtually alone in blocking or vetoing a parade of UN resolutions critical of Israel or opposing some recent Israeli action, and of working to hinder the implementation of those resolutions that have been adopted. There is also a devoted core of Israel backers in the United States, stretching across ethnic and religious divides, that have deluded themselves into thinking that the interests of Israel and the United States are as one, participating in an almost mystical harmony that is unique in the world of international relations.

Israel thus appears to many Americans, whether supporters or antagonists, to be the 51st state; and the United States is so closely associated with Israel in the perception of much of the rest of the world as to be barely indistinguishable from it. Some may believe that the perception is unfair and inaccurate, and that the United States cannot be held responsible for all Israeli actions. That doesn’t matter. The perception is there; it is vigorously real, powerfully influential and must be dealt with by Americans who suffer its effects.

In large part as a consequence of this relationship, which those who oppose it have been powerless to to limit, the United States has experienced decades of progressively deteriorating relations with the Arab and Muslim world, and has suffered from a debilitating handicap in its attempt to form more enduring and cooperative relationships, founded on a broad base of popular support, with that portion of the globe. Of course there are many other factors that have contributed to this state of affairs, but what we know of public opinion in the Middle East clearly indicates that the US support of Israel is easily the most important factor in popular opposition to the Americans and their policies.

Indeed, that part of the world has suffered a radicalizing fixation with Israel. One may find this fixation partly irrational, abnormally intense and emotional, and motivated to a large degree by exclusiveness and bigotry. Or one may see it as driven mainly by an outraged sense of justice, and compassionate concern with the sufferings of brother Arabs and Muslims. From the point of view of American self-concern, that hardly matters. There are many more Arabs and non-Arab Muslims than Israelies. The costs of alienating the former are much greater than the costs of alienating the latter.

For years, the supporters of Israel have attempted to sell this risky relationship to Americans by arguing that Israel serves US strategic interests in the Middle East, from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. Personally, I find these arguments comical. Israels’ small size, pariah status and isolation from its region have prevented it from playing any significant role on behalf of US interests. In the Gulf War, for instance, the US had to ask Israel to stay out of the war, lest its participation lead to a rise in opposition to the American-lead war effort. And other leaders in the region experience a debilitating alienation from their own populations when reasons of state push them to cultivate alliances with the US, to the disgust and chagrin of most of their people. Thus, as a result of US association with Israel, American allies in the region are internally weakened simply by being US allies. As far as American self-interest goes, then, Israel is an albatross, not a useful ally.

Now America has become the “far enemy” of the radicals, and we in America have seen planes dropping out of our sky, piloted by some of these bitter and obsessed Muslims. Is it so surprising that many Americans, without any regard to who is right, who is wrong, and without any particular touch of either love or animus toward any one ethnic group or religious group in preference to any other, should plead, “Why have we yoked our reputation and interests to that tiny, shithole country? We’re fed up with carrying Israel around our necks.”

Now these reasons of history and self-interest seem more than sufficient to motivate a passionate concern in the US with the case of Israel, and a bitter resentment of our government’s self-abusinve involvement with it. It is vanity for residents of Israel to imagine that the opposition to Israel in the United States is motivated in any large degree by a peculiar dislike or Israelis or Jews. I think the same phenomenon would appear if the US government had established an equally irrational, unnaturally close and frustratingly counterproductive relationship with an Irish state, a Cuban state, an Indian state, a Mormon state or an Uzbek state. But, while I hold that Anti-semitism is not at all the most important causal factor, I accept that it is a contribtory factory. One sometimes hears criticism of Israel framed in terms of traditional ethnic stereotypes or characterizations – claims of Israeli “chutzpah” or eye-for-an-eye vengefulness come to mind.

And political ideals, while also not at all the most important causal factor, are very important contributory factors to opposition to Israel. For one thing, Political Zionism is an inherently illiberal ideology. Israel is a state that grants a constitutionally privileged status to the members of a particular ethnic group (although it lacks a defined, formal constitution, just as it lacks defined, formal borders). In some way, this is even more of an affront to liberal sensibilities and universalistic aspirations than mere colonialism and militarism.

