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A US Academic Boycott of Israel?

In quotes...
Article on the "US boycott"
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In quotes...

"We have no a priori policy with regard to the membership or affiliation of supporters of the boycott so long as they are in accord with the main aims stated in the press release." - David Lloyd, group spokesperson, when asked if the group would accept the endorsement of Hamas supporters. Source.

"The main response will have to come from American academics who find this kind of bias to be unacceptable and will fight it." - Prof. Gerald Steinberg, Israeli academic. Source.

"The U.S. has much stronger political culture and laws about freedom of speech than the UK. In America, there is stronger sense that one should be able to think and say whatever one wants. " - Jonathan Rynhold, Israeli academic. Source.

"What they're trying to do is blurring the distinction between criticism of Israeli policies and criticism of Israel's existence." - Dr Jonathan Rynhold, Israeli academic. Source.

"Self-boycott is a difficult concept to realize. But speaking for myself, I would have supported and honored such a boycott had it been proposed by my colleagues overseas." - David Lloyd, group spokesperson, when asked if he would support a boycott of US academics over Iraq. Source.

"Obama has just taken office with a positive message and the focus will be on moving the peace process forward, not sideshows by anti-Semites and cranks among American pseudo-academics." - Dr Mitchell Bard, executive director at the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (USA). Source.

A US Academic Boycott of Israel? - 2009

By Dr Andre Oboler, Zionism On The Web Special Report, January 29, 2009

In a move with more differences than similarities to the start of the boycott efforts against Israeli academics launched from the UK, a group of US academics have published a press release calling for a US based "Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israel", including a boycott on academic and cultural activities.

The proposal is published on a free wordpress blog and was put out in a press release and makes reference to a Palestinian call for a boycott (the same PACBI proposal used in the more recent UK boycott attempts).

Both the UK and the US moves are part of the Durban Strategy, a formula for attacking Israel which was developed at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban South Africa. That conference was so badly hijacked it became a disaster for the UN and a text book case of antisemitism in the international arena.

Why is this effort different? In the UK the efforts started in 2002 with a letter to the editor in a leading daily newspaper. The letter was put forward by Steven and Hilary Rose and counter signed by 123 other academics. The US academics number only about 80. When you consider the relative scale (the US higher education sector being approximately 7 times bigger than that of the UK) this is small indeed.

Another point of note is that PACBI itself was set up in 2004. That is, it came after the actions in the UK. The Palestinian moral outrage and attempt to use Apartheid rhetoric against Israel is not Palestinian in origin but British. A week after the Roses letter, Ian Buruma wrote an article Do not treat Israel like apartheid South Africa in the same paper. Her article speaks about the use of Israel as a political litmus test. Despite being one of the earliest responses in the debate, it cuts to the core of the issue.

The US effort runs in direct opposition to those values Americans in particular hold dear. Freedom of expression and the 1st amendment being the most obvious. Unlike the British public, the American public are largely supportive of Israel. The British hostility is grounded in both history an politics. After all Britain themselves were for a time an occupying force in Israel, and he behaviour of the British in matters such as the White Paper was appalling. Academics have suggested that the attacks on Israel, often misrepresented as "anti-colonialism", are in fact a way for the British to blame the victim and exorcise their guilt.

Leaving aside the specifics, at this stage the "US boycott" looks like the same radicals repeating the same political nonsense. The call for the US boycott went up on January 22nd, prior to this on DEc 29th 2008, on the same site, a press release from the "Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE" titled "End the Carnage in Gaza - Boycott the Israeli Academy Now!" was published. The next blog post is "A letter from BRICUP", the British boycott group. Given the first post about the boycott in the blog section of the boycott groups own site in January 26th, one begins to wonder if the press release was back dated. This looks less and less like a real American campaign, and more and more like people outside the US deciding they need an American support base.

The entire effort is very amaturish. They aren't even willing to invest in their own domain name. This campaign (for now at least) has little traction and largely fails even as a publicity stunt. That said, now is the time for academic association, unions and universities to take proactive action and set themselves on record against any and all academics boycotts. Not just of Israel, but in general. The dangers to the academy that accompany an attack on academic freedom is something all involved in the academy need to appreciate. Academic freedom is a demand the academic community should make... of themselves and of their international colleagues. Only then can the pursuit of knowledge be safe guarded.

Commentary (c) 2009,Zionism On The Web. Other documents and excepts reproduced for educational purposes only, please cite the initial source as provided.