What is the real motivation behind singling out Israel for boycott? Meir Perez, University of Johannesburg

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.

Meir Perez

Lecturer in Engineering

University of Johannesburg

Here is a copy of Meir Perez’s letter to the Vice Chancellor of UJ following its decision to break links with Ben Gurion University in Israel

25 Responses to “What is the real motivation behind singling out Israel for boycott? Meir Perez, University of Johannesburg”

  1. ZA Warrior Says:

    UJ’s pro-boycotters argue that academic freedom is advanced by standing in solidarity with Palestinians who do not have the same rights to education as their Israeli counterparts. Israel is singled out and the comparison is made to apartheid. Apartheid was dismantled because it was an immoral state in which crimes against humanity were committed. So is Israel, they argue, and it should suffer the same fate. But Israel is not an apartheid state, it is an occupation. The differences are vast and well documented on Engage and other places. The apartheid claim is merely aimed at justifying Israel’s punishment based on moral indignation. Whether employed as a tactic or strategy, whether selectively applied to institutions or individuals, the South African example shows that academic boycotts are fraught with difficulties and contradictions. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that academic boycotts in the apartheid era made any contribution to the academic freedom of South African academics and institutions. Why would it achieve this in the case of the Palestinians?

    UJ also claims that there is no impingement of academic freedom as the boycott is simply the severing of an institutional arrangement. Individual academics are allowed to continue their research at a peer-to-peer level. But, how can this be achieved in reality if Israel’s universities are labeled as institutions complicit (directly and indirectly) with human rights abuses? Who would feel ‘free’ to work with such a stigmatised group? If institutions are complicit in advancing the Israeli state’s interest, then what makes the individuals within those institutions immune from such?

  2. Bill Says:

    UJ also claims that there is no impingement of academic freedom as the boycott is simply the severing of an institutional arrangement. Individual academics are allowed to continue their research at a peer-to-peer level. But, how can this be achieved in reality if Israel’s universities are labeled as institutions complicit (directly and indirectly) with human rights abuses?

    And How can anyone take the claim that “you can still work with the officially evil apartheid state” with all the trappings of academic freedom seriously? How will that faculty member be evaluated by his peers or administrators who clearly don’t approve of his research? Even when going to small-p politics (often worse on campuses that those with the Capital-P), those who dance with the favored pathways for collaboration get rewarded in their performance reviews, those who don’t, well, don’t. Will someone unilaterally in a middle management position chose not to sign off on requisite paperwork (in the same lines of people making their boycott-of-one a boycott for anyone in their reach) or similar malicious obstruction? Will the affected investigator be able to claim academic freedom then? And will the boycotteer him- or herself claim the right of academic freedom to deny the investigators freedom — after all the bocyotteer is in line with policy while the investigator is a blockade runner.

  3. Rangjan Says:

    I can’t see how the author argues that the “real” motivation, the “agenda” of the BDS campaigns are the de-legitimization of Jewish self-determination. This doesn’t logically follow, and the most probable motivation for these people is that they believe it will contribute to a just settlement in Israel/Palestine.

    They might be wrong, they might have a different notion of a just settlement to you or I, and the “de-legitimization of Jewish self-determination” might be a consequence of what they are proposing but to ascribe it to them as an “agenda” is a rather deceitful way of attacking them.

    • Richard Gold Says:

      Hi Rangjan. But the majority of boycott leaders are against Israel’s existence and not just the occupation. For them the occupation includes Israel inside the Green Line. Ask them (and i have) what Israel must do for the boycott call to be rescinded and they refuse to answer, ask them if they support a 2 states settlement and they refuse to answer. So de-legitimisation of Israel is actually central to their aims. So to accuse people of being deceitful is just childish name-calling. Their motivation isn’t a just peace but the end of Israeli self-determination. That’s why co-existence groups such as One Voice have been targeted by the boycott campaign.

      There’s absolutely no proof for their motivation being a “just settlement” unless you believe a just settlement entails the end of Israel within the pre-’67 borders.

