A call for moral outrage over the British boycott

A tumor, small as it is, if not excised, will take over the organism.

boycott israel 88 (photo credit: )
boycott israel 88
(photo credit: )
As the British institution for academics, the University and College Union (UCU), took another step toward passage of a resolution to boycott Israeli universities - this time calling for an educational process around the country to educate faculty on why a boycott would be a good thing - the question is: What should be done about it? For me, the example was set by Prof. Stephen Weinberg of the University of Texas, a Nobel Laureate in physics, who recently cancelled an invitation to speak at Imperial College, London, making it clear that he could not in good conscience ignore the fact that the British University system was looking to boycott Israeli academics. This most courageous individual wasn't responding to any organized call, but was acting out of a sense of moral outrage, and was doing something truly important. I believe what we need is such moral outrage multiplied by thousands, in a variety of ways. We need not tell people how they should express their outrage but, rather, that they need to express it their way. For some, this may mean following Prof. Weinberg's path. For others, it may mean sending individual letters or signing petitions to British officials, writing letters to the editor or op-eds, joining online chats and responding to blogs, and/or supporting advertisements in American or British newspapers. Whatever way is chosen, the moral outrage should be loud and clear. In communities around the United States, people must not only speak out themselves but appeal to religious, political, union and cultural leaders to express their own indignation. IS THIS an overreaction? After all, it could be argued that the UCU only passed resolutions demanding that the leadership educate the membership on the need to boycott Israeli academics, not an actual boycott. But this is no time for complacency. After last year's bruising battle at the Association of University Teachers, the predecessor to the UCU, there was hope that this issue might be put to rest or that at least, if it came before the UCU, no action would be taken. Now more damaging steps have been voted on, and other unions have vowed to follow suit. Just days after the UCU resolutions were approved the UK's largest labor union, Unison, representing a staggering 1.3 million members, said it had scheduled a vote on a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and investments in Israeli pension funds. This followed on the heels of the UCU vote and a boycott resolution approved by the British National Union of Journalists, which all but abandoned the profession's mandate of objectivity to excoriate Israel's role in the 2006 war against Hizbullah in Lebanon, outrageously described as a "pre-planned attack." WE MUST view this process as if an oncologist has discovered a small tumor which, if not excised, will take over the organism. Why should it stop with the UK? If it can happen there, who's to say that in other Western European countries, where anti-Israel fervor in some sections may be as strong or stronger, others will not be emboldened to replicate or outdo British initiatives? Let's be clear: Such boycott efforts are dangerous and bigoted. Some are motivated by anti-Semitism, but even where they are not, they create a climate that legitimizes anti-Jewish activity. At a time when Islamic extremists on Israel's northern and southern borders are calling for Israel's destruction, when Iran is daily threatening Israel and is building a nuclear bomb, such one-sided actions against the State of Israel constitute the most egregious anti-Jewish behavior in the West in many years. One doesn't have to be a Zionist to recognize that these resolutions are one-sided, ignoring Palestinian terrorism and extremism, that they are destructive to any hope of converting the Palestinians to a peaceful approach to Israel; and that they violate all norms of academic freedom and other forms of open, democratic societies. They are also hypocritical. Even as the British academics' union continues to maintain ties with trade unionists in Zimbabwe and Colombia and remain silent about other regimes around the world with deplorable human rights records and labor practices, it proposes severing ties with its academic brethren in Israel, a democratic state where many labor leaders have been the most outspoken and fervent advocates for dialogue with the Palestinian people and the peace process. It is time to stand up. The writer is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.