My views on the Academic Boycott


Well, as it is late I am going to cheat a bit and reword a comment I posted on a blog entry. It’s funny though, that it is only when we encounter an opposing opinion (or when we bother to stop and think) that we develop our opinions further… enough of that aside, on to the main part of this entry:

On the matter of this boycott affecting scholarship in general (in the UK in particular), I argue that the ramifications are not as hurtful as the actual occupation or the suffering of university students, and research in general in Palestine (check out http://www.bricup.org.uk). Palestinian universities are starved of funds, their students face a near impossible commute to university… often passing through checkpoints, or being prevented from doing so by road blocks, and the universities have been closed many times due to extreme situations, such as curfews, bombings, incursions by the israeli army etc. etc.

Some say the boycott is an empty gesture. I think not, it shows solidarity, in a more tangible way than a rally in central London ever could. It is affecting Israel, they are annoyed and angry, and are planning on fighting it. Therefore, this boycott (which has yet to be physically put into affect!) has had an effect, which is what the boycott wants, to make a point, and Israel won’t listen unless there is either something in it for them, or they stand to lose something. It also enables Palestinian academics to have their voices heard in the UK, something which currently is nigh impossible.

Academic boycott is probably the most humane, most benign type of boycott. The boycott the EU has on the Palestinians is far FAR more damaging. The EU and Britain is actively involved in the horrendous situation that the Palestinians find themselves in… they are withholding funds, to punish the Palestinians for being democratic. This is on top of their support of the Zionist regime, and its silence on the refusal of that government to implement the right of return. Israel is also withholding tax monies rightfully the Palestinian governments’… added to that the Arab/Islamic countries are too terrified of the USA to offer financial support.

Some say scholarship should rise above politics. I think scholarship has not only the ability but the luxury to be objective, I think any academic should take this situation and analyse it in an intelligent and scholarly manner. Also, to say that academics should rise above politics is also implying that the issue of Palestine, and what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is purely a political one, when in fact it is largely a humanitarian one.

Some say that you are unsure whether this boycott has anti-Semitic connotations… actually it is very clear, this movement is NOT anti-Semetic, and is supported by many Jewish organisations… to equate Zionism and the actions of the Zionist government to Judaism is not only factually incorrect, but is found to be offensive by many Jews (see http://www.nkusa.org, http://www.jewsagainstzionism.org, http://www.jfjfp.org). I personally reject the underhand attempts by some groups to equate anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism in order to garner more support for their aims.

As for the Nobel Laureate Stephen Weinberg (he boycotted a meeting in Imperial college as a protest against the Union of Journalists boycott): his decision is his decision, it maybe a shame that Cosmologists in the UK have missed out on what I am sure would have been a fascinating talk, however, it is neither a catastrophe nor of huge impact to the future of cosmology. So, he may not cite those physicists verbally supporting the boycott, but at the end of the day it is a small sacrifice to make.

Israeli academics such as Illan Pappe, who is probably the main academic there who is supportive of Palestinian human rights and condemnatory of Israeli actions towards the people whose land they occupied, is in fact FOR the boycott .

In conclusion, even though I find the reaction to the call for such a boycott hysterical (it is far too dependent on people actually bothering to really work), I still think it is worth having in place. This is not an issue of internal politics of another country (something which I tend to prefer not meddling with), it is an international issue, the West is already involved, this measure is a small, yet critical, step forward in balancing the advantages each side has. Only when both sides are free, can justice and eventual peace be achieved.

4 Responses

  1. Just a quick question… should we not also be launching a boycott of other countries that have similar or worse human rights records?

    eg… China, Sudan, etc.

  2. If countries such as the US, UK and most of Europe were not supportive of the Zionist regime, if they did not particpate in the situation the Palestinians find themselves (in an economic boycott of sorts), if the power of the US had not alienated the potential friends of the Palestinians… I would not be saying that such a boycott was necessary. If the international community were not already meddling, I would not think that more interference was necessary… I am calling for a balance of power, for freedom for the people.

    Israel has seriously damaged Palestinian economy, I recall that something like 1/2 of Gazas cherry tomato produce rotted in stores thanks to them. Palestinians are living in a veritable prison in their own homes… in Gaza the occupying power destroyed their only power plant (built using EU funds)… is it really fair of you to divert attention away what is really a humanitarian crisis of a people, by bringing in the sufferings of another into this post?