      • Rangjan Says:

        Hi Richard,

        I think you have misunderstood. Their motivation is for justice and a just solution/settlement. The fact that their definition of that is different to yours, and that (in your view) it challenges the existence of the state of Israel is not a good reason to state that their “real” motivation is the destruction of the state of Israel. If it were true (and I don’t want to argue that point, because it is secondary) then it is a consequence of what they are arguing, not a motivation.

        • Richard Gold Says:

          Hi Rangjan. Thanks for your response.

          I’m sure they see their position as one of justice and a just settlement / solution – after all everybody sees their solution as just. But their idea of a just settlement is one without the existence of Israel. That’s central to their campaign. The boycott campaign is based on the apartheid analogy and is a tactic to deligitmise Israel. If you have read the writings of John Rose, Sue Blackwell, Omar Barghouti, PSC, PACBI, etc you will appreaciate that they are very frank and open in the fact that they take a hard-line anti-zionist position which does not allow for Israel to exist alongside a Palestinian state. They are totally opposed to a 2 state solution and their position is that of a single Palestinian state. It’s not secondary at all, it’s primary. “No Israel” is a motivation. I suggest you read what they say. It’s also why they refuse to work with co-existence groups such as One Voice because co-existence means a 2 state settlement.

          Perhaps you can show me where the boycott campaign states that if Israel ends the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the siege on Gaza, that the boycott call will stop ? I have been to several Bricup meetings with leading boycotters and at each meeting i’ve asked what Israel would have to do for the boycott call to be rescinded and if an end to the occupation and a 2 states solution is their aim. Every time they have refused to give an answer.

          I’m sorry but your comment doesn’t really say anything and it’s not factually based. It’s late , but if you want i can give lots of actual examples if you still disagree with me.

  4. johng Says:

    Thats odd. I would have thought that most would respond ‘End the Occupation”. whatever their beliefs about the final shape of a just settlement (which similarly continue to divide those who have made peace in northern ireland).

    • Bill Says:

      Thats odd. I would have thought that most would respond ‘End the Occupation”

      I’m sure a goodly number of the backbenchers or coat-tail riders on the BDS movement, who are in it to be seen as being aware or who truly want a 2-state solution, indeed do. But the leadership, The Boycotteers, won’t commit to a baseline for withdrawing any actions against Jewish Israeli academics who don’t read off their scripts. And they are ones making the motions, dismissing the defacto antisemitism their conduct enables, ignoring legal opinion, celebrating the resignations of “zionist” UCU members, and patting themselves on the back for all of the above.

  5. Context is Everything Says:

    I think your question is better put to the BDSers.
    Their silence and equivocation on the matters Richard Gold raises is deafening,
    So, yes, most would respond with “End the Occupation”.
    The problem is that for the BDS campaign, “the Occupation” begins in 1948 – the year of the legal recognition of the State of Israel.

  6. Mira Vogel Says:

    The boycott calls demand that Israel dismantle its defences and give an estimated 10 million people across the world designated Palestinian by the UN leave to become Israeli citizens. There’s no other way of looking at it than that boycott campaigners want to end Israel. The campaign is outrageously exceptional in every way, and no less problematic, Eric Heinze’s UCU resignation piece explains how it relies on a blatant manipulation of the concept of human rights.

    • Bill Says:

      And this stratospheric impossible and of course unique requirement makes it easy for the BDSers to insist in a boycott until the sun goes cold.

      Support an open border for students and academics free from security harassment? Sure. Join us in our campaign. But recognize that some support locking down a 2-state solution and they need to be satisfied, too. Support a 2-state solution? Great! Join us, but remember that others support an open right of return for anyone classified as Palestinians to points within the 67 borders (but not Jews to their original sites in the West Bank), and we can’t stop the boycott for those of you who only want to go so far. Want Right of Return? Cool beans! But remember that you need to be considerate and collegial to those who want a bi-national state and if you are serious about peace in the middle east, you would be too — maybe those irritating fake liberal uncollegial zionazi Engagenicks are more of what you want. Want a bi-national state? Huzzah! Great to have you! But some will want to make sure that the demographics are in tune with the rest of the Middle East (Any Jews that don’t feel comfortable living in such a state should leave. To where? Not out problem but I hope they don’t apply for jobs at this institution. Not that we have a problem with hiring Jews. Just those who agreed with us all along.) So, colleague, how far are you willing to go to prove yourself for the cause?

