|THE UNENVIABLE FATE OF ISRAELI LEFTISTS |
posted by Bernice Lipkin.
July 20, 2002
Peace Now, B'Tselem and a host of other Jewish organizations that see the Palestinians as victims of Israeli brutality have long drawn on the commitment and efforts of a group of Israeli academics, who for the most part view themselves as secularists and globalists. They are willing to give the extra dunam of land for peaceful relations with their neighbors. They retain a optimism, last seen in America during the Vietnam War that, with just another concession, Israel will see peace at the end of the tunnel. Since the Second Intifada began, their ranks have thinned, but the hard-core of Israeli leftists have remained true to their principles.
Arabs and Arab-sympathizers who are fighting Israel find these folk useful in many ways. There is, for example, a downside to boycotting Israeli goods: someone might think you are anti-Jewish. What to do? Simple. Just point to the dozen or so Jewish organizations that act as if Israel is always in the wrong. So your boycott isn't anti-Jewish; it's anti-Israel.
The Jews that support Arab activities say they don't hate Israel. If fact, often they claim they are doing this for her own good, to stop her from continuing in her evil ways. The urgency of the task is such that, in comparison, what the Arabs are doing is small potatoes.
These Jews often serve as mouthpieces for views others want expressed. When Dan Ephron of Newsweek a few weeks ago did a number on the settlements in the Territories, who did he quote as Mr. Average Israeli? Professor Arie Arnon of Ben Gurion University. He didn't mention that Professor Arnon is a leading member of Peace Now and has signed a letter urging IDF reservists not to serve on the West Bank.
Sometimes they go in for street theatre demonstrating for peace or they monitor what other Jews were doing. Peace Now members are always on the alert for illegal building on the West Bank. Illegal Jewish settlements, that is. Illegal Arab settlements don't matter. They take pictures. They report new building activity. They send this information to interested parties, who condemn the new growth. Rumor has it that photos showing weak spots in settlement defenses have found their way into the hands of terrorists, who infiltrate the town a short time later. Certainty has it that the condemnation is always because UN Resolution this and Oslo Agreement that have been violated. There usually isn't a violation, but repetition of the charges has convinced many people that the Jews are in the wrong.
In recent months, these academics have found themselves the targets of attack by the very people they regard as their partners for peace: like-minded colleagues around the world and Arabs who are pro-Arab (Is there an Arab group that's pro-Israel?). It has caused many on the Left to actually look at what's going on. But there are some who cling even more firmly to the rightness of their beliefs.
On April 6, 2002, a letter in the English newspaper, the Guardian, announced an action, already in progress, to deny Israeli academics travel funds and access to their European colleagues. The letter pointed out that:
"...many national and European cultural and research institutions, including especially those funded from the EU and the European Science Foundation, regard Israel as a European state for the purposes of awarding grants and contracts."
The letter mentioned in passing that no other Middle Eastern country was so favored -- but they clearly didn't want to get into a comparison of science in Israel vis a vis its neighbors. "Would it not," the letter continued,
"therefore be timely if at both national and European level a moratorium was called upon any further such support unless and until Israel abide by UN resolutions and open serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, along the lines proposed in many peace plans including most recently that sponsored by the Saudis and the Arab League."
Steven Rose, who helped instigate the petition, modestly designated himself as "Coordinator" (There's a sketch about him in Two Academics and A Rabbi in this issue.)
The appended list of some 120 signers included a large number from the UK, as well as signers from Eire, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
What was incredible was that the list of signers included academics from Israel, the very people who would be adversely affected. This is the list of Israelis who signed the English petition:
Amit, Professor Daniel, Hebrew University
Bar, Iris, Haifa University
Giora, Professor Rachel, Tel-Aviv University
Katriel, Dr Haggai, Haifa University
Lavie, Professor Smadar, Tel-Aviv
Pappe, Dr Ilan, Haifa University
Razi, Professor Zvi, Tel-Aviv University
Reinhart, Professor Tanya, Tel-Aviv University
Shlonsky, Dr Tuvia, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
By May 22nd, the petition was answered by a counter petition, initiated by a group of mathematicians at the University of Chicago. The group, Scientists and Scholars in Support of Israel, called the boycott "immoral, misguided and dangerous." Their petition, also published in the Guardian, was soon signed by some 2500 academics.
