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

Irish academic trade union votes to exclude Israelis from campuses in Ireland

The Teachers Union of Ireland has voted to boycott all academic collaboration with Israel, including research programmes and exchange of scientists.

A motion, calling for all members of the union to end work with Israeli counterparts, was passed unanimously at the TUI annual conference in Galway on Thursday.

The union called on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to increase its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against “the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank”.

The passed motion requests TUI members to “cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes”.

The motion doesn’t bother to maintain the fiction of the “institutional boycott”.  This is a boycott of scholars and students on the basis of their nationality.  This is a boycott of a significant proportion of the world’s Jewish academics and students for reasons which are nothing to do with anything that those academics have said or done.  Nobody but Israelis are to be boycotted.

The Myth of the Institutional Boycott – Jon Pike

The claim that BDS is a boycott campaign which is not directed at Israeli individuals is doing the rounds again. The article below is from February 2006 and questions this claim with regard to the academic boycott.

The Myth of the Institutional Boycott – Jon Pike

The Myth of the Institutional Boycott - Jon PikeAdvocates of the academic boycott of Israel frequently complain that we get them wrong. They do not advocate, they say, an individual boycott. What they propose is an institutional boycott. The institutional boycott is much softer, they suggest, than the individual boycott – it’s the boycott where no-one gets hurt.

They make this move in part because of the fall out from the Mona Baker and the Andrew Wilkie case. That was, the boycotters say, a different kind of boycott – that was a boycott against individuals, and not against institutions. (They don’t generally, condemn Baker and Wilkie though. We normally get a shrugging of the shoulders – different strokes, for different folks).

Now, to cash out this distinction, the boycotters need to say what is meant by an act against an institution and what is meant by an act against an individual. They do not do this in any clear way so we have to reconstruct what they must mean from what they do say. Here are two actions the boycotters call for, within the remit of an institutional academic boycott. BRICUP advocates:

• ‘Refusing research collaborations with Israeli institutions or to referee papers or grant applications issuing from such institutions.’ (BRICUP website)

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign says that it wants academics to

• ‘Refuse to serve as a referee for publications submitted from Israeli institutions.’ (SPSC website)

Because it’s the way things work in my field – I submit papers and book proposals, and I also referee papers and book proposal, I want to say something about this particular action. It’s clear that the institutional boycott is supposed to be institutional because it involves the boycotting of papers from Israeli institutions. But here is my question.

Who wrote these papers?

There are a couple of possibilities. The first is: no-one. On this line, ‘Israeli institutions’ somehow belch out papers, these institutions are some sort of Heath Robinson machine, firing papers into the ether, and the good hearted boycotters don’t want have any contact with those machines, so they don’t referee them. But this is OK, because the refusal to referee, touches only the machines, the institutions, and there’s no worrying flesh and blood individual academic behind them.

The second is, that the papers that ‘issue from Israeli institutions’ (BRICUP) or are ‘submitted from Israeli institutions’ (SPSC) are worried over, written by, formatted by, referenced by, checked by, posted off by, individual Israeli academics. Scientists, theorists, and researchers do their thinking, write it up and send it off to journals. It seems to me that Israeli academics can’t plausibly be so different from the rest of us that they have discovered some wonderful way of writing papers without the intervention of a human, individual, writer.

(But if it’s the Heath Robinson machine, that machine must be really clever. Perhaps we should read its papers).

Look at the two sentences above I’ve quoted from BRICUP and the SPSC: they are really very odd. And it changes none of the sense or the things in the real world to which the sentences refer if we change them to read:

• Refuse to referee papers or grant applications issuing from individuals at Israeli institutions (BRICUP)

• refuse to serve as a referee for publications submitted by individuals at Israeli institutions (SPSC)

This gets past the comprehension problem in the SPSC case, because the idea of an institution submitting a paper for publication was always opaque. Submitting a paper is an act and an act needs an agent. It’s obvious who submits a paper: the person who puts their name on it, or their name and that of their joint researchers.

The BRICUP sentence, though, is still troubling, because of this rather odd phrase ‘issuing from.’ It rings oddly with anyone actually involved in the grind of writing papers, submitting them, getting them accepted or rejected, making amendments and so on. Papers don’t ‘issue from’ anywhere at all. But the odd use of words is, again, instructive. To say that something ‘issues from’ something else is to be deliberately murky about the mechanism of issuing. It’s to suggest a mysterious agentless process. And, of course, that’s precisely what the boycotters want to suggest, because they want to divert attention from the fact that what they are advocating is discrimination in the selection processes of academic journals against Israeli thinkers.
There are, further, two ways in which this process of refusing to referee papers written by Israelis might be taken. One is terrible, the other is worse.

