Academic boycott of Israel redux

by Chris Bertram on June 5, 2007

I’m confused. According to the many media reports, the UCU, successor to the AUT and NATFE and the main trade union representing British academics, has voted to reinstitute the boycott of Israeli universities that the AUT finally rejected last year. But in fact, as far as I can tell , the UCU Congress has done no such thing. Rather it has passed some rather wooly pro-Palestinian resolutions and has ordered its executive to promote discussion of the boycott at branches over the next year or so. The practical effect of this in the world is at best close to zero. In fact it is almost certainly negative: no-one actually gets boycotted but the worst elements of the Israeli right (and the likes of Alan Dershowitz) get a renewed opportunity to portray themselves as victims.

Aside from the general stupidity of the boycott campaign (well summed-up by Steven Poole last year), it promises to consume a lot of energy in fruitless arguments that go nowhere. Last time this happened I stood up on my hind legs at my local AUT branch and opposed the pro-boycott motion . I’ll vote against it again this time, when the opportunity presents itself. I have to say though, that I’m a lot less motivated to oppose the boycotters than I was. They are just as wrong as they ever were, but I’ve been sufficiently disgusted by Israeli conduct over the past year (especially in Lebanon) not to feel all that much enthusiasm for making a big effort. And then there’s the fact that when I did speak up against the boycott I received a load of offensive email. Normally, you’d expect to get such email from the people on the other side, telling you what a horrible sellout you’ve been. But I didn’t receive a single bit of hostile email from a pro-Palestinian persepective. Rather, I got a good deal from Likudniks and their American friends who mistakenly assumed that if I opposed the boycott I must share their vile perspective on Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular. (No thanks. Go away! I don’t want email from people like you.)

Martha Nussbaum’s article in Dissent puts the case against the boycott pretty well. However there’s one pro-boycott argument that she doesn’t address and which I’ve not heard a good reply to. It doesn’t, for me, outweigh the arguments against, but I do think it weakens the often-put “double standards” argument that anti-Israel measures unfairly discriminate against Israel since there are far worse countries in the world. (This is often accompanied by the further claim that because Israel is picked out whilst other countries are worse, the motive of the boycotters must be sinister and is probably anti-semitic.) The argument is this: that the Israeli perpetrators of injustice are far more vulnerable to outside pressure than, say, the Chinese or the Russians are. Measures taken against Israel therefore stand a better chance of being effective. The Russian treatment of the Chechens or the Chinese treatment of the Tibetans may indeed be worse than the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. But we can take action now to force the Israelis to negotiate and to end the injustice of the occupation, whereas we cannot act with similar prospect of success against Russia or China. Obviously that argument depends on a number of facts about the way the world is. And those facts are highly contestable. But it doesn’t depend (to the contrary!) on any claim that Israel is uniquely or even especially evil or unjust.

{ 212 comments }

1

otto 06.05.07 at 10:09 am

The South Africans weren’t in fact uniquely evil or unjust either. There were a lot worse places to live, even in Africa. But they were a racist settler state set up by the Europeans and maintained by bigotry in the US and Europe, some of whose policies were solely and purely motivated by racial bigotry and chauvinism. So’s Israel is similarly a racist settler state maintained by the US and the Europeans, and many of it’s policies are solely and purely motivated by ethnic bigotry and chauvinism, including its settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. (I can’t see last year’s Lebanon invasion being anywhere close to the top of the list of complaints about Israel, frankly). It really takes a certain type of accommodation of Jewish chauvinism to be more upset by an academic boycott than by Israel’s persistent and deliberate behaviour.

2

otto 06.05.07 at 10:19 am

In terms of the boycott itself, the best argument for it is one of the second best: I might prefer severe economic sanctions on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 border and compensate the Palestinians, while upgrading academic exchanges and other interaction. But US foreign policy is captured by Israeli-lobby interests, and British foreign policy is largely subservient to US foreign policy, and neither of these two circumstances are at all likely to change. Given that, those in Britain who want to put some pressure on the Israelis to stop their bigotry, and to match in a tiny way the enormous pressures the Palestinians have been under since before 1947, have to take action directly from British civil society to Israeli civil society, of which an academic boycott is the obvious example. Let’s have more of it, including excluding Israel from sporting and other international events. Israeli society is so convinced of its right to colonise and ethnically cleanse the Palestinians that explicit and open rejectionism of Israeli attitudes and policies is required.

3

fred lapides 06.05.07 at 10:57 am

I do not want to engage in a frutiless discussion of the total stupdity of boycotting scholars but would like to note this one thing:

When Israel lashes back at rocket attacks, they are immediately confronted world-wide with media remarks about killing or wounding innocent civilians. And yet, for days now, the Lebanese army has been shelling Palestinians in their refugee camps and not a word has been uttered about the innocents killed, wounded in this camp. Why is this so?

4

Chris Bertram 06.05.07 at 11:06 am

_not a word has been uttered_

(Try google’s news search feature.)

5

Matt 06.05.07 at 11:11 am

Fred- maybe you’re not looking hard enough. For example, if you’d done a simple web search you would have found this Human Rights Watch article called:
“Lebanon: Fighting at Refugee Camp Kills Civilians”
http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/23/lebano15992.htm

A brief scan of the recent NY Times ariticles from the last few days on the subject makes it quite clear that civilians are being injured and killed as well so I think you’re clearly off base.

6

Slocum 06.05.07 at 11:39 am

The argument is this: that the Israeli perpetrators of injustice are far more vulnerable to outside pressure than, say, the Chinese or the Russians are. Measures taken against Israel therefore stand a better chance of being effective. The Russian treatment of the Chechens or the Chinese treatment of the Tibetans may indeed be worse than the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. But we can take action now to force the Israelis to negotiate and to end the injustice of the occupation, whereas we cannot act with similar prospect of success against Russia or China. Obviously that argument depends on a number of facts about the way the world is. And those facts are highly contestable. But it doesn’t depend (to the contrary!) on any claim that Israel is uniquely or even especially evil or unjust.

Right, it depends on the fact that Israel is a “normal” democratic country. If it were authoritarian and more evil like many worse abusers, then it would be left alone to treat the Palestinians as badly, say, as the Chinese treat the Tibetans. It would be free to move as many Israelis into the West Bank as it liked as China has done with ethnic Chinese into Tibet and there would be a few scattered protests but mostly the world would conduct business-as-usual with Israel as it does with China.

It strikes me that there’s a pretty serious moral hazard argument against this approach, which is that a reason for China’s leaders NOT to democratize is that, as a democracy, it would then be granted much less latitude in dealing with Tibet (and Taiwan and other issues) than it is now.

Another reason, of course, is that such unique pressure is applied to Israel but not Russia or China, say, is that applying pressure to Israel (a small country) is cost-free, whereas applying pressure to Russia and China would be economically costly. Russia is slated for elections soon and pressure might have an effect on the results, but no pressure will be applied. And so the morality behind anti-Israel pressure is revealed as merely opportunistic and capricious, which rather tends to undercut its authority, don’t you think?

And lastly — the difference between the treatment of Israel and China is not just a strategic one. It is not as if boycott organizers weighed up the costs and benefits of applying a boycott to Israeli academics vs Chinese academics and concluded, after careful analysis, to chose Israel rather than China as a target. Rather — there is a real, visceral animus felt toward the Israelis that is completely absent toward the Chinese. It is for this reason that antisemitism is suspected as the underlying factor.

7

Chris Bertram 06.05.07 at 11:46 am

Slocum. _it depends on the fact that Israel is a “normal” democratic country”_

No it doesn’t.

8

Martin Bento 06.05.07 at 12:17 pm

For us Americans, at least, I think there is a strong argument that the actions of Israel are more “our business” because the country relies so strongly on our support economically, militarily, and politically. Even from a “realist” standpoint, Israel takes our money and acts in ways contrary to our interests. I realize the latter argument may not appeal either to academics or to the international community, but politics lives on coalitions.

I do think sloc has a point about the moral hazard of holding democracies to a higher standard and the notion that imposing sanctions on Israel is much less costly than doing the same to, say, China. I always thought trade with China should be strongly linked to human rights, but that train seems already gone (thanks, Clinton. And that spy plane business showed us your balls too, Bush). That said, costs of imposing sanctions to the imposers are realistically always going to be a consideration. And the way to deal with the moral hazard is to be more insistent with dictatorships, not less with democracies.

9

Jacob T. Levy 06.05.07 at 12:26 pm

Chris, the argument you mention isn’t so much an affirmative argument as a rejoinder to an objection. That “Israeli perpetrators” may be more vulnerable to “measures” doesn’t mean that this particular measure, wildly imprecisely targeted at “perpetrators,” has anything particular to recommend it.

Something that Nussbaum doesn’t discuss, but that I hear a lot in arguments about boycotts, divestments, and the like, is the appeal to clean hands. And I don’t think someone making a clean hands argument, implicily or explicitly, can extricate themselves so neatly from the obligation to see whether the hand they’re refusing to shake is any dirtier or bloodier than the others they carry on shaking. It adds up to someone employing a kind of ethic of absolute ends in the first instance and then taking refuge behind the ethic of responsibility when challenged– when there’s no particular reason to think that the “keep your cooties off me” policy instruments will be the most effective at promoting the improvement, or that they would be the instruments adopted if one were to sit down from scratch and say “what are the most effective steps we can take to reduce injustice in the world?”

10

Martin Bento 06.05.07 at 12:27 pm

Just to be clear, I do oppose a boycott. Because of its international nature, I don’t think the question of US complicity is Israeli abuses applies, and I think if the academy is going to go down that road, perhaps not a good idea anyway, it should start with the worst offenders, which currently would seem to be countries like Sudan (for genocide) or North Korea (for suppression of its own population). However, further isolating those countries intellectually would probably be counter-productive. I suppose the academy should stay out of the boycott business, at least so far as intellectual isolation, rather than 80’s-style divestment.

11

aaron_m 06.05.07 at 12:27 pm

Slocum,

I am not sure your reasoning is fair. If someone was engaged in the Tibetan cause but not the Palestinian cause we would not simply assume that they did so because of bigoted views against the Chinese.

Under what circumstances would you NOT consider someone who is particularly critical of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians but ignores other problem areas anti-Semitic?

12

Martin Bento 06.05.07 at 12:52 pm

I hope no one thinks that, because I granted some credence to slocum’s first two arguments that I have any respect for his third, his accusation of anti-semitism. That argument is vile and obvious BS.

13

otto 06.05.07 at 1:00 pm

There’s no more evidence that Western activism against Israel is motivated by anti-semitism than that activism against South Africa was motivated by hatred of Afrikaaners as a people. And, of course, the argument that the Soviets and other African states were worse than South Africa was advanced by defenders of apartheid (aka those who did not want sanctions put on South Africa).

14

Slocum 06.05.07 at 1:29 pm

I hope no one thinks that, because I granted some credence to slocum’s first two arguments that I have any respect for his third, his accusation of anti-semitism. That argument is vile and obvious BS.

Let me make it clear — I did not make an accusation of anti-semitism, I suggested why some suspect it (Norm Geras, for example). But it does seem clear that there is a strongly felt animus toward Israel that is absent toward China or Russia. People may realize, intellectually, that they really should care about Tibet as much (or more) than Palestine, but somehow they don’t seem to feel it in the same way (and there are not calls for academic boycotts that get discussed endlessly).

I don’t doubt that antisemitism is a motivation for some fraction (do any of you really think it play no role for any pro-Palestinian activists?) I believe anti-Americanism in a more important factor, though. And then there is simply ‘fashion’ — academics pay particular attention to Israel because it is currently a popular cause in the academic world, and one identifies oneself as a member of the tribe by holding particular opinions about Israel and Palestine.

This combination results in attention all out of proportion to the degree of persecution and size of the countries involved (Israel and Palestine combined are less than 100th the population of China).

15

Chris Bertram 06.05.07 at 1:47 pm

Slocum, it is kind of _obvious_ why people care a lot more about what happens in Palestine than they care what happens in Tibet. It has something to do with our Judeo-Christian heritage, the significance of the territory to the three leading monotheistic religions etc. That isn’t exactly a matter of “fashion”.

16

Chris Bertram 06.05.07 at 1:50 pm

(And I could add to the previous comment that there are additional reasons why the British SWP — the main proponents of the boycott agenda — are so obsessed with Israel that have to do with the biography of their founder and leading light.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Cliff

17

Barry 06.05.07 at 1:59 pm

Chris: “Martha Nussbaum’s article in Dissent puts the case against the boycott pretty well…”

I got about a page into it, and chucked it. She pulled out the old ‘others are worse’ argument.

18

otto 06.05.07 at 2:00 pm

It’s also the case that we – the US and the UK – have been largely responsible for organising the Jewish colonisation of Palestine and have no such role in Tibet.

19

Daniel Nexon 06.05.07 at 2:02 pm

“Slocum, it is kind of obvious why people care a lot more about what happens in Palestine than they care what happens in Tibet. It has something to do with our Judeo-Christian heritage, the significance of the territory to the three leading monotheistic religions etc. That isn’t exactly a matter of “fashion”.”

Why is this any more of a plausible claim than that of those who think that spotlighting Israel reflects anti-semitic bias? Why is this even an *alternative* claim?

I’ve heard senior and respected left-leaning academics reject the boycott proposal via an analogy to South Africa: that the boycott of South African academics was a mistake. Thoughts?

20

aaron_m 06.05.07 at 2:03 pm

Palestine gets more attention than Tibet in part because the conflict in Palestine is much much more violent. The violence in Chechnya is also declining, although there is not good reporting on what is really going on for well known reasons. A generous analysis of why there is more focus on Palestine should at least include the possibility that some reasonably view or perceive, because of media attention, this conflict to be a more urgent crisis.

This does not of course negate the fact that there is a double standard at work because few countries have the kinds of vested interests in good relations with Israel that they do have with China and Russia.

Of course this assessment leads to all kinds of further questions and problems. For example, doesn’t giving attention to violent conflicts actually promote violence? Nevertheless, we can’t get away from the reasonableness of being particularly affronted by ongoing violent conflict. And all this makes the relative lack of attention to African genocides even more suspect.

21

c.l. ball 06.05.07 at 2:07 pm

To deal with the general principle, let’ re-phrase Bertram’s

The argument is this: that the Israeli perpetrators of injustice are far more vulnerable to outside pressure than, say, the Chinese or the Russians are.

to be:

Ceteris paribus, boycotts should be employed in cases in which when the targets are vulnerable to outside pressure.

This seems to rule out symbolic boycotts. Part of the value of a boycott/embargo is that it imposes costs on the persons imposing the boycott as well as the target. It is costly speech; not ‘cheap talk.’ For example, if I do not to travel for leisure purposes to countries that are rated “not free” by Freedom House without openly denouncing government repression or covertly aiding dissidents during the trip, I impose a cost on myself as well — I don’t get to enjoy Laotian cuisine or Cuban cigars. I pay a price to impose the boycott even though its economic significance is nil.

I’m not a big fan of what I consider to be “lazy boycotts” — boycotting X is proposed because X violates principle A, but proponents of boycotting X make no effort to identify whether Y or Z also violate principle A or whether boycotts would be effective against them.

22

Martin Bento 06.05.07 at 2:14 pm

One of my main concerns about Israeli policies is the potential for the problems to escalate severely. These concerns are worsened by the fact that so many prominent Christians and Muslems (don’t know about Jews) are actively pushing for armageddon. I think that the shelling of Israel showed that the country’s days are numbered unless it can make peace with its neighbors; had those been targeted missles with some payload, Israel would be in ruins. I figure Israel has about five years to do one of two things: make peace with its nieghbors or decimate (since it cannot govern) the region. The second is madness and probably wouldn’t work anyway. And a decent solution to the Palestinian situation is a strong prerequisite of the first. So compassion for the Palestinians is not my biggest reason for wanting that situation resolved. The Tibetan situation may be morally worse, considered in isolation, and I’m all for arm-twisting China, or was when that was possible, but the Palestinian situation is more dangerous.

There are two other options I could see: one is that the US dominate the region thoroughly enough that no real existential threat to Israel could emerge. This seems to have been part of the plan we’re been following (though I think the oil was a stronger interest than Israel, but both arrows pointed the same direction on this policy), and it does not seem to be working at all. The other is that Israel give up: as an American, I would favor simply giving all Israeli citizens passports and passage here. If the original idea was to create a safe home for Jews, Israel has already failed; is there any country where Jews are less safe than in Israel? However, currently this idea is a non-starter; neither the Israelis nor the Americans want it.

23

sdf 06.05.07 at 2:21 pm

If you think this will actually change the policies of any government–Israel or otherwise–I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

24

Keely 06.05.07 at 2:36 pm

If the original idea was to create a safe home for Jews, Israel has already failed; is there any country where Jews are less safe than in Israel?

Martin — The way I understood it, the impetus for the Zionist movement in the 19th century was for a homeland where Jews would no longer be dependent on the whims of their hosts. One could argue that Israel is now more dependent than it has ever been — on an external power, the United States, but which small countries anywhere are not dependent to various degrees on larger powers?

25

Bloix 06.05.07 at 2:46 pm

The members of the UCU are state employees. They are hired and paid by the people of Britain to provide a public service: to educate the young and to perform scholarly research. They are not hired and paid to set state policy toward Israel or China or any other foreign entity.

Certainly UCU members have the right to express their political views as private citizens and, by virtue of the necessary protections of academic freedom, in their work, without fear of retaliation. But they do not have the right to allocate public funds in a manner that is intended to effectuate their own political agenda, whether adopted by their union or not.