Like brush fires in a dry forest, boycott petitions have flared up around the world, followed by anti-boycott petitions. International groups, institutes and universities have become involved. It's hard to be accurate about the chronology, because often a petition has been signed by the time it is announced.
The Isolate Israeli Scientists theme of the petitions is, of course, roughly the same, and, were the boycotts successful, the results would be highly damaging, not just to Israelis, but to their many collaborative efforts around the globe.
There are surface differences. Some of the petitions, like the one in England, sound as if they were merely trying to get Israeli academics to do the right thing. Others, like the Australian one, initiated by Ghassan Hage, an Arab-Australian professor from Sydney University's Anthropology Department, and John Docker, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University's Humanities Research Center, are intemperate. The Australian one had this to say (italics added):
"Our moratorium is based on the position that the majority of Israeli academics and academic institutions, by their silence or active support for their government, have been complicit with the destruction of the Palestinian people."
Mark Schulman, writing about the petition in the Jerusalem Post, 23 May 2002, pointed out that only some 90 teachers and researchers out of some 40,000 nationwide signed the petition. More to the point, there was strong reaction against it.
It's hard to know where a boycott petition is a local affair and spontaneous and where it has been centrally choreographed. In the United States, Associate Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh of Yale University appears to have a major role in coordinating boycott petitions. (It is a wonder the man has time to teach: he is also running a boycott of Israeli goods and services. And a boycott of businesses that do business with Israel. He heads the Palestine Right To Return Coalition's Media Committee. And he writes letters blasting articles he doesn't like.)
The French petition, on the other hand, may be self-generated. Few of the names are on the English petition. The French petition illustrates another problem in comparing the boycott petitions: figuring out what they are objecting to. Sometimes it's the IDF entry into a West Bank city. Sometimes it's their killing a terrorist. Sometimes it's Israel winning the 1967 War. Sometimes, it's Israel winning the 1948 War.
Drawn up by a group calling itself Coordination des Scientifiques pour une Paix Juste au Proche-Orient, the French petition called for a boycott of Israeli scientific institutions. In the English translation, the petition reads: "Because the campaign against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority launched at the end of March 2002. . ." A signer pledges that
"Under these circumstances, I can no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities. I will attend no scientific conferences in Israel, and I will not participate as referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities, or in the decisions of Israeli funding agencies. I will continue to collaborate with, and host, Israeli scientific colleagues on an individual basis."
The last sentence is interesting -- you can show your indignation but continue a collaboration that benefits you. There are some French Jewish signers but no Israeli signers. In the USA contingent, Richard Lewontin's name stands out among the predominantly Arab names. Lewontin wrote a book with Steven Rose of the English petition (See: Two Academics and a Rabbi .) The boys from Australia, Docker and Hage, signed on for this one, too.
While statements by some groups, such as the one by a Polish group against the boycott, were strongly supportive of Israel, it says something about the dominant mindset in the academic communities that many of the rebuttals are hand-wringers and defensive -- complaining that the precipitating boycott is one-sided in assigning blame. But in general, the response of scientists and academicians has been overwhelmingly against boycotting Israelis. The EuroIsrael website has some 13,000 signers to date.
Activist academics promoting the boycott are often linked to noisier groups seeking to have universities divest themselves of their Israeli holdings. In June there was a flurry of publicity at Harvard when a faculty member, Richard Hunt, actively encouraged Zayed Yasin, a senior, to apply to give one of the undergraduate commencement speeches, and then, in his role as Chairman of the selection committee, helped select him. Yasin had raised funds for the Holy Land Foundation, a group tied to Hamas. And several trade journals -- Nature and Lancet come to mind -- have made gratuitous anti-Israel statements. But the continuing campaigns for and against boycott, had been waged largely by petition and persuasion in the academic community.