First, it might be that the boycotters advocate this as a position of ‘individual refusal.’ That is, like the antiwar protestors who said ‘Not in my name’ they may be arguing for an individual rejection of papers written by Israelis – with the let out that someone else on the editorial board can always referee the offending item. On this reading, the boycotters might have some defence against the criticism that their stance thwarts the academic lives and careers of Israelis, and holds back knowledge. They have the defence that they can say – ‘Well, I don’t mind the paper being published, I just don’t want to handle it myself.’ They can help themselves to that defence but only at the price of letting in the unmistakeable connotation of moral corruption, of infection, and disease arising from contact with the academic work of Israelis.

Second, they can, more consistently, more sensibly, say, ‘yes, of course the policy is general. Of course, we want everyone to adopt this policy of refusing to referee papers written by Israeli academics.’ This response has the merit of consistency and universalisability. As a result, it commits the boycotters to a political aspiration – a general refusal to referee papers by individuals at Israeli universities – that would exclude those individuals from this part of academic life.

Finally, remember that all this is now being proposed covertly. The boycotters were defeated in the AUT and failed in their attempt to gain a foothold in the AAUP. They can’t gain legitimacy for a public boycott, so they opt for a covert one. This covert boycott (a ‘quiet stand’ according to BRICUP) is, of course, denuded of a political message. But also, there is no mechanism of accountability for their actions. They claim that there is a difference between an institutional boycott and an individual boycott, and I think that there’s no difference. But we won’t be able to know whether or not there is an operable distinction, because the operation is now conducted in secret. We won’t be able to know whether people engage in Wilkie type actions (without the incriminating email). And I guess, the boycotters who think it’s OK to adopt an ‘institutional’ rather than an ‘individual’ boycott simply think we should trust them on that one.

So, next time a boycotter says they favour an institutional rather than an individual boycott, ask them what they make of the BRICUP and the SPSC statements. And ask them just which particular squalid little discriminatory acts they support.

Jon Pike
Senior Lecturer, Open University,
Chair, Engage

Natalie Rothschild – potted Pappé

Natalie Rothschild begins her review of Ilan Pappé’s new book,

“The most astute observation in Israeli historian Ilan Pappé’s book Out of the Frame: The Struggle For Academic Freedom In Israel is that writing about himself was an ‘embarrassing’ experience. Rarely has so much poorly structured, skewed and conceited tripe been squeezed into 220 pages.”

Read on.

Eric Lee, Kim Berman, Salim Vally on Israel and apartheid

Eric Lee writes on his blog:

I visited South Africa twice in recent years, both times as the guest of the trade union movement. On my second visit, to Cape Town, I found myself walking along a beautiful beach with a leader of South Africa’s Communication Workers Union. He told me that under apartheid, if he’d be found walking on this beach, he could have been shot. This was a whites-only beach. That’s what apartheid means. It means you can be shot for walking on the wrong beach.

As for “apartheid Israel,” suffice it to say that my two sons were born in a hospital that serves the residents of the Jezreel Valley — Jews and Arabs. The staff, including doctors and nurses, were a mix of all ethnic groups and religions, as were the patients. There was no segregation, no separate facilities, no differences at all in how Jews and Arabs were treated.

Does this mean that Israel is a perfect society, a real paradise on earth for everyone? Of course not.

But if one cannot see the difference between running the risk of being shot for being on the “wrong” beach — and having your child born in a hospital full of Jews and Arabs working together — if you can’t see that difference, you understand nothing at all.

See the whole piece, on Eric Lee’s blog.

Eric’s piece relates to Kim Berman’s open letter to Salim Vally, originally published onEngage.

Salim Vally’s reply is here, on the UJ website

David Hirsh on the UJ boycott; and letter responding to a boycotter;  and on how it is progressing at UJ; and Hirsh on the apartheid analogy.

For the Engage archive on the Israel / Apartheid analogy click here.

John Strawson on UJ.

For  the debate around the South African campaign for an academic boycott of Israel, with Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack click here.

 

 

University of Johannesburg is not boycotting Ben-Gurion University

This letter, by David Hirsh, is from the South African Jewish report.

The boycott campaign wants to make people feel that Israel is a unique evil and it makes progress towards this goal whenever its arguments are treated as a legitimate side of a public debate.

Even when the campaign loses, therefore, it also wins, when, unlike other antisemitic campaigns, it is treated with respect.

There is a sense in which the (mis)educative function of the campaign is more important than actually excluding Israelis from the cultural, academic and sporting life of humanity.

