During a visit to the Gaza Strip, Noam Chomsky was interviewed by Electronic Intifada’s Rami Almeghari who asked whether he supports calls to boycott Israel academically and economically.
Noam Chomsky: If you call for an academic boycott of say Tel Aviv University you have to ask yourself, what the consequences are of that call for the Palestinians and there’s an indirect answer. When you carry out an act in the United States, you are trying to reach the American population and you’re trying to bring the American population to be more supportive of Palestinian rights and opposed to Israeli and US policies.
So you therefore ask yourself, will an academic boycott of Tel Aviv University have – you ask yourself what the effect would be on the American audience in the United States that you are trying to reach. Now, that depends on the amount of organization and education that has taken place in the United States.
Today, if you look at the people’s understandings and beliefs, a call for an academic boycott on Tel Aviv University will strengthen support for Israel and US policy because it’s not understood. There is no point of talking to people in Swahili if they don’t understand what you are saying. There could be circumstances in which a boycott of Tel Aviv would be helpful, but first you have to do the educational and organizational work.
Same with South Africa. The equivalent of BDS, the boycott and sanctions programs, they began really around 1980. There were a few before, but mainly around then. That was after twenty years of serious organizing and activism which had led to a situation in which there was almost universal opposition to apartheid. Corporations were pulling out following the Sullivan law, the [US] Congress was passing sanctions and the UN had already declared embargo. We’re nowhere near that in the case of Palestine. We are not even close.
Rami Almeghari: Do you agree or not agree, do you agree partially… ?
NC: You can’t agree or disagree, it’s meaningless. In the case of any tactic, you ask yourself, what are its consequences, ultimately for the victims, and indirectly for the audience you are trying to reach. So you ask, do the people I am trying to reach see this as a step towards undercutting US policy and freeing the Palestinians or do they see this tactic as a reason to strengthen their support for US policy and attacking the Palestinians. That’s the question you ask when you carry out any tactic, whether it is disobedience, breaking bank windows, demonstrations, whatever it is. Those are the questions you ask if you care about the victims, if you don’t care about the victims, you won’t bother with these questions and you just do what makes you feel good.