All in all, it pretty much stayed out of the eye of the general public. Until Mona -- Mona Baker -- an Egyptian academic at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), who did not restrict her activities to signing the French and English petitions. Thanks to her, the campaign to humiliate Israeli scholars became direct, nasty and attracted the attention of the general public.
She is the editor and owner (!) of two journals: The Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts. They are published by St. Jerome Press, which is run by her husband, Ken. She announced she would no longer accept papers from Israelis. And she fired the two Israeli scholars who served on the Editorial/Advisory Boards of these journals because they were Israeli. This provoked an indignant response from the Israeli government and academics mostly outside of England.
English academics reacted after Baker pleaded nobility and bravery in an interview she gave to the Telegraph, a London newspaper. David Tell of the Weekly Standard describes her interview this way in an article entitled Boycotting the Juden:
"There is a large intimidation machine out there," organized by international bankers one supposes. And this machine means to silence all critical commentary on Israeli government policy. And "the Americans are the worst offenders." But "I'm damned if I'm going to be intimidated." And as if to prove it, Baker went on to liken Israel to Nazi Germany: "Israel has gone beyond just war crimes. It is horrific what is going on there. Many of us would like to talk about it as some kind of Holocaust which the world will eventually wake up to, much too late, of course, as they did with the last one."
Her interview received world-wide attention and she received much unwelcome email. A letter by Richard Cassel in the Jerusalem Post reported what he had written her:
"The article in the Jerusalem Post quotes you as saying that 'Israel has gone beyond just war crimes. It is horrific what is going on there.' I was curious though. Just what horrific act do you find so appalling? Could it be the Israeli suicide bombers who target any innocent Palestinian they can find? Or perhaps it's all the Arab buses they've blown up. Of course it could be all the Arab Pizza Parlors, Malls, and Restaurants that they attacked. Or maybe the Israeli textbooks which claim that Arabs poison wells, use Christian blood to bake pita, control world finance, and meet secretly to plot the takeover of the world?"
The two Israelis got less attention.
Ironically, one of them, Miriam Shlesinger, a lecturer in translation studies at Bar-Ilan University, is a former chairman of the Amnesty International's Israeli chapter, a longtime member of Peace Now and a critic of Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She has been active during the Second Intifada as part of an ethnically-mixed group that defies Israeli army blockades to deliver supplies to Palestinian towns in the West Bank. She signed a petition complaining about Israel's closing of Palestinian universities. She participated in the peace rally in January, 2001 to make Jerusalem the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state. The rally also called for "a just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem."
Dr. Shlesinger's son-in-law died last year, shot in the face by a Hamas terrorist. Now this. She has condemned Baker's actions as "counter-productive, discriminatory, and based on misinformation", but she doesn't seem to take her dismissal personally.
Professor Eva Jablonka of the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science, Tel-Aviv University signed the English boycott petition. She has been quoted as saying: "I received very emotional reactions [from my colleagues], as though I am betraying them and personally working against them." (Fancy that!)
She went on to say:
"None of the people who signed this manifesto are in favor of a sweeping academic boycott, canceling all relations; all the people I know who signed are people who care and want the State of Israel to survive, as an ethical country, as a country of peace."
Judging from their published writings, she's wrong that all the signers want Israel to survive. Unless she means that Israel has her blessings to survive if and only if it is an ethical country -- as the signers define ethical.
Professor Tanya Reinhart, a linguist from Tel-Aviv University, is one of the more interesting of this group. She did her Ph.D. at MIT in linguistics, where she was Noam Chomsky's student. (See the sketch of Chomsky, this issue.) They continue to see eye to eye. And though Chomsky drops theories like a cat drops litters, this one has survived. Well, maybe others have abandoned it, but Reinhart continues to talk about Binding and Anaphora, her dissertation topic.
She has been a fervent fighter for Palestinian rights, and has often published in Yediot Aharonot, a Hebrew daily. These articles, as do those written by Chomsky, find their way to many an anti-Israel website. She signed both the English petition and the MIT divestiture petition. She continues to defend the boycott petition.