For example, the editor of a linguistics journal who receives an article of publishable quality from a scholar at an Israeli university, and refuses to publish it in observance of a boycott, is abusing her position of public trust. She is not paid to set foreign policy. She is paid to select and publish good work. If she feels she cannot in good conscience publish the best work in the field due to her political convictions, then her only honorable course is to resign. Otherwise she collects her salary under false pretences.

Imagine a mid-level civil servant who chose to discriminate against a certain nationality or class of persons. He would be fired in a heartbeat. Why does an academic who controls decisions over invitations to conferences, access to laboratories and participation in publications have more latitude than any other government employee?

The entire boycott controversy demonstrates that British academics have no understanding of their own role in society and are on the verge of grossly abusing the protections offered to them by the doctrine of academic freedom.

26

P O'Neill 06.05.07 at 3:01 pm

NYT correction today

A headline on Friday about a growing movement in Britain to boycott Israel economically and culturally referred incorrectly in some copies to a decision reached by the union of public service employees, the largest British labor union. The union said a resolution that would call for a boycott of Israel would be considered at its upcoming annual meeting. The union did not call for such a boycott.

Truly amazing how a story that was not true became so widely accepted so quickly.

http://www.nytimes.com/ref/pageoneplus/corrections.html

27

Marc 06.05.07 at 3:01 pm

I am opposed to academic boycotts on principle. Economic boycotts are a whole different kettle of fish, and I’m a bit surprised that people with strong feelings on this aren’t pushing harder on that front.

Anti-semitism is real, but unfortunately accusations of anti-semitism have been casually used as a tool to shut up critics of Israeli policy. One does not need to look far to see why Israel provokes such a strong reaction. Forty years ago the outside image of Israel was that of a scrappy underdog fighting off bumbling bullies.

The West Bank has now been occupied for more than four decades, which is almost as long as the cold war. Settlers have been systematically displacing the people who lived there. Israeli policy is explicitly discriminatory, in the sense that people with different religions are treated differently. The overall picture bears uncomfortable resemblance to South Africa, right down to the bantustans (e.g. Gaza) and the overall level of violence. Chechynia and Tibet are rough analogs, but only roughly. The argument in Chechynia is not about colonization, and Tibet is no different from the rest of China in terms of the absence of the franchise. It looks very different, of course, from the Israeli perspective. But that was also true for South Africa.

28

Chris Bertram 06.05.07 at 3:06 pm

_The members of the UCU are state employees._

No they aren’t.

29

novakant 06.05.07 at 3:25 pm

Palestine gets more attention than Tibet in part because the conflict in Palestine is much much more violent.

Hmmm, by that logic Africa should have been covered 24/7 on CNN for the last decade or so, but then talking about the middle east is a lot more fun and at least we know who’s who there.

30

abb1 06.05.07 at 3:35 pm

People think that ‘academic’ is roughly equivalent to ‘liberal’. Well, not in Israel; I’ve been there, I talked to some of them.

Dershowitz is an academic. Wouldn’t you want to boycott him?

31

OHenry 06.05.07 at 3:44 pm

is there any country where Jews are less safe than in Israel?

Not necessarily in order of peril…

Iran
Iraq (are there any Jews left?)
Syria
Yemen
Egypt
Lebanon
Tunisia
Algeria
Turkey
Argentina
Venezuela
Bosnia (a few left)
Uzbekistan
Moldova
Greece
Russia
Ukraine
Poland (a handful)

Not to mention countries where Jews lived for centuries before the advent of Islam, but are now expressly forbidden, e.g. Arabia, Jordan…

32

Martin Bento 06.05.07 at 4:08 pm

Keely, it may be that small countries generally rely on larger countries, at least nowadays, but if the idea is to be immune to whims, a small country can at least have a diversity of such contacts. Israel has just the US pretty much. Even a country close to the US, like Belize, seems much less dependent.

ohenry, OK, so the answer to my rhetorical question is yes. It doesn’t change the point, though: Israel is not a safe home for Jews, looks to become drastically less safe over time, and safer homes do exist, such as the United States.

I know a Jewish woman who lived in Iraq under Saddam, married to an Arabic man. Not a problem, she said. But, I suppose like so many things, that attitude got shocked and awed into oblivion.

33

luc 06.05.07 at 4:16 pm

Compare the boycotters to others.

Do US presidential candidates talk about the I/P conflict or Tibet? What do media report about? Blogs?

They all think the I/P conflict is more relevant.

And that is where for me the common argument of singling out fails. Nussbaum suggests that justice requires a comparative study. I’m rather ignorant of that field so I don’t know any of those studies. But I do know that none ever was cited as grounds for intervention, sanctions, boycotts or any other punitive action of this kind that I’m aware of.

So when she says “I am disturbed by the world’s failure to consider such relevantly similar cases” then she should be disturbed about a lot more things going on in this world. Yet she pulls this argument out of her hat just at this opportunity. (And she doesn’t refer to a single example of such a comparison. That’s odd given her expertise.)

I recently signed a Tibet petition. I haven’t asked them for any comparison or their motivation.
And I doubt anyone has.

And last, given the fact that this boycott would be directed at Israel, there isn’t an argument or motivation in the world that can refute the claim that it is singling out Israel. Which probably explains why this claim is the centerpiece in many opposition arguments.

34

Bloix 06.05.07 at 4:23 pm

#28 – ah, an adversary who goes right for the capillary. Look, academics in Britain suck at the public tit whether they are formally state employees are not. Academic freedom means they say what they want, not that they can commandeer public resources for private ends. Academics who make decisions regarding allocation of resources at their jobs based on their personal political beliefs are thieves. They are stealing from their employers and from the public at large. It doesn’t matter whether they think their motives are good. All thieves believe that they are entitled to steal. The entire boycott business demonstrates that British academics have an infantile grandiose view of their role in society.

35

Sebastian Holsclaw 06.05.07 at 4:24 pm

“Tibet is no different from the rest of China in terms of the absence of the franchise.”

I really object to this formulation. First, “the rest of China” conceeds Tibet to China in a way that would never be done with say Israel and the West Bank. Second, is China free to take over whomever it pleases so long as it gives its new subjects the same lack of vote as the old? Again the double standard appears. Why make an argument that China isn’t to be attended to because it mistreats its own citizens more than Israel?

The only reason to go after Israel and not China is a negative reason, China is too big and scary for the UCU to risk attacking. Punishing the most liberal elements in Israel–the academic world–seems stupid too.

36

Geoff 06.05.07 at 4:32 pm

Chris,

I’m unclear why your enthusiasm, for or against a boycott of Israeli academics, should be at all influenced by the actions of the Israeli government. This would be understandable to the extent that Israeli academics influence government policy. But as has been well-established, academics have if anything been far to the left of the country as a whole.

Is this just a rhetorical device to express your dissatisfaction with the conduct of the Israeli government and the quality of the e-mail you receive?

37

Keely 06.05.07 at 4:32 pm

Martin — My point was that while Jews in Israel may be more subject to external attack and terrorism than Jews in the more peaceful environments of the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., and so on, they are also at liberty to organize their collective defence, i.e. they have an army. And while this army is still a client for American and European hardware, Israel’s arms industry is probably more self-sufficient than all but a few countries in the world. This was the lesson Jews learned in Europe in the 30s and 40s, and in the Middle East in the 40s and 50s. That it is a lesson not always conducive to compromise and diplomacy, is another matter.

38

aaron_m 06.05.07 at 4:34 pm

novakant,

Please learn to read.

Notice the “in part” in my comment. Notice my reference and my point in relation to Africa.

39

Andrew R. 06.05.07 at 4:38 pm

Tibet keeps coming up as another example of something else that is terribly unjust. As nice as the Dali Lama may be, and as much as Buddhism may appeal to upper- and upper-middle class Westerners, in the end, the PRC abolished a theocracy in which monastic landlords had pretty much absolute power over their serfs. It wasn’t until close to four decades into his exile that the Dali Lama finally said that a Tibet freed from China should not return to the theocracy.

Okay, done digressing.

40

engels 06.05.07 at 5:04 pm

Why is this even an alternative claim?

Supposing people to have these motivations does not rule out anti-semitism as a motivation of course, but the anti-semitism hypothesis is usually put forward by people who apparently assume that it is the only possible explanation for people paying special attention to Israel/Palestine. Pointing out that actually things are a bit more complicated than that and there are lots of possible reasons, of varying degrees of moral force, for why they might do so shows that their claim is a non sequitur.

41

Omri 06.05.07 at 5:04 pm

Well, if the reason for these boycotts is that Israel is more vulnerable to this kind of pressure, well, I promise to do my bit. I will vote for the most reactionary Israeli party, the one most absolutely impervious to these gestures.

There. Problem solved.

42

Hidari 06.05.07 at 5:23 pm

‘Look, academics in Britain suck at the public tit whether they are formally state employees are not.’

Absolute and total bollocks. Many academics (specifically researchers but also some lecturers) have their fees paid by external funding bodies. I’ve been an academic for nearly ten years now, but I’ve never, EVER, ‘sucked at the public tit’. Instead I sell my labour power to however wants it: some of those who want to buy (but not all) are universities.

Which makes me part of the glorious free enterprise, free market economy. So I can say what I want and boycott who I want.

43

Hidari 06.05.07 at 5:30 pm

‘The only reason to go after Israel and not China is a negative reason, China is too big and scary for the UCU to risk attacking.’

It’s true that there is no particular move to boycott Chinese Universities, but then, to the best of my knowledge, no Tibetan organisation has asked for such a boycott. Palestinian organisations (some of them) have asked for a boycott of Israeli Universities (and some haven’t).

There is, on the other hand, a move to boycott Chinese goods in protest against the situation in Tibet. I take it you will be part of this movement Sebastian?

(The normal ‘don’t boycott Israel’ attitude being ‘Why aren’t they protesting about Chinese actions in Tibet and Russian actions in Chechnya, like I don’t?’)

44

engels 06.05.07 at 5:37 pm

All thieves believe that they are entitled to steal.

They do?

45

novakant 06.05.07 at 5:51 pm

Please chill aaron_m, I was criticizing your contention that there is some relation between level of violence and amount of media coverage. About four million people were killed since 1998 in the Second Congo War and the UN estimates that even after the peace agreement about 1000 people per day die right now as a result of it. The media coverage has been close to non-existent. The total number of deaths in the I/P-conflict between 2000-2006 was around 4000, yet the coverage was 24/7. So I think it’s fair to say, that no such relation exists.

46

Bloix 06.05.07 at 6:08 pm

#42- Yes, external funding bodies – like the seven research councils, which are government funded. You don’t mention your field, but perhaps you get your funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which along with the other research councils is funded by the Office of Science and Innovation, part of the Department of Trade and Industry. Where do you think the money comes from? Do you think that books on Rousseau and the social contract are flying off the shelves at Waterstone’s? This is public money we’re talking about, to be spent for the public good. You are deluding yourself when you say you operate in the free market.

When you apply for a grant, Hidari, you are representing to the grant-giver that you will do your level best to carry out the task that you are set. You do not say, “I will do my job except when I choose to spend the money to advance a political goal of my own.” If If you take the money and then spend it in ways that are influenced by your personal political agenda, you are stealing. You are violating a public trust.

Every managerial employee understands that he can’t prefer his friends when he’s awarding a contract for the copy machine service, and that he can’t choose only his co-religionists when looking to place a print job. But academics seem to think that it’s okay for them to give or withhold public money on the basis of the nationality of the potential recipient, regardless of the quality of the work. Who gave you the right to divert public funds to further your personal goals?

I say it again: any academic who makes decisions over funding, or invitations to meetings, or publications, or any work-related event, on the basis of a personal political view, is a thief. You are stealing public money and you are violating the terms of your employment. Perhaps you think you are Robin Hood. Well, Robin Hood was a thief, wasn’t he?

47

zdenek v 06.05.07 at 6:26 pm

The argument that impresses Chris so much seems actually pretty weak. The main premise involving effectiveness of the boycott is suspect or at any rate we do not know that it is the case that the boycott of Israeli academics will be effective. ( some doubt here because Israeli academics have multitude of international connections and so the British boycott will be merely an inconvenience ).

What does this mean ? Well if we do not know that the main premise of the argument is true we do not know that the argument is sound so it should be obvious that it can not be not persuasive. And the last feature is a feature of all good arguments.

48

abb1 06.05.07 at 6:40 pm

Every managerial employee understands that he can’t prefer his friends when he’s awarding a contract for the copy machine service, and that he can’t choose only his co-religionists when looking to place a print job.

But that’s why they do it thru the union. If their employers (whoever they are) don’t like the boycott, they are free to negotiate or do whatever employers do when they happen to disagree with unions.

Also, if they are indeed employed by the public (directly or indirectly), and if the public doesn’t mind or even supports the boycott (which seems likely), then what’s the problem, where’s the thievery?

49

Chris Bertram 06.05.07 at 6:42 pm

Zdenek, I agree, which is why I said “those facts are highly contestable.” IF the boycott were effective in remedying serious injustice THEN it might be justified (even if more serious injustices were being committed elsewhere).

48: _Do you think that books on Rousseau and the social contract are flying off the shelves at Waterstone’s? _

Hey, you should see my royalties statement! (But don’t expect an invitation to my private yacht any time soon.)

50

John Gardner 06.05.07 at 6:45 pm

I can’t see why anyone has the obligation to be even-handed in campaigning against oppressive regimes. There are a whole host of personal reasons for being selective. I for one care more about the moral fate of Israel than about the moral fate of China because I’ve been to Israel several times and have friends there. I identify with them and that makes me care about the problems that they care about, including the problem of their racist government.

This is no different from someone who cares more about research into heart disease than research into cancer because his or her father died of heart disease. Is this attitude immoral? No. It’s better to cure some diseases than none, and a diffuse campaign about disease in general is less likely to bear fruit than a selective focus on one disease or another. So long as the selectivity is not on immoral grounds (e.g. because cancer is imagined to be a black person’s disease, because Israel’s dominant population is Jewish) there is no credible objection to selective campaigning. Indeed there’s no credible objection to joining one campaign rather than another purely on a whim (e.g. because it is the only campaign one heard about, or the only campaign that exists), assuming it’s a worthy campaign.

I don’t think that the ‘boycott Israeli academics’ campaign is a worthy campaign. But that’s another matter.

51

novakant 06.05.07 at 7:03 pm

john, on a personal level I would agree, but on a global level it’s simply immoral how the deaths of 4 million people in the congo conflict were for the most part simply ignored, while the death of 3000 Americans or the death of a few thousand in the I/P conflict causes the world to be turned upside down – now, where the personal and the universal meet is another question

52

soullite 06.05.07 at 7:10 pm

I think organizations have the right to decide who to boycott.

And john, I don’t get your argument. The problem isn’t when someone cares more about one foreign country than the others. You use China, I prefer that state because I find it’s culture older and more advanced than the Israeli’s. their mythology is much richer, their belief systems far more nuanced, and their literature far superior. Their state is also well… Real. Israeli seems manufactured, and in a large part it is. They are not a self-sufficient country and that lowers them in my view.

But those aren’t really important issues. The real problem is that some people put the interests of foreign nations over the interests of their own. Some of these people are Christians who place religion before country, some are Jews who place ethnicity over nationality. They may trick themselves into thinking our interests are uniquely intertwined, but that’s not a view that can be, or ever has been, validated by an argument as to how that is so. I don’t really mean to single out Israeli interests in this, it’s hardly unique to them. There were plenty of Irishmen in this country who send money to the IRA, despite the importance of this nations alliance with England. Don’t even get me started about Cubans in Florida. It’s a problem that some people want to put use our government to further the interests of another nation, even in spite of the nation they claim fealty too.

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Bloix 06.05.07 at 7:15 pm

Chris, I chose Rousseau intentionally to see if you were reading. I’m happy to get a rise out of you.

abb1 – the union gives them the muscle to say, we’re going to steal and we dare you to try to stop us. If a group of bandits are powerful enough to cow the state into allowing them to operate with impunity, that doesn’t make their thefts legally or morally just. Like a store owner who pays extortion money every week to the mob, the government may decide to put up with the boycott because the alternatives would be worse.

And the boycott is not accomplished “through the union.” The union has voted to adopt a boycott, but the actual boycotting will be done by individuals whose power to make the requisite decisions comes entirely through their employment or their grant contracts. The union does not have the power to boycott. Only individual academics do.

I have no objection to boycotts by people who are using their own money and acting on their own time. If a British academic decides not to go on holiday to Eilat and refuses to buy Jaffa oranges, that’s fine. But if a British editor of a publicly-funded journal refuses to print an article of publishable quality by, say, an Israeli sociologist, that’s theft.

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zdenek v 06.05.07 at 7:22 pm

Chris but this is also you:

“However there’s one pro-boycott argument that she doesn’t address and which I’ve not heard a good reply to. It doesn’t, for me, outweigh the arguments against, but I do think it weakens the often-put “double standards” argument that anti-Israel measures unfairly discriminate against Israel since there are far worse countries in…”

Here is the thing, if the argument in question is weak for the reasons I mention it cannot weaken anything since it is hopelessly weak itself. At best you can say ” if the argument was any good then it might do such and such ..” but this is worthless as a defense of anything surely you can see that.

Another thing of course is that when you say ” I vave not heard a good reply to it…” you are assuming that the argument works ( i.e. is sound and persuasive ) but as I showed this is an illicit move.

