Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail & Guardian

This piece is from the South African Mail & Guardian

Blame game won’t lead us to peace

Robert Fine appeals to his colleagues in South Africa, arguing against the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions

Archbishop Desmond Tutu shines a torch of social justice in places where many politicians fear to tread. He was one of the leaders of the fight against apartheid and remains a critical voice in the new South Africa. On the Israel-Palestine question, however. I should like the opportunity to express my disagreement with him.

In support of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Tutu asks:”Are we willing to speak out for justice when the moral choice that we make for an oppressed community may invite phone calls from the powerful or when possible research funding will be withdrawn from us?”

He asks: “Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation?  Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about all the downtrodden?”

Now there is every reason for Tutu to shine the torch of justice on injustices in other nations as well as his own and every reason to explore injustices taking place in Israel and Palestine. I have no argument with him on this. However, his formulation of the problem is to my mind ill considered.

First, the “they” Tutu refers to — those who threaten to withdraw research funding from those who speak out for justice, those who have forgotten their own experience of humiliation, those who do not care about the downtrodden – are refered to as  “our Jewish sisters and brothers”. If he reflects about what he has written, he may share the discomfort I have in reading this characterisation of Jews.

Second, the question of why he singles out Israel and Israeli academic institutions is not explained. Why not a host of other countries that repress their own inhabitants or occupy foreign lands, or a host of other universities that are equally implicated in policies of state? My own country, Britain, has after all been engaged in two bloody wars with casualties that far outnumber anything that has involved Israel. Why not boycott British academics?

The academic boycott campaign he supports looks to the exclusion of Israeli Jews — and only Israeli Jews — from the scholarly life of humanity. This seems to me discriminatory.

Third, Tutu corrodes a fundamental distinction in political thought, that between civil society and the state, when he asserts without qualification that “Israeli universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime”. This is a half truth. Universities are also an important forum of dissent. The relation between civil society and the state needs, to be addressed more seriously if we are not to hold a people responsible for the human rights abuses of their government. In other cases of international solidarity we support democratic forces in societies that are suffering under or struggling against oppressive states or movements.

Fourth, Tutu is careful not to demonise Israel but he does not take responsibility for the possible consequences of his support for an academic boycott of Israel. This campaign opens the door to the deployment of ever wilder claims to justify the special treatment of Israeli Jewish academics — for example, that Israel is inherently ethnic cleansing, genocidal or akin to Nazism. To justify discrimination against certain academics by virtue of their nationality, there is a tangible risk of slippage from political criticism to the vilification of a whole people.

Fifth, Tutu offers one particular account of the Israel-Palestine conflict in which Palestinians exist mainly as victims and Israelis mainly as victimisers. His boycott proposal, however, does not afford recognition of the fact that there is a plurality of discourses concerning the complex origins and responsibilities of this conflict. One of the ill effects of an academic boycott would be to reduce this plurality of narratives to just one hegemonic version of events. Surely Tutu would agree that no understanding can come from refusing to
hear alternative points of view.

The problem is that we no longer quite hear even our own words. It has become almost common sense to say Israel is a uniquely illegitimate state, Zionism a uniquely noxious ideology, supporters of Israel a uniquely powerful lobby, and memory of the Holocaust a uniquely self-serving reference to the past. This discourse is shared by a range of parties — not only sections of liberal and radical political opinion committed to universal moral values, but also fundamentalist and ultra-nationalist parties with no such commitments. The liberal left continues to avow universal anti-racist principles but does not expect the same of the victims of racism. For the victims it accepts and sometimes advocates nationalist or fundamentalist forms of resistance that are anything but universal. The nightmare scenario is that otherwise conflicting political forces might unite around hatred of Israel, just as in the past opposing political forces united around hatred of Jews.

Just a few years ago the basic left-liberal commitment was to see itself bound together by signs and symbols of a terrible past It was to teach afresh to each passing generation what crimes were committed in the name of enlightenment against black people in the non-Western world and Jews within Europe. Today, by contrast we find a more chauvinistic narrative, one that recreates a moral division of the world between us and them — “we” in the West who are civilised, postnationalist and anti’racist; “they” who believe in the purity of their nation and act with corresponding barbarity.

