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Boycotting the British UCU Boycott of Israel:

This morning I received the following note from Professor Steve Lubet of Northwestern University Law School that I thought would be of interest to VC readers.

Dear Colleagues:

As you probably know, the British University and College Union recently passed a resolution advancing a boycott of Israeli scholars and academic institutions. Whatever your political views on the Middle East, I trust you will agree that such a boycott is antithetical to academic principles. It shuts off dialogue, when one of the key purposes of universities is to promote dialogue and thereby the pursuit of truth. It ignores existing projects where Israeli and Palestinian academics cooperate. It requires academics to hew to one ideological line. And it constitutes discrimination on the basis of nationality. Many leading international scholars — including Palestinians — have issued statements in opposition to a boycott, recognizing that it violates essential academic values. In the words of Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, "In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas."

If you agree that the UCU boycott resolution is wrong, you may show your opposition by signing the petition circulated by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). It has already been signed by numerous Nobel Laureates and university presidents.

The text of the SPME petition is as follows:

We are academics, scholars, researchers and professionals of differing religious and political perspectives. We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong. To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.

To sign the statement, go here. A list of signatories is available here. Note that one need not support Israeli policies, or even the positions of SPME, to support this statement. Academic boycotts of this sort are, quite simply, contrary to the ideals of open intellectual discourse.

otto (mail):
"We are academics, scholars, researchers and professionals of differing religious and political perspectives. We all agree that singling out South Afrians for an academic boycott is wrong. To show our solidarity with our South African academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be South African academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as South African academics and decline to participate in any activity from which South African academics are excluded."
7.7.2007 5:02pm
dearieme:
Union branches now have the chance to debate whether they want the union to do any such thing. I had expected to go along and argue, and vote, against the boycott, just as I did last time. The intrusion of Dershowitz, however, has given me pause.
7.7.2007 5:11pm
advisory opinion:
One hopes your moral convictions are stronger than that.
7.7.2007 5:12pm
advisory opinion:
Well done Otto. Any more fatuous comparisons? How about:

"We all agree that singling out The Third Reich for an academic boycott is wrong . . . ".
7.7.2007 5:14pm
MikeF (mail):
I'd feel better if the academics saw the boycott of Israel for what it is: antisemitism.

Instead they hide behind the "academic principles" thing and issue vague statements like, "We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong". Wrong, why? Don't the academics have the freedom to state why? I'm guessing most know it is antisemitism, but are afraid to say so.
7.7.2007 5:23pm
Curt Fischer:
@ MikeF


I'd feel better if the academics saw the boycott of Israel for what it is: antisemitism.


I find your views puzzling, MikeF. I am a believer in academic freedom and dialogue, and for those reasons, I oppose the boycott.

I do not see, however, why you have lept to the conclusion that the boycott is based in antisemitism. Do you believe only that this particular boycott by the British UCU is antisemitic, or that all such boycotts are necessarily antisemitic.
7.7.2007 5:53pm
Steven Lubet (mail):
It is no doubt the case that people support the boycott for numerous reasons, only some of which are dishonorable. But the motivations behind the boycott should be irrelevant, and imputing motives is counterproductive.

The boycott is wrong because it violates the principles of non-discrimination, academic freedom and scholarly integrity. People of good will -- no matter what their political views or sympathies -- should sign the anti-boycott petition.
7.7.2007 6:12pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
to what extent does the American academic community allow themselves to be restricted by US policies toward Cuba and Iran?

If they are willing to allow restrictions based on government fiat -- if they don't openly defy such political bans that are antithetical to the same principles this group claims to represent -- then IMHO supporting the boycott of Israel is justified.
7.7.2007 6:14pm
roy (mail) (www):
If a boycott is wrong, isn't boycotting boycotters also wrong?
7.7.2007 6:17pm
Steven Lubet (mail):
Regarding the two previous comments:

(1) The heading on Jonathan Adler's post is somewhat misleading: there is no boycott of boycotters. As the petition states,


We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.