But anti-colonialism and anti-militarism play a role as well. Israel is a state that was carved out of an already-inhabited land by an immigrant population, employing tactics of transfer and aggressive territorial acquisition made possible by the force of arms. For those driven by Zionist ideology, this may appear to be some sort holy quest; but for those with a more common-sense, common-law, less ideological view of the matter, it just looks like brute and not particularly noble territorial conquest.

I would also say that there is something uniquely frustrating about the case of Israel for many of us who have some commitment to the goals of building international community and global governance. There is no other case in which the international community has exerted such persistant and exhausting efforts to enforce its will, with such ba high degree of unanimity, with so little fruit. This is particularly galling to those of us who live in the United States, since it is our own country that has been so influential in blocking these efforts. Sure there are African states and South American states and other Middle Eastern states that have equally bad, or much worse records on human rights. But those states have not been on the US financial and military dole for decades, and at the receving end of dozens of resolutions and demands that never seem to go anywhere because the US continues to help US resist them. Israel is a small, relatively weak country. By cutting the purse strings, the US could have ended the conflict there on terms acceptable to the vast majority of the international community, if it were of a mind to do so.

So while it may indeed be true that there are certainly worse states than Israel, there are no other states where such a powerful combination of self-interest and political ideology combine to promote opposition, with very little assistance needed from bigotry. Few of those other states are serving as a finger in the eye to a whole region of angry antagonists whose radicals are throwing airlplanes at the US. And Israel’s history prevents many of us outsiders from accrediting it with the underdog, victim status that most Israelis seem to accord themselves. So the self-interest is not offset as much as it might otherwise be by feelings of sympathy.

The idea that Israel has spent four decades attempting to make peace is laughable. Dayan was opposed to autonomy and independence, and began working against it from the moment of conquest in 1967. That Israeli policy is mainly dominated by a desire for peace and security may be the perception of much of the Israeli left and center, but the fact is that there is a sizeable annexationist group, about 35 to 40% on the right, that has spent the last forty years carving out more territory for Israel from the West Bank. Perhaps that group is a minority, but the majority seems to lack the political will and coherence to stop them. And when the settlers are attacked as invaders, even those who claim not to support their endeavors rally to their defense. So the resultant policy is one of expansion.

I suspect the same combination of evident self-interest, buttressed and rationalized by political ideology accounts for the high level of intense opposition to Israel in Europe as well. Of course it is true that considered in isolation from self-interest, solely on the merits of the human rights case alone, the degree of opposition to Israel as compared with other offending states would appear to be hyypocritical, and one would have to look to bigotry to explain it. But the case of Israel does not exist in isolation from self-interest. Europeans live in proximity to a Middle East region in which Israelis are few, outcast and despised, while Arabs and non-Arab Muslims are many. And they have experienced much recent immigration into their own countries from that region. So appeal to a rational regard to self-interest is sufficient alone to explain to explain the alignment with the more influential bloc. So much easier to explain the opposition when the motive of self-interest is combined with justifiable reasons for ideological opposition.

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a 04.23.05 at 12:19 pm

“38 years of illegal military occupation, who can beat that?”

The UK with its illegal (and military) occupation of Northern Ireland (and Ireland before that) for a few hundred years.

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a 04.23.05 at 12:32 pm

dan kervick – I think you are entirely correct that it self-interest is an important motivator and explains alignment. That, of course, has nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of the matter. It is in the self-interest of most countries to let China do what it will to Tibet (and Taiwan), to let Russia do what it will to various regions, and so forth.

Europe and the world generally wants and needs the oil. Therefore, it will obey the wishes of those who provide that oil. How dare a few million Jews get in the way of our living our comfortable lives?

119

BEI 04.23.05 at 11:56 pm

It is interesting, that when speaking of finding fault, the fact that the British basically promised the same land to two different groups of people and then high-tailed out of there when it started (somewhat understandably) to get somewhat contentious never seems to come up, even by Brits critical of the British government. Indeed, given that many conflicts today seem to be the results of poorly drawn imperial borders, intentional creation/goading of ethnic antogonism, and quasi-post imperial meddling, I think that a boycott of British, French, Dutch, and perhaps Belgian institutions for starters might be a good idea.