Israel plays a symbolic role in this new consciousness. It is cast as the incarnation of the negative properties the West is alleged to have thrown off. “Israel” in this narrative serves not as a real country embroiled in real conflicts but as a vessel into which we can project all that is wrong in our own history and preserve the good for ourselves- I wonder if something similar is occurring both in the new Europe and the new South Africa that impels us to find our demons in this resonant receptacle.

We must resist the temptation to commit a mere reversal of terms. If ultra-nationalists in Israel racialise Arabs and turn them into a unitary “otherised” category, as they do, one response is to treat “Zionists” as an equally “otherised” category and place Palestinians in a single identity script as victims of Israel. The deeper the compassion for the victims, the more passionate can become the hatred of the victimisers. We trap ourselves in a cycle of despair.

The projection on to “Israel” of the subterranean streams of Western civilisation does nothing to address the growth of ultra-nationalism more globally — including in our own societies. In Israel it does nothing to challenge the power of the right wing that has no interest in peace; in Palestine nothing to challenge the grip of fundamentalist leaderships that threaten basic freedoms of Palestinians from within as well as the existence of Israel from without; in regional Arab states nothing to challenge reactionary rulers who know well how to divert social and political opposition on to blaming Israel.

In short, the danger of a boycotting response is to heap on “Israel” absolute culpability. It does not meet our real political need, which is to understand a conflict, to help find a peace between the parties, and support those in each nation who oppose bigotry, racism, violence and despair. Justice should be viewed in a more relative, interactive and comparative way.

Robert Fine is professor of sociology at the University of Warwick

Robert Fine is author of Beyond Apartheid: Labour and Liberation in South Africa

Click here for Robert Fine’s paper: ‘Fighting with phantoms: a contribution to the debate on antisemitism in Europe.’

Click here for David Hirsh’s piece in the Mail and Guardian on the Israel-apartheid trope.

35 Responses to “Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail & Guardian”

  1. Brian Robinson Says:

    “The academic boycott campaign he supports looks to the exclusion of Israeli Jews — and only Israeli Jews — from the scholarly life of humanity.”

    A question for information. The examples of exclusion that I know about, e.g. the linguistics journal case, the Oxford medical professor and the Israeli PhD candidate, did involve Jewish victims of discrimination.

    But are there any cases of non Jewish scholars or students being discriminated against in this way? Do those advocating an academic boycott make it explicit that the boycott might, or could, affect non Jews?

    We know that in science, technology and medicine (to name only three areas) there is cooperation between non Jewish Palestinian and Jewish Israeli researchers. Presumably, to be consistent, the boycotters would have to boycott e.g. a paper authored by one or more such Palestinians only? Do they make that explicit?

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      No, Brian, that haven’t made that explicit, because, I suspect, they haven’t thought beyond their knee-jerk reaction to boycott Israel. As contributors here have freguently noted, the BDS movement show little, if any, sophistication in their thinking as to the fall-out from their demands, were they to be successful. And certainly not the effects on those they define as the “victims” of Israel.

  2. Jonathan Romer Says:

    How hard it is to avoid stereotypes and “us & them” mentalities. Even Robert Fine, in this reasoned, thoughtful and carefully calm article can’t completely escape them.

    Just as not all on the left wing are anti-Zionist, demonising bigots, not all on the right are warmongers. If he’s aware of this, it doesn’t show here. If I’m misjudging him I’m sorry, but if so, he shouldn’t be essentialising the Israeli right as having “no interest in peace”, nor offering the Israeli right as the counterpart of Palestinian fundamentalists. There is a part of the right that defines peace as total victory — just as there’s a part of the left that does too, for a different victor. The division between the tolerable parts of the right and left is not about the desirability of peace, but how to attain it. Apart from the matter of basic fairness, characterising the right as disinterested in peace grants permission to the boycotters to justify their assault by reference to the current government.

  3. Absolute Observer Says:

    Brian,
    One of the examples you cite used the fact that the graduate in question had served in the IDF as a pretext to exclude him, so, it would appear that the answer, at least in that case, is that it is explicitly Israeli Jews.
    However, the question itself presumes the terms of the answer. The question essentially implies, apart from Israeli Jews, are other Israelis excluded?
    The base line, therefore, is Israeli Jews. Other Israelis may be open to debate, but not Israeli Jews.
    I hate to make reference here to the formula, that whilst not all targets are Jews, all Jews are targets, does seem appropriate.
    Moreover, since for many who instigate the boycott, the problem is not the Occupation or specific Israeli policies, but the existence of Israel as the Jewish state per se, then the question of whether they “really” mean Israeli Jews is quite beside the point (see, for example, the lukewarm response to the question of labeling.
    After all, the fact that the boycott is not being considered against Tel Aviv student, Omar Barghouti seems to give at least a hint of an answer.