Nonetheless, individuals who support or participate in the boycott should not be barred or excluded from any academic meetings or activities.

(2) I do not know of any American academic instutition that bars Cuban scholars on the basis of nationality. Lacking the ability to issue visas, there is a limit to what universities can do, but many universities (including mine) have sponsored programs in Cuba.
7.7.2007 6:26pm
Jim Hu:
Note that the AAUP, at least, supported economic boycotts of South Africa but opposed academic boycotts like this one. More on that here.

disclaimer: In response to this post, I signed the petition.
7.7.2007 7:06pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Otto,

I was strongly opposed to the South African apartheid regime but certainly would not have supported an academic boycott.

I know two white South Africans in my own field. One of them renounced her South African citizenship rather than be associated with a racist regime. In a curious irony, in order no to be left stateless, she took up German citizenship, to which she was entitled by virtue of the fact that her parents were Jews who had been persecuted by the Nazis. The other, an Afrikaner, is a specialist in Zulu and teaches in a South African university in the Zulu department. You can figure out which side he was on.
7.7.2007 7:22pm
Eli Rabett (www):
If you sign the petition you will never get off SPME's Email list. Expect a piece of spam per day
7.7.2007 11:00pm
TechieLaw (mail) (www):
Curt:

I'll agree with you that people may support the British boycott for different reasons. However, I'm waiting for somebody on the British side to announce some set of standards for when it's appropriate to boycott the academic institutions of a country. If they were to ever announce such a set of standards, I would expect countless other countries to also be boycotted by British academics. For example, I would expect Sudan to be boycotted for genocide and China to be boycotted for oppressing various religious and ethnic minorities.

In the absence of such a statement of standards, I can only wonder whether there's some other motive, i.e. finding a convenient scapegoat.

For whatever it's worth, I also think that the US embargo against Cuba is just as ridiculous and has been applied by the government without any coherent set of standards for when a country is deserving of an embargo.
7.7.2007 11:18pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
TechieLaw: There's a very simple rationale for singling out Israel.

(1) Take as given that someone opposes Israeli policies with respect to the Palestinians, for whatever reason (reasons that also apply to many others).

(2) But one might decide to only do this particular boycott (or any of a number of other anti-Israeli activities) if one thinks it'll make a difference. For instance, one might think that only Israelis are sane, basically rights-respecting, and receptive to basic Western values -- so that one can appeal to their basic principles in arguing that they're acting wrongly with respect to Palestinians. Or one could believe that only Israel -- and not Sudan or China -- has a healthy enough democratic culture that this sort of treatment will change its policies. In other words, far from being an anti-Semitic policy, the boycott could be an act of deep respect for Israel, essentially saying: "Only you guys aren't savages; we think you might actually listen."

(3) Relatedly, one might hold Israel to a higher standard because they're basically "like us" and "should know better." Unlike (2), (3) may well be dishonorable, because it treats non-Israelis (Sudanese and Chinese) as not being capable of understanding the right thing to do. But if it's dishonorable, again it's dishonorable by virtue of considering Israelis superior. So it's hardly anti-Semitism.

So there are anti-Semitic reasons one might support a boycott. But there are various pro-Semitic reasons, some honorable and some not, along the lines of "you guys aren't savages; we think you guys might listen; and you guys should know better."
7.7.2007 11:40pm
TerrencePhilip:
If one supports a boycott of a country generally (economic, etc.), I find it amusing that an academic would find an exemption for an academic boycott, on various grounds recognizing the high importance of academic activity.

That aside, this "boycott" of Israel is absurd on its own terms. I can see disagreeing with all manner of Israeli policy, and saying so, but if one applies ANY "moral" standard whatsoever, it's clear that Israel's enemies employ incredibly depraved tactics against it. Israel may enjoy certain military advantages over its enemies but suffers from numerous strategic weaknesses which its enemies exploit in inhuman ways. Boycotting Israel only makes it seem as if one thinks that only Israel is in the wrong.

If only it were so simple.
7.8.2007 1:24am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
Otto has it exactly right--the movement to boycott Israel today is a perfect mirror of the movement to boycott South Africa during the 1980s.

