It was with great interest I read of the British University and College Union’s call for an academic boycott of Israel. I was glad to discover that the association has not yet made a final decision as to how best to boycott us. Their highnesses are still pondering the decision. The blue-gray smoke wafts from their pipes, their foreheads wrinkle, a watch on their wrist sits underneath the sleeve of a Harris Tweed jacket with its leather elbow patch. Maybe they say to themselves, perhaps we’ll boycott them immediately or maybe we’ll wait a bit.
No reason to be hasty, these sweaty baby-makers somewhere in the Middle East, won’t stop killing each other in the near future. In the meantime let’s have another pint and study the rare 18th-century manuscript that we found in the library.
Not so, the Economist writers protest indignantly. Our academics also wear Jeans:
ALMOST everybody loves a nice, neat stereotype, and Yair Lapid, an Israeli writer and talk-show host, is no exception. . . .
In reality, of course, British professors are a variegated species—as likely to be wearing soiled denims as well-cut tweed—and exactly the same goes for Israeli ones. Along with quite a few of his compatriots, Mr Lapid regards his country's campuses as “fortresses of the radical left”—though he clearly finds enough merit in them to consider them worth defending from the absent-minded academics of Albion.
Why such dismissal? To demonstrate that they are weak and unimportant and that the entire issue is merely a tempest in a tea pot unworthy of serious opposition. To further make that case, the Economist uses the well honed strategy which call for the presentation of the boycotters not as shrewd political operatives engaged in a lengthy campaign but naive underdogs caught in a whirlwind:
No . . . spirit of subtlety or differentiation was evident in the vote taken on May 30th at the inaugural conference of a newly formed
association of British academics, the University and College Union, which claims to speak for 120,000 teachers and other employees. A mere 257 of them took part in the “anti-Israel” ballot, with 158 voting in favour and 99 against. In favour of what, exactly? To be precise, what they endorsed was the circulation (to all the union's branches, for “information and discussion”) of the full text of an appeal by Palestinian trade unions to boycott Israeli academic and cultural activities.
Things are not going to move very fast, at least in the dons' view of things. Local branches of the UCU will debate the text, probably during the autumn term; then there may be a ballot among all the members. Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, has said she doesn't believe a majority of her members either support the motion or regard the issue as a priority.
In other words, nothing of importance happened. Anthony Julius and Alan Dershowitz tell a rather different story:
The University College Union on May 30 passed two boycott resolutions. Resolution 30 endorsed the call for an academic boycott of Israel by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). It also committed union funds to promoting it on campuses. But it did not commit the union of university teachers itself to a boycott. Resolution 31 condemned the USA and EU boycott of the Palestinian
Authority (that is, the “suspension of aid”). There is symmetry here. Thirty calls for a boycott; 31 calls for the ending of a boycott. Israel’s universities, which are liberal institutions, are to be shunned; the government of the PA, which is governed by a party committed to the destruction of Israel, is to be embraced.
Does not seem like the actions of political amateurs? Does it? There is more -
These resolutions are the successors to boycott resolutions passed by the predecessor academic unions, the AUT in 2005, and NATFHE in 2006. The AUT resolutions purported to justify a boycott of named Israeli universities by making specific - though false - allegations against them. The NATFHE resolution, which was much like UCU resolution 30, “invited members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and
non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.” The AUT resolutions were reversed following a special conference; the NATFHE resolution lapsed upon the union’s dissolution only a few days later. As this resolution is NOT a boycott one, the membership would have no opportunity to reverse it. Naive? Julius and Dershowitz continue:
The UCU resolutions are in a 2007 series of boycott resolutions. They follow the National Union of Journalists resolution, and precede the UNISON resolutions. The NUJ resolution called for “a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa”. One of the UNISON resolutions affirms the union’s “right and desire to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people”. These
resolutions open with a very one-sided, hostile account of events in the Middle East.
Again, does this look like the work of a bunch of "absent minded Albions?" So why present it as such? The answer is simple. In order to present the response of the friends of Israeli academics and even Israeli trade unionists as excessive.
The Economist begins thus:
Tony Blair, at least, showed somewhat quicker political reflexes: the prime minister immediately telephoned his Israeli counterpart to voice his disapproval and dispatched his universities minister, Bill Rammell, to Israel to try limiting the potential damage (amid warnings from Israeli trade unions that they may refuse to unload British goods.