    Here I jump in and say that I know very little of the Human rights violations in china, I am also very wary of international meddling in internal politics/way a country is run (look at what happened in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama…. all of them suffered from the self serving nature of those that professed to ‘help’ them). With Sudan it is a civil war, of rebels vs. the government. If you find the actions of either repulsive/you disagree with them, by all means do not have dealings with them, call for a boycott if you want, who exactly is stopping you?

    Is that you do not wish to see help for the Palestinians that you wish to make such a boycott seem so difficult by saying if you help the Palestinians you must help everyone regardless of whether the other people are in a completely different situation?

    Please, begin your own blog and call for help for people of Sudan and China, I for one wont be jumping in and diverting the topic back to the palestinians or the kurds or the armeninians or the native americans or the aborigines…

  3. A reasonable reply, I figure that deserves more than a throwaway sentence.

    (1) “Start your own blog about Sudan, etc.”

    I agree, people have different priorities, and it is excessive to ask that people only show concern for the most grievous and egregious instances of abuse. I was extremely upset when my neighbors were playing loud music at 3am, and it would have been silly of them to ask me to concentrate on the crime happening in the inner cities instead of the music.

    Given that, it doesn’t disturb me that those most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause would wish to boycott Israel. I think it is an ineffective and erronous approach, but you certainly have the right to advocate for it. However, I do not feel the same about a large organization that is not directly connected to the middle east situation taking the same approach. Small groups have the luxury of catering to smaller issues, but larger organizations must respond to bigger issues. I find it curious that the issue of Israel often seems to be at the forefront of these situations, when they are so many many many other places in the world were substantially larger violations are taking place.

    So, my first point: The attention on Israel appears to be disproportionate to the extent of Israel’s crimes.

    (2) Palestinian suffering

    For those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, I don’t understand why there is no boycott of Lebanon, a country that has consistently denied its Palestinian population the most basic of rights and is currently in the process of shelling one of the camps in a rather indiscrimant fashion. (As it turns out, I fully support Lebanon, I just wonder why others don’t try to act against them).

    I also wonder why there was no outcry from 1948-1967 while Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza respectively. What makes Israeli occupation worse?

    (3) The wrong tactic.

    What is the goal of the boycott, to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians? To create a Palestinian state? To destroy Israel?

    Presumably, the greater goal here is to bring peace to the region, hopefully while enacting a just resolution to the dillemas that stand in the way. Perhaps your goal might be that Israel ceases to exist as a jewish nation, but that is unlikely to happen. Even worse, given that the stated goal of so many nations is either the miltary or demographic destruction of Israel, it paints them into a corner where they must fight or die.

    The Israelis I have spoken to all seem to feel that the world (except for the States) is against them. They feel that Israel can be wiped out at any time. I happen to think that this belief is silly (and you would probably agree) but nonetheless, that is their ideology.

    I believe that supporting that belief runs against the process of an eventual resolution to the conflict. Launching a boycott against Israel will not suddenly get them to agree to put themselves in a more vunerable position vis a vis the world. That simply isn’t human nature. At best, the boycott will simply alienate the secularists who are often in favour of a Palestinian state. At worst, a boycott could bring the hard right-wing of Likud into power, at which point a Palestinian state would be unlikely to result.

    So, if the goal is the punish Israel, then perhaps a boycott might be effective. However, if the goal is to help the Palestinians, then I can’t imagine how it would be effective in any way.

    … I think that is all I will say for now.

  4. Hi David,

    Wow, long response! You are certainly making me think.

    D: “I agree, people have different priorities, and it is excessive to ask that people only show concern for the most grievous and egregious instances of abuse. I was extremely upset when my neighbors were playing loud music at 3am, and it would have been silly of them to ask me to concentrate on the crime happening in the inner cities instead of the music.”

