The Boycott Israel movement scores another victory

"While alleging abuses, they ignore the reality that Palestinian universities were created only after 1967 during Israeli control and continue to develop and function."

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File] (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
The motion in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) was passed in Denver on Friday, November 20, by a vote of 1,040 in favor to 136. The resolution will now be forwarded to the full membership of 8,000 for a final vote by electronic ballot. Theoretically, it could fall at that time but odds-makers in Las Vegas would make this a very long shot.
Israeli and American opponents to BDS petitions often try to demonstrate they are on the side of the “angels” by joining in criticisms of Israel, particularly the sins of the Right. At Denver and elsewhere this has not proved a winning strategy. Israel has become enmeshed in a moral binary in which it is widely assumed to be in the wrong. The overwhelming victory of BDS at the AAA serves to confirm this judgment.
Another confrontation will take place at the meetings of the larger American Historical Association (AHA) in Atlanta on January 9. The opposing forces are now lining up backers. Supported by the Orwellian- named “Historians Against the War,” a pro-BDS resolution asks the AHA to move along the road to BDS.
The resolution conforms in content and style to the AAA resolution and those disseminated by PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) who provide the organizational support for BDS. The object is to hijack American academic organizations for their partisan political goals.
The strategy is to call, as a preliminary step, for “monitoring” Israeli actions for hindering the right of Palestinians to an education, often citing freedom of movement and interventions of Israel security forces. They nowhere acknowledge the disruptions to Israeli education in the context of the missile war against on Israel or of the terrorist attacks motivated by ideologies that deny the right of the Jewish people to an independent state.
While alleging abuses, they ignore the reality that Palestinian universities were created only after 1967 during Israeli control and continue to develop and function while enjoying large numbers of visiting faculty and students from abroad, including the US.
With one-sided anecdotes they purport to claim a policy of purposeful disruption that does not exist.
The fact is many thousands of Israeli Palestinians study and teach at Israeli institutions, including the president of an Israeli college. Similarly, Palestinians from the PA collaborate with Israelis in education and research projects in health, agriculture and environmental problems as well as in attempts at political and historical dialogue. Even Hamas leaders send family members to Israeli university hospitals. Many Palestinians demand more of Israeli higher education and scientific expertise, not less, and certainly not boycott. Remarkably, all this cooperation is taking place at a time when hostilities are not merely verbal.
Why, then, should the AHA or other academic organizations arrogate to themselves what so many Palestinians manifestly do not support! The idea that the AHA should want or be capable of monitoring travel to and in Israel is bizarre.
BDS resolutions still the voices of those genuinely interested in resolving this conflict and inhibit its unbiased examination. Academic boycotts are an instrument for silencing and intimidation. They run counter to the position articulated by the AHA itself in announcing the resolution as an agenda item: “As the AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct states, historians ‘believe in vigorous debate, but they also believe in civility.’ As a discipline we ‘celebrate intellectual communities governed by mutual respect and constructive criticism.’” There are numerous critiques of this and similar resolutions that demonize Israel as the aggressor, exclusively culpable and deserving of extreme punishment, beginning with the ostracism of academics and academic institutions.
For those who nevertheless hold to the resolution’s claims, there are other venues for political action.
If the American academy is truly committed to academic freedom, it must insure that the rights of its own members are not compromised by those who would deny what John Stuart Mill described in On Liberty as the opportunity to “exchange error for truth.”
The author is the Stoll Family Professor of Israel Studies at Brandeis University.