"How disproportionate," it seems to argue. And this was just the
beginning! It is followed by veritable blitzkrieg by powerful American boycott "opponents" who write damning articles, place newspaper
advertisements, call the boycotters unpleasant names and threaten not to cooperate with the boycott:
If the British eggheads are taking things at a leisurely pace, the same cannot be said of their opponents, whose reaction was instantaneous and incandescent—especially in the United States. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor, has said he is rounding up a team of 100 lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic in order to “devastate and bankrupt” anyone acting against Israeli universities. He predicted that British academia would be “destroyed” if it went ahead with a boycott of Israel, because the countervailing reaction would be so powerful.
That reaction is already gathering pace: more than 2,000 American
scholars, including several Nobel Prize winners, have pledge to stay away from any event from which Israelis are excluded. . . .
The Anti-Defamation League, a movement which fights anti-Semitism, has placed some dramatic newspaper advertisements to underline its case that the singling out of Israel by British academia—at a time of terrible misdeeds in Darfur, Zimbabwe and Iran—can only reflect prejudice. . . . The more venerable parts of the British academic establishment seem to agree: there have been condemnations of the UCU vote from the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and Universities UK, which groups all universities' vice-chancellors.
How silly of the British boycott advocates to underestimate the powerful forces arrayed against them. Didn't they see the fierce responses to the April British National Union of Journalists's decision to boycott Israeli goods? Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate at the University of Texas, "instantly dropped plans to visit London's Imperial College in July, saying it was 'hard to find any explanation other than anti-Semitism” for the union's move.'" Can you imagine a more "inappropriate response”?
Does the that mean that the boycotters should cease and desist the boycott? Not according to the Economist writers. They call the
"politically naive" leaders of the boycott, defiant and that always implies approval:
But the British academics who have spearheaded the boycott campaign, citing a moral imperative to support their Palestinian colleagues on the hard-pressed campuses of the West Bank, are defiant. Hilary Rose, who with her husband Steven has been at the heart of the boycott movement for the past five years, sees positive results. One of these, she says, is the objections raised recently by some staff at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to the appointment of a former chief of Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence service, Carmi Gillon: the objectors argued that such appointments would harm the image of Israeli academia at a sensitive time. Also encouraging, from her viewpoint, was the fact a group of Israeli academics were now calling for Palestinian students to have freer access to their universities.
Of course, they do not mention that the "hard pressed" Palestinian campuses are filled with members and voters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and, hence, constitute a direct threat to the Israeli institutions which have seen their share of suicide bombings. They elegantly sumsume Yair Lapid's inconvenient truth under the phrase “close up: “
I am aware of the argument that the occupation is the root of all this horrible violence. It’s just that this is an argument, well, how shall I say it – okay, academic. After all, Arab terror started long before we occupied even one piece of this land. Every major wave of Palestinian terror came as the chances of a peace treaty came closer. It was the situation when there was the wave of terror bombings on public busses in the "Black March" of 1996, which destroyed the prospects of the Oslo Agreement. This is how it was when the second intifada erupted as it did just after Ehud Barak proposed giving up nearly all the occupied
territories including part of Jerusalem. That is the way it is now with the wave of Qassam rocket attacks in the wake of Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza strip.
I still believe in peace. I am interested in the occupied territories, the bloodshed and cruelty. I believe in peace as I have all my life and I know that a price will have to be paid to achieve it. All I am asking for in the meantime is a fair chance to still be alive when it comes.
Of course, this inconvenient truth is not part of the Palestinian script of What Really Happened in the Middle East, and it is that script that the Economist writers want the boycotters to rewrite with the help of boycott opponent Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian president of Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem which hosts branches of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations throughout Gaza and the West Bank. Perhaps together they can come up with a less blatantly anti-Semitic strategy which would not endanger important British academic and commercial interests. "When confronted with such unreasonable, aggressive, prickly Jews," the
Economist seems to be saying, "one must tread lightly." Is the Economist following a familiar Anti-Semitic script? I think so.
Dr. Judith Apter Klinghoffer is an affiliate professor at Haifa
University, Member of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom of Bar-Ilan University and was the 1996 Fulbright professor at Aarhus, Denmark. She is the co-author of International Citizens'
Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences.