Via Ranjit’s new blog, Cultural Sabotage, I read this article from ZNet. I don’t always find myself agreeing with ZNet on a lot of issues, but they frame the debate in more interesting ways than most “mainstream” publications, which don’t seek to have a debate. What follows below the fold are disorganized first impressions on the topic of academic boycotting of Israel, and is likely to be riddled with self-contradicting statements.
The article is on the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and collaborations as a means of pressuring the state of Israel cease its colonialism of the occupied territories. It seeks to address criticisms of the proposed boycott, but at the same time raises more questions. Since I’m not organized enough to provide a tight critique, I’ll start near the beginning:
… and finally, to exclude from the actions against Israeli institutions any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state’s colonial and racist policies.
This exception to the rule is already a stumbling block — who is make the decision that Prof. So-And-So at the Technion is sufficiently conscientious?
Lisa Taraki’s point is that the Israeli academy’s silence in condemning the worst behaviors of occupying forces, in particular those tragedies which befell Palestinian academics, is more telling than the professed politics of individual academics. To her then, the boycott is focussed on bringing institutional pressure on the Israeli academy to force it to take a stance as a whole. You can argue the merits of this approach, but it is in tune with imposing sanctions on a state whose actions you wish to change, although you can’t carry the analogy too far. It hurts many who are innocent, but may spur the mass into action.
The article’s rhetorical floor is the idea that we must discard the “pervasive exceptionalism” surrounding discussions of Israel. Which means we must take on Zionism head on. This is, I think more appropriate. Until some consensus or decision is reached regarding whether Israel should remain an apartheid state, and that decision is embraced, no further progress can be made. However, most of the discussion is trying to flit about the status quo without discussing the moral implications thereof.
If we accept for the moment that this division is fundamental — that some Israelis believe that preservation of majority Jewish rule trumps other considerations, and some believe that that returning to the pre-1967 borders and the right to return for Palestinians is the only solutions (these are just two views for illustration) — then this boycott may fracture the Israeli academy. I’m not sure how politicized academic institutions are there, but it could lead to some serious turmoil, and it is unclear that Taraki has considered this. She seems to take for granted the proposition that left-leaning academics dominate and that when pushed with sufficient force they will issue the appropriate statements.
For myself personally, I am still not convinced of the appropriateness of this boycott. As a more general principle, I know that I do not want to work with those whose personal politics I find odious. I will have no truck with racists of any sort, misogynists, or homophobes. If that costs me my professional career, so be it, but I don’t want my name associated professionally with bigots. But that is my personal decision, and I’m not sure if I am ready to condemn someone for not succeeding at changing the minds of their peers.