This piece is written in a personal capacity by Meir Perez, a lecturer at UJ
The argument made by the proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as to why only Israeli academics deserve to be singled out for boycott is that the Palestinians themselves have called for such a boycott. This, they claim, is not the case with oppressed people’s from other countries such as China (Tibet is illegally occupied by China) and Belarus (the country with the worst human rights record in Europe), both of which still have formal research agreements with the University of Johannesburg. This argument is morally questionable since surely there is a higher moral imperative to stand up for those who don’t even have a voice to call for a boycott of their oppressors? What would happen to a Chinese academic who called for a boycott of his or her own institution? Surely the voiceless should be championed at least as vivaciously as those who already have so much international fiscal and political support (compare the number of condemnation issued by the UN against Israel to any other country).
The motivation behind the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academics needs to be assessed. According to a recent study done by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, the Palestinian education system is amongst the most intolerant systems in the Middle East. Palestinians have received decades of anti-Semitic education, being taught to hate Jews, glorify suicide bombers and aspire to be ‘martyrs’. The democratically elected rulers of Gaza, Hamas, in their charter, explicitly call for the murder of the Jews and act on that call by firing missiles into southern Israel. The true obstacle for peace in the Middle East is the incitement to hate, so rampant in the Palestinian territories. It is this intolerance towards Jews which motivates the call for the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish state. It is this intolerance which has prevented the formation of a Palestinian state by perpetuating terrorism. And it is this intolerance which is driving the movement to boycott Israeli academics.
Furthermore, instead of encouraging dialogue between Israeli and Palestinians, the boycott promotes the extremist agenda on both sides. The Palestinians who are interested in peace and dialogue are convinced that they do not need to engage like-minded Israelis since they are told that their national aspirations can be achieved through boycott and disengagement. Similarly, Israelis who would like to engage with Palestinians cannot since they are under boycott, playing into the hands of those who do not wish to have any dialogue. It is only through dialogue that two peoples’, who have an equal right to self-determination, can reconcile their differences.
It is not reconciliation which is the agenda of the boycott movement, but rather the de-legitimization of Jewish self-determination. The insistence of comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa, the Israelis to the white South Africans, indicates a lack of historical perspective and insensitivity towards those who suffered under the real Apartheid. Anyone who has visited an Israeli hospital knows that Jewish and Arab patients receive equal treatment by equally qualified Jewish and Arab doctors. Arabs in Israel have the right to vote, the right to education, the right to health services. This did not exist under apartheid. Recently, a former president of Israel was sentenced to imprisonment by non-other than an Arab judge… certainly not the sign of an apartheid state.
Lecturer in Engineering
University of Johannesburg