55

seth edenbaum 06.05.07 at 7:27 pm

The issue is one of perceived proximity: the Israelis’ politically and culturally are “us” the Chinese et al are “them.”
That’s the main problem the threat of a boycott gives offense to so many.

PACBI
Electronic Intifada

not a word has been uttered
(Try google’s news search feature.)”

But in this country I rely on blogs by Arabs and Arabists to get any detailed information.
As’ad AbuKhalil
Arab Links

Tanya Reinhart on the boycott.

56

Bernard Yomtov 06.05.07 at 7:33 pm

#50

I can’t see why anyone has the obligation to be even-handed in campaigning against oppressive regimes. There are a whole host of personal reasons for being selective.

This is no different from someone who cares more about research into heart disease than research into cancer because his or her father died of heart disease. Is this attitude immoral? No.

I think the flaw here, and in the argument Chris likes, is the assumption that the propsed action is costly, and that it is wise to allocate resources where they will do the most good. The researcher can’t study all diseases, but must choose.

The UCU can pass as many angry resolutions as it likes. Hence its selectivity is suspect.

#22

If the original idea was to create a safe home for Jews, Israel has already failed; is there any country where Jews are less safe than in Israel?

I think the briefest glimpse at twentieth century history ought to be enough to concvince anyone that the original Zionists were quite correct that Jews needed a homeland to be safe. You might even want to examine the post-war experience of the survivors.

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abb1 06.05.07 at 7:34 pm

How is it a theft, I don’t see the logic. It’s a policy implemented by a union. I’m sure unions implement and enforce all kinds of policies reflecting the will of their membership, that’s what they do; why is this one so special?

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Chris Bertram 06.05.07 at 7:37 pm

Zdenek – the point is that the disagreement with someone putting this argument is different in kind, it is a disagreement about the facts. The possibility that a good argument of this type might be put undermines the argument that claims that we ought not act against injustice A when injustice B is worse. Sometimes we ought to act against injustice A even given that B is worse, since we can make a difference re A but not B.

If you concede the possibility also of reasonable disagreement about the facts, then you also ought to concede the possibility that someone favouring the boycott does so because they believe that it will make a difference. In such a case, the suggestion (often made) that something sinister must lurk behind their position is shown up for the cheap debating tactic that it is.

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seth edenbaum 06.05.07 at 7:38 pm

“I think the briefest glimpse at twentieth century history ought to be enough to concvince anyone that the original Zionists were quite correct that Jews needed a homeland to be safe.”

A homeland that that they control even if in the minority
or a homeland that is only a “home for the jews?”

Recently the chief of the Shin Bet declared that the “Israeli Arabs”, a fifth of Israel’s population, constitute a danger to the state.

He requested permission for the General Security Service to act against anyone who aims at changing the official designation of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” – even if they use nothing but completely legal means.

It follows that In the view of the chief of the Security Service, a central figure in the Israeli leadership, the task of the Shin Bet (now commonly known in Israel as Shabak) is not only to protect the state from spies and terrorists, but also from any challenge to its ideological designation, like the KGB in the former Soviet Union and the Stasi in communist East Germany. (The excellent Oscar-winning movie “The Life of the Others”, now screening in Israel, shows how this worked in practice.)”

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Bloix 06.05.07 at 8:14 pm

abb1 – Unions do not implement policies that advise their members how they may spend their employers’ money. A public employees union cannot implement a policy that says, “our members must place print jobs with Christian printers” or “our members may not attend meetings with persons having Hispanic surnames” or “our members must purchase photocopy paper only from wholesalers who pay 5% to the Union benefit fund.”

Academics are given a very wide latitude in how to expend public funds – including their own salaries or grant funding – because it is recognized that academic work contributes to the public good. Academics must have a significant amount of freedom from retaliation in order to do their work, hence the concept of academic freedom.

Now, suppose we have a linguist who edits a scholarly journal of translation studies, which is funded by government grants. Her salary and that of her staff is paid by the taxpayer because a decision has been made, via the political process, that the people of Britain are well-served by the existence of scholarship in this field. Some of her funding comes from subscriptions, which are purchased by universities and libraries funded by the government, and the decisions to subscribe are made by government-funded employees who have been entrusted by the people of Britain to decide which scholarly journals are required by the participants in those libraries and universities. But in the end, all or virtually all the funding is public.

Now, suppose this editor receives an article that meets her requirements as publishable. It is in her view, a valuable addition to the corpus of translation studies. It is something that would be useful to the scholars who read this journal. It would advance the goal of her journal, which is the increase and dissemination of knowledge in the field of translation studies.

Nonetheless she decides not to publish it, because the author has a position at the University of Haifa. Instead she publishes an article that is not as good but is by a scholar at Penn State.

In doing so, she deprives the readership of her journal of an article that they are entitled to receive and would benefit from reading. She has explicitly subjugated her judgment in the area of translation studies, a field in which she is a recognized expert and in which she has been entrusted with public funds, to her judgment in the field of Israel-Palestine relations, an area in which she has no expertise and no position of public trust. She has used the money given to her to publish the best available scholarship for an entirely different purpose – to coerce a change in Israeli government policy. Her journal is now not the best translation studies journal she could publish. It is an inferior publication because it excludes work that is better than the work she chooses to publish. Because she is choosing not to do what she was hired to do – to use her expertise and her academic freedom to publish the best possible journal that she can – she is stealing the money that has been entrusted to her.

She is of course entitled to have a personal view, as every citizen and voter is entitled. She may work tirelessly in her own time in favor of a boycott of Israeli goods and services. But it is unethical for her to use her position of public trust to advance her personal political views.

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Hidari 06.05.07 at 8:16 pm

‘You don’t mention your field, but perhaps you get your funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which along with the other research councils is funded by the Office of Science and Innovation, part of the Department of Trade and Industry.’

And perhaps I don’t. And perhaps I get all my money from private companies. Yes, that seems more likely.

Piece of advice mate: when in a hole, stop digging.

62

Bloix 06.05.07 at 8:52 pm

Well, Hidari, if you get your funding from private companies (and again you don’t specify your field) then you are an exception to the rule. But suppose you’re a computer scientist of some sort. Would you refuse to purchase a text authored by an expert at the Technion? Suppose it is a text that may advance your work by several weeks? Would you refuse to attend a conference at which that expert is speaking, even though his presentation is directly related to the topic of your grant? Did you tell your grantor that you will not do the best work of which you are capable because your political beliefs prevent you from taking advantage of the best research available? If you did not then you are stealing from your grantor. The fact that your grantor won’t ever know it does not change the ethical status of your actions.

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abb1 06.05.07 at 8:58 pm

I think the briefest glimpse at twentieth century history ought to be enough to concvince anyone that the original Zionists were quite correct that Jews needed a homeland to be safe.

Should this really be the lesson of the 20th century? Now, I’m not an erudite academic, but even I could easily come up with something much more enlightened and comprehensive.

64

Martin Bento 06.05.07 at 9:41 pm

Keely, OK, but you appeared to be responding to me, and your comment is only of relevance to a rhetorical question I posed on which my argument does not rely. In any case, I thought it uncontroversial that Israel is dependent on the US in a very basic way; Military independence without economic independence doesn’t count for much in any but the short-term. It is interesting that I made what I think it is very stark assessment of the situation, and a deliberately provocative proposal as to one of the solutions, and all anyone seems to be up to responding to is the rhetorical question, which I should have omitted as it has proved distracting.

Bernard, the Holocaust showed that Jews were not safe in mid-20th century Europe. That doesn’t prove or even support that they are not safe in the United States now. Questioning whether Israel has really been an effective solution to the problem of Jewish security is not at all the same as denying there is or has been such a problem, and it is intellectually dishonest to conflate the two positions. I suppose it is possible in theory that the US will someday again be an inhospitible environment for Jews – a great many things are possible in theory – but what I said, and what no one seems prepared to address, is that either Israel or the bulk of the Middle East is doomed if Israel does not reach peace reasonably soon. I’m not arguing that this is theoretically possible; I’m arguing that it is the logical trajectory of the current situaiton. Needing a homeland, at least that specific homeland, to be safe is only really a viable position if they are in fact safe, and one has only to picture last year’s bombing with better missles to see how unlikely such safety is a few years out.

In any case, I’m not opposed to a Jewish homeland in Israel, but I don’t see it as viable without a peaceful relation with its neighbors. The only other basic alternatives I see are what I mentioned: 1) Decimate the region to such an extent that it will not in the foreseeable future be able to launch an equivalent of the Hezbo missles attacks, but with targetted, payload-carrying missles. 2) Have the US effectively govern the region. The current administration seems quite willing, but unable, and this solution does not seem viable 3) Abandon a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. This is commonly phrased as “pushing the Jews into the sea”, so I put forth a proposal that amounts to no such thing. 2 won’t work; 1 should be unthinkable, and also won’t work. If 3 is unthinkable or won’t work, that leaves peace. Peace or annihilation.

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engels 06.05.07 at 9:56 pm

Shorter Bloix: If I choose not to associate – eg. for personal reasons – with someone whose cooperation would advance my research, I am “stealing” government money.

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zarzur 06.05.07 at 10:07 pm

“I thought it uncontroversial that Israel is dependent on the US in a very basic way; Military independence without economic independence doesn’t count for much in any but the short-term.”

Israel’s total PPP-adjusted GDP is about USD 160 to 180 billion, with a growth rate of 4.8 percent in 2006 and expected growth of about 4 percent in 2007. American aid in 2006 totaled $2.5 billion. In other words, not only does American money account for less than 2 percent of the Israeli economy, but if discontinued tomorrow, it would be absorbed into current-year growth. Israel is no more economically dependent than any other country that receives American military aid, and probably less so than most.

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Bloix 06.05.07 at 10:13 pm

Engels, you can “associate” with whoever you want to associate with – dinner, movies, golf, holidays at the shore, whatever you want. But you may not refuse to hire the best candidate for a job based on that person’s politics. You may not refuse to publish the best research in the journal you control based on the author’s nationality. You may not take money that has been entrusted to you for a specific purpose – to do the best possible research and teaching in your field- and use it for a different purpose – to coerce political change in another country. It’s unethical. Who here wants to argue that it is ethical, instead of setting up straw men and knocking them down?

68

Hidari 06.05.07 at 10:25 pm

‘Israel is no more economically dependent than any other country that receives American military aid, and probably less so than most.’

Weeeeeeeeeeeeell….up to a point. The other factor, of course, is that Israel trades a great deal with the US. The other factor is that Israel knows that she is a LOT safer with the strongest military power the world has ever seen behind her then…well….not. The point is not that Israel would simply collapse without US help: we know that’s not true. The point is that ceteris paribus Israel would rather have US help and support than not, and that, since, their broad aims in the region are the same, it is seldom in Israel’s long term interests to go against the specific aims of American foreign policy.

There are also cultural factors that also tend to link Israel to the US, not least the influence of the Christian Right in the US.

It’s not that Israel would simply curl up and die if the US stopped its military aid. But its military and financial situation would be greatly weakened. Moreover, say the US did stop its military aid…where would it go? Israel is well aware of the strong Saudi lobby: a tilt away from the Israelis would almost certainly lead to a tilt towards the Arab states.

In other words it is very very very very very much in the interests of Israel to stay in the US’ good books.

69

Hidari 06.05.07 at 10:26 pm

Bloix

You really have absolutely no concrete, empirical experience of how modern academia works do you?

Also I would check up the word ‘steal’ in a dictionary. It doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means.

70

engels 06.05.07 at 10:30 pm

Bloix – Yeah, I’m sure we all agree professors can play golf with whoever they want. I was talking, as I think you were, about association in a professional capacity. Your claim that the choices of individual academics in these matters must pass a test of objective likelihood to optimally advance their areas of research is far too restrictive and does I think cut into freedom of association.

I think your problem starts with your assumption that academic salaries are “money entrusted to” the academic for him to do the best possible research, where the means for achieving the latter are to be objectively assessed. That is a very idiosyncratic view of the purpose of academic pay and the role of academics.

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engels 06.05.07 at 10:31 pm

And what Hidari said about labelling everything “stealing”.

72

Quo Vadis 06.05.07 at 10:42 pm

But we can take action now to force the Israelis to negotiate and to end the injustice of the occupation, whereas we cannot act with similar prospect of success against Russia or China.

This argument conveniently defines “success” in such a way as to support its point. Does anyone seriously believe that an end to the “injustice of occupation” as defined by the typical western academic would resolve or even significantly mitigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on the people involved? The rhetoric coming from neighboring countries and the ongoing chaos in Gaza has put an end to the illusions I once had about the viability of a two state solution. In the current political environment nothing short of the dissolution of the state of Israel would end the conflict and this academic boycott will do nothing to bring that about.

Let’s face it, this boycott is purely symbolic and what it symbolizes is poorly defined and justifiably open to interpretation.

73

Keely 06.05.07 at 10:43 pm

Martin–I realize that your throwaway line about the relative safety of Jews in Israel vs. the U.S. was mostly rhetorical. My own – partly rhetorical – point concerned the fact that Jews now have an army. There is an important qualitative difference between being “safe” in another country and being threatened but well-armed “at home”. In the light (shadow?) of 20th century history, I can’t imagine Jews in Israel giving up their army. As for your three alternatives, # 3 was never thinkable, post 1948, and at this point in history too many people/countries/organizations would not let it happen. I think, as well, that a Palestinian state is also inevitable, regardless what some hardliners in Israel might believe. And, even when faced with a belligerent Hamas regime, polls suggest that most Israelis concur. The trick is to persuade this majority of Israelis that concessions and withdrawals are in their best interest, and recent events in Gaza and Lebanon haven’t helped.

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Bloix 06.05.07 at 10:48 pm

Hidari once again does not respond sustantively. BTW, “steal” means among other things to take money under false pretenses.

Engels, if you think my views of the role of scholars in society is incorrect, what is your view? Do you think that the public at large chooses to pay the salaries of people who have spent years studying medieval architecture or South Asian languages in order to set national priorities in health care, energy use and foreign policy? If you do I assure you that you are incorrect. Academics are trained, hired, and paid in order to do scholarship. If you take the money you are given for scholarship in order to do politics, in which your expertise is if anything less than that of the average educated citizen, then you are breaching your contract with society, which did not ask you to use public funds to set national priorities.

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zarzur 06.05.07 at 10:49 pm

“The other factor, of course, is that Israel trades a great deal with the US. The other factor is that Israel knows that she is a LOT safer with the strongest military power the world has ever seen behind her then…well….not.”

With respect to the first issue, the EU superseded the US as Israel’s largest trading partner at the time the EU-10 acceded. As for the second, this is true, but the same is true of any other small country with a great-power or regional-power patron. Most countries have an interest in staying in some other country’s good books, and Israel isn’t uniquely or even unusually dependent in that respect.

You’d also be surprised what people do and don’t “know” about whether Israel would collapse without American help. I’ve seen educated people argue in all seriousness, on this blog, that Israel had no economy and was entirely an American charity case. That’s at least as jarring as hearing that Israel is a “manufactured” country – which of course it is, but isn’t that true of all nations if you go back far enough?

Anyway, all this is mostly beside the point, but I do think that the boycott is partially informed by the perception of Israel as an artificial, dependent state, or as Chris argues, one that can easily be swayed by outside pressure. That isn’t so, regardless of the merit (or lack of merit) of its policies.

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Bernard Yomtov 06.05.07 at 11:16 pm

Martin,

the Holocaust showed that Jews were not safe in mid-20th century Europe. That doesn’t prove or even support that they are not safe in the United States now. Questioning whether Israel has really been an effective solution to the problem of Jewish security is not at all the same as denying there is or has been such a problem, and it is intellectually dishonest to conflate the two positions.

It was not only the Holocaust, and not only the middle of the century. There was ample evidence on the point both before and, startlingly, after WWII. Where should survivors have gone? Returned to Poland, perhaps? Or was the Soviet Union more hospitable?

Are Jews safe in the US today? Of course. But mass migration of Israelis to the US, even leaving aside from the effects it might have on that safety, is not remotely probable. So I don’t see how that addresses the question of whether Israel “has really been an effective solution to the problem of Jewish security.” The question is what would have happened had Israel not been created.

abb1,

Should this really be the lesson of the 20th century? Now, I’m not an erudite academic, but even I could easily come up with something much more enlightened and comprehensive.

The lesson? No.

One lesson? Yes.

77

Martin Bento 06.05.07 at 11:20 pm

Zarzur wrote:

“Israel’s total PPP-adjusted GDP is about USD 160 to 180 billion, with a growth rate of 4.8 percent in 2006 and expected growth of about 4 percent in 2007. American aid in 2006 totaled $2.5 billion. . In other words, not only does American money account for less than 2 percent of the Israeli economy, but if discontinued tomorrow, it would beIf the government increases spending by 2% of GDP b absorbed into current-year growth.”

The second assertion in no way follows from the first fact, as that is not a legitimate way to calculate impact. At a minimum, you have to account for money multiplier effects, which dramatically increase the impact of infusions of money. Assuming that 2.5 billion of aid has only 2.5 billion of GDP impact is way off – Econ 101, the macro part, will tell you that quite clearly.

78

aaron_m 06.05.07 at 11:30 pm

Novakant,

#45

You claim that how much violence there is has NO relation WHATSOEVER to how important people think a conflict is. ?????

1) WTF are you talking about? That claim is patently false.

2) I never claimed that violence translates directly into a relative proportion of media attention. In fact I argued that this is not the case for violence in Africa, which is under reported given the level of violence. But, this fact does not amount to level of violence being of no relevance.

