Daily Archives: May 28, 2006

The Israeli academic boycott: Same old double standard

And speaking of Israel: proposals to boycott Israeli academics in protest against the occupation of Palestine are cropping up again in Britain. Ari Paul reports at Reason.com:

The boycott effort picked up steam again this May in Britain, where it has the most support. The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) will vote on a measure to support a boycott at their annual conference on Monday. And some British academics have signed on as individuals. In May, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Richard Seaford, a professor at the University of Exeter, declined an offer to write for an Israeli journal due to his support for the boycott. The Association of University Teachers (AUT) also signed onto the boycott in 2005, but later backed off.

Paul writes that there is a similar “movement in American universities to divest from companies that do any business with Israel.” He adds, on the other hand, that even prominent critics of Israel among American intellectuals and academics (such as Juan Cole and Tony Judt) do not support the boycott.

What’s truly astounding about this proposal is the blatant double standard of it. No one is demanding a boycott of Russian academics over Russia’s occupation of Chechnya and the atrocities committed there (which dwarf, to put it mildly, Israel’s human rights abuses in the occupied territories). Or, as Paul points out, a boycott of Chinese academics because of the occupation of Tibet and other assorted abuses by the Chinese regime. Or … well, sadly, the list could go on and on.

Partly, this double standard is rooted in the all-too-familiar leftist mentality which strenuously condemns bad behavior by Western or pro-Western governments while turning a blind eye to the far worse misdeeds of communist and/or Third World regimes. (It’s not quite clear into which category Putin’s Russia falls.) But what makes the proposed boycott of Israeli academics especially disgusting is that it combines this anti-Western, anti-democratic bias with an element of “picking on the little guy.” No one in his or her right mind, even among the British intelligentsia, would propose boycotting American academics because of the occupation of Iraq. Why? Because, obviously, such a boycott would cripple academic life and scientific research worldwide. But singling out Israel as a proxy for America is another matter: it’s something the British acaemics can do without inconveniencing themselves too much. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic, as some would say. Just hypocritical, sanctimonious, and deeply wrong.

More: An interesting suggestion from my father: if the British academy, represented by the NATFHE and the AUT, decides to go through with the boycott of Israeli academics, maybe the American Association of University Professors should consider a boycott of British academics. I’m not sure I like the idea of eye-for-an-eye censorship, but still — perhaps the question is worth raising. Though, as another friend points out, if the AAUP did weigh in, it would likely be, almost reflexively, in sympathy with the pro-boycott side.

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