BGU President: Ethics Committee to decide on preventing lecturers from publishing very radical opinions in the name of the University
Translated extracts of interview with BGU President Prof' Rivka carmi on Walla news in Hebrew: http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/2/1739208
Rivka Carmi: "What lecturers do outside of their university's working hours is none of academia's concern". In class, the lecturer is obliged to cover certain core material. Sometimes, the material ignites a debate, so political languge certainly penetrates certain classes."
"Lecturers can write and publish their opinions in any paper they they may wish, so long as there is no apperent connection between what he writes and the university that he works for. In the specific case of BGU, as a result of Prof' Gordon's actions, we will come out soon with a decision from the Ethics Committee that prevents lecturers from publishing very radical opinions like the support of academic boycott against Israel in the name of the university. The decision of the Ethics Committee should be used as a basis for an internal court rulling against lecturers that went beyond the acceptable." However, the university currently has no way to handle people like Prof'; Gordon. "The best thing to do is to sharpen the responsibility for the institution amongst lecturers and this way prevent such cases to reoccur. Many lecturers that I have spoken with detested the behaviour of Gordon and him proceeding using the name of BGU".
מרצים, סטודנטים ומעורבות פוליטית
בין שלל עיסוקיה, נאלצה כרמי להתמודד בחודשים האחרונים עם סוגית מאמריו של פרופ' ניב גורדון, ראש המחלקה היוצא לפוליטיקה וממשל באוניברסיטת בן גוריון, הקוראים לחרם אקדמי על ישראל, עם המחאות בעד ונגד פעולת צה"ל ב"משט לעזה" והתערבותה האגרסיבית של תנועת "אם תרצו" במרקם היחסים המורכב בין התורמים לאוניברסיטת בן גוריון. עמדותיה ביחס לגבולות חופש הביטוי של מרצים ברורות, והיא מודעת ליכולת השליטה האפסית כמעט של נשיא אוניברסיטה על פרסומים מעוררי מחלוקת של מרצים, תחת שמו של המוסד.
"מה שמרצים עושים מחוץ לשעות העבודה באוניברסיטה – זה לא עניינה של האקדמיה", אומרת כרמי. "בתוך הכיתה, המרצה מחויב לחומר הלימוד. לעיתים, חומר הלימוד הוא שמעורר ויכוח או דיון והשיח הפוליטי הישראלי בהחלט חודר לכיתות הלימוד במקומות מסוימים באקדמיה. תפקידו של המרצה במקרים כאלה הוא להישאר אובייקטיבי, נאמן לחומר הלימוד תוך הצגת כל הדעות בצורה מאוזנת במסגרת חומר הלימוד"
"מרצה יכול לכתוב ולפרסם את דעותיו בכל עיתון שירצה ובלבד שלא נוצר למראית עין קשר בין מה שהוא כותב לבין האוניברסיטה שבה הוא עובד. במקרה הפרטי של אוניברסיטת בן גוריון, ובעקבות המקרה של פרופ' גורדון, אנחנו נצא בקרוב עם החלטה מסודרת של וועדת האתיקה שמטרתה למנוע מצב שבו מרצים עושים שימוש מרצונם או שלא מרצונם בשם האוניברסיטה ומפרסמים תפיסות קיצוניות מאוד דוגמת תמיכה בהטלת חרם אקדמי על ישראל. החלטתה של הוועדה אמורה לשמש בעתיד בסיס לדיון משמעתי עם מרצים שחרגו מגבולות המותר". למרות זאת, מוסיפה כרמי, לאוניברסיטאות אין שום דרך להתמודד עם מצבים כמו של פרופ' גורדון, "הדבר הנכון ביותר לעשות הוא לחדד את תפיסת האחריות המוסדית בקרב המרצים ועל ידי כך למנוע מקרים שכאלה. מרצים רבים ששוחחתי עימם הביאו סלידה מהתנהגותו של גורדון והשימוש שעשה בשמה של אוניברסיטת בן גוריון".
ומה עם הכסף הפרטי?
