Updated: Checking for the 'wrong' Israelis

News & Politics

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is wrong. It produces ferocious opposition, crushing sadness and death on both sides.

But the decision by a British teachers' association to "advise" that British academics "consider their own responsibility" when dealing with Israeli academics who don't renounce Israel's "apartheid policies" is ridiculous, discriminatory and -- perhaps worse -- totally counterproductive for Palestinians.

You remember Palestinians? They're the ones actually suffering under the occupation.

The obvious responses came in the form of letters to the editor of the Times, which ran a report on the issue.

Demanding that Israeli academics dissociate themselves from Israel's "apartheid policies," while not at the same time insisting that Palestinian academics renounce Hamas's stated intent to destroy Israel, exhibits intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy of the highest order.
Another, judiciously avoiding mention of Bush's illegal war in Iraq, wrote:
I eagerly await a similar boycott of British academics who do not object to Britain's policies in Northern Ireland or who support Tony Blair's conduct of the Iraq war.
I am sure that there will also be boycotts of Russian academics who are complicit in Russia's occupation of Chechnya or Indian professors who side with India in its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.
Proponents of boycotting Israel point to the South African model; but this is highly counterproductive and dull -- about as helpful as fighting al Qaeda with Cold War tactics.

Anyone who wants to change the dynamics of the conflict may want to work with American Jews (who are deeply divided on the occupation) and conservative Evangelicals to effect American policy, instead of exacerbating the issue with discriminatory and impotent gestures that do more to serve the righteousness of distant academics than to ensure peace and prosperity for Palestinians.

Brits would do best to concentrate on their own leadership and its fawning support for ours. If they want to do something more direct, they should set up debates, write papers, speak on TV -- all the things academics do these days. But vetting Israelis is a plain ol' crappy idea.

Update: Upon receiving a letter from reader/contributor Patrick Connor, I'm including some more relevant information on the issue.

First, contrary to a major assertion of mine -- that Palestinians on the ground should not be forgotten -- I did just that. I neglected to point out that the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel lists 170 Palestinian academic, cultural and other civil society federations, unions, and organizations in support of the boycott.

On the other hand, two of the most prominent Palestinian-American scholars, including the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia, Rashid Khalidi and his colleague Joseph Massad [correction: I emailed Massad and he replied by sending a quote from his upcoming book, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: "applying international pressure including divestment from Israel, imposing an international economic blockade on the country, cultural and tourism boycotts, and instituting an international diplomatic isolation of the country." -- not to mention progressive academic Juan Cole -- are opposed to the boycott.

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