Now, while far worse than Israel ever was, the Apartheid-era regime in South Africa was hardly an unrivalled evil by world standards, and indeed was positively benign by African standards. Its unique status as pariah nation in fact had nothing whatsoever to do with the enormity of its transgressions. Rather, as a pro-American, capitalist country in which white people were accused of practicing racial discrimination against black people, it represented an irresistible target for leftists, whose fondest desire was to link Cold-War (i.e., conservative) America, capitalism and racial discrimination by whites against blacks together as a kind of leftist version of the "axis of evil". That's why it was elevated to the status of the global left's top target of vilification (with the possible exception of America itself), regardless of the large number of far, far worse regimes whose successful toppling would have alleviated much more suffering.

Likewise, Israel, as a pro-American, capitalist country in which the majority are accused of practicing discrimination against a Muslim minority, represents an irresistible target for today's leftists, who are eager to link War-on-Terror (that is, conservative) America, Capitalism, and discrimination against Muslims into a modern leftist counterpart to Bush's "axis of evil". That's why, despite being a Western democratic country with generally exemplary standards of conduct, it's nevertheless the global left's top target of vilification (with the possible exception of America itself).

In retrospect, of course, the international campaign against the Apartheid regime happens to have turned out very well, on the whole, for the people of South Africa. On the other hand, the very similar campaign against the Rhodesian regime that preceded it produced what can only be termed a decades-long humanitarian disaster--one that has been utterly neglected by the "international community" that effectively imposed it on the people of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. We can thereby infer how much the campaign's instigators actually cared about the people on whose behalf they rallied, as opposed to the domestic political purposes for which those people were cruelly used. Likewise, readers are free to infer how much Otto and his fellow demonizers of Israel actually care about the plight of Palestinian Arabs, as opposed to the campaigns against America, Israel, capitalism and Western safety from terrorism in which the Palestinians are being treated as mere cannon fodder.

Here's a quiz: in what country are people of Palestinian origin, living in the country of their birth, legally forbidden to work, own property or even move freely about the country, let alone obtain citizenship?
7.8.2007 1:34am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Dan Simon,

The answer to the quiz is no doubt (most of) Palestine, er, I mean, "The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan". The West Bank, that is Judea and Samaria, was occupied by Jordan from 1948 until 1967 and claimed by Jordan as Jordanian territory.
7.8.2007 1:47am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
Bill, I believe that's incorrect. Jordan actually offers full citizenship to Palestinians who wish to take it. The country I had in mind, actually, is Lebanon, whose treatment of its Palestinian refugees--the vast majority of whom, of course, were born there, and most of whose parents were also born there--makes Israel look like a humanitarian agency by comparison.
7.8.2007 3:09am
JB:
Paul Lukasiak: So because people are unwilling to take on the personal costs a government can impose on them, in order to protest government's threat to impose such costs, they must needs support a much less costly political statement?
7.8.2007 3:40am
Yankee_Mark:
Question... Do Israeli academics tend to be left of center as do those in the US &UK?

If so, wouldn't this boycott be harmful to the very portion of Israeli society/academia that would be most sympathetic to the views of the boycott organizers??
7.8.2007 3:49am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Dan Simon,

I believe that you're mistaken about Jordan's current behavior. At one time they did accept Palestinians, but in 1988 they changed their policy toward those who continue to live in the West Bank. Palestinians who were living in Jordan in 1988 are in fairly good shape, but those in the West Bank are not permitted to acquire Jordanian citizenship etc., even though they were born on what Jordan considered Jordanian territory.

Anyhow, I think I didn't interpret "living in the country of their birth" the way you intended. Lebanon is the right answer the way you meant it.
7.8.2007 5:35am
Bottomfish (mail):
There is a crucial distinction between South Africa and Israel. Neither the blacks of South Africa nor the surrouding African nations waged war against South Africa. Palestinians and other Arab nations have waged war against Israel, many times. The reason Israel controls the West Bank and Gaza is precisely because of such a war. Also, Arab nations have frequently waged war against each other and Palestinians have attempted to take over the government of Jordan.
7.8.2007 8:03am
Pale Jewel:

I'd feel better if the academics saw the boycott of Israel for what it is: antisemitism.