מחאות ופעילות פוליטית מימין ומשמאל באקדמיה מביאות בסופו של דבר לתפיסה מאוזנת גם בקרב התורמים לאקדמיה. "למרות פעולותיה האגרסיביות של תנועת 'אם תרצו' והתערבותה בנעשה בשטחי, צריך לזכור שהתורמים הגדולים והמרכזיים מזוהים עם הרעיון הבסיסי של האקדמיה ותומכים מן הסתם בריבוי דעות, גם דעות קיצוניות. רוב התורמים הגדולים הם יהודים שמבינים בהחלט כמה קריטית היא ההשכלה הגבוהה לכלכלה הישראלית. הם מבינים שבישראל בלי השכלה גבוהה – אין חיים. בסופו של יום, כל ויכוח פוליטי באקדמיה הוא לגיטימי והתורמים יודעים שישראל היא הדמוקרטיה היחידה באזור, וחובה לשמר את השיח הפתוח".
כרמי מבקשת להזכיר, שעם כל הכבוד לתקצוב הממשלתי, שמגיע לסדר גודל של 60-75% מהתקציב השנתי, "שאר התקציב מתקבל משכר הלימוד והכנסות שונות. בכל הנוגע לתקציבי הפיתוח, משקלם של התורמים הוא מכריע, סדר גודל של 90% והוא זה שמממן למעשה את כל נושא בניית התשתיות וציוד המחקר".
Dishonest or incompetent?
Op-ed: Israeli academics lack either professional integrity or professional competence
Martin Sherman , YNET
Of late, there has been a major uproar in the media over alleged bias in the Israeli academe. The "eye of the storm" was centered on a research document published earlier this month by the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), whose findings indicate a sharp bias in favor of post-Zionist perspectives relative to pro-Zionists ones in the sociology departments of all the nation's major universities.
According to the study, this bias was reflected in the disproportionate distribution of the political affiliation of the faculty members, in the content of course syllabi, and in the nature of the activities of related research institutes.
Unsurprisingly, the publication of the findings produced an outburst of furious protest from those faculty members referred to in the study, who attempted to dismiss its significance, deny the validity of its findings and denigrate the competence of its authors.
Despite the criticism, there is in fact no real difficulty in proving that which the detractors seek to deny - namely the prevalence of a grave imbalance in the range of political opinions represented among the senior ranks in Israel's institutions of higher education - at least as far as the faculties of social sciences and humanities are concerned.
Perhaps the most straightforward (and credible) test for anyone wishing to investigate the existence of systematic political bias in Israeli universities is what could be dubbed "The Oslo Test". The great advantage of "The Oslo Test" is that it is extremely easy to conduct, does not require complicated methodological techniques and its findings are clear, unequivocal and easily comprehensible.
According to the methodological rationale of "The Oslo Test", the focus of the investigation is not so much on identifying the dominance of a particular group in the Israel academe, but rather on detecting the absence of certain groups among its ranks.
‘Don’t give them guns’
The first stage of this test involves a thorough analysis of the development of prevailing realities in Israel. In this regard, the Oslo process is an eminently appropriate point of departure. After all, that process and the subsequent accords it begat, were far more than an "point of inflexion" in the development of the prevailing realities in Israel. They were in fact a "point of discontinuity", heralding a dramatic upheaval of accepted norms and values. Suddenly, the once admirable was adjudged abhorrent; the previously valued vilified as vile; the formerly reprehensible relabeled respectable; the detestable of old deemed the desirable of today, yesterday's foes feted as friends…
As this cataclysmic upheaval unfolded, its proponents and its opponents across the nation, each roughly equal in numbers, gathered to address it. The proponents promised benefits of approaching peace and prosperity in a "New Middle East". The opponents warned of impending danger and disaster, of imminent death and destruction, pleading "Don't give them guns."
Since then, the reality that has emerged has proved to be virtually an exact reflection of the dire caveats of the opponents - and virtually the absolute antithesis of the rosy promises of the proponents. Indeed, there is virtually no danger that the former predicted that did not in fact materialize; and not one promise of the latter that was in fact fulfilled.
A review of the ranks of the senior faculty in those areas of academic expertise most pertinent to the evaluation and assessment of the Oslo process - chiefly political science, international relations and strategic studies - will quickly reveal an astounding fact: Although in the general public there were many who expressed grave misgivings as to the prudence of the process, and the direction in which it would take the nation, this was not the case in the Israeli academe.
