Boycott me

More partnerships along the lines of Cornell and the Technion might emerge, a clearly win-win situation for all.

By ANDREW PESSIN
June 14, 2015 21:31
4 minute read.
Boycott Israel sign

Boycott Israel sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Alan Dershowitz has recently promoted the idea of Israel offering “honorary citizenship” to musicians, academics and others to help combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement outside of Israel. This is a terrific idea, and a variation on it for academics would be easy, inexpensive and particularly effective on our nation’s campuses, where the BDS movement is loudest.

Imagine that Israel established a website, a clearinghouse for Israeli academic institutions. Information would be available there about all Israeli schools and programs, the resources, the faculty, the student body, and so on. Professors, students, even the staff at foreign universities could use this information to find the institution, or the individuals, that offer the best “fit.” They could then apply to become “official representatives” of their chosen Israeli institutions.

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There should be some quality control as well: to become a representative you must learn something about the institution, master a fact sheet at least, so that you can represent it properly.

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There are many immediate benefits of this idea to the Israeli academy. It promotes its visibility to foreign academics and institutions, and publicizes the work they are doing. It fosters scholarly connections that may well produce professional collaboration, invitations to present at conferences or contribute to scholarly volumes, co-teaching (over the Internet), and even personal relationships. It can help with Israel’s perpetual public relations problem, for example by showcasing the gender, racial and religious diversity of faculty and students. It may even encourage financial support.

I think that to become a representative the foreign scholar should pay a nominal fee (to be shared by the institution and the state), to affirm her genuine support of the institution and/or the state. This could apply at the institution level as well, promoting the possibility that foreign institutions become “sisters” to Israeli institutions.

More partnerships along the lines of Cornell and the Technion might emerge, a clearly win-win situation for all.

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How might this help combat BDS on campus? It’s easy to boycott people and institutions when they are far away, but much harder to do when the boycott affects the very people in your community. My campus will almost surely see anti-Israel fervor in the coming years. It won’t be long before some BDS proposal is before the students, the faculty, and/or the college. I already know several faculty members here who supported the 2013 boycott approved by the American Studies Association. When the BDS push arrives on my campus, I will be able to wave my “official representative” certificate and insist they must boycott me too.

“I guess we can’t work on committees together,” I could say, “and since I’m not resigning, you will have to. I guess you can’t serve on any committee that evaluates me or my work, such as the tenure and promotion committee, or grants committees, or even faculty staffing committees. Oh, and by the way, I shall have to file a discrimination complaint against you to the college equal-opportunity office.”

In my institution there is a great emphasis on “inclusivity and equity,” as well as on diversity not merely of race and religion, but of political opinion, values hard to reconcile with boycotting individuals within the community.

One can imagine a possible counterargument.

“We boycott Israeli institutions and their representatives because,” BDS-ers typically say, “as Israeli citizens they are complicit in and contribute to the policies and actions of their government.

But we needn’t boycott you because you aren’t a genuine citizen.”

But that is why foreign scholars should pay the nominal fee to represent the Israeli institution. For if I am a true representative, one who has given financial support to the state and the institution, then I too am “complicit in and contribute to” the policies and actions of the Israeli government. (This doesn’t mean I need support every policy and action, of course; the point is to show solidarity, and pursue disagreements elsewhere.) Then the only relevant difference between myself and the Israeli scholar is that I am an American and he is an Israeli. If they choose to boycott only the Israeli, then it is clear that they are discriminating on the basis of national origin, pure and simple.

Not only are such actions contrary to federal law and various state laws, but given that 80 percent of the Israeli population is Jewish, and that half of the world’s Jews are Israeli citizens, these actions are also anti-Semitic.

In all the abstractions of arguments it can be easy to lose sight of that. But once the boycotters have to boycott not only those far-away Israelis, but me, right here, it’s fully clear what they are up to.

An inexpensive, easy, and potentially effective tool to resist some forms of BDS on campus: the Israeli government should get on it today.

The author is professor of philosophy at Connecticut College and author of numerous books of philosophy for the general reader (http://www.andrewpessin.com).

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