Please have the decency to admit that 1) you misrepresented my original comment and 2) that you are wrong on the fairly simplistic issue I was addressing.

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zarzur 06.05.07 at 11:44 pm

“At a minimum, you have to account for money multiplier effects, which dramatically increase the impact of infusions of money. Assuming that 2.5 billion of aid has only 2.5 billion of GDP impact is way off”

This is true if the infusion of cash is spent in the target economy. About 75 percent of American aid to Israel is earmarked to be spent in the United States, and the goods to be purchased – military hardware – tend to sit around until used rather than providing economic benefit to Israel. I don’t have my Econ 101 textbook in front of me, but I doubt the stimulus effect of this money is very great.

80

rilkefan 06.05.07 at 11:55 pm

seth edenbaum, you messed up the html in your Shin Bet comment. Plus you’ve linked to a citeless op-ed at Counterpunch.

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chris stiles 06.06.07 at 12:47 am

rilkefan —

There are other links out there, just search on “shin bet israeli arabs”. Here’s one from Haaretz

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novakant 06.06.07 at 12:56 am

aaron:

The Second Congo War is the bloodiest conflict since WW2, yet it is barely ever reported on and it is not part of the public consciousness at all.

Your thesis has to accomodate for this. It doesn’t and that’s why you are forced to resort to weasel words. It happens to the best of us.

83

Tracy W 06.06.07 at 12:56 am

bloix has a good point. Take the example of those Australian researchers (Drs Marshall and Warren) who discovered that many ulcers are caused by bacteria rather than stress. Imagine that an Isreali academic made a similar discovery of medical importance. What academic researcher could justify boycotting that work?

One of my brothers suffered a bad head injury. My mum just came across an important piece of work done by an Israeli head injury centre on patients who have had amazingly good recoveries from head injuries. Anyone going to advocate that New Zealand medical staff specialising in head injuries should ignore that work?

Obviously research in areas like physics or chemistry or horticultural techniques has less of an immediate connection to human welfare than medical research. But there the points still remain, though the connection is less direct. An academic’s first dedication should be to the truth. If an academic boycotts ideas just because they come from Israelis, the academic is not merely betraying the taxpayers, but the truth, and retarding the advancement of their science. This implies that only academics who believe that their work is irrelevant to human wellbeing can justify boycotting other academics.

This argument is independent of the Israeli governments’ policies.

84

Martin Bento 06.06.07 at 12:57 am

Bernard, my point is that Israel has to come to peace with its neighbors, and soon, or it will be destroyed, possibly taking much of the mideast with it if it tries to solve its problems by force. The purpose of the Israeli immigration proposal is, first of all, to think a little outside the box, so as to look at all the possibilities not just the likely ones – I’m trying to be reasonably exhaustive here, because I am claiming “no alternative”, a strong claim – and, secondly, to show that one can be williing to see Israel “wiped off the map” without advocating the “Jews be thown into the sea”, thus countering some common rhetoric.

If we’re going to get into historical counterfactuals, I think a much stronger moral and, in hindsight, practical case could have been made for carving the Jewish homeland from the hide of Germany while it was in no position to object. That is not what the Zionists wanted, but there is a difference between what you can claim for security reasons and what your little heart desires. Perhaps Europe would not have accepted it, though I think otherwise; but there is no way to resolve the issue, and it’s not going to happen now. I’m not saying Israel was a bad idea. Had things gone a little differently later on, it’s not hard to see that it could have worked, and I still have (fading) hope that it can work. But it is time to recognize that it is in serious danger of not working – of not remaining a viable state – and it cannot counter these threats solely through military means and shouldn’t try. It will obtain peace, within a few years, or die, and it doesn’t matter a whit who does or does not find the end of Israel “acceptable”. Me personally, I don’t care who runs that chunk of real estate, and I’m for separating the combatants so they stop hurting each other. But I think the industrialized west has gotten used to the idea that the world’s possible outcomes are constrained by what the West, especially the US, happens to find acceptable, which is not the case.

85

Lord Acton 06.06.07 at 3:50 am

martin suggests:

” … Israel has to come to peace with its
neighbors, and soon, or it will be destroyed …”

How very ironic this being the 40th year to the
very day since the Arab tried – and failed miserably – to do just that in 1967.

Perhaps you missed that issue of the Guardian.

And it is also somewhat a flight from reality
given that Israel is at peace with both Egypt
and Jordan.

Or are you suggesting that Arabs are untrust-
worthy? That Arabs make peace treaties which
they will tear up ‘soon’? How very racist of
you.

What you are engaging in is, of course, an
exercise in terror. “You Jews better do what
I say or YOU WILL BE DESTROYED”.

I guess it is better that you are using words
and not using missles. Have you considered
strapping on a suicide belt to make your
point even more emphatically?

86

SG 06.06.07 at 3:57 am

Tracy W, imagine that a plant available only in South Africa was shown to provide a cure for HIV in, say, 1985. It would have been a gold mine for the apartheid government, and we would have been in an unpleasant position with our little boycott. There is no special condition attached to academic boycotts in this regard, and the argument you put (like Bloix`s argument about unions “stealing government money”) is an argument about the righteousness of boycotts generally. In fact your argument is really just a small part of the broader argument about why people don`t boycott china – the cost to them is too great.

After all, the kiddies throwing stones at Israeli tanks and copping head injuries from rubber and real bullets in the 90s probably don`t care overmuch about some person with a head injury in NZ who could get better treatment if only the Israeli oppressors could trade freely. That is a cost *we* can choose to bear, but those kiddies rely on us choosing to bear some kind of cost in order to change the policy of their oppressor. I would argue that the fact that western societies aren`t even willing to consider the marginal cost of an academic boycott shows just how low in the scheme of things we place muslim kiddies.

87

seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 4:20 am

“seth edenbaum, you messed up the html in your Shin Bet comment. Plus you’ve linked to a citeless op-ed at Counterpunch.”

That “citeless op-ed” is written by Uri Avnery.

And here’s the Haaretz link

88

Tracy W 06.06.07 at 5:23 am

imagine that a plant available only in South Africa was shown to provide a cure for HIV in, say, 1985. It would have been a gold mine for the apartheid government, and we would have been in an unpleasant position with our little boycott.

This one strikes me as dead simple. If that happened, then dump the boycott to get the plant. How could anyone live with themselves if they didn’t?

I am opposed to apartheid, I am of mixed-race myself so I’ve never come across a racist society that’d be good for me and my loved ones. But introduce a bit of practicality here for Christ’s sake – in 1985 we had pretty good predictions that HIV would infect millions. The moral complexity of that choice is about zero. Of course boycoutts should be dropped when the cost to boycoutting is too high. Do you really think that all those people who get Aids count for less than the victims of apartheid?

And can you really advocate a NZ doctor ignoring research on head injuries that might help their patients just because it was done by Israelis? You’re kidding me. What happened to the doctor’s obligations to serve their patient? If I had a choice for my brother between a doctor who was prepared to ignore research just because it was done by Israelis and a doctor who’d use every thing they could I’d pick the second without a moment’s hesistation. Again, no moral problems here for me.

Far more people suffer head injuries than just Muslim kids and Muslim kids will continue to suffer head injuries even if Israel suddenly disappeared tomorrow (I presume that Muslim kids outside a war zone are likely to ride bikes into car doors or fall out of trees or off playround equipment or drop heavy books onto their head or otherwise get head injuries like everyone else). Everyone around the world deserves treatment for their head injuries that is informed by the best medical knowledge, and the faster that medical knowledge advances the better. Head injuries are an ongoing problem to far more than Muslim kids, I think Christian kids and atheist adults and Hindi teenagers and Wiccan grandparents count for as much as Muslim kids. And there are a lot of Muslim kids who don’t live anywhere near Israel and therefore aren’t at any risk from the Israeli government. You don’t mention them. Don’t try to claim the moral high ground on me.

Plus I’ve read enough history to know what happens when scientists start placing other priorities above improving human knowledge. For a start, they stop being scientists. Any academic who boycotts Israeli academic work should include a disclaimer on every paper, book or blog post they publish to the effect that they have placed other considerations above the accuracy of their work.

89

Ragout 06.06.07 at 5:25 am

Seth,

While tapping the phones of “enemies of the state” isn’t something to cheer, it’s something that pretty much every western democracy does. What exactly does this have to do with anything being discussed in this thread?

And why are you taking credit for someone else’s work? I assume, along with rilkefan, that you probably just made a mistake with html when you posted several paragraphs from the Counterpunch article as if they were your own thoughts. Still, I think your reply should have acknowledged the mistake.

90

Martin Bento 06.06.07 at 5:32 am

Lord Acton. When faced with a response that is that irrational, dishonest, and rife with ad hominem attacks and other cheap shots, whether it is worth the effort to respond is not an easy call. Well, here goes:

Forty years ago, Israel did very well. Meanwhile, last summer, as I said, they had missles pounding them for weeks and couldn’t do anything to stop it. Said missles were not guided and had little payload, so they mostly blew up dirt. But similar missles that do not have these limitations exist in greater numbers all the time. What the bombing showed is that Israel has no defense against such an attack. Pointing this out is not threatening Israel; it is facing reality. By your “logic”, those, for example on the Israeli right, who hold that Israel is existentially threatened by Iran’s nuclear potential are also “threatening Israel”, since they too are claiming that a catastrophe could likely await Israel if their council is not followed.

Israel being at peace with Egypt and Jordon is hardly sufficient. For it to be made safe by peace, it must be at peace with every force that constitutes an existential threat, not just with some of them; otherwise, it is still, by definition, under existential threat. And you pile bullshit on bullshit: no peace with Egypt is not relevant, but even if it were, I have said nothing about Egpytian likelihood to break the truce, and even if I had, that would not necessarily be a racist inference, depending on my basis for the assertion, of which there is none: I made no such assertion. So many layers of bullshit in so few words: impressive in its way.

Oh, look at me, I’m feeding a troll. Never mind.

91

Tracy W 06.06.07 at 6:09 am

Thinking about it a bit more, if academics start boycotting Israel, where would it end? The arguments for boycotting China equally are of course obvious. Or Russia over Chechnya. Japan over its refusal to face up to its WWII war crimes. The USA over the death penalty. The United Kingdom over Iraq. India and Pakistan over their conflict over Kashmir. Australia over Aboriginal health figures, etc, etc (obviously I am merely mentioning one possibility per country when often there are myriads of possible causes. I am not trying to pick the worst example per country, just ones that come to mind and I can spell).

If you place boycotting Israel above doing the best academic research, then why not any other case of serious wrong-doing by another government elsewhere in the world? Yes, this is a slippery slope argument but I think it’s a valid one.

This would limit academic research more and more. Even if as a result of the boycott every country reformed in five years (which I think would be on the miraculous side) that’s the time that can be spent doing a post-graduate degree. The education of hordes of students would be harmed – and to the extent that those students would go on to do something useful with their studies the harm would spread even further. And what’s the likelihood that success of the boycott would simply lead for calls for more boycotts of further, more minor issues?

Economic boycotts make more sense in a moral view. Money is to be spent, and to be spent on a diverse range of matters. Deciding to “spend” say $100 million on boycotting a country means spending less on health care or on scientific research or on rescuing the blue-eyed penguin or recording Maldivian folk dances for posterity, or whatever, those are the sorts of trade-offs unavoidably made every day by people. Cutting the flow of ideas off though is different – it changes the very nature of academic research and it reduces its quality. It shifts academic research from a search for truth inevitably constrained by resource availability, to a search for truth constrained by both resource availability and moral judgments of who is “acceptable”. It degrades the truth-seeking purpose of academic research and makes that merely a secondary consideration after the academic has approved the person’s moral standing. This is an extremely serious change.

92

SG 06.06.07 at 6:49 am

In that case Tracy W, are we to infer that if someone tomorrow publishes a cure for ectopic pregnancies using forcibly impregnated North Korean prisoners, we are honour bound as scientists to use the material, even though it was obtained under completely unethical circumstances? After all, we can`t shift to a search for truth constrained by moral judgements about who is “acceptable”. And if we place other priorities above the quest for knowledge, we (in your words) “stop being scientists”. Presumably this applies to the work of all those nice nazi scientists – can`t boycott any academic work, after all, can we? It`s special.

All of your arguments at 88 and 91 are arguments about all boycotts, as will be your inevitable response to my nazi example, i.e. that they have a price and we have to decide whether the price is worth it. You don`t think the price is worth it in this case, and many people agree. But the price is not “special” because it concerns academic product. You just price this product above, say, plasma screen TVs (which everyone knows are Israel`s main export product).

But if, on the other hand, you thought the price was marginal (as I do) and you opposed the boycott on the basis that the consequences for the west were too high, then you would be saying that you don`t value muslim kiddies very much. My apologies if my statement to that effect in my previous comment implied such a judgement on your part.

I think that there are better arguments against the boycott than the marginal loss of knowledge it might cause.

93

SG 06.06.07 at 6:56 am

Ragout, that kind of stuff up happens all the time in comments on this site. First time I`ve seen anyone ever stoop to accusing the victim of plagiarism for it! Especially when following the link will give the credit where it`s due…

94

zdenek v 06.06.07 at 6:59 am

re 58 ( Chris B ). Is this right ? : “If you concede the possibility also of reasonable disagreement about the facts, then you also ought to concede the possibility that someone favouring the boycott does so because they believe that it will make a difference.”

Yes but then if this is the principle underpinning the proposal ( lets boycott/ punish those who can be punished as opposed to those wrongdoers who are not punishable ) then we should expect a *consistent application* of this principle : we should see US academics being on the list or Australian academics . Do we see such a proposal ? No. So it is unlikely that any such principle is involved.
And hence it is unlikely that what we have here is a plausible explanation of why Israel and Israel alone is being singled out for punishment.

95

SG 06.06.07 at 7:12 am

Maybe there are lots of reasons for different academics wanting to “single out” Israel? Maybe:

– they think Israel is a really bad human rights abuser and they boycott all such organisations, but in this case there is a movement they can get to support them
– human rights abuses by a nation which claims flight from a history of oppression for its people particularly stick in the craw of some academics, and rouse them to action where mere human rights abuses would not be enough
– they think Israel`s position and behaviour are a greater threat to world peace than [insert other chickenshit rights abuser here]
– they live in a country whose support of teh war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, and Israeli military actions makes them feel a particular desire to boycott Israel
– they think that the boycott will send a message to their own government, and thus will change their own government`s actions
– they think Israel is a particularly heavy “exporter”, if you will, of academic product, and so they believe that this particular boycott will work particularly well for this country
– they are anti-semitic
– they had a bad holiday in Israel once
– they know people in Palestine
– they preferentially want to influence “European” nations, i.e. nations in their own sphere of the world, but like most of the commenters on this blog, they believe that the US`s consistent bad behaviour is a series of one-off errors, so they don`t think of boycotting that nation as well

The fact that all these ideas come together for Israel is possibly just unfortunate concidence; but more likely it indicates that Israel is in a special position as a human rights abuser (though not necessarily a particularly specially serious abuser), and therefore gets “singled out” for special attention.

96

abb1 06.06.07 at 7:14 am

Well, Bernard, even as just ‘one lesson of the 20th century’, this idea that the Jews (as defined by all the various strains of antisemitism I suppose?) need to be moved into the middle of Levant and equipped with an all-powerful army – it strikes me as extremely myopic, Homer-Simpson-style judgment.

97

Tracy W 06.06.07 at 7:19 am

Scientists are honour-bound to use the knowledge developed by the Korean researcher, but not the technique (assuming the results are relevant to their area of science, I don’t imagine they’d be that useful to scientists focusing on say diabetes, and I think I’m safe in saying that they’d be irrelevant to a geologist).

And political scientists are honour-bound to study the political tactics used by the Nazis (and as an economist I thought that recent study of the Nazi economy was important, though heart-breaking in its further revelations about the pointless suffering the Nazis caused). And psychologists are honour-bound to study the brain-washing techniques used by the Chinese if that is relevant to their particular area of research.

You are perfectly right in your implication that there are ethical limitations on research, particularly on humans, that should be obeyed. I should have added that in as one of my constraining factors. However I still maintain that academic work is special in that its value depends on its truth and starting to ignore people’s contributions based on them being Israeli alters academic work in a way that is wrong. (I also think that journalism is special too as its value also depends on truth).

98

zdenek v 06.06.07 at 7:34 am

sg yes exactly the proposal to boycott Israeli academics is extremist. Thanks for making the point for me.

99

Z 06.06.07 at 7:38 am

I don’t know about the proposed boycott in this particular case, but every proposition I have seen circulated in my field included a sentence along the lines of “I will continue my personal cooperation with individual researchers”. So all that debate about the loss of knowledge looks quite out of place to me. That said, I do wonder: what practical efficient measures can one take to advance the cause of justice for Palestinians? It seems that my state, and hence my vote, has precisely zero influence, so what then?

Oh and Zdenek, in my field (again) there are several proeminent actors who do boycott american institutions because of the war in Irak, of course along the lines I described above (they of course continue personal collaboration). A very active boycotting movement existed during the war in Vietnam. Same was true with respect to Soviet Union and Afghanistan. So we do see instance of what you say there is none, and so there is a consistent application of the underlying principle. I guess there is no need to point out that the end of your post is thus a nasty innuendo of the kind that is so common when discussing the policies of Israel.

100

ejh 06.06.07 at 7:39 am

I think it should be pointed out that it has taken sixty years to get to this point: to talk seriously, outside the Arab world, about boycotts. It’s not something that’s been rushed into, is it? For that reason I take strong exception to Chris Bertram describing it as “stupid”.