No sign of soul-searching
Indeed, among the senior faculty in the abovementioned areas there was virtually no representation at all of the naysayers, who challenged the wisdom of the process and predicted with chilling accuracy its bloody consequences. In fact, until it was too late, there was virtually not a single tenured faculty member - and certainly not any expectant candidate for that sought-after status - courageous enough to confront the cohorts of his compliant colleagues and their chorus of complimentary consensus; there were none who defiantly dared to diagnose the structural defects in this patently reckless gamble; none to identify the manifest and manifold perils it entailed; none with the "appropriate anatomical appendages" to articulate an argued professional position against its ill-considered implementation.
This is no trivial matter! After all, it is rare indeed to find instances in which all the basic assumptions of a major policy measure involving crucial long-term strategic ramifications were disproved and discredited so utterly and so rapidly as in the case of Oslo. So the very fact that throughout the entire academic establishment not a single figure of major stature rose to express even the slightest "heretical" doubts as to the possible adverse consequences of the chosen policy -consequences that were entirely predictable, indeed predicted (by others) - implies that one of the following two possibilities must hold true:
Either the academic silence was due to the political bias of senior faculty members, who resolved not to express any opposition to the Oslo process, lest it undermine a measure consistent with their political preferences - despite the fact that they were aware of its substantive and dangerous defects.
Or this academic silence was not due to political any bias - but simply to the failure of faculty to identify and grasp the significance of these substantive and dangerous defects
The implication of this is both unavoidable and unequivocal: Israeli academics - at least those with expertise relevant to the Oslo process- - suffer either from a grave lack of professional integrity or a grave lack of professional competence. Indeed, what other conceivable explanation can there be for their miserable professional performance?
This is indeed a deeply disturbing state of affairs. But even more troubling is the fact that there is no sign of any serious soul-searching in the pertinent academic milieu to address this dismal debacle and to probe the reasons for its occurrence, or even a hint that anyone thinks such a measure is called for.
[Editor’s Note: This is a reply to our interview with Neve Gordon published on October 8.]
Neve Gordon may have good intentions in wanting to change Israeli policy, but he cannot evade the reality that his prescription is fundamentally anti-democratic. Israelis, unlike Palestinians or other Arabs in the Middle East, have the right to petition their government, to change it through elections and to seek judicial redress through the region’s only independent judiciary. The fact that Gordon is dissatisfied with these democratic processes, which have not resulted in support for his views, is a reflection more of his lack of respect of civil rights than any defect in the Israeli polity.
Anyone who checks the statements of those leading the blacklist, demonization and slander movement that Gordon is supporting will find that they have no interest in peace or social justice. They have nothing to say about the world’s worst human rights violators in the neighborhood, which include the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Like others in the movement, Gordon does not acknowledge a Palestinian responsibility for any of today’s problems. BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] advocates do not believe that Israel has a right to self-defense and argue that Palestinians have a right to self-determination, but the Jewish people do not. Rather than working toward two states coexisting in peace, BDS proponents advocate a one-state solution in which Jews are a minority, which is the formula for the destruction of Israel.
Gordon’s references to apartheid simply expose his ignorance of the differences between South Africa where a white minority discriminated against the black majority in political, legal and economic affairs and democratic Israel, whose laws provide for equality for all citizens. It is illegal to discriminate against Arabs. This is not to say that discrimination does not exist, just as it exists in the United States and every other democracy that strives for justice but is not yet perfect. Still Arabs have achieved success in all areas of Israeli society, serving in the diplomatic corps, on the Israeli supreme court and as members of the Knesset. In fact, 12 Arabs, including harsh critics of the state, sit in the Knesset.
Today, 98 percent of Palestinians, including all those in Gaza, are under the authority of the Palestinian government, not Israel. They are denied freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and the press by Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Gays, Christians, and women are persecuted, yet one does not hear any concern from Gordon or the other “human rights advocates.”
Gordon’s complaints of McCarthyism are not only unfounded but ironic given that it is he who wants to silence those with whom he disagrees by calling for an academic boycott, which indiscriminately punishes those who approve and disapprove of Israeli policies. As Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in east Jerusalem, has said in opposing the BDS campaign, “ I believe peace must be built on the bridge between two civil societies…While some people believed that one way to deal with Israelis was ‘to bash them on their heads,’ the other way is to reach to their hearts, and it’s the reaching out that’s important.”