This can lead the boycotters into the realm of the absurd.  When celebrated intellectual Slavoj Zizek recently spoke in Tel Aviv, the campaign tried to spin his visit as a boycott because he spoke in an independent bookshop.

When Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, played a gig in Israel, the campaign tried to portray this as a boycott because he played in a mixed Arab/Jewish village.

Now, scientists from UJ and BGU are quietly resuming their important work together, both institutions have ratified the agreement, and UJ has, ostensibly anyway, re-doubled its commitment to academic freedom.

The antizionists are pretending that there is a boycott while the scientists and their universities carry on doing what they do, scientific collaboration.

The boycott of BGU has taken a dent but there remains enough mirage of the boycott for the campaign to carry on its work, which is to portray Israel as the pariah of humankind.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

James Mendelsohn, Senior Lecturer in Law, Huddersfield University, Resigns from UCU

Dear Sally

Thank you for your message.

I was happy to sign the petition of no confidence in the government’s HE policies and, like you, I have very serious concerns about the White Paper.

Regrettably, though, I am no longer able to join in UCU’s fight against the government’s measures. This is because I am no longer a member of UCU. Following the passing of Motion 70 at the most recent annual Congress, I felt that I had no choice but to resign. Not only does Motion 70 reject the most widely-used definition of anti-Semitism in the world, it fails to provide any alternative definition. The motives of those who proposed the motion are clear: they rightly understood that, according to the EUMC Working Definition, their obsessive campaign to single out Israeli academics for boycott year on year might indeed be anti-Semitic. Whether intentionally or otherwise, this has made UCU an even more uncomfortable place for Jewish members than it was previously. I can no longer contribute money to such an organisation in good conscience.

Please do not send me the same generic response you have sent to others who have resigned on  these grounds. Sadly, your repeated claim that UCU abhors anti-Semitism is not borne out by the evidence; rather, the evidence points overwhelmingly in the other direction. For example, a union which truly abhorred anti-Semitism would have no truck with Bongani Masuku, whose statements were correctly defined as anti-Semitic hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission. UCU, by contrast, invited Masuku to promote the boycott campaign. Does that sound to you like the mark of a union which abhors anti-Semitism?

Speaking on a more personal level, I sent you three emails on related issues in 2008, which are attached. I think you would agree that a trade union which abhorred anti-Semitism would take such emails from an ordinary member seriously. Regrettably, I never received a reply to any of them.

I no longer wish to contribute my money to an organisation which has a problem with institutionalised anti-Semitism. I am sure I will not be the last Jewish member who feels forced to resign, even at a time when trade union protection and solidarity are more important than ever.  Once again -please do not send me your generic reply. All I would ask you is: do you realise that the boycott campaign is now weakening the union’s numbers and credibility, at a time when a strong union is needed more than ever? And do you ever lie awake at night wondering why, in the 21st century, Jewish members have left UCU in droves?

Yours sincerely

 James Mendelsohn

Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Huddersfield

In 2009 UCU Congress was asked to mandate the union to investigate these resignations.  But Congress said no, it didn’t want an investigation into why people were resigning from the union citing antisemitism as a reason.

UCU members who have resigned:

David-Hillel Ruben

Ariel Hessayon,  Goldsmiths

Michael Yudkin, David Smith and Dennis Noble, Oxford

Shalom Lappin, King’s College, London   

Jonathan G. Campbell, Bristol University  

Colin Meade, London Metropolitan University 

Eric Heinze,  Queen Mary University of London

Tim Crane, Univesity College London

Eve Garrard, Keele University

Raphaël Lévy, University of Liverpool

Sarah Brown, Anglia Ruskin University

The Following UCU members have not resigned; their points of view too need to be taken seriously:

Norman Geras, Manchester University

Lesley Klaff, Sheffield Hallam

Deborah Steinberg, Warwick

David Hirsh, Goldsmiths

Stephen Soskin, Buckinghamshire New University

Ronnie Fraser, Barnet College

Ben Gidley, Oxford

Jon Pike, Open University, Resignation from NEC

Dov Stekel, University of Birmingham

Mira Vogel, Goldsmiths

Robert Fine’s account of Congress, Warwick U

Eva Fromjovic, Leeds University

Robert Simon, LSE

76 UCU members signed a public protest about UCU’s failure to take seriously the criticism made against it by the Parliamentary Inquiry. Read their protest, published in the Times Higher.

39 UCU members signed a public protest at the UCU’s refusal to meet with Ger Weisskirchen at his request. Weisskirchen is the OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office Representative on antisemitism. The protest, which went unheeded and ignored by the UCU.

%d bloggers like this: