How not to fight an anti-Israel boycott

  • 0

There are many good reasons to oppose the American Studies Association (ASA)  decision to boycott Israeli universities. But there are some bad reasons as  well. Many arguments against the boycott play exactly into the hands of the  pro-boycott propagandists and give them the ammunition they need to continue  their poisonous campaign with renewed vigor and self-righteousness.

The two most dangerous “objections” to the boycott consist of these arguments:  1) There are worse violators of human rights in the world, so why pick on  Israel? And 2) Israel is aware of her “crimes,” and is about to repent and  behave.

These two arguments have been used as a crutch by many  commentators, including several academics who wrote articles in the Jewish  press, ostensibly opposing the proposed boycott. I consider such arguments  damaging.

Proclaiming: “You caught me stealing, but there are  bigger thieves in town” is precisely what the boycott cronies want to hear, and  the ASA president’s response, “We have to start somewhere,” sounds more  compelling than the plea for first chasing after the other thieves in town.  After all, once we admit to being part of the Mafia, we have no business telling  the police, or even self-appointed vigilantes, how to go about fighting crime,  and we should not be surprised if we are the first to be arrested.

My purpose in this article is to assure students and  readers that the case against academic boycott is not as flimsy as these  arguments make it sound, and that the vast majority of faculty and researchers  in American universities do recognize both the anti-academic character of the  boycott campaign and the distorted substance of its allegations.

They recognize that Israel did not choose to occupy  another people and that her forced presence in the West Bank cannot end  unilaterally, without an end-of-conflict agreement.

The majority of faculty recognizes that, obviously,  the occupation “has a negative impact on the working conditions of Palestinian  researchers and students” (this is a quote from the ASA resolution). But it is  also obvious that Israel cannot lift movement restrictions in the West Bank  while she is intimidated daily, both rhetorically and physically, with  existential threats; normalcy has its price — it must be symmetrical.

They recognize that while occupation is ugly and  unsustainable, the Arab side shares (at least) equal responsibility for  prolonging this conflict by nourishing a culture in which coexistence is a  sinful thought.

In particular, Palestinian educators, researchers,  students and academic institutions who now call for boycotting Israel are  greatly responsible for perpetuating this culture of anti-coexistence, hence no  less deserving of a boycott than their Israeli counterparts. Most academics  would agree that, by any reasonable criterion, denying peoplehood to a people,  for more than 65 years, is no less a crime than causing students at Nablus  University to be late to class.

What ASA members should be most concerned about is  their professional reputation, having let their organization be hijacked by the  rhetoric of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and its radical  supporters. While the resolution itself may sound benign, ASA members should  have taken a hard look at the purpose for which this document will be used in  the future.

The leaders of the BDS movement do not hide that  purpose: In every conversation with them, they make it crystal clear that their  ultimate goal is not to end the occupation, nor is it to achieve a peaceful  solution in the Middle East, but rather to defame Israel in the public eye, to  choreograph an arena where Israel’s criminality is debated, to intimidate  pro-coexistence voices into silence, if not shame, and eventually bring about  Israel’s isolation, if not her demise.

Omar Barghouti, the key ideologist of BDS, stated  publicly (Sept. 29, 2013), “Colonizers [read: Zionists] are not entitled to  self-determination, by any definition of self-determination.”

ASA members should also take a hard look at what this  resolution would do to campus climate, how it would alienate faculty members who  choose or need to collaborate with Israeli universities and what it would mean  to the posture of Jewish students on campus once BDS supporters sense the smell  of victory, however mild.

A special breed among BDS supporters is the one called  “history professors.” These tenured enigmas are as quick to desecrate the word  “apartheid” as they are to rewrite new chapters of Jewish history. Some of these  “history professors” can preach for hours and hours on the moral right of the  Palestinian people to self determination and, at the same time, ignore or deny  the right of their neighbors to the same self determination.

In the old days we used to label such professors  “racists,” but nowadays this label is reserved strictly for Islamophobes and  “white settlers’ colonial societies,” so, on a technicality, a racist can pose  as a human rights activist. One of Israel’s painful misfortunes is that so many  history professors formed their worldview at a time when the only villains in  town were “white settlers.”

Today, when there are no such settlers in existence  (except perhaps the British settlers in the Falkland Islands), history  professors must invent them, to fit the script, no matter how absurd the  resemblance. And you can guess whom they chose for the honor — the only  functioning society in the Middle East that speaks the language of its  historical birthplace.

On the positive side, we should not forget that  despite its symbolic victory in the ASA case, the BDS movement has given the  Jewish people two important gifts. First, support of BDS has become a crisp and  visible litmus test by which to distinguish potential discussants from hopeless  bigots, and by which to determine whom to include and whom to exclude from the  big tent of “Jewish conversation.” Drawing such red lines was one of the  smartest things our sages enforced to preserve Jewish identity. At times it  involved painful decisions, which left the Karaites, the early Christians, the  Shabtaim, the Spanish Conversos and “Jews for Jesus” out of the community. These  were necessary, life-saving decisions. Today, as if by divine supervision, BDS  supporters find themselves excluded from the tent of Jewish conversation — a  life-saving demarcation line has been drawn, and a stronger, more united  community has emerged.

The second blessing has been a miraculous awakening  and an unprecedented galvanization of Jewish students and faculty to confront  the dangers of the BDS assault. It is still too early to assess, but I would  nevertheless venture to predict that next year will not be an easy one for  Israel’s enemies on campus.

An early version of this article has appeared in  the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

Read more: How not to fight an anti-Israel boycott | Judea Pearl | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

How not to fight an anti-Israel boycott

  • 0