Furthermore, whether he believes it or not, Gordon contributes to the anti-Semitic efforts of those seeking delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. As a Jewish Israeli he gives those leading the global effort to turn Israel into a pariah a fig leaf to hide behind, never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of Jews inside and outside Israel find the tactics he supports reprehensible.
Finally, Gordon’s suggestion that Israel must be pressured from outside to satisfy his preferred future ignores the fact that Israel has been pursuing peace with the Palestinians for a century without any coercion. As recently as 2008, Israel offered to evacuate almost 97 percent of the West Bank (in addition to the 100% of Gaza already evacuated) to establish a Palestinian state and Mahmoud Abbas said no. If any pressure is needed for peace, it should be directed on the leaders best known for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Find this reply by David Hirsh to Neve Gordon here.
As part of a series entitled ‘Universities in Crisis’ on the website of the International Sociological Association, Neve Gordon, a supporter of the campaign to exclude Israeli scholars from the international academic community, writes a report on the state of academic freedom in Israel.
He describes a demonstration in which he took part on his campus at Ben-Gurion University in May 2010, which protested against the Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship which was heading towards Gaza. He then describes a counter-protest the next day in which students demonstrated their support for the Israeli forces. ‘There were … shouts demanding my resignation’, writes Gordon, and ‘one student even proceeded to create a Facebook group whose sole goal is to have me sacked.’ The Facebook page carried personal denunciations and death threats.
A right wing political group published a ‘report’accusing sociology departments of being unpatriotic and left wing. The President of Tel Aviv University asked to see syllabi being taught at Tel Aviv University. A newspaper article reported that another right wing organisation had tried to persuade donors to Ben-Gurion University to make their giving conditional on an end to ‘anti-Zionist’teaching. The President of Ben-Gurion University publicly opposed this campaign as a threat to academic freedom but the Education Minister, a member of the right wing Likud party, writes Gordon, simply opposed this campaign on the basis that it was aimed at harming donations. ‘The problem is’, he concludes, ‘that instead of struggling over basic human rights, we are now struggling over the right to struggle.’
As is clear from the reports from other countries, these kinds of right wing campaigns against academic freedom, against the intellectual left and against disciplines such as sociology are far from unique to Israel. But antizionism as a political framework is always tempted to treat things which are done by the right in Israel as though they were manifestations of the essential racism and the essential illiberality of the ‘Zionist’ state.
Neve Gordon’s argument is that the phenomena he describes are manifestations of a much broader ‘protofascist’ asault against Higher Education and liberal values in Israel. He writes that this assault is being mobilized by ‘numerous forces in Israel’ and also by ‘neoconservative forces in the United States’. He writes that this assault is targetted first against the universities because ‘they are home to many vocal critics of Israel’s rights-abusive policies’, voices which are considered ‘traitorous and consequently in need of being stifled’.
He writes that the right wing organisations see universities as ‘merely arms of the government’ and so politically controllable. He characterizes right wing colleagues as ‘a thought police’ and right wing students as ‘spies’. The ordinary but nevertheless worrying mobilisation of a right wing and anti-liberal political current is presented in the language and in the framework of Israeli exceptionalim.
This text exemplifies two tendencies which characterise much discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict, of the campaign to boycott Israel and of contemporary antisemitism.
Firstly it is once removed from a discussion of the issues themselves. It is ‘struggling for the right to struggle’. In this text there is no discussion of the substantial issues themselves. Rather they are mobilized as weapons in the struggle over the boundaries of legitimate discourse. Issues which are raised but not discussed: Israeli human rights abuses; the assault on the ‘flotilla’; ‘anti-Zionism’, ‘post-Zionism’, ‘Zionism’; Israeli patriotism and unpatriotism; the proposed boycott of Israel and antisemitism; the connections between ‘protofascism’, the Israeli right, the American neocon right and the American Christian right. The issues are raised and mobilized rhetorically but not analysed.