Why has it taken so long? I’d like to say “because everything else has been tried”, but the truth is there’s been very little effort at all, on the part of Israel’s powerful backers, to try anything else. All the peace processes – not that there’s ben many – have been one-sided shams. They’ve all offered the Palestianians, who should be equal partners in any process, next to nothing.

Now why is this? Bluntly, because it suits the US and its Western European allies that it be so. They perceive it to be in their interest. So the agenda that they promote is one where Israel’s security (which in practice means its domination of the region and of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and within its borders) trumps everything else. Everybody else must provide all the guarantees that Israel wants – which will never be enough – and then perhaps there will be a process that will maybe lead to some sort of splintered Palestinian state that will be utterly subordinate to Israel.

So what’s the alternative, Chris? What alternative is there, other than the apeal to world public opinion? How can Israel be moved other than in the way that South Africa was moved? And how is it unreasonable for academics to propose sanctions which are sanctions in their field? Sportspeople and sporting organisations boycotted South Africa through sporting sanctions. Musicians operated a boycott of musicians. Academics would do so through academic sanctions. Clearly there are problems with this – of course there are. But surely while this grotesquae injustice continues to prevail and be underwritten by Western governments, then the process must start eventually.

I have no doubt, by the way, that the current movement to boycott will be defeated, for the while. But it will return, and have to do so, because people who argue that it is stupid and self-defeating (or that its advocates are “obsessed” with Israel, a stupid argument in itself) will not be able to show any meaningful alternative. And it will also get the question properly out into the open so that it is finally discussed properly in the West. God knows it has taken long enough.

Finally, I’m very tired of the argument “why aren’t you talking about Tibet” (or one could say “Western Sahara”, or others). It’s more and more a do-nothing argument (even when it is not, as it often is, a big “hint hint” that the boycotters are anti-Semites). Don’t do anything about this crime, there’s another crime along the street. I know about the other crimes. If people wish to argue that China or Morocco should be called to account then let them do so.

But then again, neither of those countries have reams of otherwise liberal intellectuals queuing up to lend them support and inists that they are the victims of a situation in which they are in fact the perpetrators, do they? Why do people single out Israel, Linda Grant? Because you do. Because you lend it support in a way which you do not for any similar manifest injustice.

And because it’s been sixty years. Pity’s sake, there’s nothing stupid and nothing premature and nothing unreasonable about it. It’s time.

101

MFB 06.06.07 at 8:03 am

ejh is right. An academic boycott will not damage the Israeli state. Nor is it likely to be hermetic; if an Israeli inventor discovers a cure for George W Bush, it will be applied, regardless of boycotts.

However, an academic boycott crystallises the notion that intelligent people with time on their hands have come to the conclusion that Israel is behaving badly and deserves to be ostracised. That’s an important issue. It is also a left-wing issue, and academics supporting it means a gain for the left.

All symbolic, granted. But we in South Africa were quite happy to receive symbolic responses. I well remember when Conor Cruise O’Brien ostentatiously broke the South African academic boycott (funded by the apartheid state). It served to concentrate local minds wondrously that such an obviously odious man was on the other side. So don’t underestimate the importance of this; it can do a lot of good.

102

zdenek v 06.06.07 at 8:10 am

re 101 please do yourself a favour and read Martha Nussbaum rejoinder to this nonsense ( link provided by Chris ): “However, an academic boycott crystallises the notion that intelligent people with time on their hands have come to the conclusion that Israel is behaving badly and deserves to be ostracised. That’s an important issue. It is also a left-wing issue, and academics supporting it means a gain for the left”

103

Chris Bertram 06.06.07 at 8:25 am

So what’s the alternative, Chris?

The alternative to doing something counterproductive and self-defeating is not to do that thing.

104

ejh 06.06.07 at 8:29 am

Well, only if you acccept that it is “counterproductive and self-defeating – rather than difficult and beset with potential problems. If there were an easier path do you not think it might have been travelled by now?

105

ejh 06.06.07 at 8:35 am

And I don’t think it will do simnply to say “well, let’s not do that thing”. I appreciate that there is an argument which goes (if I correctly quote Sir Humphrey) “we must do something ,this is something, therefore we must do this” and I’m not going to put it. But there is also an argument that says “when people have to access to power snd the decks is stacked against them then all alternatives are difficult – but they cannot be expected indefinitely to do nothing”.

106

Chris Bertram 06.06.07 at 8:45 am

ejh: I think there are many things that can and should be done by the electors of wealthy societies, especially in getting their governments to pressurize Israel to negotiate a just settlement. I think, though, that a boycott of Israeli academics by British academics is stupid, counterproductive and self-defeating, so I’m not in favour of it.

107

engels 06.06.07 at 8:46 am

lets boycott/ punish those who can be punished as opposed to those wrongdoers who are not punishable ) then we should expect a consistent application of this principle : we should see US academics being on the list

You’re joking, right? You really think it would be practical for any country to boycott the US?

108

ejh 06.06.07 at 8:50 am

Chris – how do you expect people to demonstrate to their representatives that they think Israel should be punsihed and that they take this seriously, other than by demonstrating this in their own practice? What measures would be on your list and why do you consider them effective?

109

Chris Bertram 06.06.07 at 8:59 am

No, ejh, I’m not going to be bounced into turning this thread into a list of “measures” for you to pick at. If you can give some good (or just non-risible) reasons to believe that the academic boycott will make a just outcome more likely rather than less, then please do so.

110

ejh 06.06.07 at 9:02 am

To be honest, Chris, I don’t much fancy your tone on this thread. I could do without “non-risible”. I’ve not treated your views or the subject without respect and I would appreciate it if you would demonstrate the same courtesy.

111

SG 06.06.07 at 9:04 am

zdenek these ideas don`t necessarily all come together in the same mind. But they indicate a movement to boycott Israel might have broader foundations among western academics than other countries like, say, the US. You can cast them as extremist if you like, but they all exist to varying degrees (including not at all) in the minds of varying academics. This confluence of motivations does not exist towards, say, Australia. So a movement to boycott its academics over Aboriginal issues can`t be formed so easily.

This is really just equivalent to saying that Israel occupies a special historical place. What`s the big deal with saying such a thing? Do you think Israel isn`t special? If not, why do you care what happens to it any more than, say, Liberia? Or any country (e.g. Kosovo) whose provenance is disputed in its own region? If you think Israel is special, doesn`t this mean its behaviour will get special attention? And attendant special (in all meanings of the word) suggestions for boycotts? And don`t try the facetious out of saying “oh, well, I don`t think it`s special, I just want consistency.” Because lots of people (including those who continue to vote to fund its army heavily) obviously do. And no-one in this world is ever consistent.

112

zdenek v 06.06.07 at 9:05 am

“You’re joking, right? You really think it would be practical for any country to boycott the US”

No it would have incredible symbolic power if British academics boycotted US academics , it would be propaganda coup. ( notice that those hostile to Israel are even more hostile to US ).

True what about the lucrative book contracts and nice conferences … I know that makes it very impractical.

113

zdenek v 06.06.07 at 9:21 am

sg– what you say goes some way towards explaining why the call for boycotting of Israeli academics takes place I suppose but you offer no *justification* for singling out Israeli academics.

That is you do not provide any reason why it is the right thing to do. And that is what you are asked to do.

114

ejh 06.06.07 at 9:26 am

The question of why Israel is singled out has been taken up by several posters above, myself included. It is possible that no answer we will give will ever be considered satisfactory. It is also possible that this is because we will never say “we admit it, we are unmasked, our motivation is anti-Semitism”.

115

ejh 06.06.07 at 9:33 am

Meanwhile, back at the “what else?” debate – this question exists regardless of whether or not people think it needs to be answered. If we are told that there are effective means of pressurising Western governments to do something meaningful and serious and lasting about Israel then it is reasonable to ask what things those are.

It is not reasonable to say that the answers must be given and found satisfactory before the proposal for a boycott can be criticised. Of course. But it is reasonable to say that in a situation of difficult alternatives then a position of “this is rubbish and stupid” is, to be polite, less than constructive.

How many times can people simply say “this is wrong” without saying what they think is right? How many times can they do so and think that their opinion is making any sort of contribution?

116

Hidari 06.06.07 at 9:35 am

In response to zarzur, I actually agree with everything you say, but I still think it kinda misses the point.

The point is not about the ‘absolute’ or ‘objective’ relationship between countries: the point is the ‘relative’ and ‘subjective’ relationship between countries.

The fact is that in the context of the middle east Israel is an extremely big player. Israel is not, actually, quite the economic success story its supporters imply, but compared to its neighbours (most of which are economic basket cases) it is an economic powerhouse. And a lot of this has to do with trade with the United States (it’s not fair to compare the EU with the US: it would be fair to compare individual countries within the EU with the US).

And this goes even more so with its military force. The IDF is not quite the super-efficient military force its supporters make out (especially not nowadays), but, again, it is clear that compared to its Arab neighbours, it is the superior power. And a great deal of this is due to Israel’s military alliance with the United States.

Likewise, until incredibly recently, Israel won (or at least didn’t lose) every war it fought and this ‘subjective’ impression of Israel being an unbeatable military force gave it much of the clout that it did (and still does) have. No Arab country was prepared to go ‘up against’ Israel because it was a ‘well known fact’ that they would inevitably lose. And the knowledge that behind Israel stands the United States has gone a long way to reinforce that aura of invincibility.

In other words, it’s true that Israel wouldn’t collapse if the US withdrew its support. But it would lose its air of invincibility and its huge regional superiority, and this would greatly weaken Israel’s negotiating position. Moreover the US wields a lot of power over other countries and over the World Bank, the IMF, the UN and other organisations. The US could make life very very difficult for Israel if it so chose. And this is different from many/most other countries because of Israel’s subjective self-image as a ‘lone’ ‘Western power’ ‘surrounded by’ hostile anti-Western Arab states. From what I can tell, the Israeli political class have managed to convince themselves that they ‘must have’ a major first world, rich, powerful, military sponsor or the Arabs will drive them ‘into the sea’. And you don’t get more rich or powerful than the US. This is a subjective view but it is still very (subjectively) real for all that.

So make no mistake it is very much in Israel’s self-perceived interests to do (more or less) what the US wants her to do (especially as, most of the time, US and Israeli interests are congruent).

117

zdenek v 06.06.07 at 9:45 am

“The question of why Israel is singled out has been taken up by several posters above, myself included”

Actually what you provide is laughably weak and convinces nobody ( accept on the extremist fringe ), also try to read your critics for a change ; you might start with M. Nussbaum ,link to whom is provided above because you sound like a broken record.

118

abb1 06.06.07 at 9:47 am

If you’re a consistent opponent of singling out, why not protest, say, the US singling out Cuba? No matter how you look at it, it’s gotta be way more egregious case of singling out than any singling out a UK academic union can do in respect to Israel.

Unless, of course, you’re a kind of opponent of singling out that insists on singling out only one (and always the same) specific case of singling out.

119

ejh 06.06.07 at 9:50 am

Actually what you provide is laughably weak and convinces nobody

Well, we shall see, shall we not? I think it will convince more people the longer time passes, the longer the manifest injustice prevails, the worse that injustice becomes and the longer that alternatives fail to materialise.

120

zdenek v 06.06.07 at 10:10 am

This is for ejh :– Look the main purpose of the proposed boycott is to undermine legitimacy of Israel as a country : to isolate, not its government ,but its people; make them social outcasts and hence is a form of discrimination.

As such and because it is argued for by extremists it needs to be resisted and not promoted.

Is this anti-semitism ? Not necessarily but it energizes and clearly maps onto anti-semitism.

121

luc 06.06.07 at 10:27 am

Reading Nussbaum doesn’t help. All you get is overly generalized ethics without any serious precedent in the real world. And a bland list of alternatives and a rather odd view on the SA boycott.

“I would not favor an academic boycott in any of these cases, but I think that they ought to be considered together, and together with yet other cases in which governments are doing morally questionable things.”

And that includes the maltreatment of women.

There have been lots of boycotts and sanctions etc. Yet never ever has someone evaluated all the ills of governments around the world in a systematic manner before deciding. Because it is impossible. And that is what Nussbaum wants.

Instead of actually using the arguments from that article, it is again being used in the style of “look another prominent scientist is against the boycott!”

122

abb1 06.06.07 at 10:44 am

Look the main purpose of the proposed boycott is to undermine legitimacy of Israel as a country : to isolate, not its government ,but its people; make them social outcasts and hence is a form of discrimination.

Backwards. The main purpose is to facilitate the restoration of legitimacy of Israel as a country.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 10:49 am

“Instead of actually using the arguments from that article, it is again being used in the style of “look another prominent scientist is against the boycott!””

No this is not right. You are saying that critics of the boycott on this thread are relying on an argument from authority which is rubbish.

The line taken rather has been : take the best justification of the boycott and you will see that it has been shown to be flawed by Nussbaum .This is not an argument from authority and is perfectly legit.

Note btw that you yourself have nothing to say about how good N’s rebuttal is so I am not sure why you say she is not much help.

124

ejh 06.06.07 at 10:54 am

One wonders whether anything would have been done about any injustice in history had the advocates of action beeen required to act against every other injustice first.

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Chris Bertram 06.06.07 at 10:58 am

ejh. _To be honest, Chris, I don’t much fancy your tone on this thread. _

Possibly not. In arguing both that the boycott is wrong and that the portrayal of the boycotters by the anti-boycotters is unfair I risk upsetting lots of people on both sides. Try to look at the upside.

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luc 06.06.07 at 11:03 am

“Note btw that you yourself have nothing to say about how good N’s rebuttal is so I am not sure why you say she is not much help.”

I specifically cited an argument (about the “singling out” issue.) I haven’t seen anyone else do that. Neither any reference to an actual argument from the article. If it were so convincing then some references would be in place.

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ejh 06.06.07 at 11:05 am

I think the point is Chris that it’s one thing to use the language of error: that’s fine. But if you use the language of stupidity and yet don’t have anything more constructive to suggest, you risk appearing more arrogant than is entirely necessary. Perhaps that approach has too much of a downside?

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 11:40 am

re 126 :– “I specifically cited an argument (about the “singling out” issue.) I haven’t seen anyone else”

Yes but try to get what N says right first because what you say is a gross distortion of her view ( she is not saying that you must look at all wrong doing everywhere ) but simply the most vivid one.

Why do you think this is required ? It is a matter of justice . Suppose we are trying to catch speeders on the road. We clearly can not catch all of them so supppose we just arrest women because they resist less and are easier to catch. And we ignore everyone else.

Why is it wrong to arrest only women offenders ?
Because it is unfair and something like that is involved in boycotting only Israeli academics.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 11:47 am

“One wonders whether anything would have been done about any injustice in history had the advocates of action beeen required to act against every other injustice first.”

If I ask you not to arrest young black offenders only and try to catch other wrong doers too I am not asking you to consider all other offences first or arrest all other offenders first. What is being asked for is fairness and justice. If you arrested only black offenders that would be discrimination so why is it not if you boycott only Israeli academics.

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ejh 06.06.07 at 11:52 am

Because you’re not ruling out boycotting anybody else, are you? Nobody’s saying “only Israel can ever be boycotted”.

I don’t think, incidentally, that “what is being asked for is fairness and justice”. I think what is being asked for is “waiting forever before fairness and justice arrive”.

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engels 06.06.07 at 12:01 pm

Suppose we are trying to catch speeders on the road. We clearly can not catch all of them so supppose we just arrest women because they resist less and are easier to catch. And we ignore everyone else. Why is it wrong to arrest only women offenders ? Because it is unfair and something like that is involved in boycotting only Israeli academics.

This kind of comparison seems thoroughly wrong-headed. Judicial punishment is subject to very different ethical constraints than a boycott, which is not an exercise of state power but a political campaign on the part of a coalition of private individuals.

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engels 06.06.07 at 12:16 pm

A word on boycotts in general. A boycott is a political campaign by a group of private individuals. It seems to me that on a broadly liberal view of justice the constraints which govern boycotts are not strict, at least in comparison to some of the examples (of eg. judicial power) which people are bringing up. It also seems to me that boycotts are, by their nature, discrimatory and even perhaps “unfair”. To take one example:

Anti-sweatshop protesters boycott Nike over the working conditions in its factories in overseas countries. There are many other companies in Nike’s market committing similar wrongs, or worse, but the protesters choose to “single out” Nike, partly because they decide it makes sense to go after a single target to send a message to others, partly because Nike is a high profile target, partly because they feel Nike will be more vulnerable to the bad publicity the boycott would generate than other companies, perhaps partly because they feel that Nike’s actions are especially hypocritical in the light of its public rhetoric, and partly for other reasons. No doubt by doing so they are being “unfair” on Nike: Nike’s directors and shareholders will suffer more as a result of the boycott than directors and shareholders of other companies which are complicit in similar or worse practices. But leaving aside the issue of whether one supports this boycott, I do not think that singling out Nike in this way is unethical.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 12:41 pm

“Judicial punishment is subject to very different ethical constraints than a boycott, which is not an exercise of state power but a political campaign on the part of a coalition of private individuals.”

Like what ? I dont understand what “different ethical constraints” means, sorry.

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luc 06.06.07 at 12:43 pm

It is not the impression she gives that she wants just the most vivid ones compared.

“By failing to consider all the possible applications of our principles, if we applied them impartially, we are failing to deliberate well about the choice of principles.”

