Israeli anti-boycott bill takes boycott to its logical conclusion

As the boycott of Israel mainstreams, it becomes a political football. As seemed likely from early on, it strengthens the Israeli right; most recently, some members of the Israeli Knesset are tabling a bill to outlaw ‘home-grown boycotters’. Natalie Rothschild comments in Spiked:

“The ugly side of this law – preventing cooperation and exchange between different peoples – is also the ugly end-product of international boycott campaign against Israel. And just as boycotters expect Israelis to take responsibility for the politics of their government – campaigning for the banishment of Israeli artists, academics, sportsmen and others from international events – so MKs are now demanding that all Israelis decide whether to be with their state or against it. If they choose the latter, they will be punished.”

As far as I can tell, Spiked believes the root of all evil to be narcissistic moral posturing and is primarily motivated to point  out the hypocrisies and counter-productive excesses of moralisers. The boycott of Israel has plenty to occupy them including this by Tim Black in 2009, countering the assertion that sanctions liberated South Africa.

Here is another fatalistic piece, a contrasting one I have some sympathy with, by Moshe Shoked, an academic anthropologist based at Tel Aviv University.

“I tend to believe that it is only a matter of time before this country’s academic institutions are boycotted, regardless of the wishes of the education minister and other champions of Israeli patriotism. They will be boycotted not because of the handful of Israeli professors who have unabashedly supported such a step, but because Israel is under a global microscope that perhaps unfairly discriminates against it compared with other countries that act unjustly, even violently, toward their minorities and neighbors.

For better or worse, Israel does not enjoy the same luxury as countries like Russia and China, which do not rely on the support of Europe and the United States. Indeed, a look through this microscope reveals the foolishness of Israel’s weak-kneed leadership.”

He predicts academic brain drain from Israel and the success of academic boycott. Perhaps out of demoralisation, or perhaps because he is diverted by his feelings towards Israel’s government, Shoked omits to protest these outcomes, though they are the purpose of boycott.

As boycotters and the Israeli right cooperate to knock the wedges in, OneVoice look even more like the dauntless, democratic, free-expression-loving stimulants of the moderate majority they are, inviting single-staters to debates, providing an alternative to grass-roots violence, and coming to talk to British trade unions.

17 Responses to “Israeli anti-boycott bill takes boycott to its logical conclusion”

  1. N. Friedman Says:

    Mira,

    One might ask how one counters the boycotters. The Israeli right may have missed the mark but, at this point, we have the approach taken by groups like your Engage publication which seems to have largely failed.

    Your approach seems to distract yourself from the problem at hand – the bigoted boycott supporters – and blamed the Israeli right which, for all of its sins, is not the cause of boycotts. It is not the reason that Israel is vilified. It is not the reason why alleged Israeli use of UK passports is seen as a outrage while Russian use of UK passports in a massive spy operation in the US – as has now been uncovered, is hardly noted and, in any event, arouses none of the disgust shown towards the Israelis.

    Which is to say, I think you are barking up the wrong path. The problem here is the approach taken by people on the Left and the unwillingness of others on the Left to stand up to the bigots, the racists (and Antisemites) of the anti-racist movement, to paraphrase Pascal Bruckner.

  2. Judeosphere Says:

    I remain perplexed that the boycott movement ignores the lessons of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which brought together Soviet and Western academics. Those conferences served a vital role as a conduit for communication during the most tense eras of the Cold War; and Pugwash was instrumental in influencing policies–such as convincing the Soviet leadership to support the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

    • Jonathan Romer Says:

      Judeosphere,

      It’s only puzzling if you believe that the boycotters are motivated by principle. Then you expect consistency of application. That the consistency is absent is the tip-off to the hollowness of the claim — even if the boycotters themselves believe it’s true.

      It’s not principle; it’s about power, in the form of freedom to bully and to enjoy the pleasures of bullying. As with any bully, serious dangers are navigated with care and delicacy, or else they’re placated and appeased. It’s the small fry who present no real threat that are pummeled and kicked around. Justifications for doing it are window dressing and chosen by expedience, but are required by the etiquette of adult (as opposed to childhood) bullying.

  3. Empress Trudy Says:

    This of course is complete nonsense as Israeli academic institutions could slide to the left of Mao Zedong and it wouldn’t make a not of difference. They don’t hate you for your politics they hate you for your living existence.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Neil, I think that what Mira is suggesting is that the boycott movement succeeds only in creating a reaction from the Israeli right. A reaction of circling the wagons against the rest of the world and of digging in, in order _not_ to change. This then becomes a vicious circle, each side raising the stakes. This is not to argue that the Israeli left becomes ever more appeasement-oriented. It is no more inclined to roll over to please the left-wing critics of Israel than the right. It just has a different agenda as to how to solve the problem.