      Of course they won’t voice this as BDS policy for the obvious reason.

      By not drawing a line at the credible parameters for a peace settlement, the BDSers implicitly demand the final two options — or a boycott that goes on and on and on. BDSers that figure this out can either leave when they get it or pretend that it doesn’t exist — until their personal-end-the-bocyott line is crossed. At which point they will have to join the moving goalpost parade or break from the bocyotteers and be seen as being no better than those who want to collaborate with Ariel.. or Tel Aviv… or …

  7. Ron Says:

    powerful piece about the decadent state of pro-Zionist British Jews and their lack of support to Israel. The piece seems to brings in a unified manner many arguments voiced here during the last weeks


  8. The Ozi Zion Blog » Blog Archive » David Hirsh exposes the “as a Jew” logic Says:

    […] lot of the to and fro is reported on the Engage website, and worth reading. But I was particularly impressed at how David Hirsh responded to the “as […]

  9. Amos Says:

    engage has problem with individuals speaking as jews only when they are non-zionists. when they are zionists speaking as jews this is forgivable. here are then some more “as a jew” which – surprise surprise – do not bother at all this hypocritical and double-standard engage.

    “as Jews, we have a history of experience of what hate can lead to” said Mr. Foxman.


    “as an American and the son of an Israeli immigrant”

    “as a jew”

    “as a jew”

    “as a jew”

    “as a jew”

    “as a jew”

    As a Zionist Jew, I am so proud to walk the streets of Israel and to see all that God has done in such a short amount of time,

    The problem is that, as a Zionist Jew, I also value Jewish education and want my children to learn Hebrew and Jewish history without having to have another reason to hate Sundays. Only in Israel can my children get Public Jewish education,and one, that for the most part, i

    one could go on and on but engage is not interested in truth of fairness. engage advocates against those to the left of it and who are critical of israeli occupation. engage says between little and nothing about Zionist racism and israei occupation.

    • David Hirsh Says:

      Congratulations Amos, you win the Ran Greenstein Award for the greatest non-sequitur of the week. You say Engage doesn’t have a problem with ‘Zionist’ asaJews, and in evidence, you offer ten weblinks to sites which are not Engage.

      • Dov Says:

        David, I think you miss the argument. The argument is that your problem is this: you DO NOT have any problem and do not address anyone OTHER than non-Zionists who speak “as a jew”. Why is that? Why didn’t you address Zionists speaking and writing “as a jew”?

        • Mira Vogel Says:

          Amos, Dov, I agree that there is a problem with a right-wing politicisation of Jewishness. I don’t want to speak for David, but I don’t think his point is that people should not speak ‘as a Jew’.

          I don’t have a problem with people speaking ‘as a Jew’ about their own experiences and responses (as Natalie Portman does in your link above), nor a problem with religious discussions about what it is to behave in a Jewish way. But when secular people invoke their Jewishness and extrapolate it to dictate a political position, that is a problem. And when that problem is part of the ongoing campaign for the elimination of Israel which is taking hold in this country with antisemitic effects (such as driving away many Jews, and hosting speakers who encourage us to condemn Jews, outbursts of anti-Jewish sentiment, and occasional but growing acts of violence), it is worth pointing out at Engage, a single issue campaign whose remit is to respond to this issue in particular.

          But to reiterate, I agree with you that there is a problem with right-wing politicisation of Jewishness. In Israel, this must feel like by far the bigger problem. But I feel we are entitled to give particular attention to what is going on in our spheres – our unions and political parties. That is also true for South Africa.

        • Thomas Venner Says:

          “Why didn’t you address Zionists speaking and writing “as a jew”?”

          Because Zionists generally aren’t anti-Semitic. This website is a campaign against anti-Semitism. Why do people keep needing to be reminded of this? It’s in the title, for all to see.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      Yes, obviously Engage is not interested in truth or fairness or any of that, which is why they’ve censored your post out.

      Oh wait…

      Also, you make a point about “Zionist racism” after giving us a list of links, most of which don’t really provide examples of Zionist racism, or for that matter Zionism in general. I see articles about the Israeli interior minister saying it’s Israel’s duty to help refugees from Darfur, I see a Jew sympathising with the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt, I see an actress expressing disgust at John Galliano’s anti-Semitic remarks. What do these have to do with “Zionist racism”? What, in fact, do they have to do with “Zionism” in general? You make a point, but back it up with entirely irrelevant sources.