And the specific references she gives to a wide range of abuses makes it hard to actually consider all of them, let alone make a meaningful comparison between for example “indifference to the lives and health of women” and apartheid as she suggests.

The trouble with your example is that the discrimination between two groups is established beforehand in an apparently unjust way.

But to make it into a realworld example, local cops check bikes (if they got lights etc.) specifically in the evenings on locations where many students pass. Is it unjust just to target students? Surely if you’re a student it looks that way. But since students are thought of as large scale violaters it really isn’t. But the cops can’t show you any report that they compared their action against students with actions against taxis driving too fast. Someone made the decision to target students, got it approved and you’ll have to live with it. Unless you can convince the major that the police have the wrong priorities.

I.e. convince the union that they should end their boycott.

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Hidari 06.06.07 at 1:07 pm

‘Why is it wrong to arrest only women offenders ?
Because it is unfair and something like that is involved in boycotting only Israeli academics.’

Or, therefore, boycotting Israeli anything. Or any academics anywhere. Or anyone anywhere.

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engels 06.06.07 at 1:21 pm

I dont understand what “different ethical constraints” means, sorry.

I don’t want to be rude, but perhaps you should read the whole sentence again, with a bilingual dictionary if necessary? But I’ll try again: police or judges acting in an official capacity as agents of the criminal justice system are to be held to standards of fairness which are not applicable to an association of private individuals pursuing a political campaign.

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SG 06.06.07 at 1:22 pm

zdenek you are being deliberately obtuse. First you describe a list of reasons given for ‘singling out’ Israel as ‘extremist’ (even “I know people in the country”). Then you ignore all counter-examples (like Abb1’s, of Cuba) and suggest we are somehow being silly by not also boycotting the US. Then you change the language slightly, demand that people give real reasons for the boycott (not just the ‘singling out’), i.e. that we devolve into an argument about why Israel is bad. [You may not realise this, but on this website we aren’t allowed to get into dissing Israel directly – it’s “anti-semitic”, so we can’t talk about the bad things Israel does. Which is why we are all talking around the issue.] Anyway, having done that you pretend not to understand the difference between a union of individuals choosing to boycott a section of a state economy, and a judicial system (with the imprimatur of the state) choosing to single out a group which is committing the same crime as everyone else. This is particularly – how shall we put it – obtuse? We’re talking boycotts here dear, not war and not state supported sanctions.

Finally of course you haven’t suggested an alternative approach (and I think we can all guess why). So what, really, is left to talk about?

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Bloix 06.06.07 at 1:28 pm

Engels says, “A boycott is a political campaign by a group of private individuals.”

But that is my point. This boycott is not a political campaign by private individuals in their role as private individuals. It is a campaign by persons who are utilizing resources that have been placed under their control by their employers to conduct a political campaign that is not sponsored by those employers.

If I choose to have my car serviced at a service station owned by co-religionist, even though he is more expensive than another shop, that’s my free choice. If I choose to have my employers’ fleet serviced by a co-religionist whose services are more expensive, then I have abused by position of trust by diverting assets belonging to my employer for a purpose of my own.

If as a reader of novels I choose not to purchase books by Israelis because I dislike Israeli policies in the occupied territories, that is my free choice. If in my position as medical librarian at a university I choose not to subscribe to journals published in Israel, then I have abused by position in which I have been entrusted to make subscription decisions based on value to my scholarly community, not based on my own personal political views.

This point, which is so obvious as to go without saying in the non-academic world, seems to be beyond the comprehension of academics. I suspect this is because academics are protected by academic freedom, which properly permits them to say whatever they believe without fear of retaliation. But academic freedom is not limitless and it can be abused.

There is no possible objection to an academic speaking and writing against the Israeli occupation of the territories. A lecturer in public health has every right to write and lecture about the effect of the occupation on the health of Palestinians and may do so in the most vigorous manner in any forum.

But that same lecturer may not ethically refuse to permit a researcher from presenting at a conference work solely because of the researcher’s affilation with an Israeli institution. Her own institution did not give her the authority to make decisions over invitations to conferences in order to permit her to join in the conduct of a political campaign. Her employer has invested her with a public trust that she has earned by virtue of her expertise in public health. She is not invested with the right to use public funds to achieve goals that are irrelevant to her employment, in a manner that actually degrades her performance of her genuine responsibilities.

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SG 06.06.07 at 1:37 pm

Tracey at 97, you’re actually wrong. Medical researchers at least are honour-bound NOT to use the results described – we have ethics committees to make sure that that sort of crap never gets published. If you scout about a bit online you’ll find articles by doctors pointing out that even referencing the stuff is bad (there is one in the BMJ). So yeah, we maintain a fairly solid boycott of all that stuff, and it makes us, in your original estimation “not scientists”. We aren’t, as it were, dedicated to the truth above all else. Or we prefer to take the long and more polite way to finding it, rather than knocking up a few prisoners, studying the resultant pregnancies, and making a name for ourselves in the Lancet (to finish the example).

So yeah, in that sense I have no problem with academics deciding to extend that boycott to other ethical conundra. It has been extended to animal research, for example, and generally in Australia people are very careful about research with Aborigines. Extending it to Israel is hardly an exceptional suggestion (though for all the reasons described above, it might not be sensible, right or effective; but that has no bearing on whether it makes us less dedicated to the truth).

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Thom Brooks 06.06.07 at 1:38 pm

I must say that I deeply appreciate Chris’s initial post and I especially enjoyed reading Nussbaum’s piece in Dissent. I agree with both: a boycott of academics by academics is ridiculous, it will achieve nothing positive, and it may well do us all a world of damage.

One thing that has struck me is that time and time again we find philosophers, etc. of reputation arguing against the boycott. What academic of high standing is for the boycott? I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by the names of people supporting the boycott. It makes me think we have better things to do and bigger fish to fry than this one…

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engels 06.06.07 at 1:40 pm

Bloix – They’re not proposing spending AHRB grants on machine guns for Hamas. They’re talking about refusing to associate with Israeli companies and universities. It just isn’t a fair or reasonable description of that policy to call it a misappropriation of public funds.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 1:41 pm

luc:– “most vivid ones” refers to wrong doing and not principles. So you are running things together. More important to say as you do that it is hard to consider all the relevant cases of wrong doing is not a criticism of N. That is partly her point to point out that we need to work harder to do the right thing.
So it strikes me like you do not understand what she is up to in that article.

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abb1 06.06.07 at 1:57 pm

What academic of high standing is for the boycott? I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by the names of people supporting the boycott.

Maybe that’s simply because the pro-boycott argument doesn’t require sophisticated sophistry and elaborate talking points. Low standing suffices.

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abb1 06.06.07 at 1:59 pm

Hmm, sophisticated sophistry. Ah, whatever.

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Hidari 06.06.07 at 2:18 pm

I think an article in Haaretz sums up this debate quite well…..

‘The world sees Israel as an occupier, and its increasingly sullied image in the conflict with the Palestinians is a result of this. But the Israeli sees himself a victim of Arab aggression. He is fighting for his life, and his enemies keep plotting to take it away. The world is against him and is trying to stop him from defending himself……’

But: ‘The growing view of Israel among a considerable part of the international community was recently reflected in an Amnesty International report and the British initiative for an academic boycott of Israel. Granted, local actors were behind both developments; international politics were also involved; and perhaps both show traces of anti-Israeliness per se, or even anti-Semitism. But curling up like a snail in a shell of self-righteousness is not the way to deal with them. Like the boycott initiative, the Amnesty report is another alarm bell. Israel’s international standing is disintegrating; its moral image has been eroded; its military actions are indefensible. ‘

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 2:27 pm

“police or judges acting in an official capacity as agents of the criminal justice system are to be held to standards of fairness which are not applicable to an association of private individuals pursuing a political campaign.”

I thought this was a red herring and I was right : you are confusing internal set of values that each institution or organization may have ( and here there may indeed be difference ) and moral principles. The latter are the sort of judgements reasonable people would agree to in a reflective equilibrium and is a different thing altogether.

In the latter sense both the boycott by private individuals and a government can be discriminatory in exactly the same way.

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jj 06.06.07 at 2:33 pm

Zdenek: Look the main purpose of the proposed boycott is to undermine legitimacy of Israel as a country : to isolate, not its government ,but its people; make them social outcasts and hence is a form of discrimination.

Abb1: Backwards. The main purpose is to facilitate the restoration of legitimacy of Israel as a country.

An impartial reader of this thread (as I style myself) would be hard-pressed to believe that the boycott supporters are working to buttress the “legitimacy of Israel as a country”. Quite the contrary. And that’s what it finally boils down to. The boycott itself is window dressing.

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abb1 06.06.07 at 2:46 pm

Window dressing on what?

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engels 06.06.07 at 2:47 pm

I thought this was a red herring and I was right : you are confusing internal set of values that each institution or organization may have ( and here there may indeed be difference ) and moral principles.

No, you were wrong and no, I have not been “confusing” those things. I have been talking about the second: moral principles. As I have now said several times, the norms which govern the conduct of private individuals pursuing a political campaign are different to, and less strict than, those which govern the conduct of agents of the state enforcing the criminal law. You are welcome to try to provide an argument for why singling out one country in a boycott is an unacceptable course of action for the former, but comparisons with policemen and judges don’t cut it.

And you’ll see that I conceded that the boycott as described might be discriminatory and unfair but that these might be judged to be acceptable negative consequences of a political campaign which is expected to have an overall positive result.

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seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 2:48 pm

Ragout,
I pasted the first 3 paragraphs to a piece by Uri Avnery, the first of which was indented and in a hyperlink to the piece itself. I didn’t close the blockquote.
“Oops.”

And the article discusses a threat to the Jewish nature of the state.
As always in such situations, I ask myself what would be my response as a jew if the word “German” were to take the place of the word “Jewish” in each sentence. i.e.: “The German nature of the state”

I would support an academic boycott not because of the actions of the Israeli government but because the majority of the Jewish citizens of “democratic” Israel don’t recognize the implications in that simple switch of words.
The defense of this logic by friends of israel is yet another example of logic and reason being bounded by preexisting social ties and categories of proximity.

Men in our culture no longer speak for women without caveat, nor whites for blacks; Arabs are not yet in that position. We speak for them all the time (to each other). When they are things will have changed.

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seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 2:50 pm

“When they are [in that position] things will have changed.”

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 2:55 pm

sg writes :– “Finally of course you haven’t suggested an alternative approach (and I think we can all guess why). So what, really, is left to talk about?”

Alternative approach is counter-boycott because what we have here ,in the proposal, is discriminatory. So we should resign from UCU where this is relevant and combat the boycott from outside by variety of ways including legal action in the same manner other forms of discrimination are legally dealt with.

Focus of such a counter boycott ? not individuals but institutions and organizations sanctioning this sort of discrimination.

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engels 06.06.07 at 2:59 pm

I wonder if there ought to be a corollary to Godwin’s law which states that when one side in a debate is forced to resort to suggestions that their opponents “strap on a suicide belt” (“Lord Acton”), to bizarre accusations of plagiarism (ragout), and to dark insinuations that all stated rationales for the policy in question are “window dressing” (jj), that that side has lost the argument.

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engels 06.06.07 at 3:08 pm

Zdenek – You have failed to demonstrate that the boycott is “discriminatory” in any sense in which that would make it morally impermissible. You are essentially just repeating your claim over and over again while ignoring all the arguments other people have made.

155

jj 06.06.07 at 3:16 pm

Window dressing on what?

I thought that was clear from my “on the contrary” and from what Zdenek said: the boycott is patently part of a larger campaign to de-legitimize Israel as a state.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 3:20 pm

“I have been talking about the second: moral principles. As I have now said several times, the norms which govern the conduct of private individuals pursuing a political campaign are different to, and less strict than, those which govern the conduct of agents of the state enforcing the criminal law.”

This is a confusion in the sense that you are equivocating with the term ‘norms’. It can be used loosely to mean ‘rules’ which does not involve universalizability or it can be used to mean ‘moral norms’ which can be universalized.

In the first sense there are clearly different and perhaps incompatible norms. But not in the stronger sense where this means ‘moral norms’.

To see this consider that virtues like impartiality, integrity ,trust, fairness and so on ( moral virtues and not just norms in your sense ) have same meaning and carry same normative weight in both contexts : integrity just is integrity for instance .
So yes you are confusing these two senses together which is rather sloppy.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 3:31 pm

“You have failed to demonstrate that the boycott is “discriminatory” in any sense in which that would make it morally impermissible.”

Hmm I wonder if we can trust you to make such pronouncements since you do not seem to be able to tell the difference between a good argument and a bad one right.

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abb1 06.06.07 at 3:33 pm

Only Israel can legitimize or de-legitimize Israel. I suppose you could accuse someone of trying to demonize Israel, but that’s not done by a boycott. Rather it’s done the way you do it here to the boycott supporters.

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engels 06.06.07 at 3:38 pm

Zdenek – I really don’t see how this little excursion into virtue ethics is relevant. My argument is not based on an equivocation over the meaning of the word “norm”, as you might realise from my use of several equivalent formulations which do not contain this word. My claim is very straightforward: from the point of view of justice state power is subject to different and stricter constraints than that of individuals. In particular, agents of the state enforcing the criminal law have perfect duties of fairness which citizens in private society do not. I don’t think that any liberal, in the broadest sense, would find this contentious.

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engels 06.06.07 at 3:40 pm

Ok, Zdenek, whatever.

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Bernard Yomtov 06.06.07 at 3:42 pm

abb1,

this idea that the Jews (as defined by all the various strains of antisemitism I suppose?) need to be moved into the middle of Levant and equipped with an all-powerful army – it strikes me as extremely myopic, Homer-Simpson-style judgment.

And where would you have proposed that they be moved? And if they had lacked a powerful army what would have happened to them? If you want to criticize the western nations, including not least the UK, for not throwing open their doors to Jewish immigration, both pre-war and post-war, then do so. But answer those questions.

Martin,

my point is that Israel has to come to peace with its neighbors, and soon, or it will be destroyed, possibly taking much of the mideast with it if it tries to solve its problems by force.

It would indeed be lovely if Israel and its neighbors made peace. As pointed out elsewhere, this has been accomplished with Egypt and Jordan. But the phrasing you use, “Israel has to come to peace with its neighbors,” strikes me as a bit one-sided. It suggests that the neighbors in question have no obligation to come to peace with Israel, or to cease trying to solve their problems by force.

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Martin Bento 06.06.07 at 4:12 pm

Bernard, that’s because I’m not making a primarily moral argument, but a realist one. Israel is under existential threat. It also constitutes an existential threat, perhaps, to its antagonists, but only in extremis (e.g., by going nuclear). This is the “decimate the region” option 1. I doubt even this would be effective at preventing a decentralized relatively low-tech attack along the lines of the Hezbo missle lodging. So I don’t think it really can work. Morally, I think the case for the existence of Israel vaporizes if the cost must be the decimation of the rest of the middle east. And I don’t think the world would tolerate it either, if only because it would make the oil inaccessible for an indeterminate period. So, in realistic terms, Israel is under existential threat and the middle east as a whole is not; it is an assymetric situation. Hence, Israel “must” – for its own survival – achieve peace. Now I’m not saying that increasing the cost of hostility to the other players is not a legitimate tactic, but it doesn’t change the underlying situation.

Earlier you said “The question is what would have happened had Israel not been created.” I don’t think that’s the question – though I did put forth an alternative – I think the question is what needs to happen now?

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 4:33 pm

“My claim is very straightforward: from the point of view of justice state power is subject to different and stricter constraints than that of individuals. In particular, agents of the state enforcing the criminal law have perfect duties of fairness which citizens in private society do not.”

This is becoming silly . You clearly have a half-baked understanding of Kant that might explain your confusion. Although it is true that public officials according to Kant have a perfect duty of justice and such duties may be enforced, private citizens have duty of virtue to be fair which is practically the same thing for the purposes of my argument because such failure to conform to such a duty to be fair invites censure , moral criticism. ( the idea that you seem to have that somehow there is some moral gap here is plain wrong and is not supported by Kant or anyone I know ).

In other words people who organize themselves as private individuals for the purpose of a boycott have duty of virtue to not discriminate and although as I said this is not a perfect duty of justice, and hence is not enforceable it is irrelevant for our purposes here because it is nevertheless a failure to be fair and is something that can be criticized according to Kant.

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rilkefan 06.06.07 at 4:41 pm

seth edenbaum: ‘That “citeless op-ed” is written by Uri Avnery.’

Note the difference between “unsigned op-ed” and “citeless op-ed”, the latter meaning that the author presents opinions without any citations to data. I had no reason to trust Avnery’s interpretation of what he claimed Shin Bet said. Via your helpful link to Ha’aretz, I was able to learn that his op-ed was somewhere between very tendentious and plain misleading propaganda. Linking to the (certainly somewhat disturbing) Ha’aretz article in the first place would have served you (though not your argument) much better.

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abb1 06.06.07 at 5:11 pm

Bernard, this exchange started when you said that one of the lessons of the 20th century (talking mostly about the Holocaust, I presume) is that the Jews need a country and strong army.

My objection is that, unless you argue there’s something really special about the Jews, the idea of giving the previously victimized group a country and a powerful army with nuclear weapons seems incredibly myopic, as if we can’t conceptualize the phenomenon. So, the Jews now have a country and an army, but right there in that very country a large group of people live in ghettos for being ethnically unacceptable.

So, who are the Jews now? What’s the lesson? Should we give these ‘new Jews’ an army and nuclear weapons so that they can protect themselves against the ‘previous Jews’? Should Kosovo Albanians get a big army? Kurds? Sudanese rebels?