    • luny Says:

      >Brian,
      >One of the examples you cite used the fact that the graduate in >question had served in the IDF as a pretext to exclude him, so, it >would appear that the answer, at least in that case, is that it is >explicitly Israeli Jews.

      Erm no. It would appear that the answer, at least in that case, is that it is explicitly Israelis who served in the IDF. Or were conscience objectors also excluded?

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Luny, given that in general _all_ Jewish Israeli and Druse
        males of age 18 are conscripted, you make a non point. There are, as you note, exceptions, but let’s make it clear, in principle 100% of Jewish Israelis males, Druse males, et al, are conscripted. Thus, the chances of the Jewish Israeli graduate seeking a post-grad place outside Israel has served in the IDF is pretty high.

        So what point are you trying to make? That the Oxford don has a point? Is entitled to discriminate on grounds of military service in one army, and one army only? That only ex-members of the IDF can legitimately be discriminated against? It’s quite likely that even a conscioentious objector would have had fault found by this particular dn.

        And what is _your_ view of all those Israeli (Jewish) women who serve in the IDF? Or are they excepeted because they are “the fairer sex” or some such?

        • luny Says:

          Thanks for admitting that your earlier statement was incorrect.
          The discrimination is against members of a racist human rights violating army, “conscripted” according to an ethnic criterion, not “Jews” or any other ethnic group.

          Such is the carrot. The stick is,
          members of the IDF can and should legitimately be discriminated against. Same goes for members of the South African Apartheid army, the BNP, the KKK and the waffen SS.

          IDF Conscience objectors, on the other hand, I would enroll and give scholarships automatically. See, I tend to discriminate for good people and against bad people.

        • Sarah AB Says:

          (This is actually a reply to luny’s comment, below – for some reason I can’t seem to locate a reply button below his/her post though, sorry.) I only have a casual knowledge of this issue, but I suppose, WRT the IDF conscription policy, there are two ways of looking at it. If Arab Israelis *were* conscripted – would that not also potentially be seen as a problem, as many would want to refuse to serve and thus become (?)law breakers? I suppose a similar question is raised by what I understand to be different teaching arrangements for some, though not I think all, Arab Israeli children – the fact that their education focuses more on Arabic, less on Hebrew, might be perceived as a disadvantage. Yet being forced to follow the same path might *also* be perceived as discriminatory.

        • Jonathan Romer Says:

          Sarah, luny is talking out of his, ah, hat — as always. For luny everything is a stick to beat Israel with. Perhaps it’s his chief source of pleasure.

          The racist IDF compels most racist Jews to enjoy the racist pleasures of putting their racist careers, racist education and racist lives on hold whilst putting those racist lives at danger for the preservation of the racist community. After the 3 years of conscript duty, the pleasure is extended by years of racist reserve duty.

          To show how deeply racist it is, the IDF exempts Arab Israelis from conscription. The usually declared reason is to free them from the distress of being forced to take up arms against fellow Arabs. I’m sure another reason is to free the IDF from the obvious security and reliability risks of compelling Israeli Arabs to fight others they are quite likely to have a kinship relationship with. Nevertheless, and unacknowledged by friend luny, the racist IDF is open to Arabs who choose to volunteer, as many Beduin do with distinction. The racist IDF also takes assorted non-Jews — Druze, Baha’i, Christians, you name it.

          In a further display of its racism, the state of Israel does not punish those who choose not to serve in the IDF (unless they are Jewish or Druze) nor require them to perform any alternative service, though there is an informal consequence: Performing IDF service may give you contacts that prove valuable in your future, and having IDF service (or the absence of it) on your C.V. may open or close doors for you in other ways. Choices entail consequences, even in Israel.

          Luny is a person of principle. Luny tends to discriminate for good people and against Jews.

  4. Ex UCU Says:

    It is a good question.