Oh, please, let's not flog this dead horse again! I'm pretty certain that the last time this topic came up on VC there were several comments about antisemitism. I really don't like the implication that being opposed to the Israeli government is being anti-Jewish. The state of Israel as it exists today is a modern creation - a deeply botched creation at that, whilst Judaism is a faith and culture millennia old. Let's try to draw some kind of distinction there.

However, I found the idea of this boycott peculiar, especially given the generally liberal attitude of academics here in the UK... Thus I decided to go to the UCU website to see what they had to say for themselves. This led me to a letter written to The Guardian.

"The union is bringing forward proposals to allow a debate to take place within our branches on the arguments for and against an academic boycott of Israel. This does not mean an academic boycott is in place, or that UCU is committed to such a boycott in the future.

My contribution to the debate is to say, as I have many times, that I do not believe an academic boycott of Israel is supported by the majority of UCU's membership. Nor do I believe that it is an issue that members want the union to prioritise.

Following the debates, which need to happen and be concluded as soon as possible, we will need to make sure that the majority of UCU members support whatever position is reached. The best way to do this, in my view, is to hold a ballot of our full membership on the issue."
- Sally Hunt, General Secretary


I really do not think that this motion is likely to be carried, so I wouldn't panic too much.
7.8.2007 8:52am
byomtov (mail):
Pale jewel,

Yes, it is possible to be critical of Israel's policies without being anti-Semitic. Many Israelis are critical of them. It is also possible for anti-Semitism to drive such criticism. Depends on the individual. I would guess the supporters of the boycott include some of each type.

Sasha gives some reasons above why Israel might be singled out. They make sense, but I would feel better if the UCU were following some established standards, rather than operating on an ad hoc basis.
7.8.2007 10:30am
Oren (mail):

It is no doubt the case that people support the boycott for numerous reasons, only some of which are dishonorable. But the motivations behind the boycott should be irrelevant, and imputing motives is counterproductive.

The boycott is wrong because it violates the principles of non-discrimination, academic freedom and scholarly integrity. People of good will -- no matter what their political views or sympathies -- should sign the anti-boycott petition.


QFT
7.8.2007 10:41am
Quaestor (mail) (www):
Dan Simon,

Well said. Your assessment of the proposed boycott has hit the nail on the head. My hat's off to you.
7.8.2007 12:10pm
Tennwriter (mail):
Given the vast weight of anti-semitism, both its current avatars, and its baneful history extending back millenia, I see no problem with asking attackers of Israel to offer some proof that they are well-intentioned before I take them seriously.
7.8.2007 12:31pm
advisory opinion:
Fascinating perspective, Dan.
7.8.2007 1:09pm
holdfast (mail):
Perhaps, given the larger context of what appears to be a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe (including the UK), individuals or organizations that single out Israel for special criticism, or hold it to higher standards of conduct than any other nation, might want to at least try to explain why their actions are not anti-semitic? Perhaps that was rather inelegantly stated, but to me this looks like part of a giant piling-on exercise.
7.8.2007 1:30pm
anonymous (mail):
"...non-Israelis (Sudanese and Chinese) as not being capable of understanding the right thing to do..."

Well, this is precisely the fact.

Which is why boycotting Israel is the wrong thing to do.

You want to teach someone a lesson, start with the virtually incorrigibles, such as China, Sudan, all the Islamist countries in the Middle East. Then when you're done there, move to the EU.

Let me know when you've made some progress and we can then discuss Israel.
7.8.2007 2:36pm
Ted Hales:
The academic boycott of Israel exclusively is notable only in what it has to ignore; the out and out hypocracy of academic support for the true terrorist nations that surround Israel and make up much of the Middle East, starting with the shining jewel of Jew hatred and murder, the phoney USSR propaganda created state of "Palestine".
7.8.2007 3:29pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
So you want to boycott Israel? OK. Let's first see you boycott the technological advances made by Israeli scientists and engineers (many at the Technion and other Israeli universities), that are a part of your lives, and of our computer and communication technology, as well as the medical science that prolongs those lives. Then let's see how eager you'll be to pursue your boycott.