It just doesn’t make sense. The lesson is the opposite: ethnocentrism should be fought, not cultivated.

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engels 06.06.07 at 5:20 pm

This is becoming silly

Well, you’re right about that.

In other words people who organize themselves as private individuals for the purpose of a boycott have duty of virtue to not discriminate

Perhaps they do, but if so they are entitled in my view to derogate from this duty in pursuit of ends which they judge to be greater. If not, it would be hard to see how almost any boycott, or even campaign of censure, could get off the ground as these nearly always involve singling out a person or company and making an example of them while ignoring others who are guilty of similar of worse offences. See my Nike example above.

You clearly have a half-baked understanding of Kant

Maybe I do and maybe I don’t, but since my argument makes no appeal to Kant I’m not sure how this is relevant.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 5:40 pm

“Perhaps they do, but if so they are entitled in my view to derogate from this duty in pursuit of ends which they judge to be greater”

Very good so now as a cop I can just arrest black youths and ignore other crime even though I accept that this is patently unfair and discriminatory because I am pursuing higher ends ?

I must say I am not supprised .

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engels 06.06.07 at 5:44 pm

On second thoughts I think it would have been clearer to have said that I don’t think that the organisers of the boycott have “a duty of virtue not to discriminate”, at least in relation to the boycott. That idea is based on what appears to be the mistaken belief that boycotts serve a quasi-judicial function. They do not. They are a form of political expression. And while there are moral concerns which constrain the operation of boycotts the quasi-judicial duties which you are describing are not among them, IMO. Again, see my example above for a description of how what I take to be a normal boycott operates.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 5:59 pm

“Maybe I do and maybe I don’t, but since my argument makes no appeal to Kant I’m not sure how this is relevant “

What work then is the notion of ‘perfect duty of fairness ‘ then doing in your comment ? You dont use the name ‘Kant’ but you are using his terminology so Kant is doing some lifting for you ( although you do not understand his work apparently ? )

Second, note that you have ducked my argument which shows that your claim that private and public morality are not continuous and that your thinking that this is the case is just a muddle.

This is important because your original complaint about my example involving arresting only women speeders relied precisely on the untenable distinction between discontinuity between private and public spheres. So I take it you concede that my example does after all show that the proposed boycott would be discriminatory for the same reasons that arresting only women offenders because it is easy would be discriminatory.

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engels 06.06.07 at 6:01 pm

Zdenek – No, and it is hard to see why any moderately intelligent person would draw that inference from what I wrote. That statement referred to the organisers of boycotts. As I said, government agents have different and stronger obligations in this respect. This really is starting to get pretty tedious so I am afraid you will have to excuse me…

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Bernard Yomtov 06.06.07 at 6:28 pm

this exchange started when you said that one of the lessons of the 20th century (talking mostly about the Holocaust, I presume) is that the Jews need a country and strong army.

No, actually I do not consider the Holocaust to be the bulk of my argument. In fact, the twentieth century, like earlier ones, had ample non-Nazi anti-Semitism to justify my point. The original Zionists were reacting to conditions in Poland, Russia, France, etc.

Further, the claim is not that the Jews need a country and strong army, but rather that the Jews need a country and that Israel needs a strong army. A Jewish state in Alaska, a la Chabon, would not need one.

right there in that very country a large group of people live in ghettos for being ethnically unacceptable.

I’m not sure who you are referring to. Is it the West Bank/Gaza Palestinians? Are you quite comfortable blaming their poor conditions entirely on Israel? Maybe some of them could go to Paris and move into Suha Arafat’s apartment.

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engels 06.06.07 at 6:29 pm

Zdenek – You haven’t shown that my “thinking… is just a muddle”. You have just asserted that it is, over and over again. I am afraid that even I can think of more entertaining ways to spend my time than that so I suggest we call it a day.

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jj 06.06.07 at 6:54 pm

Only Israel can legitimize or de-legitimize Israel.

Yes. But that doesn’t seem to stop the people behind this boycott (SWP, etc.) from trying to accomplish the latter. I am a strong supporter of a Palestinian state (I participated in a symposium toward that end at Birzeit in 1997), but I will never support any initiative whose primary purpose is an existential attack on the state of Israel.

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seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 7:00 pm

“Maybe some of them could go to Paris and move into Suha Arafat’s apartment.”

I’d like to suggest a general moritorium on using the corruption of resistence leaders as a response to the claims of the need for a resistence.
Claims for the primary moral superority of the Israeli position vis-a-vis the Palestinians are absurd.

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zdenek v 06.06.07 at 7:05 pm

“Zdenek – You haven’t shown that my “thinking… is just a muddle”. You have just asserted that it is, over and over again.”

Oh dear hurt feelings ? Anyway you dont seem to follow my argument if you think I just repeat over and over that you are confusing moral with non moral rules without argument.

The gist of my argument is that the claim about morality you have been making is either without justification and supporting argument or it is relying on Kant( tacitly ,which you dispute ). But if it is relying on Kant then this would involve a misunderstanding of wahat Kant says on the subject.
Hence it is without supporting argument.( I think this is a sound argument the form is either p or q not p therefore q . very simple but a valid form viz. disjunctive sylogism ).

This is my criticism and to say that I only assert that you are wrong ( over and over again ) is wild and you, it seems cannot follow an argument. Of course you may disagree with my argument but that is another matter.

176

seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 7:10 pm

“Only Israel can legitimize or de-legitimize Israel.”

Only [P.W. Botha’s] South Africa can legitimize or de-legitimize [P.W. Botha’s] South Africa.

Was it possible for the The United States, [in the 19th Century if not also the present] to be seen as de-legitimized in the eyes of Native Americans? Do you want a longer list? It’s not that hard.
This conversation will go on until someone finally breaks down and says: “but the jews are different.”
Then the rest of us will give up and go home.

177

zarzur 06.06.07 at 7:27 pm

SG # 86, 92:

Your Nazi and North Korean examples miss the point. The use of scientific results from these countries is ethically debatable not because of the nationality of the scientists but because of the methods by which the results were obtained. The problem isn’t that they’re North Koreans or Nazis but that they used inhumane human experimentation. I doubt that too many people would object to the citation of a Nazi-era German botanical paper, especially if the author wasn’t part of the government.

The proper analogy, in the Israeli context, would be if Israeli doctors deliberately caused head injuries to Palestinians in order to develop methods of treatment. I’m not aware of anything like this ever happening. From all I understand, the Israeli traumatic-injury literature is based on treatment of both Israeli and Palestinian victims, all of whom received their injuries from acts of war in which the doctors were not involved. Many of the Israeli papers in this field were actually co-authored with Palestinian doctors who have treated similar wounds. These injuries and their treatment implicate the ethics of insurgency and counterinsurgency, but not medical ethics.

In other words, even if the Israeli government is held to be morally equivalent to Nazi Germany or North Korea (which it certainly isn’t), this alone wouldn’t be enough to justify a boycott of lifesaving treatments developed by Israelis. If you can point to a case in which Israeli academics actually used unethical experimental methods, then you’d have a case for boycotting those academics and their results. None of the boycott proponents to my knowledge have cited such a case, though; instead, they rely on vague and unproven allegations that Israeli academia as a whole is “complicit” in the acts of the state. That isn’t nearly enough basis to reject a contribution to scientific knowledge.

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JR 06.06.07 at 7:33 pm

#174- not as absurd as claims that a successful resistance will lead to a democratic Palestinian state.

179

Bernard Yomtov 06.06.07 at 8:05 pm

Seth,

I’d like to suggest a general moritorium on using the corruption of resistence leaders as a response to the claims of the need for a resistence.
Claims for the primary moral superority of the Israeli position vis-a-vis the Palestinians are absurd.

Your interpretation of my statement is wrong. I simply believe that the poor condition of Palestinian society is in significant part due to corrupt leadership. I believe that had the money given to the PA been used as intended, rather than stolen or used in furtherance of its terrorism, Palestinians would be much better off today.

Now you can claim that everything is Israel’s fault if you want, but I don’t think that’s a particularly intelligent claim.

180

seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 8:40 pm

“Now you can claim that everything is Israel’s fault”

And the rate of alcoholism on the Res is not entirely the fault of the US government.
I didn’t say there was no corruption, I said I’m tired of lectures by government appointed Indian Agents and moralizing racists: “Look, the niggers are burning down their own homes, what are we supposed to do?”
The destruction of a people, 40 years of occupation and the British are still importing Scottish Presbyterians [but to you of course such parallels are false]
This is stupid and unproductive. Worse, it’s boring.
If Chris Bertram and Martha Nussbaum want to think that the Jews have a right to a little white homeland that’s their business. But I don’t think the Germans have a right to one so follow the logic.
it’s simple

181

abb1 06.06.07 at 9:12 pm

The condition of Palestinian society is Palestinian society’s business. But the fact that millions of people can’t return to their homes, that villages are encircled by walls with the gate opened for 20 minutes twice a day, that houses and olive groves are razed by bulldozers – whose fault is that, I don’t understand.

Is this some kind of God’s punishment delivered by Israel to millions of people for having bad leaders? That’s sick, man.

182

engels 06.06.07 at 9:18 pm

Zdenek – What you have repeatedly asserted, without any real evidence as far as I can see, is that I am muddled, that the claims I make are untenable, that you understand Kant better than I do, etc etc. That may all be very entertaining but it isn’t particularly persuasive.

You have correctly pointed out, and I am happy to agree, that I have not given a proof of my central claim, but pointing out that something is unproven is not to prove that it is false. I believe that it is true. I have tried to give some indication why I believe this and I believe that something similar must be held by any liberal.

Your view, on the other hand, appears to be that every ordinary citizen who takes action within his rights which is intended to punish another for a perceived moral wrong or alleviate a perceived injustice is subject to the same moral obligations to exercise his powers in a fair and non-discriminatory way as are judges and police officers who exercise the coercive powers of the state against suspected criminals. I do not find that claim at all plausible and I don’t think such a burden of obligations is consistent with the freedoms granted to the private citizen in a liberal society.

183

ozma 06.06.07 at 9:40 pm

Perhaps this has already been said but if academics in Europe and elsewhere are going to boycott Israel, they should also boycott the U.S. Then, I will admire their courage.

184

engels 06.06.07 at 10:01 pm

if academics in Europe and elsewhere are going to boycott Israel, they should also boycott the U.S

Maybe they should but perhaps it’s not practical. In that case, what’s Plan B?

FWIW I do not support this boycott. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is stupid but I do think it is likely to be counterproductive. However, I do think that many of the arguments which have been given against it, and in particular the “singling out” argument of which our friend Zdenek has so kindly furnished us with a reductio, are remarkably weak.

185

Keely 06.06.07 at 10:19 pm

If Chris Bertram and Martha Nussbaum want to think that the Jews have a right to a little white homeland that’s their business.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5155370.stm

186

rilkefan 06.06.07 at 10:23 pm

“If Chris Bertram and Martha Nussbaum want to think that the Jews have a right to a little white homeland that’s their business.”

Repugnant on multiple levels. I feel sorry for Chris for having to put up with such stuff.

187

seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 10:46 pm

Hyperbole is fun, but it has a habit of catching up with you. I’ll grant you that, keely, if you grant my my larger points; and if you’ll describe in detail the history of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi relations in Israel; the difficulties faced by the Falasha; Israel’s lonely defense of and financial and moral support for S. Africa under the old regime; and the common usage in israel of the word: “nigger.”
Of course it’s been noted that the vogue for Darfur relief in the US, in the context of the war in Iraq is rather odd.

Now try again.

188

seth edenbaum 06.06.07 at 10:56 pm

Herr Rilke, do you believe in a German homeland, or only in a place where Germans feel safe?
There are 15 million people of non-German descent in Germany.

I found this on the page for the demographics of France

Disclaimer: It must be noted that reference to “French people” as an ethnic group is not present in French official terminology. Official institutes that gather statistics (such as INED or INSEE) do not use the category of “ethnic French” – whom some have translated here by “Français de souche”, a term more often associated with far-right Front National than with demography in France. The French census also does not use this category or any of which regarding ethnicity. According to Dominique Schnapper, member of the Constitutional Council of France, “The classical conception of the nation is that of an entity which, opposed to the ethnic group, affirms itself as an open community, the will to live together expressing itself by the acceptation of the rules of an unified public domain which transcends all particularisms” [1], indicative of French citizenship.

French hypocrisy aside, the sentiment is noble.

189

luc 06.07.07 at 1:31 am

Zdenek,

“So it strikes me like you do not understand what she is up to in that article.”

I do, you’re just muddying it up. The things she proposes to judge the “singling out” issue are impractical and haven’t been applied to her satisfaction before.

Thus when you ask for a justification for the singling out issue and then refer to Nussbaum, you know in advance that there currently isn’t anything available that would satisfy Nussbaum.

And so we keep running in circles.

190

SG 06.07.07 at 1:51 am

Tracey at 177, obviously my examples are extreme but the extremity doesn’t matter. You have admitted that morality has to be considered in science. The rest is just an argument about whose morality. The UCU appear to be having that argument.

(and funny you should mention Israeli trauma papers, because a great deal of that research would have had to have been on people whose trauma was caused by a military out of control. I wonder how academics in the west dealing with that sort of thing feel about the israeli state? And also, while we’re at it, you do realise don’t you that for a little while it was legal in Israel to shake prisoners to force confessions? And a doctor had to be on hand, but some died? I wonder if that got published in an Israeli journal, and used by western doctors?)

Zdenek and Bloix, you both seem to be confusing unions and the state. Unions are not the state, and don’t have the same responsibilities – quite often they have to act as bandits to rein in the power of the state. If you are concerned about unions in one country doing this to another, go and examine the history of union activity in boycotts against South Africa. It’s a legitimate tactic, and not open to dispute by anyone except the ruling classes. You sound like whingeing small business people who think that the unions are misappropriating some kind of special fund of money, even though the union members are voting how to spend their own money. I really would have expected better.

Also zdenek, what is gained by criticising the boycott as an attempt to “deligitimize the state of israel”? Obviously a boycott of a nation is an attack on that nation. You either think the attack is worthwhile or not. Just say so, and while you’re at it just make it clear that you think any attack on Israel is anti-semitism. Then we can all stop talking to you.

191

josh 06.07.07 at 1:55 am

I know it’s a mistake to get involved in discussions of Israel here, but I can’t resist … because there’s something very odd about ejh’s comment at #100, which no-one seems to have commented on (sorry if I’ve missed something; I haven’t been reading that closely). This is the repeated and emphasised point that it’s been SIXTY YEARS (!!!) … sixty years since what? Allowing for rounding off, I suppose this refers to the founding of the state of Israel.
So, let’s be clear here. It seems that, to ejh, the problem is not Israel’s occupation of the West Bank that’s the wrong that must be righted. Rather, it’s the creation of the state of Israel itself. Now, this gets us into some dicey historical waters, concerning the violent expulsion of Palestinians from Israel in 1948. I’m fine with arguing that this was blameworthy. But — one generally employs boycotts not to condemn past actions, or to extract apologies for these — but to seek to change ongoing ones. So the question is — what condition, dating back to circa 1948, is the boycott supposed to protest, and seek to change?
I’d like to avoid the conclusion that the condition is the existence of Israel itself — not its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, not its treatment of Palestinians today, but it’s very existence. But, given the date — and ejh’s invocation of what the ‘Arab world’ has been calling for — this conclusion is difficult to rule out.
Now, I oppose the boycott, both because I’m against academic boycotts in general, and because — while I think many of Israel’s actions are indefensible — I see the situation as being far more complex than the advocates of the boycott (and many of the commenters here). But, these are matters about which people who I think are generally intelligent and decent can disagree. On the other hand, those who believe that Israel should cease to exist, full stop, are I think simply wrong — wrong morally, and wrong in their perception of the situation (or, if not wrong, at best deeply muddled).
But even then, I doubt that it’s much use arguing. So, the point I want to make — at long last — is this: those who support the boycott ought to at least have the honesty and lucidity to be clear, to themselves and others, what they’re aiming for — a fair peace process, a return to pre-67 borders — or the end of Israel. Then at least we’ll all know what the argument is about, and how useful it is.

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zarzur 06.07.07 at 2:28 am

“You have admitted that morality has to be considered in science.”

I’ve admitted that the morality _of the scientist_ has to be considered in science. The morality of the scientist’s _government_ shouldn’t be considered, unless the scientist is part of that government.

To return to the Israeli traumatic-injury literature, I think it’s fair to say that some of the injuries that make up the case studies are accidental, some are the results of Palestinian violence and some are the results of IDF violence. I also think it’s fair to say, with respect to the last group, that some of the IDF actions resulting in injuries are justified and some aren’t, and that some of the injured parties are combatants and others are bystanders. What all the categories have in common, though, are that the injuries _aren’t caused by the doctor_.

These considerations may raise ethical questions about the _perpetrators of the violence_, whether Palestinian or Israeli. The doctors’ own ethics aren’t at issue, though, and their write-ups aren’t in the least ethically questionable, any more than, say, literature by American doctors whose case studies include victims of urban police brutality. It’s not as if doctors elsewhere don’t draw from the experience of war and violence in trauma case studies.

Your torture example actually highlights the difference. If you can find an article by an Israeli doctor who participated in torture and that is based on medical results obtained from torture, then you’d have an excellent case to boycott both the author and the article (unless it’s an anti-torture piece). I’m not aware of any such literature, though, and there’s a fairly obvious moral distinction between that and the literature of doctors who simply treat their patients. In the latter case, you’re blaming doctors for something for which they simply aren’t accountable.

