academic boycott on Israel for two reasons. First, I do not believe academics should be punished for the behaviour of the governments of their nations. Academic freedom and the collegiate nature of global academia are too important to sacrifice to narrow political ends. Second, I have begun to feel that singling out Israel is close to indefensible. British unis do not, so far as I know, boycott Saudi academics, but Saudi Arabia is as far from a respectable member of the global community as you can get. I know why we do it: we feel Israel is "one of us", and is amenable to pressure in a way that horrid third-world shitholes are not. Furthermore, we feel horrified that a democracy that looks a lot like ours is so wrong. Doubtless there is an element of antiAmericanism involved: Israel is so closely identified as an American proxy that the left strongly feels it is important to push back at it.
However, claims that the criticisms of Israel are driven by antisemitism are ridiculous. Israel is doing shitty things. They're not doing borderline things that we decide are shitty because we hate Jews. They are doing things that we would disapprove in any nation.
Are boycotts of Israel anything like the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany? I don't think so. I think that the Israeli right is playing the Godwin card right there. Saying "you're antisemitic so your criticisms don't count" has not worked: most critics just shrug and say fine, whatever you think, and keep criticising the shitty things Israel does.
Of course, there is a problem that the left does not grasp how their actions can be spun as antisemitic. We need to be clearer in pushing back against the rightist spin that we are not criticising Israel because it is a Jewish state. We are criticising it for the same reasons we criticised America in Iraq, Russia in Chechnya, Serbia in Kosovo, the UK in Northern Ireland, Sudan in Darfur (although not so much, but the situation is nothing like as clearcut as the right makes out there), etc etc etc. I expect the "antisemitism" would vanish if the shittiness stopped.
Now I know that can easily be read as blaming the victim. But Israel is not the victim. Once, yes, it could claim it was, with some justice, although the reasons for Arab antipathy to Israel were not entirely baseless. Now, not at all. Its defenders make out it is a beleaguered state, desperate for peace, but it is far from that. It's an aggressive, expansionist power, which has stalled the peace process with the goal of taking ever more. If Israel wanted peace, it would be accepting the Saudi plan, and telling us, look, we will do this deal and then you show us that you do not hate Jews by backing us. I would. Israel ceases to be a pariah when it gives Palestine a just peace. But until then, it remains a pariah, even if its academics should not be treated that way.
Monday, June 04, 2007
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