The right wing groups of which Neve Gordon is correctly, in my view, wary, aim to define the left as being outside of the legitimate boundaries of Israeli discourse. Neve Gordon, on the other hand, aims to define those right wingers as being outside of the boundaries of liberal and antiracist discourse. Neither argues why the other is wrong on the substantial issues. Instead, both are ‘struggling’ to have the discourse of the other recognized as illegitimate.
This is not necessarily as bad as it sounds. For example it is normal that racism or homphobia or misogyny is recognized as being outside of the legitimate boundaries of sociolgoical discourse. Sociologists would not try to debate with a colleague who claimed that black people were inferior to white people. Historians would not try to debate with a colleague who said that the Atlantic slave trade never happened. We would argue, rather, that the questions were illegitimate.
We do not want to get into an apparently rational discussion with racists over racist questions. We do not want to treat racists as though they were one side of a legitimate debate. If there were serious people who began to ask these questions, if the questions became legitimate in the public sphere, in spite of our efforts to prevent that, then we might still have to debate, to mobilise the reasoning and the evidence against racism.
The second tendency which Gordon’s text exemplifies is that towards the conflation of, and the slippage between distinct phenomena. For example he mentions that Alan Dershowitz argued that Israeli professors who support the campaign for their Israeli colleagues to be excluded from the global academic community should themselves resign from Israeli academic institutions as part of this ‘boycott’. He also mentions that some students at the protest were calling for his resignation. And he conflates these calls for resignation, made by people with no power to fire anybody, with a call upon universities to carry out a purge of ‘leftist’ faculty. In a discussion of academic freedom this distinction may be thought to be important, yet one phenomenon is piled on top of the other in order to give the whole greater rhetorical weight.
Gordon says that people want to sack him because he is critical of Israeli human rights abuses. Some of his opponents say they want him to resign because he agitates for a boycott of his colleagues in Israel academia. Sacking is not the same as a call for resignation. Criticism is not the same as a call for boycott.
Instead of rebutting Dershowitz’s argument about the academic boycott Neve Gordon characterizes it as being outside of the boundaries of what is legitimate in a university. In return, Dershowitz characterizes Gordon’s pro-boycott stance as being outside of what is legitimate in a university. Either position may be right or wrong, but Gordon doesn’t make an argument here. Instead he relies on the conflation of criticism with boycott and on the conflation of a call for resignation with a sacking. In both cases speech acts are conflated with acts of exclusion by power. It may be his case that the speech acts feed into a discourse whose logic is then concrete exclusion. But then again, the case has to be argued and the mechanisms analysed.
There is another more subtle conflation here. The very name ‘Alan M. Dershowitz’ has become a synecdoche for something bigger than the flesh and blood individual who is its apparent referent. The name ‘Alan M. Dershowitz’ connotes the fearsome power of the ‘Israel lobby’ (was he not the man who single-handedly prevented Norman Finkelstein from winning tenure?), it connotes all that is threatening about the neocon agenda (has he not written a lawyerly defence of torture?), it connotes all the lies of the ‘Zionists’ (has he not written ‘the case for Israel?’). The name ‘Dershowitz’ stands symbolically amongst Gordon’s imagined audience, for the whole of ‘Zionism’, which itself is understood as a racist and totalitarian movement of global influence and notoriety.
Neve Gordon’s political project is to have Israel recognized as an apartheid state, to make it into a pariah, to position Israel itself outside of the boundaries of legitimate countries. The terminology he employs in this piece, ‘protofascist’, ‘thought police’, ‘spies’ is not justified by the evidence he presents.
What he presents is bad enough and it is familiar to academics all over the world. He shows that there are right wing individuals and groups who wish to position sociology outside of the boundaries of legitimate scholarly inquiry. He is aware that right wing parties sometimes win elections and form governments. These are real threats to academic freedom which we should take seriously and which we should oppose. But Gordon is also clear that for the moment at least, the university sector in Israel is bravely and successfully defending itself, and the institutions are not bending to the pressure.
But for Israel-boycotters, Israel comes first, it is the one state whose academics should be excluded, it is the state moving towards fascism. And it may or may not be. But his anecdotes do not make the case. This is less a debate and more a struggle over what is, and what is not to be legitimately debated. There is a tendency for reason and evidence to take second place to rhetoric, conflation and keywords which communicate unspoken and emotional connotation.
