Selective boycotts were always a pretence

Last term, the boycott campaign pretended that it had specific grievances against Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University. Engage argued that this was, for the boycotters, nothing but a tactical ploy to get the campaign for a full cultural and academic boycott of Israel under way. They weren’t really concerned with the particular boycotts but were actually concerned with boycotting Israel as a whole.

We said that the targeted boycotts were only stepping stones towards their goal of a total boycott of all Israeli academic institutions. We said they were trying to soften us up: maybe even convince a few doubters that boycotts really do taste ok. It was an ice-breaker.

We said, give an inch now and they will take a mile. That was one of the reasons that some of us who thought Bar Ilan�s links with Ariel College should be protested, would not accept the boycott option. On first glance a boycott seemed a plausible way to register a protest. But in the living reality of the AUT it was never so simple.

This term, under the auspices of the PSC, the boycotters have come out with their real position again. There will be meetings to try to promote a full boycott on a few campuses in the coming months.

They are no longer talking about Bar-Ilan�s links to the settler college; no half baked allegations about Haifa�s intereference with Ilan Pappe�s tenure; nothing about where the Hebrew University is building its dorm block. All of those arguments, which the boycott campaign insisted were so crucially important three months ago, have now been dropped. They are back to what they really think. Israel is the worst human rights abuser in the world and Israeli academics, writers, musicians artists and researchers have to be sacrificed so that we in the UK can make a public gesture of our outrage. We have to do something. And we can’t think of anything positive to do. So we’ll do this. And if it helps to build an antisemitic movement in the UK – tough. And if it weakens the israeli left – tough. And if it hurts Israeli colleagues – tough. And if it destroys the cultural, political and academic links that actually exist between Israel and Palestine – tough. And if it means that the debate in the UK is dominated by the boycott rather than by the occupation – then tough. We have to do something.

Despite this campus based activity it remains the case that there will be no formal debate within the academic unions on the boycott in the foreseeable future. It also remains the case that the overwhelming majority of UK academics do not want to, and will not, boycott Israel. For Jon Pike�s analysis of the situation in the AUT and NATFHE, see here.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the hard core of the so-called ‘Academic Intifada’ the pro-boycott campaign, did not even bother to turn up to this weekend’s Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace conference in London. They denounced the conference in The Guardian this week because FFIPP were interested in thinking again about how to work towards Israeli-Palestinian peace after the defeat of the boycott. Hilary Rose wrote off FFIPP’s concern with the issues of antisemitism and Islamophobia as ‘psychological’. “I don’t like the heavily psychologistic turn of the conference. If you were in occupied France, you were never asked why you don’t love the Nazis. And what about South Africa?” she said.

If the hard core of the boycotters, the ones who think that Israel is like Nazi Germany, do not even think that they can successfully make their arguments in front of an audience like FFIPP, then they do not think they can win them anywhere. They have chosen to isolate themselves, they have chosen to give up their tactical ploys in favour of an absolutist approach and they have no chance of winning the debate within the Higher Education unions.

Jane Ashworth and David Hirsh

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