Surprisingly, Baruch Kimmerling, in the Department of Sociology at Hebrew University, did not sign the petition, though he agreed with the reasons given for having the boycott. He too felt Israel had "committed unforgettable crimes against the Palestinian people." But "[i]n this repressive climate, the Israeli academy remains the last bastion of free thought and free speech." He called upon the "international academic community to strengthen its connections with the Israeli and Palestinian academic communities, in order to empower their autonomy and freedom."
Reinhart reacted strongly. A dedicated purist, she wants a full-scale boycott. Israel should be shunned, because, in her view, it practices apartheid.
Last November, she, together with Rachel Giora, another Israeli linguist, started an action advocating that the city of Ann Arbor divest itself of Israeli investments (palestine-pmc website, 18-11-2001). The Michigan group also advocates economic sanctions against Israel because
After six months of relentless military oppression of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories, the government of Israel has made daily life even more intolerable for the Palestinians by imposing a physical siege on their villages and towns.
Actions by Jews against Israel have intensified. The campaigns on the campus and the boycott against academics continue. But the language has changed. It is becoming clear that the objective is no longer to purify Israel, to maintain her ethics; it's not even to punish her for doing wrong. Now it is unabashedly to show Solidarity with Palestine. What started years ago as an intellectual argument between nationalism versus universalism -- with most of the Israeli academics dedicated to universalism -- has become a simpler issue: are you for Israeli nationalism or for Palestinian Arab nationalism? It is as if Superman has stripped off the coverings of his mild-mannered alter ego and emerged for all to see.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) was started in 1982 in England; they organize protests, lobby and raise consciousness. A new campaign started on July 4th, again in England, and concurrently, campaigns have blossomed in several countries. They are frankly committed to the Arab cause, acting to nullify the last 50 years since Israel became a state. And Jews are a big part of the campaign.
In England, they call it the BIG Campaign, a new campaign to boycott Israeli products and tourism, perhaps modelled after the Michigan effort. Lots of Arabs signed. Steven Rose signed. Tanya Reinhart signed. They also want to embargo arms to Israel. The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign has joined forces. "Jews who want to disassociate themselves from Israel's war crimes against the Palestinians and to campaign for a solution to the crisis based on human rights for all" were invited to contact Donnie Gluckstein of Edinburgh, who helps run the campaign. In this country, the Palestine Solidarity Committee of the University of Texas at Austin "affirmed that every Palestinian has a legitimate, individual right to return to his or her original home and to absolute restitution of his or her property." Most of the signatures were Arab. Noam Chomsky signed. And so did Norman Finklestein and Ilan Pappe.
Pappe, a professor of political science at Haifa University and a member of the Jewish-Arab Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, is facing a hearing at his University to decide whether or not to expel him. Pappe claims the University wants to punish him for political reasons, for defending Teddy Katz, a Master's candidate and peace activist. When the Alexandroni Brigade, who had fought in Tantura, sued him for libel, Katz admitted to falsifying evidence to make it appear as if a massacre was committed by Israeli forces in the coastal village of Tantura during the 1948 War. Later, an internal Committee of Inquiry at the University found Katz had systematically misquoted the Arab witnesses he interviewed and taped. But damage has been done. Many pro-Arab websites are now convinced there was a massacre.
The Israeli academics probably accept the present harm they do Israeli because it will bring about a future of peace and justice. But what of their own future?
If the Arabs were to succeed in destroying Israel, would they let their Jewish helpers live a minute longer than any other Jew? Unlikely. Even now, the terrorists are notorious for their indiscriminate attacks; they don't seem to be trying very hard to avoid injuring any particular group. So wearing some kind of ID badge won't help these Jewish Arab-aiders.
Their European and American colleagues may appreciate the selfless efforts of this group of Israeli academics and may even be inspired to work harder for the Palestinian cause. But the more their buddies emulate them, the worse off these Israelis will be -- they will be without intellectual communications and will have less money to do research.
They can't turn to the majority of the Israelis. They may see their freedom of expression as the central concern. They may see it as their right to muzzle Israeli scientists and scholars. They may feel good keeping Israeli products off the market. Less ideological Israelis know they do Israel damage. They jeopardize jobs. They are not worthy of respect.
So what is the future for these universalists? What will become of these benighted academics? Does anyone really care?