Neve Gordon’s position tends to mirror that against which he is struggling. He is against those who would have him silenced but he is for his Israeli colleagues being silenced in the global scholarly community. He is for his own right to free speech and academic freedom but he refers to his right wing colleagues as ‘thought police’ when they use their free speech to criticize him and their academic freedom to oppose his views. He opposes the right wing tendency to see Israeli universities as ‘merely arms of the government’ and he shows how the universities are successfully defending their own independence from government. Yet then how can he argue that Israeli universities should be boycotted because they are complicit with the crimes of the Israeli government?
Neve Gordon says that things are so bad in Israeli universities that he receives death threats and calls for his sacking. He says that things are so bad that he and his colleagues are using g-mail instead of university email addresses for fear that a hostile university administration might open their emails and take action against them. Interestingly anti boycott academics in Britain have received death threats too, have been faced with rhetoric which questions their fitness to be recognized as academics too, and many are afraid to use university email addresses too, since there have been examples of pro-boycott academics in authority gaining access to colleagues’ inboxes. Ironically, it is the global corporation Google which we all appear to trust more than our own university administrations.
There is nothing wrong with arguing that certain kinds of question ought not to be considered to be legitimate questions. But if arguments concerning the positioning of the boundaries of legitimate discourse are not made with careful clarity, avoiding conflation, avoiding rhetorical tricks and demonization, then there is a possibility that the struggle itself will slip off the terrain of rational discourse. If one side is tempted to shout ‘antisemite!’ at all who oppose Israel’s actions and the other is ready to shout ‘Zionist!’ at all who raise the issue of antisemitism then the space for political or academic discussion, debate, analysis and research will be closed off. If argument and evidence are replaced by ad hominem attack, with accusations and counter-accusations of bad faith replacing communicative action, then knowledge becomes, more definitively than ever, power.
Goldsmiths, University of London
Find this reply by David Hirsh to Neve Gordon here.
Neve Gordon changed his mind on the boycott
October 10, 2010 — David Hirsh
Only an idiot never changes his mind.
Neve Gordon has changed his mind on the campaign to boycott Israel. In 2003 he wrote a compelling piece under the headline: “Against the israeli Academic Boycott” in the The Nation in which he puts forward some of the central reasons why a boycott of Israeli academia would be both unjust and also counterproductive.
In 2003 Neve Gordon argued that in Israel ‘academic freedom still exists, much more so than in many other countries’ but he said that unwittingly, ‘American and European supporters of the academic boycott against Israeli universities are aiding’ the right wing attack on academic freedom. Gordon goes on:
“Among the many reasons why one should reject the academic boycott, critics have highlighted the boycotter’s double standard. It is not only that some of the boycotters come from countries that are also responsible for much oppression and suffering, but, perhaps more important, Israel could not carry out its policies without the ongoing support of the United States, which has, for example, recently promised Sharon $12 billion in direct aid and loan guarantees.”
“While this line of argument exposes some of the biases informing the academic boycott movement, there are two other important reasons why a boycott of Israeli universities is misdirected.”
“The first argument is the one already alluded to: Israeli universities continue to be an island of freedom surrounded by a stifling and threatening environment. In the past two years the Israeli media, which was once known for its critical edge, has been suppressing critical voices, and in a number of electronic media outlets specific regulations have been issued, such as restrictions on live interviews with Palestinians. This dangerous trend is likely to become even more pronounced now that the right wing has garnered a considerable majority in the Israeli Knesset.”
“The second argument, the one most often ignored by outsiders, has to do with the fact that in the past year and a half Israeli universities have been under an unprecedented assault by the Sharon government. The Minister of Education, Limor Livnat, is trying to radically change the structure of higher education, including the way universities are governed and managed. She would like to strip power from the faculty senates and transfer it to boards of trustees in which professors are barred from membership. An academic boycott will only strengthen Livnat, and in this way assist the destruction of academic freedom in Israel.”
Neve Gordon goes on to explain precisely why the boycotters’ claim to be targetting only institutions and not individuals makes no sense:
When I explained these points to pro-boycott colleagues in Britain, they replied, “It isn’t you, but rather your institute that will be punished for not taking an institutional stand on the illegality of the occupation.” Yet it is precisely the institute that enables Israeli professors – regardless of their political affiliation – to voice their views, suggesting that an assault on the university is in fact an assault on its faculty.