    As far as I know, no non-Jewish Israeli academic has been the subject of an attempt to boycott. Again, as far as I know, the boycotters have never questioned the formulation Fine uses in his article. Perhaps it would be best if you could find a way to put that question to them. Maybe you could get come clarification where others have failed. They tend to hide behind the spurious “distinction” between “institution” and “individuals” working within an institution – a “distinction” that has been shown to be both logically and practically unsustainable.

    • David Hirsh Says:

      I think that is wrong. The first people to be hit by the boycotters are Palestinians scholars who have links with Israelis – and there are more severe dangers they are exposed to than boycott.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Mohammad Darawshe of The Abraham Fund told me he was boycotted, as an Israeli citizen, by an academic in Northern Ireland.

  5. Ex UCU Says:

    Not sure who is “wrong” here, me and the others, me and some of the others?

    Are you saying that “Israeli Jews – and only Israeli Jews” – is not accurate, or are you saying that alongside that effect in, say the UK, is also the very serious threat posed to those Palestinians marked as “collbaorators” within Israel, Gaza and the West Bank?
    Is it not rather two sides of the two sides of the same coin (even accepting that one cannot compare the fate of each group that would be doled out should the boycott occur?); that in their attempt to exclude Israeli Jews and only Israeli Jews, they are also acting in ways that threaten non-Jewish (Arab) academics in Israel with, as you say, far more than access to journals, etc.?

  6. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    Prof Fine writes:

    “Israel plays a symbolic role in this new consciousness. It is cast as the incarnation of the negative properties the West is alleged to have thrown off. “Israel” in this narrative serves not as a real country embroiled in real conflicts but as a vessel into which we can project all that is wrong in our own history and preserve the good for ourselves- I wonder if something similar is occurring both in the new Europe and the new South Africa that impels us to find our demons in this resonant receptacle.”

    Amongst the multiplicity of NGO’s in SA, anti-zionism is central to their ideology. I don’t think that you could be employed in a South African NGO if you did not believe in the views propounded by the PSC (Palestinian Solidarity Committee). The latter has succesfully stigmatized Israel as an “apartheid” state, so nothing that she does can be supported.

    Ironically enough as the post-apartheid dream starts to fall apart in SA, the hatred for Israel seems to increase. Somehow the frustrations of the new PC ruling ideological NGO class are vented on Israel. If Israel doid not exist, their subconscious tells them, all would be well in post-apartheid SA.

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    Well, considering that their is mandatory army service in Israel, luny’s point is somewhat desperate (but quite fitting of someone with anti-zionist ocd)

    It has also excluded Israeli Jews who were heads of their Amnesty section, so I am not sure the idea of “conscience [sic] objectors” adds anything.

    But, then again, that would be an “exception” to the rule that all Israeli Jews are to be boycotted unless they pass a “political/McCarthyite” test. Precisely the test the boycotters claim to deny exists. So, again, Jews – and only Jews – would have to satisfy tests through public statements and disavowals. Such a tradition has a long and ignoble history amongst those who want only to hear one “Jewish voice” whilst demanding the silence and punishment of any and all that dissent from that view.

    Needless to say, these tests apply not only to those Israeli Jews speaking about Israel, but also about literature in 18th century France and the density of certain rock formations in northern Europe.

    Mira, thanks for that. Where and when?

  8. Brian Robinson Says:

    Thanks for help so far on this one. I’m tempted to write to someone on the BRICUP committee to ask, but I’m not sure if anyone would reply to me.

    I had always thought that for the boycotters the issue wasn’t (at least overtly) ethnicity or religion, but politics. That is, if I’ve got this right, they would shun *anyone* who supported policies of Israeli governments, or for many boycotters it would have to be a shunning of anyone who supported Israel, period.

    That was — and is — the notorious political test. Jew, or non Jew, Israeli or otherwise, one could pass or fail this test, at least in theory. Thus perhaps a boycotter could go in good conscience to a lecture by Norman Finkelstein or Rabbi Ahron Cohen but would have to stand outside with a protest banner if the lecturer was, say, Martin Amis
    http://bit.ly/cx0blY

    But the practice is very different from the theory. With reference to Birmingham and the PhD candidate, we can’t really know what was going on in the mind of the professor who refused to supervise him.

    Looking at it from the outside, I’m left wondering if another professor, but one with similar ethical misgivings, would refuse to supervise a candidate who had served in the British army in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Is it a duck, or does it merely look like one?

  9. Absolute Observer Says:

    Brian R.
    As far as I recall, the professor who refused to supervise an Israeli Jew was explicit about it being because of his serving in the IDF.