    However, I don’t think that Mira or any other member of the editorial/moderating group at Engage is ignoring, missing or misinterpreting the antisemitism of at least some on the left who push the BDS agenda and other aspects of their anti-Zionism. Empress Trudy has it right, if it lacks the subtlety we all like to think we usually portray in these columns.

    • N. Friedman Says:

      Brian,

      I understood what Mira was writing. It is a distraction. She is focusing on the wrong issue entirely.

      It makes no differences whether the right wing circles wagons or not to Israel’s enemies. In fact, it is a mistake to worry about what Israel’s right does because they are not the real problem.

      The real problem – the generator of today’s Antisemitism – is on the Left, as diagnosed by people as divergent as Bernard-Henri Lévy, Paul Berman, Pascal Bruckner, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others note. It is the Left which has adopted illiberal, reactionary positions, supporting reactionary and fascistic thugs on the Arab side, eliding their wrongdoing entirely while exaggerating anything and everything the Israelis do and painting it black whether it is or not. That, not the Israelis right, which is being vilified whether it makes valid or invalid points, is the problem.

      It is the Left which has an Antisemitism problem at the moment. It is the Left’s bigotry that needs to be exposed. It is the unwillingness of much of the Left to stand up to the bigots of the Left that needs to be exposed.

      Instead, we have distraction after distraction, with little interest in even recognizing that Engage is a font of distractions from the real issues here.

  5. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Neil, at the risk of us going round in circles again, but on a different topic – and as I noted to one commenter here, we _are_ on the same side – I think you are in danger of taking a sledgehammer to a nut.

    Engage, in the person of its editors and moderators, knows very well where the problem lies – exactly where you put it (while not ignoring the threat from the far right). Which is exactly why this website started in the first place: to fight the original AUT academic boycott motion. It is because that was defeated so roundly that the UCU leadership has never, ever, gone back to the membership to get legitimacy for their position: they know they’ll get roundly defeated again.

    Nevertheless, the unrelenting pressure from the BDS lobby has the effect of compounding the political situation within Israel: a right-wing Israeli government adopts a mind set of “ourselves alone”: the whole world is against us. My take is that that is all Mira is saying in posting this material. As we all know, the last thing that the antisemitic left (lets call a spade a bloody shovel here) wants is an agreed 2 state settlement in the region, and they are delighted to ratchet up the knee-jerk reaction of right wing Israelis.

    The irony is that they need each other.

  6. N. Friedman Says:

    Brian,

    You write: “a right-wing Israeli government adopts a mind set of ‘ourselves alone’: the whole world is against us.”

    This is not a right-wing/left-wing thing. Israel actually is, just now, rather isolated and the world seems more than willing – in fact, large swaths of the world seem positively giddy – to ignore Israel’s stated concerns, with little regard to their merit. And, the Arab interpretation of the dispute is what is read in your country’s newspapers – as if it were local news. That version is what is read, just now, even in The New York Times. That version of events appears to have the ear of the President of the United States, which is a considerable feat given that most Americans side rather clearly with the Israelis.

    I might add that your description of the Israeli government is incorrect. It includes right-wingers but it also includes prominent left-wingers. And, the left-wingers also think the country is isolated – as Barak clearly thinks. Left-wingers in Israel by and large seem to agree with their government that it is necessary to show a united face – or, as you would put it, circle the wagons.

    One might note that there is a small element, the fringe of the left-wing, which sees fit to adopt the so-called International consensus and to support organizations that seem to relish in keeping Israel front and center in the news, exposing the country’s sins, real and imagined, and wanting to work with groups outside of Israel to force Israel to see things as this fringe wants it seen.

    So, I think you have it all wrong, except that you are correct that the real issue is the Israel haters.

  7. Mira Vogel Says:

    Neil, I’d like to give this thread some time but I don’t have any right now. You are right about the threat isolation poses to Israel. But there are also huge worries about the forms of Israeli response, which threaten to compound and give post-hoc rationalisation for that isolation.

    I’ve made the point before that boycotting the settlements is not the same as self-boycotting. But this bill treats them the same, and so forecloses to Palestinians and their Israeli advocates a legitimate and non-violent form of resistance to the ongoing settlement project. Along with the neighbourhood Jew haters and Israel-eliminationists, the settlement project is correctly identified as the major obstacle to peace.

    Just to make a stronger case that boycotters shouldn’t be criminalised – I think Hasan Abu-Libdeh, Palestinian Authority Minister of the National Economy is convincing when he writes in the Jerusalem Post that the Palestinian campaign against settlement products represents a practical commitment to peace”.

