An Irish union’s boycott fallacy – Raphael Cohen-Almagor

The Jewish Chronicle has a trenchant piece by Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull, responding to the unhinged and futile decision of the Teachers Union of Ireland to boycott Israeli academics:

Dr Ilan Saban is a lecturer at the University of Haifa who devotes much of his time defending and promoting the rights of Palestinians. But if he were to post one of his articles on the subject to a journal in Ireland, his envelope might not be opened, simply because it had come from Israel. This is the result of the Teachers Union of Ireland’s recent unjust, unfair, and counterproductive decision to boycott all academic collaboration with Israel.

The decision is unjust because any sweeping decision, by its nature, cannot do justice. It is one thing to offer a rationale to boycott a certain institution or individual. It is quite another thing simply to boycott everyone.

Read it all.

HT Yishay

8 Responses to “An Irish union’s boycott fallacy – Raphael Cohen-Almagor”

  1. Alex Says:

    While the article makes a good defence of Israeli academia, and a good case around academic principles, the defence of academia argument plays on the wrong court. By giving examples of *good Jews* with good activities and good principles, it legitimises the “they support Israel’s activities, so they can be boycotted” line, leading to the Jew test. What if Israeli academia was right-wing? The boycott would still be wrong.
    I’d far rather the defence was done on a “this is collective punishment” basis and if you consider it right to boycott all Israeli academics on the basis of the actions of the Israeli G’ment, then you can’t (without hypocrisy or antisemitism – choose which) condemn the Israeli G’ment for taking action that has negative consequences for all Palestinians in a regions on the basis of actions by Hamas or Fatah.
    I still maintain, though, that the boycott will be selectively applied. The Jewish-sounding name on the envelope will be ignored, while the Arabic-sounding name on the envelope from Israel will still be opened. If this happens, we have a word for this. Nevermind the one starting with an A. It starts with an R.

  2. Jonathan Lowenstein Says:

    I’d like to draw your attention to my blog item regarding the history of academic boycotts of Jews.
    “Academic boycotts of Jews and Israelis: Historical parallels”: http://www.telaviv1.org.il/2013/04/academic-boycotts-of-jews-and-israelis.html
    While there are differences (and a lack of Nuremburg style laws defiing “who is an Israeli”) and this boycott does not address all Jews (only “bad” ones), it does seem to be in intended to target Jews exclusively. .

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Alex, you are expecting logic and rationality from those who would boycott Israeli out of a belief that this will, somehow, help “the Palestinians”. Come to that, so is Raphael Cohen-Almagor. These people have long decided that, among other things, Israel and the Israelis are committing such horrendous breaches of human rights against the Palestinians, worse than anyone else in the world is doing to any other group, that any actions they take against Israel is, ipso facto, justified.

    When the fallacy of this position is pointed out to them, when they don’t just ignore it, they will revert to asserting that “Jews” (when they fail to distinguish between all Jews and Israelis) should know better – whatever this means. When the ludicrousness of this is noted, along with its borderline antisemitism, they will switch to another tack.

    I note that at least many of them have stopped using the “committing genocide on the West Bank” and “Gaza equals the Warsaw Ghetto” arguments.

    In truth, it’s not them we’re talking to – they have gone deaf in that ear – but the silent and/or apathetic members of the union or other collectivity. They are the ones who will suffer if their trade union, etc, actually carries out a boycott (where it isn’t, as in UCU’s case, a mere blowing out of hot air, because such a boycott would in the UK breach anti-discrimination law, and their employers would take the opportunity to fatally undermine the union), especially if there is anti-discrimination on the statute book.

    Maybe a vain hope, but we have to try and keep on trying.

    • Alex Says:

      Brian,
      Sadly, I’m not expecting anything for them. When I moved to the UK to begin my academic career, I hadn’t planned to join the union, given their international reputation. The branch chairman, who I have enormous respect for, convinced me that UCU was worth joining and was not irredeemably racist.