What makes this boycott anti-Semitic is not the criticism of Israel which has screwed up in many ways, the same as everybody else, but applying wildly different standards for judging Israel's actions. E.g., we build a wall on the Mexican border to keep Fernando and Maria and their friends from sneaking into the US to find employment by gringos eager to hire them, and that's OK. The Israelis build a wall to keep out terrorists bent on murdering as many Israeli civilians as they can, and that's a cause for denunciation and phony comparisons with the Berlin wall.

In the familiar words of that famous New Yorker cartoon, I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it. Only this particular "spinach" begins with a B and ends with a T.
7.8.2007 3:40pm
TheGrandMufti (mail):
The world is full of oppression and injustice. Yet UCU singles out Israel, a state with vibrant and open academia.

You would have to be color blind, indifferent or worse to not see the hues of anti-semitism in all the anti-Israel boycotts.
7.8.2007 3:44pm
otto (mail):
"The world is full of oppression and injustice. Yet many single out South Africa, a state with vibrant and open academia.

You would have to be color blind, indifferent or worse to not see the hues of hatred of Afrikaaners and hatred of the West in all the anti-South African boycotts."
7.8.2007 4:09pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
You would have to be color blind, indifferent or worse to not see the hues of hatred of Afrikaaners and hatred of the West in all the anti-South African boycotts.

I very much doubt that racial or ethnic hatred of Afrikaaners played much of a role--the boycotters are unlikely to have cared more about Afrikaaners as people than they did about Xhosa, Zulu or other black South Africans, or Shona or Ndebele Zimbabweans.

Political hatred of the West, on the other hand, was undoubtedly one of the key driving forces. Why else would the boycotters have singled out for unprecedented negative attention, on an entire continent filled to the brim with genocidal racism of every conceivable stripe, the one racist entity dominated by a self-identified Western and pro-Western government?

Back during the heyday of the anti-Apartheid movement, I attended a talk by an anti-Apartheid activist at the university I was attending. (I was ambivalent about the movement at the time, despising Apartheid but skeptical of the ANC.) I asked him about what lessons the anti-Apartheid movement might learn from the experience of Zimbabwe. (This was at a time when Mugabe's Shona thugs were slaughtering Ndebele civilians by the thousands.) Misunderstanding my question, the speaker rambled on about the "lessons of Zimbabwe" as if they were all unequivocally positive ones. It obviously simply never occurred to him that there might be reason to be concerned about brutal racism not perpetrated by people of what might be called a Western orientation.

That was the norm then among a large class of vaguely left-wing people, and it's clearly still the norm today.
7.8.2007 4:57pm
TerrencePhilip:
Gideon Kanner,

you may be largely on track with respect to Israel, except that one of your analogies is off-- lots and lots of people think that the US building a wall on its southern border is NOT ok, and have also absurdly compared it to the Berlin Wall, with I think the Vatican denouncing it as "inhuman."
7.8.2007 5:09pm
dearieme:
"I would feel better if the UCU were following some established standards, rather than operating on an ad hoc basis." I wouldn't - I don't want my union having a foreign policy at all. It is not what unions are for. If I want to support a foreign policy, I'll join a political party. The fact that it's Israel that they want to pick on is secondary, though grimly amusing, given that the whole thing is driven by lefties who like to call other people Nazis.
7.8.2007 6:38pm
TechieLaw (mail) (www):
Otto: Instead of just requoting people by replacing "Israel" with "South Africa," it would be far more useful if you wrote a reasoned response to the substance of the arguments made by those who have put in the effort to discuss this with you.