120

Brendan 04.24.05 at 4:08 am

Well Nate you’re a better man than me. If I was prevented from publishing in a foreign journal, or prevented from working/collaborating abroad i would hit the roof. As with most lowly academics, we live in a ‘publish or perish’ environment, and this would hit me directly where it hurts: in the wallet. Also I (like most lowly academics) am on a short term contract, so this boycott would effectively end my career, and so, shortly after this, i would not have to worry about what i should do ‘as an academic’ because i would shortly not be an academic. Frankly if my politics became the key reason for my progress (or otherwise) up the academic ladder i wouldn’t be interested in any case. Since I could not afford the fees, the question of whether my children would be able to study abroad would therefore be somewhat moot.

I must confess your paragraph

‘But I certainly think that “we” (meaning US and UK citizens) must accept our guilt over Iraq (and many more things besides). This is not too much to ask, and if our children couldn’t study abroud because we steadfastly refused to do so, then this might not be such a bad thing.’

Strikes me as astonishing. You are aware, surely of the massive (dwarfing anything that goes on in the Middle East) violations of human rights in Africa? And, clearly (especially in Rwanda) the general population were wholly implicated. Therefore you would have supported an academic boycott of Rwanda at the time of the genocide?
And the Congo and Sudan at the present time. And then, of course, we return to China and Tibet.

I think people in favour of the boycott should look up the meaning of the word ‘slippery slope’. The end result of this, it seems is that everybody boycotts everybody else and academic discourse entirely breaks down.

Another point that hasn’t been raised is criteria for lifting the boycott. In the case of South Africa this was clear (majority rule). In the case of Israel/Palestine it isn’t: the accusations are broad and wide ranging, and it seems unlikely that they will ever be all answered. So therefore we are talking about a permanent academic boycott of Israel, for ever.

121

Laon 04.24.05 at 4:25 am

Comparing Israel with apartheid-era South Africa seems to be broadly valid: both had basic rights and status determined by ethnicity, etc.

But the comparison, if my memory is correct, works against this idea of an academic boycott. Because though I remember avoiding Rothmans, in my smokin days, South African wines, also tinned guavas (alas) etc, I remember doing so in the company of various South African academics who were passing through my local uni.

That is, the apartheid-era boycott of South Africa never, so far as I am aware, applied to South African academics.

Why not? Probably for the same reason that the boycott of Israeli academics seems like a lousy idea. Because most of them are likely to be on-side, so isolating them seems unhelpful. Because they may be able to speak more freely, or get betyter access to local media, in another country than in their own, so bringing them out can be useful to getting the message out.

And because the opposition to apartheid was not based on racial hostility to white South Africans, but on objection to that government’s policies, so the boycott was aimed at economic goods, not to individual human beings.

So I see no objection in principle to a well-targeted boycott directed at the Israeli economy, linked to arm-twisting in relation to illegal settlements, etc. There may be practical difficulties, but I don’t see in-principal objections.

But from memory, the apartheid example does not support a boycott of Israeli academics.

Cheers!

Laon

122

abb1 04.24.05 at 5:38 am

They don’t boycott ‘individual human beings’, they boycott ‘Israeli institutions’. The effect on individual human beings is probably essentially similar to the result of your boycott of South African wines; only this time academics are affected instead of wine-makers. Boycott is an attempt to influence the government, not to punsh ‘individual human beings’, it’s just an unfortunate side-effect. Also, the Israeli academics are probably in a better position compare to the South African wine-makers you boycotted, because it’s easier for the academics ot find a similar job outside Israel.

123

Luc 04.24.05 at 5:49 am

The academic boycott of SA was real.

Here’s a link with some scholarly discussion about it. (Just a bit of google wisdom.)

http://www.iit.edu/departments/csep/perspective/pers15_1fall95.html

Note the irony that in the short reading I gave it, it wasn’t all that positive about academic boycotts, except for someone from Hebrew university.

124

Laon 04.24.05 at 8:08 am

My memory was at fault in one important respect. There was certainly an embargo against going to South Africa and teaching or researching or administering in one of their universities.

In that sense there was an academic boycott. No-one went _into_ South Africa.

But although one of the papers on the site you cited, luc, claimed that the boycott included a ban on accepting scholars coming _out of_ South Africa, that doesn’t square with my memory or observation. I was active in anti-apartheid stuff in the 1980s, and I remember that one of our resources was academics from South Africa.

They could speak at demos, they could provide useful information, and so on. They could shut up the sort of right-wing politicians media people who said that anti-apartheid activists didn’t know what it was “really like” in South Africa. And so on.

I forgot about the embargo on going _into_ South Africa, principally because it would have seemed unthinkable at the time that anyone would want to. It still seems unthinkable now (of apartheid-era SA), which is why I didn’t think of it. I don’t know anyone who would consider accepting a Uni position in Israel, either. Or Saudi bloody Arabia, for that matter.

But in the opposite direction, people coming out of the boycotted country: I don’t recall there being an agreed boycott on that, or anyone applying such a boycott. And I moved in fairly intensely political circles at that time.

I don’t have documents of the era, etc; I could be wrong. But that’s my memory of it.

Laon

125

luis 04.24.05 at 8:10 am

quick question. Since Haifa U has such a large number of lecturers and students who are Arab – Israeli (citizens)would the boycott apply to them? or would Ms Blackwell and Mr Pappe apply “selektzia” methods (Jews to the right, Arabs to the left)

126

Luc 04.24.05 at 9:42 am

Not to argue with your memory, because all I know are some local facts.

I was too young to remember the whole story, but I ended up at a university where a small, but important part did not join the boycott. As this was still being discussed a long time after the fact, I know that part of the boycott was real.

The (local version of the) academic boycott was not to prevent contact or to shun anti-apartheids activist from SA. It was to end academic cooperation, mostly at an institutional level. And it wasn’t universal, but that was true for about any part of the SA boycott.

127

Hektor Bim 04.24.05 at 7:58 pm

Dan Kervick,

Thanks for the interesting post. I agree it has to be a confluence of many things to explain the powerful hold it has on people. Self-interest, morality, and opportunity all have to come together. Because Israel is a small country surrounded by relatively hostile and humiliated countries, it is easier to push them around. I think the European response also has to be filtered through guilt – Israel was conceived in Europe and made necessary by the Holocaust in Europe, and so Europeans are naturally sensitive to it, both positively and negatively.

abb1,

Actually very little of what you listed is hard to beat:

———————————————-
38 years of illegal military occupation, who can beat that?
———————————————-

China – see Tibet, Xinjiang, and Outer Mongolia.
Soviet Union/Russia – see Kuril Islands, parts of Finland (Vyborg, etc)

—————————————-
Official policies of ethnic discrimination.
——————————————-

Russia – see passes to live in a city/ designed to keep out Caucasians (Chechens, etc.)
China – linguistic discrimination, also economic and bureaucratic, especially in Tibet, Xinjiang
Burma
Pakistan – non-Muslims are second-class citizens, and even “heretical” Muslims
Iran – especially against Bahais

——————————————
Official policies of political assassinations, torture, collective punishment, ethnic segregation. And more.
—————————————-

It is official Russian policy to assassinate elected political leaders of the Chechen state – like Aslan Maskhadov. Collective punishment is common in Chechnya as are concentration camps for Chechens.

——————————————–
Neither Russians nor Chinese have anything like that. Not even Sudan.
——————————–

Wrong! I think I can safely call genocide collective punishment – it is certainly happening in Sudan. Ethnic prejudice is clear in Sudan – non-Arabs are pressed into slavery for example. You just don’t know what you are talking about.

——————————————-
What you see in Russia and China is suppression of garden variety regional separatist movements, not much different in essence from the US civil war.
——————————————–

Someday I should write a book about everyone who tries to compare wars of national self-determination to the US civil war.

The South was in no way ethnically distinct from the North. It was far more distinct within itself than it was from the North.

The American civil war was fought to maintain an economic system founded on slave labor that heavily favored the plantation class. It was started by the South to defend the system of slavery and ended in the destruction of that peculiar institution. The later ethnic component was invented by Southern apologists desperately trying to find something, anything to defend besides slavery. Don’t fall for it.

128

Chris Williams 04.24.05 at 9:16 pm

With all this fuss about Israel, nobody has been bothering to take us to task about our (premature?) anti-Nottingham Universityism. The anti-UK boycott has already begun!

What’s interesting about this resolution is that it’s nothing like Steve Rose’s proposed blanket boycott, and is justified on very different grounds. It looks like there was no majority in the council for a general boycott.

As for Jonathan’s cogent objections to this resolution, I know what you’re getting at, but from here it looks like Sharon is on the road to a bantustan, not a two-state solution. YMMV, mate.

129

Penta 04.25.05 at 3:13 pm

If I can throw some thoughts on this…

Chris:

After the last 3 years, I think any progress is a good thing. This is progress. We shouldn’t oppose it because it’s not completely what might be desired.

Keep in mind: Gaza is not yet a done deal. It’s very bitterly divided Israelis.

But, nonetheless, despite the opposition from within his own party, Sharon is going ahead with it. Despite the fact that there’s an open argument with regards to whether soldiers should refuse orders (despite the fact that there’s been an overwhelming outcry against it). Despite the fact that there may well be violence. Violence, that while we might not agree with it, is in some ways understandable. The people being evacuated see themselves as being forced out of their homes, after the consistent promises to the contrary from governments of every point on the spectrum for the last 38 years. (Like any of us wouldn’t be violently-inclined in similar circumstances? That’d take the willpower of a saint.)

It’s basically guaranteed to be traumatic, deeply traumatic, for Israelis of every stripe.

That’s why this boycott is such a bad idea. Israelis are going to go through trauma basically at the request of the international community; They’re hardly getting anything out of it, after all.

And what does the AUT do? Call for a boycott of Israel.

Pardon me if that makes me wonder if maybe the Israeli right doesn’t have the right idea: They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t, so why the hell suffer?

Regarding settlement expansion: The place where this expansion is happening is generally agreed to be a place certain to be kept by Israelis in any final-status negotiation. It’s not like it’s a new settlement, either; It’s been around for 30 years. Sharon is doing the politically necessary thing for Gaza to come off: Throwing a bone to those in the settlements that would stay, anyway.

That’s politics. The art of the compromise and the deal. The art of the possible.

You’re aiming for the perfect. While that’s noble, it’s not likely.

130

Noah 04.25.05 at 7:36 pm

“Israelis are going to go through trauma basically at the request of the international community; They’re hardly getting anything out of it, after all.”

Not at all. Sharon is pulling out of Gaza because it’s in Israel’s interest to do so. Read “the demographic threat”, read it’s just untenable to keep 9,000 settlers among 1.4 million Palestinians, and read Sharon traded the Gaza withdrawal with Bush for a letter stating that the US expects Israel will keep it’s “major population centers”, in the WB in any final deal, and that in the US opinion it was untenable for Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, proper.

“Regarding settlement expansion: The place where this expansion is happening is generally agreed to be a place certain to be kept by Israelis in any final-status negotiation. It’s not like it’s a new settlement, either; It’s been around for 30 years.”

There is settlement expansion happening all over the West Bank. If you are talking about Maaleh Adumim, the proposed A-E expansion would connect the settlement to East Jerusalem. For obvious reasons that’s very contoversial, and vehemently protested by the Palestinians.

131

Dash 04.25.05 at 9:08 pm

“obsessively anti-Israel” just about captures it.

The flip side of the AUT campaign against Israel is their encouragement of greater ties to Palestinian universities. Here’s some insight into what is happening at these institutions:

http://www.ict.org.il/articles/articledet.cfm?articleid=445

Here, on the other hand, is what is going on at Haifa U:

http://research.haifa.ac.il/%7Ejew-arab/club.htm

Please tell me how anyone but a near-psychotic Israel hater could possibly encourage greater ties with the former while boycotting the latter. In the name of peace, of course.