    Well I do agree, but am a bit concerned at whether you are comparing the situation of Palestinians to a 3am annoyance of loud music. For I can assure you that what the Palestinians have found themselves in is quite serious. The checkpoints, curfews, drone planes flying nightly over the towns, the shelling, the number of people held prisoners without trial, the destroyed economy, lack of safety, lack of electricity (Gaza), lack of water (israel uses 4 times as much water as the palestinians even though there is underground water in the west bank, it is apparently being pumped by the israelis), number of kids killed by snipers at their desk in school or on their way to school, difficulty getting to school, large number of refugees… adds up to more than an annoyance.

    “So, my first point: The attention on Israel appears to be disproportionate to the extent of Israel’s crimes.”

    I agree it is disproportionate, it is much MUCH less than it should be. The Palestinians do not have any allies in high places, it is up to the little people to help as much as they can.

    “For those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, I don’t understand why there is no boycott of Lebanon, a country that has consistently denied its Palestinian population the most basic of rights and is currently in the process of shelling one of the camps in a rather indiscrimant fashion. (As it turns out, I fully support Lebanon, I just wonder why others don’t try to act against them).”

    You support the Lebanese army for shelling a refugee camp?! Okaaay, back to the former point, I do not disagree with you, the Palestinians in Lebanon have it worse than the Palestinians who sought refuge in other Arab countries. You are right there has been no outrcy over the barbarism of the Lebanese army (or very little). The Palestinians though have a homeland, which they were terrorised into leaving 59 years ago, and which they have been denied return by the invading power… this doesnt excuse the lebanese army though… especially since this fatah al-islam lot appear to be a plant… they are not a Palestinian organisation and seem their origin/identity appear to be an enigma.

    “I also wonder why there was no outcry from 1948-1967 while Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza respectively. What makes Israeli occupation worse?”

    Israel still occupies the west bank… Jordan and Egypt may have had control over these regions, but at the time they were considered allies, and under the Jordanian rule at least Palestinians were able to obtain id papers and passorts, access to Jordan and the educational facilities there.

    “What is the goal of the boycott, to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians? To create a Palestinian state? To destroy Israel?”

    According to BRICUP, who are an organisation of acadmics in the UK supporting the boycott the aims are:

    to support Palestinian universities, staff and students, and

    to oppose the continued illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands with its concomitant breaches of international conventions of human rights, its refusal to accept UN resolutions or rulings of the International Court, and its persistent suppression of Palestinian academic freedom.

    “Even worse, given that the stated goal of so many nations is either the miltary or demographic destruction of Israel, it paints them into a corner where they must fight or die.”

    There are so many examples of countries colonising what at the time they deemed to be barbaric nations (the americas, Australasia, most of Africs, India and probably lots more). In south africa, the native africans were segregated, treated as lower class citizens, and broken up into living in bantustans… they fought back though, and have achieved worldwide admiration not only for winning but for the moral high ground that they took.., they could have just as easily sought revenge, but they wanted to move on. Demographically the white supremist government of south africa was destroyed, but as a country the end of their apartheid signified the growth and continued life of the country. If you think that the demographic structure of Israel is worth dieing for that is your opinion, I disagree…

    “The Israelis I have spoken to all seem to feel that the world (except for the States) is against them. They feel that Israel can be wiped out at any time. I happen to think that this belief is silly (and you would probably agree) but nonetheless, that is their ideology.”

    Europe is with them too. Most countries are, even if it is due to pressure from the states.

    I think that the preservation of demography is a harder point to sell to the troops of occupation than ‘serve or die’… they believe so because they have been conditioned to believe so… when in fact their continued oppression, arrogance and ‘what i want i will have’ attitude will be their undoing.

    “Launching a boycott against Israel will not suddenly get them to agree to put themselves in a more vunerable position vis a vis the world. That simply isn’t human nature. At best, the boycott will simply alienate the secularists who are often in favour of a Palestinian state. At worst, a boycott could bring the hard right-wing of Likud into power, at which point a Palestinian state would be unlikely to result.”

    didnt happen with south africa.. and the only reason that it may happen with israel is b/c they have the international immunity to be able to do it… if the pressure came from a source higher up than the academics of britain it will work… it may very well backfire on us… but people in general are self serving… britain is a leader in research, people want to be involved in the scene… academics of israel may start to think ‘why’ and eventually create internal pressure… they may wake up and realise that they are not blameless in the boycott that they find themselves in.

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