    “In a reply sent by email on June 23, Prof Wilkie wrote: “Thank you for contacting me, but I don’t think this would work. I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they [the Palestinians] wish to live in their own country.

    I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army. As you may be aware, I am not the only UK scientist with these views but I’m sure you will find another lab if you look around.”

    Full story here,
    http://www.zionismontheweb.org/academic_boycott/Wilkie_case_student_refused_admission_for_being_Israeli.htm

  10. Absolute Observer Says:

    “Same goes for members of the South African Apartheid army, the BNP, the KKK and the waffen SS.”

    Luny. Fuck off.

    Whilst comparing Israeli Jews with the SS might play well with the antisemites on other sites where you post with compulsive regularity, in more civilized contexts, it merely shown not only your complete ignorance of both Israel and nazism, but also that you you have no concept of what it means to enter into civilised company.

    Whilst I appreciate that the anti-intellectualism and anti-semitism is common currency in many parts of the world, it is still quite shocking to see it manifest itself so clearly.

  11. Aristotle Says:

    I think you most of you here do not appreciate Luny’s logic.

    The SA Apartheid Army and the Waffen SS wear uniforms.
    The IDF wear uniforms
    Therefore the IDF is the same as the Waffen SS and the SA Apartheid army.

    Or, the SA Apartheid Army and the Waffen SS had restrictions on who could become members
    The IDF have restrictions on who can become (automatically) members.
    Therefore, the IDF is the same as the Waffen SS and the SA Apartheid army.

    It is really quite a compelling argument, well, at least for the “discriminating”.

    (of course, such logic fails to acknowledge any details of the matter, such as, as others have noted; including the fact that many Jews are, like Arab Israelis, automatically exempt from service in the IDF on the grounds that they are, erm, Jewish.)

    I agree with AO – the real question is not Luny’s stupidity, but the climate that allows him or her to think that not only are their views on Israel are in any way relevant, pertinent or intelligible, but that he or she feels it is acceptable to articulate such nonsense and pass it off as “legitimate comment”.

    Now, that is the question of the times.

    • Blacklisted Dictator Says:

      Whilst anti-semitism was at the core of Nazi ideology, anti-zionism is today at the core of post-apartheid ideology. The two hatreds are not only similar but they perform similar functions. When one tries to analyze the ideology of post apartheid SA, it has disparate elements (extreme capitalism V communism) that cannot be reconciled, and as a result anti-zionism is the glue that holds it together. In these circumstances, it is inevitable that SA will one day boycott Israel. There is no turning back since the regime will implode if the decision is not taken.

      Moreover, it was not co-incidental that Tutu, the most prominent South African Christian, was chosen to lead the attack on Ben Gurion University.

  12. Absolute Observer Says:

    Actually BD, the situation goes well beyond the locality of SA.

    Antizionism became an accepted ideology and rallying call precisely at the end of the cold war.

    Whilst antizionism (antisemitism) was a staple of the “communist” regimes, antisemitism more or less fell into decline in the west.

    The second the cold war ended, the “Jewish Question” (which is in effect what antizionism is – the question of “what to do with the Jews”) renewed itself. With the seeming failure of Marxism (real or imagined), that strand of emancipatory Marxism that always kept the more irrational, anti-Jewish strands in check fell away (there are some notable exceptions). All that is left on the populist left as a rally call is antisemitism, now in the language of “antizionism”, just as in the past it was defended and perpetrated through the language of “anticapitalism”.

    A good and troubling example of this tendency is the failure to fully address the dangers of the EDL. Most of those in the forefront of opposition are willing to accept the EDL lie that they are “Zionists” and that Zionists/Jews support the EDL.
    Whilst most of the time, antiracists and antifascists know and fight the lies of far-right rhetoric, on the question of Israel, they believe the EDL speaks the truth.

    In their obsessive hatred, the populist left are willing to betray nor just Jews, but all of us who stand to suffer at the hands of resurgent fascism and racism.

    Until the populist left ditch their antisemitism, it is not just Jews who are in trouble.

    • Blacklisted Dictator Says:

      In April 2007,The South African government released an official statement, stating that Ronnie Kasrils, who was Minister of Intelligence, “has had a fruitful meeting with Mr Ali Larijani; Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. The meeting was held in the spirit of advancing the existing good relations of friendship, co-operation and understanding between the governments and peoples of the two countries.”

      “The two Ministers expressed their satisfaction with their meeting which like the rest of Minister Kasrils’ visit to Iran has been a positive one,” the statement added.

      Ronnie Kasrils also “praised Iran’s wise stand regarding its nuclear program,” according to a report by the Islamic Republic News Agency, although Kasrils later argued that he had been misquoted!

      So with regard to South Africa’s continuing silence about human rights abuses in Iran, one has to obviously conclude that The ANC is still a close ally of Ahmadinejad’s appalling regime.

  13. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    The intellectually challenged individual known as luny says “Thanks for admitting that your earlier statement was incorrect.
    The discrimination is against members of a racist human rights violating army, “conscripted” according to an ethnic criterion, not “Jews” or any other ethnic group.” He fails to say _who_ admits any statement was incorrect, thus, he rules himself out of serious consideration as someone making coherent points. As his comment comes immediately after one of mine (although it is also attached to one by Absolute Observer and after one by Brian Robinson – and so could refer to any of those), it could be taken to refer to me: and I make no such admission. But then neither do AO or Brian R. When trying to make a point, it helps to be specific: not one of luny’s more obvious qualities.

    This reinforces the point that luny is several sandwiches short of a full picnic. Furthermore, his statement that “The discrimination is against members of a racist human rights violating army..” is meaningless, given that it is an assertion, contains no evidence (nor is it followed by evidence), argument, let alone logic. To sustain such a statement, other than as rhetoric, which impresses no-one here, and precious few elsewhere (other than similarly intellectually challenged individuals), there needs to be these things.

    To summarise: if you want to taken seriously here, luny, be serious.

  14. Absolute Observer Says:

    Brian,
    Luny cannot stand even the thought of a Jewish state, let alone its actual empirical existence.
    End of story.
    AO

  15. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    INTERVIEW COPIED FROM SUNDAY TIMES NEWSPAPER – 10 October 2010

    The University of Johannesburg says it will cut ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University if certain conditions are not met within six months. Chris Barron asked deputy vice chancellor Adam Habib….

    What conditions?
    We will continue relations provided the following is done: one, we will consult with Palestinian universities to get their views.

    If they say cut?
    We will consider those views. Two, we will broaden the partnership to included one or more Palestinians institutions.

    Are they also world leaders in water purification research?
    No, they won’t be.

    So how would that benefit UJ?
    In the sense that the research collaboration will create an enabling condition for Palestinians.

    The third condition?
    That the research would not have a direct o indirect military impact.

    Is that realistic?
    Yes, In part these conditions emerge from our conversations with the associates of BGU themselves, so this is not something UJ has pulled out of the sky.

    When was this collaboration entered into?
    The current project dates back to last year August.

    Did UJ have a policy around this kind of thing then?
    We’ve created a policy in relation to this.

    But there was no policy before?
    No, but we’ve now articulated one.

    Why suddenly now?
    Because we were confronted with this issue. We had a number of senators in our senate who asked us to terminate this relationship.

    How carefully did you investigate the claims against BGU?
    As best we could.

    Did you go there?
    No, we didn’t.

    Did you meet any of its academics?
    Some of them. And we got date from each of them.

    And concluded that it supported the occupation?
    What we said is it has been complicit in the implementation of state policy that has that effect.

    Two former presidents of the university have been outspoken critics of the occupation. Did you know this?
    Absolutely.

    They were also outspoken in favour of the expulsion of Jewish settlers. Did you know that?
    Absolutely.

    Doesn’t this rubbish claims that BGU supports the occupation?
    No, it doesn’t. The resolution is very clear. It said we could not find evidence one way or the other ….

    If there’s no evidence why threaten to cut ties?
    You’re not listening to me. We said the university was implementing state policy that had that effect. And that is not contested by anyone, including BGU. BGU implements a whole range of state policies which it is obliged to implement, and it does so and it has an impact.

    Students and academics from Palestinian Authority areas and from Africa attend BGU. Should they cut their ties?

    No, we didn’t say that. We said we will continue the relationship provided we expand the partnership. We didn’t say we will cut ties. There is a very big difference. We looked at all of the data, including a note from the president of BGU indicating that Bedouin students also attend BGU, that Arab students attend BGU. We were very aware of that. That doesn’t detract from the fact that we think the implementation of state policy does have an impact on Palestinians.