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pjm 04.26.05 at 2:25 am

Reading this discussion from 1 to 130 at a single sitting, it’s been educational to see the limits of thought available. Israel’s crimes are axiomatic – it goes essentially undebated that Israel is the criminal, or that the verdict of the international community is right. It is of apparently no interest that the Arab bloc, and more widely the Islamic world, has a direct and partisan stake in the issue and is also guaranteed a built-in majority in most fora, a louder voice in the shouting match, and deeper pockets in the propaganda war. You would think that unaligned seekers of truth and fairplay would at least take note.

It also seems to be part of the accepted rules that Israel is to be examined in vacuo. First, it is damned for organizing a state on ethnic & religious lines as if the facts of history were irrelevant (and as if no other state did likewise). Zionism, as a reminder, was born of the millenia-long and almost universal Jewish experience of persecution for religious and/or ethnic difference. The horrors that actually impelled Israel’s creation need no mention. If you are willing to brush that all aside, you deserve no place in this debate. More importantly, contemporary Israeli actions are judged as if they have no context: Palestinian actions are not only not judged, they’re not even mentioned. No justification will be permitted for anything Israel does in the Territories (short of unconditionally evacuating to the Green Line) and Israeli academics will be brought to book. In contrast, suicide bombing of Israeli civilian targets, and other acts of terror, are clearly justifiable (since they are not factored into the reasoning of anyone here) and – unless I missed the reports – the AUT has not proposed a boycott of Palestinian academics who fail to condemn them on moral, or even pragmatic, grounds. Similarly the fact that Hamas and others explicitly aim to eradicate Israel, and just as explicitly will not be dismantled by this or prior Palestinian governments, causes no murmur from the AUT and is apparently seen to have no relevance to Israeli policy.

It would be easy enough to go on in the same vein, but pointless. However, it is fascinating to see how much of the whole debate has simply been removed from the mental map of such a large body of – evidently intelligent – people who have convinced themselves that all they want is justice.

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Nate Roberts 04.26.05 at 4:53 am

As I’ve already stated earlier in this discussion, I am against the academic boycott for pretty much the same reasons as were outlined by Noam Chomsky.

But to put it in my own words, I think it is only through open intellectual exchange that any repressive regime’s practices can ever be challenged. Causing universities –one of the few precious institutions that exist outside of the capitalistic profit motice– to suffer seems counter-productive. Universities and free intellectual exchange should be encouraged.

Boycots that hit a country’s profit-making capacities are of course another thing altogether.

I recognize, however, that a compelling case can be made for the other side. I do not think that the boycott can be fairly characterized as being driven by “near-psychotic Israel haters”. So in the spirit of open inquiry into the subject, I reproduce the following email from Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, which adds some considerations to the debate that I had not been aware of (though they do not, so far, change my basic stance).

Regrettably I could not find this letter on their web-site, so I must post it in full:

YOU BROUGHT THE BOYCOTT UPON YOURSELVES
Gush Shalom Letter to Bar Ilan University

Tel-Aviv, April 26, 2005

To
Professor Moshe Kaveh
President
Bar Ilan University

Dear Sir

In various media interviews today you expressed anger at the decision of British university lecturers to declare a boycott against the Bar-Ilan University, calling it “an unacceptable mixing of politics into academic life”. When asked about the “Judea and Samaria College” which your university maintains at the settlement of Ariel, you stated that this was “an entirely non-political issue” and that said college was nothing more than “the largest of five colleges which Bar Ilan maintains at different locations in Israel”. Indeed, you declared yourself and your colleagues to be proud of the decision to establish the Ariel college, and you felt no contradiction between continuing to maintain that college, at the investment of a considerable part of Bar Ilan’s total resources, and the maintenance of extensive ties with universities worldwide, including in Britain.

As an example you mentioned your own ties as a physicist with Cambridge University and your plans to spend some time at Cambridge this summer – plans which, as you stated, remain unchanged also in the wake of the British lecturers’ decision.

Surely, a person of your intelligence and experience can be expected to note the obvious contradictions in the above position. As you well know, Ariel is not “a location in Israel”. Rather, Ariel is a location in a territory under military occupation, a territory which is not and has never been part of the state of Israel. Moreover, Ariel is a special kind of location: it is an armed enclave, created by armed force and dependent for its continued existence on force, and force
alone.