Neve Gordon finishes with an important point:
To fight the anti-intellectual atmosphere within Israel, local academics need as much support as they can get from their colleagues abroad. A boycott will only weaken the elements within Israeli society that are struggling against the assault on the universities, and in this way will inadvertently help those who want to gain control over one of the last havens of free speech in the country.
Some of us, who later founded Engage, were so impressed by Neve Gordon’s position that we quoted him in a letter that was published in the Times Higher in April 2005 and which was signed by, amongst others, David Hirsh and Robert Fine.
In August 2009 Neve Gordon raised perhaps the most fundamental reason why a boycott of Israel would be counterproductive: “A global boycott can’t help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism.” This, as UCU activists have discovered for themselves over the last five years, is certainly true. In the same piece Neve Gordon also argues that:
“It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one’s own nation.”
Yet it is this same editorial in the LA Times where Neve Gordon says that he now supports the campaign for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. This followed on from a piece he had published in the Guardian also offering support to the BDS campaign.
Only an idiot never changes his mind. There is no disgrace in changing your mind. But if you do so then you ought to say why. This is the reasoning that he offers in the LA Times:
But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.
I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.
The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.
The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.
The reason seems to be that things are now so bad in Israel that ‘something must be done’. But what Neve Gordon is unable to do is to show what is wrong with his previous arguments about doing this particular ‘something’. He offers nothing.
No reason why the boycott campaign no longer contains echoes of antisemitism.
No reason why he singles out Israel, and only Israel, for boycott.
No reason why he is willing to overlook the ‘biases’ of the boycott movement.
No reason why BDS would no longer bolster the right and harm the left in Israel.
Neve Gordon evidently understands the reasons why BDS is both wrong and also counterproductive. He is therefore very well placed to explain to us why these reasons are no longer important. He should do so.
Engage offered Neve Gordon a right of reply to this piece which I wrote in response to another article of his. Neve wrote back and denied that, as it said in that article, he is ‘a supporter of the campaign to exclude Israeli scholars from the international academic community’. He wrote that ‘the BDS campaign itself does not support such exclusion. Indeed, the academic boycott is aimed at institutions and not individual scholars’.
As to what the BDS campaign supports, that was clear long ago. It supported Mona Baker and Andrew Wilkie in their ‘individual boycotts’ of Israelis. At some times it has supported a political test for individuals from Israel, and offered an amnesty to individuals like Neve Gordon who show willingness to jump through their hoops. And at other times the BDS campaign has tried to hide behind the fiction of the ‘institutional boycott’.
This old piece by Jon Pike deals with this sophistry: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=231
This old piece of mine responded to Sue Blackwell’s protestations and threats on the issue: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1197
But for the best critique of the ‘institutional boycott’ I would refer you to Neve Gordon himself (above): “it is precisely the institute that enables Israeli professors – regardless of their political affiliation – to voice their views, suggesting that an assault on the university is in fact an assault on its faculty.”
Neve Gordon has written op eds in the Guardian and in the LA Times in which he offers unambiguous support for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Nowhere does he mention any nuances of position regarding an academic boycott.
There is a transcript of an interview that he gave on Public Serivce Radio in the US in which the interviewer suggests that Gordon is not for an academic boycott. Neve Gordon replies as follows:
“ There is no doubt tension, if not a contradiction, to support a boycott of one’s self in a sense. What I’m trying to say is that we all live in contradictions and we have to choose the contradictions we live in. The contradiction I am living with is a contradiction that I hope will bring change here for my children. And I don’t want them, or the children of our Palestinian neighbors, to live in an apartheid regime.”
Neve Gordon does not take this opportunity to say that he is for BDS except for academics. He does not say he is against an academic boycott either of individuals or of institutions. Given that he publicly and internatioanlly supports “BDS” and given that he has not argued for an exception for academics, I think it is fair to say that he supports the boycott campaign.
The boycott campaign is fronted by “PACBI” – the Palestinian campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. It is a campaign for an academic boycott of Israel. Neve Gordon supports it. But he does not say why he has rejected all the good reasons for opposing it.
Goldsmiths, University of London
Engage invites Neve Gordon to respond