    Have you cut ties with universities in any Arab countries?
    No, we haven’t. But I don’t have a list of universities we have ties with in Arab countries.

    Do you have ties with universities in the US?
    We do.

    Shouldn’t you cut those?
    When appropriate academics make the case then we will engage with it.

    BGU is a world leader in water purification research. What might the impact of cutting ties with them be for South Africans who need clean water?
    We have some outstanding researchers in this field ourselves. Our research is as world class as theirs.

    Archbishop Tutu’s petition accuses it of human right abuses. Do you agree?
    There is an argument there that says the Israeli state is involved in human rights abuses. A lot of people say we should cut our ties with BGU because of the complicity of the Israeli state in human rights abuses.

    Do you have ties with universities in China?
    We do. But not ties that are tied to military research in the same way.

  16. Frank Adam Says:

    To risk some humour, a tutu is a flimsy ballet costume that needs to be carefully donned and secured; so could somebody who has the Right Reverend’s address please ask him if he knows that in the week after the Six Day War, Israel, through US “good offices” as the jargon goes, offered to return to the “Green Line” – the status quo ANTE – if the Arab parties – then Egypt, Syria and Jordan signed a peace treaty – treaty, NOT an armistice nor cease fire nor other temporary agreement – turning the Green Line into a legal, mutually recognised, frontier rather than just a border? No Arab government ever replied to that ISRAELI peace offer, which was everything the Arabs and their friends in The Grauniad and similar now want.

    I am 69 and Bishop Tutu somewhat older, so if I can remember the incident I am sure he can. As he is a professional in morality by definition, he should have no problem with the Kissinger joke that just because Herod, Stalin and Israel are paranoid, does not mean they do NOT have enemies. Similarly just because the Palestine Arabs and Lebanese are underdogs does NOT mean they were innocents in the circumstances that led to them being underdogs.

  17. Engage serves as “‘useful idiots’ for Israeli state propaganda” – Ran Greenstein « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] a response to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who expressed support for a campaign to discontinue institutional relationship between the […]

  18. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    Adam Habib’s support for the boycott of Israeli universities.

    The South African Jewsih Report writes:

    While it has not been possible to draw Habib on whether he personally was or is in favour of a boycott of BGU, his signing of a petition to boycott Israeli academic institutions in December 2005 when he was executive director of the Human Sciences Research Council, has raised the question of his impartiality at the outset in heading the UJ Senate subcommittee to advise the Senate on whether or not to cut ties with BGU.

    Says Habib: “I was chosen by the Senate to chair the task group in my capacity as deputy vice-chancellor: Research, Innovation and Advancement. The Senate and the vice-chancellor had sufficient confidence in me and all other members of the task group that we would not allow our personal opinions to colour our judgement on what is in the best interest of UJ. “It is worth bearing in mind that this task group was not made up of ‘neutral’ individuals. It would be impossible to find ‘neutral’ individuals on the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. “Rather, the task group reflected a diversity ofopinion on this matter, which is why at the outset it was divided on how to proceed. The final resolution adopted was a product of an attempt to find a negotiated common ground. “It is striking that the final resolution adopted by the Senate decided not to go forward with a termination of the relationship between BGU and UJ, but rather to continue with it under certain conditions. This UJ resolution was therefore not in accord with the petition I signed while at the HSRC a number of years ago. Proves the point, does it not?”

  19. Deirdre Says:

    It would be more plausible if those calling for a boycott on academics in Israel were to extend their boycott to China, which has brutally occupied Tibet since 1948.

    • Bill Says:

      A few of them have “called” for it when pressed into a corner. But beyond that, there’s no sincere followup since “it changes the subject.”

      And in fairness, a China boycott (be it Tibet or Tiananmen) is about as likely as major institutions’ administrations going forward for real boycotts of Israel. Both countries are major markets for collaboration which are too big to put beyond a university’s political firewall. But it makes you look good in the eyes of some of your colleagues to lean like hell on Israel.. (oh and by the way.. also support the idea of boycotting China).

  20. Discussions about BDS and how to oppose it – David Hirsh | Engage Says:

    […] Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail &amp…  (2010) […]

  21. Boycotts of Israel in US Academe: David Hirsh and Claire Potter | Engage Says:

    […] Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail &amp…  (2010) […]


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