The creation of Ariel is a severe violation of international law, specifically of the Fourth Geneva

Convention, which specifically forbids an occupying power from transferring and settling its own citizens in the occupied territory. On the ground, the creation and maintenance of Ariel entailed and continues to entail untold hardships to the Palestinians who happen to live in the nearby town of Salfit and in numerous villages a long distance all around. Palestinian inhabitants are exposed to ongoing confiscation of their land so as to feed the land hunger of the ever-
expending Ariel settlement, and their daily life are subjected to increasingly stringent travel limitations in the name of “preserving the settlers’ security”.

The government-approved plans to extend the “Separation Fence” so as to create a corridor linking Ariel to the Israeli border necessitate the confiscation of yet more vast tracts of Palestinian land, depriving thousands of villagers of their sole source of livelihood. Moreover, should the Ariel corridor be completed, it would cut deeply through the territory which the international community earmarked for creation of a Palestinian state, depriving that state of territorial continuity and viability. For that reason, the plan aroused widespread international opposition, not least from the United States, our main ally on the international arena.

In all of this the Bar Ilan University, of which you are president, made itself a major partner – indeed,since a violation of international law is involved, the term “accomplice” may well be used. The “Judea and Samaria College” which you and your colleagues established and nurtured has a central role in the settlement of Ariel, increasing its population and its economic clout. The college’s faculty and students are prime users of the “Trans-Samaria Road”, the four-lane highway which was created on confiscated Palestinian land in order to provide quick transportation to Ariel. The Palestinian villagers on whose land this highway was built are excluded from using it. They are relegated to a rugged, bumpy mountain trail.

It is you and your colleagues, Professor Kaveh, who started mixing academics with politics. A very heavy mixture, such as few universities anywhere ever engaged in. You cannot really complain when people in Britain, who have different standards for what is the proper moral behavior of academics (or for human beings in general) take action which you do not like. In fact, if you are truly proud of establishing and maintaining the “Judea and Samaria College”, you must have the courage of your convictions and take the consequences. Much better, of course, would be for you and your colleagues to sever your connection with the ill-conceived settlement project – and than you can quite rightly demand that the boycott be removed from your university.

Yours

Uri Avnery
Gush Shalom (The Israeli Peace Bloc)

134

Alon Harel 04.26.05 at 6:11 am

While the adovcates of the boycott may have a case against Bar Ilan they clearly have no case against Haifa University. In an email from the AUT which was forwarded to me by a colleague in England the only evidence which is cited against the University of Haifa is a letter of Ilan Pappe himself in which he claims his academic freedoms were violated! This is absurd. The particular complaints against Pappe which were all dismissed cannot indicate that academic freedoms are suppressed at the University of Haifa. At least with respect to Haifa it seems that the decision of the AUT supports the conclusion that the decision was produced by “near-psychotic Israel haters”. It is not an accident that the letter of Uri Avnery does not mention the University of Haifa and to the best of my knowledge there is no comparable letter addressed to the University of Haifa.

135

Nate Roberts 04.26.05 at 7:11 am

You are probably right about that, Alon. I disagree only with the “near-psychotic” charge. Misinformed, mislead, misconceived. But probably not “psychotic” or “haters”.

By the way, had you heard that since the time that this boycott was announced, Prof. Pappe has been asked (but is not being forced) to resign?

Basically, he is being asked to “boycott himself”. Some might say this is poetic justice. Personally, I think the administration of Haifa University should have tried to maintain the hight ground. Instead they are shooting themselves in the foot; now there is no way they can really claim to be against the very idea of academic boycotts in principle.

136

Alon Harel 04.26.05 at 7:35 am

I am not sure I disagree. Yet, it is also the case that Pappe has done his best for a long time to harm the University of Haifa in every possible way. Among other things, it was argued (and to the best of my knowledge never denied by him) that he wrote to colleagues abroad asking them not to cooperate with the university by evaluating the files of candidates for promotion. Although I believe this is not a ground for firing him from the university, it certainly may justify a request to resign.

