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Boycott Calls Against Israel
Linguists against boycotts / Ron Kuzar

Linguists against boycotts

From: Ron Kuzar (kuzar@research.haifa.ac.il)
Date: Fri Jul 12 2002 - 09:51:32 PDT

Dear fellow linguists,
Let me start by saying that I fully endorse the statement that has been
posted here by Hana Filip. I would like to highlight the passage that
says: "Most of us strongly oppose Israel's continued occupation of the
West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
However, we do not regard an
academic boycott of Israeli universities or researchers as an acceptable
means for expressing one's objections to the policies and actions of the
Israeli government". This is an important discursive strategy which puts
the boycott in the right context, namely as the wrong response to an
evil that needs to be eradicated.
Unfortunately, there have been other ways of framing the boycott.
This is how Gideon Toury himself sees it (Wall Street Journal):
>I Was Fired for Being Israeli
>By now many people are aware that two Israeli scholars have been removed
>from positions in Britain not for any transgression they have committed
>but simply for being Israeli. The dismissals were intended as a statement
>of protest against Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories. That
>a boycott of Israelis could be organized with impunity in Europe only
>half a century after the boycott of Jewish businesses is at least
>newsworthy. Since I am one of the scholars so dismissed, I thought I
>would explain some things. One is that I'm very happy to be an Israeli.
>Indeed I owe my life to this fact.
>My dismissal from the board of consulting editors of the British journal
>Translation Studies Abstracts had been imminent for some time. Although I
>never committed any crime, I had been fearing the bad news ever since my
>friend, colleague and former student, Miriam Shlesinger, was removed from
>the editorial board of the journal The Translator, also for being an
>Israeli. Two weeks after that, on June 8, I received my notification.
>Well, in truth I held out some hope that, given the negative reaction to
>Ms. Shlesinger's dismissal, Mona Baker, professor at the University of
>Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and owner of the journals,
>would change her mind. But this was not to be. Her publishing house St.
>Jerome Publishing went ahead and fired me too.
>Ms. Baker actually asked me to resign. My response was simple and
>straightforward: "since I was neither elected to the editorial board . .
>. nor did I appoint myself, I can't see why I should (or, for that
>matter, how I could) resign from that post," I wrote to her. "If you want
>to cancel my appointment", I said, "it is your prerogative as owner." The
>only thing I asked was that, when the dismissal was made public, it would
>be made clear that I "was appointed as a scholar and unappointed as an
>As news of my imminent dismissal seeped out to the Internet and through
>other media I began to receive quite a lot of mail from complete
>strangers, for which I am very grateful. Most of the letters were
>unanimous in condemning the blending of science and politics, and
>especially its embodiment in the decision to "punish" individuals.
>Because I was caught up in the swirl of things, these letters were very
>helpful in making clear a position that I hadn't had a chance to form.
>A little devil in me also wondered whether the discussion would have been
>any different had the fact that Prof. Baker was Egyptian been disclosed
>earlier. Would she have been able to appear as impartial and high-minded
>as she had up to that point? Finally, it was good to see some of the
>other members of The Translator's board resign in protest after Ms.
>Shlesinger's ouster. This was to repeat itself in the case of the
>Abstracts after I was dismissed.
>What does one feel in such a situation? My first reaction was totally
>personal: In my response to Ms. Baker's letter -- which I should add was
>written as a suicide bomber exploded some 150 meters from my home in
>Herzliyya -- I said: "the only reason I am alive in the first place is
>that my parents, each one of them separately, managed to leave Germany in
>the mid- and late-1930s, the only ones of their immediate families, and
>go to Palestine ("Eretz Yisrael"), which was the official name of the
>place in those days. As a result, I have got a Palestinian birth
>certificate, but I have never had any grandparents, uncles or aunts."
>It is impossible to blind oneself however to the public dimension of
>these events, which I believe have grave implications far beyond my area
>of translation studies. These dismissals may easily become the beginning
>of something much bigger that will rapidly get out of hand. First other
>dismissals, then the rejection of research articles (or, for that matter,
>their acceptance) just because their authors belong to one or another
>national or racial group, then separate conferences, periodicals and
>books for different groups, and finally (finally?) distinct frameworks
>for each group, both scientifically and institutionally. What a
>terrifying prospect. We've been here before.
>One of the suggestions made in the e-mails that reached me was to
>retaliate by banning the periodicals and books published by St. Jerome.
>In full accordance with my principles, I feel strongly opposed to any
>such reaction. For me, a boycott is a boycott is a boycott -- even if it
>is just a counter-boycott. Anyone indulging in it will in fact be
>blending science and politics again, which is precisely what they wish to
>condemn in their protest.
>Have I really refrained from academic boycotting myself? I'm afraid the
>answer is no: Some 20 years ago, I was offered an important post at
>Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg. You will recall that, in those
>days, it was contacts with that country that were severed, even though --
>in the circles I move in, at least -- precautions were taken not to hurt
>individual academics. My reaction was to reject the invitation; a kind of
>personal boycott in its own way, no doubt, which didn't even have the
>slightest impact on the war against Apartheid. In fact, more than
>anything else, I may have been punishing myself, not the University, the
>government or, God forbid, the people of South Africa.
>I cannot but think that Professor Baker might have been doing something
>very similar; namely, punishing herself rather than Israeli academia, the
>Israeli government, the people of Israel, or even Ms. Shlesinger and
>myself as individuals. We have remained unchanged; she now has editorial
>boards that are smaller and weaker.
>Mr. Toury is M. Bernstein chair of translation theory professor at Tel
>Aviv University.
>Updated July 3, 2002
I find Toury's text reproachable, since it makes no reference to the
evils of Israeli occupation. Instead it employs the usual discursive
strategies of Israeli propaganda: putting protests against Israel's
actions in the context of Arab terrorism and using the holocaust as a
universal shield against moral corruption.
Note also how Toury is hiding behind the clean word "policies": "The
dismissals were intended as a statement of protest against Israel's
policies in the Palestinian territories". Not actions, not practices,
not atrocities, just policies".
Another important context of the boycott, which should not be ignored, is
the situation of academic life in Palestine. Birzeit university is on
the verge of collapse since its community cannot reach the campus. The
administrative offices of Al-Quds University were raided and closed down.
Academic freedom is not very happy right around the corner, but where is
Toury's voice? Where is the Israeli academic community (save the usual
little crowd of branded leftists)?
The community of Israeli academics should not be subjected to sweeping
boycotts, but the pose of an innocent scapegoat does not fit it. It
should be ashamed of itself for its rotten ethics.
Ron Kuzar

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jul 12 2002 - 11:06:09 PDT

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