    Lastly this, by Bitter Lemons‘ Yossi Alpher in Lebanon’s Daily Star, which I posted a while back. It begins “I don’t like boycotts”. Not full of vitriol, but views the boycott as Palestinian state building. Later:

    “My highly qualified and conditional acknowledgement of the Palestinians’ right to boycott the settlement economy does not reflect any specific hostility toward the settlers, who for the most part settled on the land at the behest of a succession of Israeli governments. Nor does it indicate any lack of identification with their attachment to the heart and soul of the ancient Jewish homeland. But the settlements were a grand strategic error on Israel’s part. Another people live on the land, with the right to self-determination and sovereignty. Settlers who wish to remain residents of a future Palestinian state will have to abide by its citizenship and residency laws, and I doubt many will wish to do so, anymore than Israeli Jews have opted to live in Egypt or Jordan, two countries at peace with Israel.”

    On a personal note, I think if this bill were turned into law, it could conceivably be interpreted to exclude me, Zionist that I consider myself to be, from Israel.

    (Luther, Ofer Neiman is part of the problem, I’d say. As far as I can see he stopped trying to engage ordinary Israelis long ago, preferring the gratification of international approval. Admittedly that must be a great temptation, and it must takes a lot of character to persist in the sections of the Israeli left which can actually make a difference.)

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      It’s also worth saying that a boycott of the settlements and a boycott of Israel in general are completely different things, and we have to be careful not to let various groups conflate them. Plenty of Israelis and supporters of Israel abroad choose to boycott the settlements on account of the fact that settlers regularly attack Israeli troops, and are starting riots in Israel and carrying out senseless attacks on Israeli civilians with rapidly increasing frequency. Arguably, boycotting the settlers is as much a demonstration of support for Israel as it is for the Palestinians in the West Bank, seeing as the settlers are so openly hostile to Israel.

    • Luther Blissett Says:

      With respect Mira, I don’t want to talk about Neiman.

      I want to talk about the academic boycott that no-one ever talks about in Britain. I want to talk about the boycott of Israeli academics who supported the refuseniks who refused to serve in the OT. A boycott which was begun by the odious Lee Kaplan in the USA several years ago!

    • N. Friedman Says:

      Mira,

      I see the dispute differently than you do. You argue that the settlement project is an obstacle to peace. I, while not being a supporter of the project, think it largely irrelevant, in the big scheme of things. I think it is an example of confusing a pine bush for the forest and, by focusing your energy in the wrong direction, allowing the bigots to set the topic of the debate.

      And, the forest is the war that exists against Israel’s existence, that opposes Israel on any land and that seeks the elimination of Jews everywhere – i.e. the viewpoint of Hamas, winner of the last Palestinian Arab election. Such viewpoint renders the question of where Israelis build homes into more or less a meaningless irrelevancy. According to Hamas, winner of the last election, Tel Aviv is an illegal settlement and Jews should be killed everywhere. That is a fact that needs to be digested and understood because, clearly, it is more important than where Israelis choose to build villages.

      In this regard, please carefully read Paul Berman’s most recent book, The Flight of the Intellectuals (and most particularly his discussion of Jeffrey Herf’s research about the Islamist movement’s nexus with the Nazis from Nazi Propaganda For The Arab World and from Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers’ research presented in Halbmond und Hakenkreuz – Das “Dritte Reich”, die Araber und Palästina (in English – “Crescent Moon and Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs, and Palestine”). You should also read Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s most recent book, Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity , which shows in pretty stark terms that the Islamist movement is, all things considered, not only the most openly Antisemitic party today on Earth but also a party which openly espouses genocide and has acted to advance that aim. Reading these books might open your eyes to just how misplaced your priorities are here.

      I also note that even if, say, the viewpoint of the Hamas is, in reality, the viewpoint of only, say, 25% of Palestinian Arabs – which is likely an understatement because the viewpoint of Fatah is not much different (at least if we go by the group’s last political convention), that is more than enough to make it clear beyond all doubt that peace will not likely break out in our lifetime. The opponents of peace will use violence to prevent peace. That, not where Israelis build homes, ought be your focus.

      Whatever boundaries may someday be created – if a peace ever comes -, it will not matter one wit whether the Israelis settle this or that parcel of land which might otherwise be claimed by Palestinian Arabs.

      As for the boycott issue, it is promoted by bigots. The bigots, not their assertions against Israel, ought to be the focus of your posting.

  8. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Neil, we’re starting to go round in circles, and clearly not understanding (or perhaps even reading) each other’s words properly.

    I’ll refrain from further comment – until the next time we cross words on a different thread.

  9. Israeli professors: academic freedom includes freedom to self-boycott « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] petition needs to be considered in the context of the bill to outlaw Israel’s homegrown boycotters, which does not distinguish between the implicit […]


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