Cutting links with Israeli academics will only hinder the chances of peace in the middle eastby Benjamin Pogrund / July 28, 2007 / Leave a comment
The proposed British boycott of Israeli academics has the worthy aim of ending the occupation of the West Bank. But either because it is so poorly thought-out, or is so ill-motivated, it will have the opposite effect.
Boycott is an old story for Israelis. The Arab League has been shunning the country for nearly 60 years. Its economic boycott has partly unravelled, but some members still refuse all contacts. Israel is excluded from middle east and Asian regional sports (that’s why it plays football and other sports in the European zone). Egypt and Jordan have formal peace treaties with Israel—but “anti-normalisation” practices determine that only some academics will work with Israelis.
Israel has, of course, survived, and is thriving. But the majority of its people have had the mindset of resistance imprinted on them. They accept that they live in a hostile world. Underpinning this attitude are centuries of antisemitic persecution and, of course, the Holocaust.
Now comes the possible boycott by the British University and College Union, aimed at pressing Israeli academics into exerting an unspecified influence on their government to quit the West Bank.
Boycott is a useful political weapon. It applies nonviolent pressure to bring about change; it’s also safe for those who undertake it, while giving them a comfortable feeling of doing something useful. But it is a tactic, not a principle, and if it is to have any chance of success it must be connected to reality.
So who are the targeted Israeli academics? There is little hard evidence about how academics view issues of the day, and particularly the occupation. However, it’s obvious that academics play a larger part than most other groups in trying to further peace: they are heard on the platforms of pro-peace movements, they write articles and do research, and they appear on television and radio.
It’s equally obvious that a relatively small number is involved. Yet there are enough of them, and they speak and write strongly enough to draw right-wing condemnation, with demands for disciplinary action against them and their universities. At least one website is devoted to savaging liberal and left-wing Israeli academics. It invites visitors to click to view “the list of 358 Israeli academics who are working to destroy Israel!”
Most Israeli academics, like their counterparts elsewhere, want to get on with their work and lives; the last thing they want is to play…