      As for your comments about this website saying nothing about the occupation etc., you seem to have missed the point. This is a website directed towards a single issue – the problem of anti-Semitism in the UK, and to a lesser extent elsewhere. Why should it be required to also provide criticism of what’s going on in Israel? That would be just as much outside its remit as “advocating against those critical of the occupation”, to paraphrase your own words, something which I have also not seen on this website. There are plenty of places to criticise the occupation and the Israeli government’s policies (and plenty more if you just want to condemn Israel as the new Third Reich and call for it to be wiped off the map), far more than there are places to discuss the growing problem of anti-Semitism.

      When I post here, my posts are on the topic of anti-Semitism. When I want to go into in-depth criticisms of the gang of incompetent thugs currently calling themselves the Israeli government, I do so somewhere where that is the intended topic of discussion, or where the broader context in general is being discussed, not here, because I know that to do so here would only end up obfuscating the specific issues facing Jews (yes, it’s spelt with a capital “J”) in the UK. Now, maybe you’re one of those people who believes that anti-Semitism is just a myth cooked up by Zionists in order to stifle criticism, or that it’s nothing more than an unfortunate but understandable reaction to Israel’s actions or supposed actions, in which case you’re probably knowingly and deliberately trying to drag in an argument about the rights and wrongs (or, in you view, the wrongs and greater wrongs) of Zionism in order to – and I’m afraid I have to say this – stifle criticism of anti-Zionism.

  10. Lynne T Says:

    If the leading lights of BDS, Ghada Karmi and Omar Barghouti, are well known “one staters” just how genuine could Rangjan and johng be with their suggestions that BDS is not about rejecting Israel’s right to exist altogether?

  11. ken Says:

    Yes David, precisely because you won’t!

  12. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I believe that Amos and Dov have misconstrued the point. I have noted elsewhere in these threads that I’m Jewish and a Zionist, though many who comment here are not, and that this undoubtedly affects the way that I respond to matters Jewish and Israeli (though I am not at all religious). I am also a democratic socialist, absorbed with my mother’s milk and at my father’s knee, along with his trade unionism. All this, as noted, hugely affects the way I view the world and interpret it. But that doesn’t excuse me from applying logic and rationality to that world, as well as needing evidence to support any position I adopt.

    However, if I am to make a point that will, hopefully, convince others, then my Jewishness and socialism are, at best, interesting aspects of me. They are central to _me_, but irrelevant to those whom I debate with (I hope). David Hirsh’s point is that those who support the boycott, etc, of Israel and also the bi-national “solution” to the problem of Israel/Palestine, “as-a-Jew”, are doing so to curry favour with the BDS lobby, because, of course, the fact that they are Jewish is only of importance to their BDS supposed allies: “see, even these Jews agree that Israel is evil, the most evil thing in the world, more evil than Gaddaffi, than Assad, than Mugabe, etc, etc”.

    If they were true to what they say their values are, they would be demanding boycotts of a wide range of states that, even in their terms, are at least as “bad” as Israel. And if you read their statements with any degree of care, you will notice that they claim a special status _because_ they are Jewish. Do you, Amos and Dov, claim any special status because of your Jewishness or your Israeli citizenship (apart from your right, as Israelis, to live in the same peace and security as those living in many other, maybe most states)?

    And that, in my view, is why David Hirsh makes as much as he does about those who speak on the issue of Israel/Palestine and BDS “as-a-Jew”. And I agree with him.

  13. Gideon Swort Says:

    @ Amos,

    Engage deals with Antisemitism. None of the instances you linked to contain instances of Antisemitism. The As-a-Jew term used often in Engage typically represent statements made by Jews that support or represent exclusions, singling out or racially prejudiced treatment of Jews that are often “paraded” (Straw Jews) or parade themselves as Jews as a means to justify the case.

    “one could go on and on but engage is not interested in truth of fairness.”

    You are out of your depth, out of context and way off par.

    AsaJew Explained:

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