academia, israel, boycotts (again)

In an earlier post I talked about my discomfort with the idea that a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is an appropriate or effective means of applying political pressure. These recent posts at Left2Right and Crooked Timber discuss a thoroughly backwards way of approaching the issue that may be adopted by a university professor’s union in the UK. According to the NY Times:

The boycott, which has prompted outrage in Israel, the United States and Britain, would bar Israeli faculty members at Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University from taking part in academic conferences or joint research with their British colleagues.
The resolution on the boycott, passed by the Association of University Teachers in late April, would allow an exception only for those academics at the two schools who declare opposition to Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

This wrongheaded in so many ways that it makes me wonder how these people made it through grad school in the first place. Setting aside the issue of whether or not a boycott is appropriate in the first place, what could this possibly seek to accomplish? As a symbolic gesture it fails miserably because it’s trying to “call out” academics by threatening to make them academic pariahs. It is definitely not an effective way to apply pressure to the Israeli academy because it applies to only two universities. Finally, it’s an attempt to bind union members to a clearly controversial stance and represents an abuse (in my mind) of union power.

The whole thing is like one high school clique ignoring another or some kids giving one person the silent treatment. These guys wish it was like some sort of gang war or Noble Struggle, but it’s just childish and ignorant.

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