Alon

137

Dash 04.26.05 at 8:33 am

Again, you can argue the merits of one Israeli university versus another until the cows come home. It completely misses the point.

The underlying truth regarding this boycott is that it is impossible for any fair-minded observer, let alone anyone who is truly concerned with peace and human rights, to encourage support for Palestinian universities that are run by Hamas and glorify suicide bombing, while boycotting Israeli universities. The fact that the AUT has done so is a priori proof that they are not fair-minded, and their goals have nothing to do with peace and human rights. Just the reverse; they have demonized institutions that are among the most tolerant and inclusive in the Middle East, and publicly supported those that openly support and encourage mass murder.

At best these AUT members are ignorant sheep who have foolishly supported the latest politically correct British academic crusade; at worst they are indeed (or are at least led by) hardcore haters of Israel. While I would of course prefer to assume it is merely an odd case of mass delusion, I find it very hard to believe that the people leading this charge at the AUT are honestly unaware of the discrepancy between Israeli and Palestinian educational institutions regarding peace and co-existance. As has been mentioned above, these moralists also choose to ignore other areas of the world where educational institutions are indeed puppets of government policies that oppress citizens and stifle dissent.

The most (if not only) logical conclusion is therefore that the boycotters are driven (to greater or lesser degrees, presumably) by hatred towards the target of their boycott, rather than their love of human rights or an evenhanded appraisal of the wrongs of the Israeli system.

When the AUT cuts off ties with An-Najah and Bir Zeit Universities, when they criticize universities in China for crushing student demonstrations, and when they praise Haifa University for employing and publishing dissidents like Ilan Pappe in the first place, then I will listen to their criticisms of Israeli academia and debate the utility of sanctions in achieving peace in the region. Until then, I must assume that this action is the patently bigoted, one-sided attack on Israel that it appears to be, and not engage in manufactured debate about the applicability of its various provisions. I hope you would all do the same.

138

David All 04.26.05 at 6:44 pm

GIVE EM HELL, DASH!

The attacks against Israel for the high and unforgiving crime of defending itself against those who are trying to destroy are acts of the highest hypocracy. Ironic that left wingers like AUT hate the one democracy in the Middle East, Israel and the one place where their criticism of a govt would be allowed and embrace a society like the Palestinians who oppress women and homosexuals, just to name two groups, that they supposedly support.

This is the result, not so much of anti-Semetism as hatred of America and its triumph over their (the left’s) great friend, the Soviet Union. With nothing but their hatred of the West (whose civilization makes their dissent possible) the die hard Leftists have made common cause with the Islamic Fascists who believe in everything the Left is supposedly against. What binds these two opposites together is their hatred of the USA and its most exposed ally, Israel. Ironic that while Europeans want to honor the dead Jews of the Holocaust, the living ones of Israel are condemmed for daring to fight back and even more outrageous survive and even triumph over their attackers. Guess Europe lost its liking for the Jews when they ceased to go peacfully to their deaths!

139

Nate Roberts 04.27.05 at 3:46 am

david,

So basically what you’re saying is:

“They hate us, because they hate our freedoms.”

This is a very cogent analysis indeed –suddenly everything makes complete sense to me. Why didn’t anyone ever put it that way before?

140

Graeme D Eddie 04.27.05 at 10:49 am

I am ending my membership of the AUT over the recent resolution. Like many, I have a reasonable understanding of the complexities of 20th century history/politics in the eastern Mediterranean and I abhor this boycott based on the call from Birzeit University.

And, yes… where are the AUT statements against honour killings of women in Palestine. Where is the stand of Palestinian academics against this gendercide.

141

Phillip Ein-Dor 04.27.05 at 1:42 pm

On a practical note, is the boycott supposed to apply to both Jewish and Arab faculty members, or to Jews only?

142

Phillip Ein-Dor 04.27.05 at 2:56 pm

On a practical note, is the boycott supposed to apply to both Jewish and Arab faculty members, or to Jews only?

143

Jon Pike 04.27.05 at 8:00 pm

Graeme, please don’t resign, please join with the many other members of the AUT fighting to overturn this decision within the next few weeks. It’s our union: let’s not hand it over to the boycotters.

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