Some people have bothered to explain their position to you with reasoned arguments explaining why your comparison is off the mark. It would be nice if you could write something intelligent back rather than just playing word games with more analogies.
7.8.2007 7:13pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
To: TerrencePhillip

Every government policy is bound to have its detractors and opponents. So what? My point, which I thought was obvious, is that the United States, acting through its democratically elected government has asserted its inherent sovereign right to control its borders as against unwanted immigration (actually, not immigration but one of those major, historical migratory invasions.) That some people don't like that policy is neither here nor there -- like it or not, it's a perfectly legitimate policy followed by many other countries that find it necessary to control their borders and, yes, to build walls to accomplish that.

If the test of legitimacy of government policies were whether "lots and lots" of people do or don't like it, no policy could ever be legitimate. The Brits are keeping illegal Muslim immigrants on the European mainland from entering the UK via the chunnel, so they are hardly in a position to cast stones at us. And where does the Vatican (to which you refer) get off criticizing us on this point? We bear the burdens of allowing some 12 million illegal immigrants to stay among us, with more coming in daily. But as far as I know, the Vatican has not opened its borders and its purse to the hordes of impoverished third-world immigrants who have settled in Italy. So who is being "inhuman" here?
7.8.2007 7:55pm
Adam J:
Gideon-

Your point was far from obvious, since seemed to accusing those who "don't like the policy of it" of being antisemitic.

You said, "What makes this boycott anti-Semitic is not the criticism of Israel which has screwed up in many ways, the same as everybody else, but applying wildly different standards for judging Israel's actions."

Clearly, you were attacking those who find issue with Israeli policies of antisemitism. Terrence's post rebuts this. If the same people also criticizing the U.S. immigration policies it's quite likely that they aren't "applying wildly different standards" and aren't antisemetic.

That said, I find this boycott a ridiculous method of protest that offends academic freedom of ideas and debate (much like your wayward accusations of antisemitism simply because of protest over their policies).
7.8.2007 8:28pm
Adam J:
I should probably reread my comment before I post next time. Sorry about the typos.
7.8.2007 8:49pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Adam J:

Using the word "clearly" to preface a conclusory assertion is not an argument. I criticized those who assail Israel for doing no worse, indeed better, than their own countries do regularly. If that were all, it would be merely hypocrisy on their part. But when this species of hypocrisy is applied only to Israel and no one else, it's also transparently anti-Semitic. As for those people who are supposedly criticizing the U.S. the same as Israel, why aren't they calling for a boycott of American academics?

And yes, you're right on one thing. You should definitely re-read your posts; maybe even read them in the first place before hitting the "Post Comment" button.
7.8.2007 9:22pm
Richard McEnroe (mail):
Oh, come now? What does free, open and diverse discourse have to do with a modern university education?
7.8.2007 9:29pm
Adam J:
Gideon-

You accuse me conclusory assertions and in the next sentence conclusory assert "it's ... transparently anti-Semitic," because "this species of hypocrisy is applied only to Israel and no one else" - now that's hypocrisy.
7.8.2007 10:59pm
highcotton (mail):
After wading through these comments, I feel like I need a shower. Disgusting how you can find so many ways to justify/ excuse anti-Semitism. And positively vomitous that so many of those who do are Jews.
7.9.2007 12:31am
Mark F. (mail):
In retrospect, of course, the international campaign against the Apartheid regime happens to have turned out very well, on the whole, for the people of South Africa.

Wrong. The anti-black discrimination has been replaced by anti-white discrimination. The crime rate has gone through the roof and is one of the worst in the world. The corrupt government is implementing a number of socialist policies. The best and brightest are fleeing. Only an idiot would want to move there right now.

Of course, compared to the shitholes in the rest of Africa, things are still ~relatively~ good for South Africans. Things could be worse--they could have Mugabe.
7.9.2007 1:14am
p. rich (mail) (www):
Mark F.

Absolutely correct. Conditions in SA are steadily deteriorating. There is a continuing exodus of educated whites to the US and Commonwealth countries, and crime and corruption are off the scale. You won't read about this in the NYT because it would burst the rosy bubble of liberal ignorance. Yes, things could be worse; and they soon will be.
7.9.2007 2:14pm