193

Tracy W 06.07.07 at 2:32 am

Tracey at 97, you’re actually wrong. Medical researchers at least are honour-bound NOT to use the results described – we have ethics committees to make sure that that sort of crap never gets published. If you scout about a bit online you’ll find articles by doctors pointing out that even referencing the stuff is bad (there is one in the BMJ). So yeah, we maintain a fairly solid boycott of all that stuff, and it makes us, in your original estimation “not scientists”. We aren’t, as it were, dedicated to the truth above all else. Or we prefer to take the long and more polite way to finding it, rather than knocking up a few prisoners, studying the resultant pregnancies, and making a name for ourselves in the Lancet (to finish the example).

Why would you ignore such research?

I am not arguing in favour of murdering or torturing people to create new medical knowledge – I don’t think that scientists should have any more right to mistreat their fellow human beings than any other person. But I think the general rules against murder or torture and the general punishments the courts hand down for them provide so much disincentive that no one who does carry out such medical research would publish it openly in Lancet, as any court would then have plenty of evidence to send them to jail for life. Refusing to publish the information or even reference it is just too small a punishment on top of what the prisons can do to make a difference.

So why do you ignore it? Why do you ignore information that may save someone’s life, given that it’s already been developed? What is the moral argument for even refusing to reference the stuff? How do you justify that to yourselves? (This is a serious question, I think I see the line of the argument against doing so, but I just can’t understand how anyone can think that, given the research was already done, ignoring it does so much good as to outweigh the good that comes from better medical knowledge).

And where do you draw the line on scientific knowledge obtained by unsavoury means? I understand scuba divers’ decompression tables were obtained by the US Navy experimenting on its divers in ways that would never meet experimental protocols nowadays, would you advise a friend taking up diving to ignore those tables because of the way they were obtained? How much existing medical knowledge was obtained by ways approved by the 2007 editor of the BMJ?

I’m firmly in favour of being opposed to inhuman experiments on human beings. When it comes to weighing up the immediate damage done versus the possible chances of future good, I happily come down on opposing the experiments. But given that the research has been done, how do you justify adopting the moral posture that it should be ignored completely, versus seeking to do as much good for people who *are* alive today?

And what do you think about psychologists who study totalitarians’ regimes’ brainwashing techniques? Do you think they should not even be referenced?

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zarzur 06.07.07 at 2:37 am

Case in point: Here’s a Pakistani article on treatment of traumatic landmine injuries that draws on experience from the Kashmir conflict. Some of those injuries were no doubt caused by Pakistani mines, because both sides used them during the 1999 war. Would you argue that it’s unethical to cite this article or to use its findings in treating other people who have suffered injuries from landmines? For that matter, would you argue that the Pakistani authors were wrong to cite Yugoslav, Turkish and Israeli literature (the latter dealing with injuries caused by suicide bombers) in arriving at their own conclusions?

195

Joelsk44039 06.07.07 at 3:43 am

Perhaps the British academics should consider a boycott of Palestinian universities and scholars, too. I mean, after all, haven’t they been soaking shrapnel in their homemade bombs in rat poison in an attempt to cause maximum trauma to as many Israelis who are unfortunate enough to be within a bomb’s range but not killed outright? Or is this just another case of “fighting the occupation?”

196

jj 06.07.07 at 3:55 am

Josh (#191),

Sadly, it apparent to me, as it is to other commenters, that (at least some of) the pro-boycott people are aiming for nothing less than your option number three: “the end of Israel”. I suspect they realize that this is too extremist a position to acknowledge now, so they’re window-dressing it with calls for a boycott. I’ve lent my name to several pro-Palestinian initiatives, even one while lecturing in Israel, but this one is not only counter-productive (on its face), it is devious, and has been hijacked by rejectionists seeking the ultimate dismantlement of Israel itself.

197

SG 06.07.07 at 3:56 am

zarzur, when you say “the morality of the scientist” you are reverting to a discussion about “whose morality” or “what morality” should be considered in the ethical framework of science. There is argument for example that research on conscripts or prisoners should always be rejected because it may have been obtained unethically, or in circumstances where the subject cannot honestly give informed consent. This is an argument beyond the issue of the doctor doing the research, but the framework of the research. You have admitted science needs to be guided by morals.

The issue that Tracey originally raised is that of scientists allowing any consideration except pursuit of truth to impede their work. She has now admitted (and you admit it too) that this doing so does not invalidate the work. Your examples are all well and good, and in some cases I agree entirely with your view. But now we are arguing about whose morality should be considered by what scientists. There are probably scientists somewhere in the world who think that moral concerns which apply to white people don’t apply to black people. There certainly were in the 50s, and their work was published in legitimate medical journals. Back then, the morality being used to judge what could and couldn’t be published was different to now.

So my point is: because we all agree science needs to be guided by ethics beyond “the quest for truth”, we are completely free to include in this (I hate this term) moral calculus the behaviour of nation states. It is completely cool to say, for example, “we cannot guarantee that chinese people gave proper consent, so we boycott all chinese medical research.” This is a fair reason to reject important scientific research; we then debate the truth of the statement, whether the boycott will hurt us more than them, etc. It makes us no different as scientists to say “South Africa is evil, and science can achieve greater good by boycotting South African scientists than by publishing their advances.” It does not make us less scientific, or pollute our struggle for truth (which is not that important). The debate needs to be about the boycott, not whether doing so pollutes our calling.

But to address the other points, there is generally a case made for not citing research considered morally dubious because to do so rewards the author and their morality. I have been involved in reviews of papers where people have rejected them because consent was dubious, despite the quality of the work. Your North Koreans won’t get published. Me personally, I think that already published work (like that tuscadee business, with the syphilis) should be cited if there is no better material to use and you don’t think that citing the paper would in any way dilute the moral case against the methods (i.e. if the methods have been subsequently banned). If, however, the bad deeds committed in the paper are likely to continue if one rewards it, then one should not cite. For example, North Korean prisoners don’t give consent freely. Therefore, one does not cite papers done by researchers who use North Korean prisoners, regardless of their claims of consent. Then, one day, they will stop doing the research, and North Korean prisoners will be free of the fear of being shot if they don’t give up an organ to a doctor and sign a form.

Also Tracey I think you have deliberately railroaded the debate a bit here, by rolling in with your head injury example. When it comes to pretty much every field outside of medicine, no-one gives a shit about the results of our studies and we can pursue the truth at our own pace – who cares if the entire US academic system doesn’t contribute to social science for a few years? By singling out medical research you have upped the moral panic (and ignored the possibility that the boycott could be configured to ignore medical research). Which is usually the tactic of a supporter of the nation in question. So tell me: would you have supported a boycott of South African Academics (or North Koreans now)?

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SG 06.07.07 at 4:13 am

Josh, ejh didn’t say “it has taken 60 years to discuss boycotts aimed at destroying Israel.” I don’t expect ejh to qualify every comment which might imply a desire to destroy Israel, just to please you. He/she may have been referring to the human rights abuses manifest from the very start of the creation of Israel; or he/she might have been using very rough language to encompass the variety of stages of nastiness which have gone on there. You’re being picky, like Ragout with the plagiarism insinuations.

199

zarzur 06.07.07 at 4:38 am

“zarzur, when you say ‘the morality of the scientist’ you are reverting to a discussion about ‘whose morality’ or ‘what morality’ should be considered in the ethical framework of science.”

Fair enough. I’m not the one who argued that science is a one-dimensional search for truth. I don’t agree with the statement that the truth search “isn’t that important” – advancement of knowledge is after all a primary objective of science – but ethics do matter.

I’d still argue, though, that the examples you raise – prisoners, conscripts, Chinese subjects, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments – all relate at bottom to the ethics of the science itself. The reason you cite for boycotting Chinese research – i.e., that Chinese experimental procedures provide insufficient guarantees of informed consent – goes to the ethics of the research, not to the policies of the Chinese government in Tibet. It’s also bounded by the relevance of consent to the research in question: for instance, the objection would pertain mainly to controlled experiments and wouldn’t apply to a case study of accidental traffic injuries in Shanghai.

(I’d add that I’m unfamiliar with Chinese research practices and don’t know whether or to what extent these consent issues exist, so no moral judgment on China should be implied from this comment.)

Reasonable minds can disagree (and yours evidently does) about whether the ethical considerations should extend beyond those particular to the researcher and his methods. I’d argue that they shouldn’t, for three primary reasons. First, I believe that one of the fundamental rights of individuals is to be treated as individuals and not to be convicted by association. Second, the justification you cite for such boycotts – i.e., deterrence – becomes increasingly attenuated as the net is cast wider. Punish scientists for bad informed-consent protocols and they might improve their ways; punish scientists for their government’s foreign policy and the government isn’t likely to care. Finally, the more extra-scientific ethical concerns come into play, the more value is discarded: for instance, if you reject all traumatic-injury literature that arises from unjust wars, then you have to disregard a substantial amount of human experience in that field.

I also think it’s important that any ethical standards be applied impartially and across the board, but that’s another argument.

“So tell me: would you have supported a boycott of South African Academics (or North Koreans now)?”

I’m not Tracy, but: no and no, unless the academics personally partake in or advocate morally objectionable policies. North Koreans who experimet on prisoners deserve to be boycotted, North Korean geologists or marine biologists don’t. And I’d boycott those academics who do participate in or advocate objectionable policies even if they’re Swedish or Andorran.

Of course we’re now getting into the question of “whose morality” again. But as long as we’re talking about my morality, a fairly major part of it, as stated above, is that individuals should be judged on their own ethical merit.

(BTW, comment 177 was mine, not Tracy’s.)

200

SG 06.07.07 at 5:50 am

Well, zarzur, I`m glad we agree on the basics here. I would like to ask you about this though:

First, I believe that one of the fundamental rights of individuals is to be treated as individuals and not to be convicted by association

In this context, doesn`t this belief (which I generally agree with) prevent any kind of collective action against nations or organisations? You can`t go to war to protect Tibet, since you`d be affecting individuals not associated with the policies; you can`t boycott south africa for fear of convicting black people by association, etc. This is particularly true when one considers it is usually the elite who do the oppressing one wants to stop, and the rank and file who suffer from any actions to bring the elite around.

So then how does one do anything to stop anything in this world? In the absence of strikes, boycotts, pickets and in fact anything more than (carefully directed) harsh words, what can one do?

201

abb1 06.07.07 at 5:54 am

Repugnant on multiple levels.

Repugnant, huh. Here’s what former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times Chris Hedges writes:
————————————————
…Barefoot boys, clutching kites made out of scraps of paper and ragged soccer balls, squat a few feet away under scrub trees. Men in flowing white or gray galabias—homespun robes—smoke cigarettes in the shade of slim eaves. Two emaciated donkeys, their ribs protruding, are tethered to wooden carts with rubber wheels.

It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles over a loudspeaker.

“Come on, dogs,” the voice booms in Arabic. “Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!”

I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues to spew: “Son of a bitch!” “Son of a whore!” “Your mother’s cunt!”

The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. Three ambulances line the road below the dunes in anticipation of what is to come.

A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children’s slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.

Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered—death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo—but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.
————————————-

This is what’s going on there, this is what’s going on there every day, and this is what this is all about.

I’ll give you all – Bernard, rilkefan, Zdenek, JJ and the rest of you – I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you’re a bunch of ignorant fucks, but in all likelyhood it’s much worse than that.

202

zdenek v 06.07.07 at 6:33 am

“Zdenek and Bloix, you both seem to be confusing unions and the state. Unions are not the state, and don’t have the same responsibilities –”

Lets make the point about discrimination differently then. Suppose that a parent singles out for punishment one of his children only, even though the other children have behaved same or worse. His reason for singling out this particular child is that it is convenient for him. Is this fair ? Clearly not.

Can you block criticism of this parent by pointing out that he has different duties from the sort of duties states posses ? No ,that would be irrelevant because what is salient is that the punishment which involves exclusion and ostracism needs to be based on showing why this particular person and not others equally guilty are treated in this way; why they are singled out.

As should now be obvious what is key is the child’s right to be treated fairly and this is why the parent is open to the discrimination criticism.

Absolutely same reasoning applies to the boycott case : it doesnt matter how you organize yourself or what you call yourself or how big /small you are ( or what other unique suis generis duties you possess ). As long as your actions involve people with right to be treated fairly , and you fail to do so , you open yourself to discrimination charge and this is what is wrong with this particular boycott.

203

Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 6:51 am

Zdenek, I don’t think your argument works, or, at least, I think it is possible easily to construct examples where intuitions/reactions are different.

Suppose that the police devote disproportionate resources to catching burglars rather than white-collar fraudsters. I think I might agree that the police ought to re-allocate their resources, but I wouldn’t think that arrested burglars have a complaint of unfairness against the police.

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zdenek v 06.07.07 at 7:20 am

Chris I do not think your example is quite right.
In your example the cops continue to arrrest white collar fraudsters and that is probably why burglars have no case so this is where your example dosnt capture the boycott.
Come up with an example which is like the following one but which allows the intuitions to go your way :suppose the police catch only women speeders and ignore all the other speeders because women are say docile and easy to arrest. Such women surely have a case ?

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SG 06.07.07 at 7:31 am

Okay zdenek, let me give you a counter-scenario. You are walking along the street and you see a black woman getting mugged and a white woman getting mugged. The white woman is being mugged by an unarmed Jonah Goldberg, and the black woman is being mugged by several men armed with guns, who happen to have body armour. You have a knife, and a damsel in distress kind of mentality – it`s your thing. Which one do you rescue? And when you rescue the white woman, do I get to accuse you of racism for not rescuing the black woman? And if I think there was racism involved, should I decry your attempt to rescue the white woman and demand you rescue neither?

Here`s the point: life`s not fair. Now why don`t you go and tell that to the kiddies in Abb1`s piece above. And then you can explain to their parents that you are powerless to take any action against the people shooting them, because there are other more powerful states doing equally bad things which you can`t intervene in, so in the interests of fairness everyone has to die in the mud. Except you of course, you get to sit in your ivory tower refusing to cast judgement, even when the victims are asking you to.

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Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 7:48 am

Zdenek – of course you can come up with examples where people have reactions that support your case. My point was that it is just as easy to come up with other examples which point the other way. No doubt we are supposed to think that the women in your last one are relevantly similar to Israelis in the boycott case. But that isn’t obvious. After all, women, as such, aren’t members of a collective with decision-making procedures whereas Israeli citizens are. I don’t think your method is a fruitful one.

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zdenek v 06.07.07 at 7:57 am

sg is your point that moral considerations are luxury which we cannot afford ; we should just simply go ahead and ( do the right thing ? )boycott no matter what anyone says ?

Or is it that my particular moral scruples are irrelevant ( white , western liberal etc ) because from a higher form of morality that you share with your followers, the boycott is the right thing to do ?

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SG 06.07.07 at 8:04 am

No zdenek my point is that the “moral consideration” of consistency is a luxury which the people of palestine can`t afford for us to exercise at their expense.

Therefore, I am not going to be held back from applying a boycott (if I think it`s right in this case; I haven`t said if I do), just because to do so would privilege the Palestinians` suffering over that of other people. I am, in fact, quite happy to aid those I think I can help, and not aid those I think I can`t, and if that is inconsistent well, bugger me sideways with a fishfork. And if it just so happens that those oppressors who “suffer” from assistance happen to be mostly Jewish, well bugger me with a fishfork again, and call me an anti-semite while you do it.

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zdenek v 06.07.07 at 8:43 am

The problem is that these emotions you have towards Palestinians do not sound genuine ( the selectivity of this sort of venting is one hint ) and strike, not just me, as somehow fake ; produced as an after thought, to make your morally hollow position have some substance.

I am guessing but this seems like classic case of politically motivated action and if my hunch about the bogusness of your moral outrage is right, it has nothing to do with Palestinian peoples suffering either.

Are you an anti-semite then ? not necessarily but you energize anti-semitism and your outlook seems to map onto anti-semitism.

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SG 06.07.07 at 9:19 am

well, well, well, well… what a surprise…

I notice you didn’t complain on John Quiggin’s great shave post about why he singled out cancer for funding. You seem to only single out the instance of Israel for criticism of “inconsistency”.

I think your emotions on this – your willingness to call me anti-semitic when I haven’t said anything negative about Jews is a hint – are not entirely genuine. It’s a classic case of politically motivated action. Maybe you don’t like people supporting muslims…

are you an islamophobe then? Not necessarily but you energise hatred of muslims and your outlook seems to map onto islamophobia.

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zdenek v 06.07.07 at 10:27 am

In what sense does the proposed boycott map onto anti-semitism ? In the sense that the UCU’s resolution 30 proposes to adopt the so called ‘Palestinian boycott call’ which has roots in the Arab League boycott first declared in 1945 before establishment of Israel and which targeted the jewish community in Palestine.

It is clear that the proposed boycott has its roots in this highly suspect effort because it does not aim at peace between Israelis and Palestinians within two-state solution but rather is part of the rejectionist campaign to dismantle Israel as a country.

This shows that the aim is not any specific government policy of Israel but rather the existence of jewish people in Palestine by portraying them as social outcasts.

Is this anti-semitism ? not necessarily but it maps onto it rather beautifully dont you think ?

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Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 10:34 am

OK folks, I’ve been too tolerant. This thread has now gone the way of all the Israel/Palestine threads we’ve ever had. Time to close comments.

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