This latest boycott will be, apparently, even more far-reaching since it will apply to all lecturers and academic institutions in Israel as opposed to the tiny handful in last year’s motion. As Ha’aretz reports, however, NATFHE, which is to bring the issue to a vote at its annual national conference on May 27-29, is to proceed with some caution. Since the University of Haifa – one of the targets of last year’s boycott call — has threatened the AUT with a lawsuit, the NATFHE motion does not actually recommend a boycott of Israeli institutions but calls on the union to suggest its members carry out the boycott.
‘The conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of the boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies,’ the NATFHE motion states. It also encourages lecturers to hold meetings on the issue on campus.
So here we go again. But let me repeat what I said last time round, when I predicted this thing would not go away because it had been defeated on the wrong grounds. The argument last time, which led overwhelmingly to the defeat of the boycott, was the issue of academic freedom. Of course this is important. But it’s not the point. The reason the boycott is so evil is that it is based on a series of Big Lies – the lie of Israeli ‘apartheid’, of Israeli ‘oppression’, ‘aggression’, ‘occupation’ and all the rest of the demonology of delegitimisation, ignorance and prejudice. Running through last year’s resistance movement against the boycott was the argument that academic freedom was necessary in order to continue to demonise and delegitimise Israel (I paraphrase, but that essentially was the message). That aspect of the resistance was thus guilty of the same prejudice that was behind the boycott itself. It was thus not only wrong in itself but ultimately self-defeating because it meant that the inspiration for the boycott was not only not being addressed but would surely lead to the boycott springing to life once again.
So it has now proved. This time, the resistance must take on the actual cause of the boycott: the wellsprings of hatred of the Jewish state which course through our campuses. Freedom of speech is not the issue. It’s the bigotry, stupid.