      My time in the UK (I’ve since returned home), consisted of two universities, both with good branches run by good people who, whatever their views on Israel, Palestine, or anything else, talk and act like the first job of the union is to look after the workers. Anything that divides or distracts is a bad idea, whatever the rights or wrongs of the policy, and should only be seriously looked at if the action is both important and effective.

      The day UCU passed the motion to reject EUMC was the day I had to conclusively disagree about how redeemable the union is, and leave.

      That said, the silent / apathetic members aren’t listening either. By and large they see it as a silly game played by people with too much time on their hands. But I’d change the tense in your penultimate sentence. They *ARE SUFFERING*. Every time someone leaves the union, the collective is weakened. Every time the loudest noise coming out of a conference is on Israel-Palestine rather than jobs, or wages, or security, or freedom, or workload, an opportunity is wasted.

      In fact, I’d like to expand on that last bit. When the school teachers’ unions have their conferences, the stories coming out of it into the popular press are almost always education related; sometimes teacher working condition related. It keeps a narrative going that says there are fundamental problems in school education that need addressing. What is the narrative coming out of UCU, or TUI? That they have nothing more important to discuss than world affairs that they can’t actually affect. Without pausing for breath, I could rattle off half a dozen problems within the UK Higher Ed system that need serious union attention and a serious campaign to try to get changed. Things that, if the UCU doesn’t act on, no one will. But with all the attention given to anti-Israeli motions at the conference, the delegates could collectively moon the higher education minister and it wouldn’t make a news item.

      So I’d argue that they are the ones we need to argue with. But we need to argue on our strenghts, not try to pick of details in their arguments. Even though we are right (IMO), we can’t win the argument on their terms – they shout louder. But a unionist can’t shrug their shoulders when you say, “While you were distracted, this many post-docs were made redundant”

    • Noga Says:

      If boycotting Israeli academics were perceived as a basic violation of the spirit of justice, equality and solidarity for all, there would be no indifference to such measures as we see taken by the Irish union’s boycott. People would be hell bent on distancing themselves from any such means. The fact is that the indifference to the decision suggests there is no price to be paid for it. What the BDSers have achieved is a numbing of the moral sense of outrage that should have been triggered spontaneously upon the passing of such a resolution. There is a need to jolt the indifferent into realizing what their by-standing and silence will be complicit in if the BDSers get their wishes.

  4. s4r4hbrown Says:

    Alex – I agree with your comments. I don’t see why I should quiz Israeli (or Palestinian, or any other) academics to see whether their views pass some kind of political test. I also agree with what you say about the UCU – like you, my (local) experience has been a positive one, yet the far left – even when they aren’t obsessing about Israel – seems to have little sense of the importance of engaging rather than alienating ordinary members and potential members.

    • Jonathan Lowenstein Says:

      Actors Equity used to have the same problem. The Redgraves completely dominated London meetings and refused to discuss anything other than the Middle East (Saddam Hussein’s Fascist regime was funding their party: see http://libcom.org/library/revolution-betrayed-wrp-iraq). The leadership was mainly elected by actors in “the Shires” who couldn’t give a toss and simply held postal ballots on everything to avoid having to deal with them. My father who was a former refugee, CP member and Shop Steward eventually gave up attending meetings.

  5. Brian Robinson Says:

    From the Irish Times

    An apology for the way the State treated some 5,000 members of the Defence Forces who deserted to join the fight against Nazi Germany, is to be issued in the Dáil this afternoon by Minister forDefence Alan Shatter.

    At the same time a Bill providing a formal pardon for those who, in the main, joined the British forces, will complete its passage through the Oireachtas.

    In all some 60,000 Irish people – women as well as men – joined the British forces from what was then the Free State, during what was known in Ireland as the “emergency”.

    etc …
    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/government-to-apologise-to-wwii-veterans-1.1384900

    The Guardian also has “Irish government to formally pardon thousands who joined the British army during the second world war to fight Nazi Germany”


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