Steven Salaita, an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, writes: In recent years, we have seen greater recognition in the United States that religious acrimony and ancient blood feuds are not the source of the Israel-Palestine conflict, whose progenitor in fact is Jewish colonization. As this recognition grows, along with corresponding support for Palestinian human rights, unprecedented pressure bears on Israel’s defenders to maintain the once-dominant narratives of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian terror.
These days, Israel is an extremely difficult state to defend.
It should be so. Israel continues to make a mockery of the “peace process” by constructing new settlements and insulting American leaders. It tolerates politicians who routinely make racist statements. And it continues to be in violation of at least 77 United Nations Resolutions and numerous provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The latest challenge to these violations comes from the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement, which has attracted the attention of pro-Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government itself, thus validating the efficacy of the tactic. A specific element of BDS, academic boycott, was recently ratified by the Association of Asian American Studies and enjoys overwhelming support among the membership of the American Studies Association, whose National Council today voted to affirm a resolution honoring the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.
Although at first glance academic boycott seems vengeful and arbitrary, its mission is rigorous and ethical, perfectly concordant to comparable boycotts that earned widespread support in the United States (against apartheid South Africa, for instance, or Arizona when it refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day). [Continue reading...]
Alan Philps writes: On Sunday, the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy published a startling article. As a patriotic Israeli, he wrote in Haaretz newspaper, he had no choice but to declare himself in favour of an economic boycott of his own country until it withdrew from the occupied territories. Given the prospects of “another round of deep stalemate” – a reference to US secretary of state John Kerry’s best efforts to rekindle Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – only sanctions would make Israel change.
Mr Levy is a maverick in Israeli journalism, a lone figure trying to stand in the way of the juggernaut of the Israeli state as it settles ever more Palestinian land. His article was greeted with a shrug, perhaps barely even that.
Two days later, it emerged that the European Union, after many years of dithering, had decided that it would not support any settler projects in the occupied territories. None of its grants, prizes or other sorts of funding would be available to settler entities or institutions, and Israel would have to formally accept this condition in applying for funds.
This news was not greeted with a shrug. One Israeli official called it an “earthquake”. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a defiant statement that Israel would never accept foreign “dictates” on its borders. There were dark hints about the “unhelpful” timing of the move: Yair Lapid, the finance minister, said it would “sabotage” the Kerry mission by encouraging the Palestinians to believe that Israel could be subject to outside pressure.
The move is of little financial significance, but deeply symbolic. The “green line” marking the border between internationally recognised Israel and the occupied territory has long disappeared from Israeli maps. The road network already knits the Jewish settlements seamlessly with major Israeli towns.
The 28 member states of the European Union are not going to change those facts on the ground, and the decision does not immediately affect Israel’s $40 billion trade with the EU. But it does mark a belated stiffening of the European backbone. [Continue reading...]
Gideon Levy writes: Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor at this point of boycotting it economically.
A contradiction in terms? We have considered the alternatives. A boycott is the least of all evils, and it could produce historic benefits. It is the least violent of the options and the one least likely to result in bloodshed. It would be painful like the others, but the others would be worse.
On the assumption that the current status quo cannot continue forever, it is the most reasonable option to convince Israel to change. Its effectiveness has already been proven. More and more Israelis have become concerned recently about the threat of the boycott. When Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warns about it spreading and calls as a result for the diplomatic deadlock to be broken, she provides proof of the need for a boycott. She and others are therefore joining the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. Welcome to the club.
The change won’t come from within. That has been clear for a long time. As long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation, or at least don’t make the connection between cause and effect, they have no incentive to bring it to an end. And why should the average resident of Tel Aviv be bothered by what is happening in the West Bank city of Jenin or Rafah in the Gaza Strip? Those places are far away and not particularly interesting. As long as the arrogance and self-victimization continue among the Chosen People, the most chosen in the world, always the only victim, the world’s explicit stance won’t change a thing. [Continue reading...]
David Lloyd writes: On 10 May 2013, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a “Statement on Academic Boycotts” which states, not for the first time, its “opposition to academic boycotts as a matter of principle.” The statement was issued in response to two recent victories for the movement for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel: physicist Stephen Hawking’s recent announcement that he would not attend a major conference in Israel, and the Association for Asian American Studies’ (AAAS) adoption of a resolution at their national conference in April to endorse the academic boycott. As the momentum for the academic boycott of Israel builds globally, the AAUP seems to be desperately trying to stem the tide. Of course, the AAUP’s statement is nothing new and shows the organization to be as incoherent and ill-informed on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel as it has proven to be since 2006. In that year, it succumbed to outside pressure and withdrew support for an AAUP-sponsored conference on academic boycott at the Rockefeller Conference Center in Bellagio—thus effectively engaging in censorship.
In the first place, the recent AAUP statement is factually misleading. The academic boycott is not merely being “advocated by some pro-Palestinian groups,” nor did Stephen Hawking make his decision based on the call of “pro-Palestinian groups.” He did so, according to his own statement, in response to the appeal of Palestinian scholars— just as the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) has responded to the call of over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations that have endorsed the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. What the AAUP seeks to disguise by its framing of the issue is that the academic boycott has never been the work of some small pressure groups in the United States, but represents a global movement that is seeking a non-violent means to end the systematic dispossession of and discrimination against the Palestinian people. In this respect, it resembles the boycott movement against South Africa’s apartheid regime, which the AAUP in fact supported, with the difference that whereas that movement did call for individual boycotts of South African scholars, cultural workers, and sports persons, PACBI’s call is specifically and exclusively institutional. [Continue reading...]
Hilary Rose and Steven Rose write: Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.
Witness the speed with which the pro-Israel lobby seized on Cambridge University’s initial false claim that he had withdrawn on health grounds to denounce the boycott movement, and their embarrassment when within a few hours the university shamefacedly corrected itself. Hawking also made it clear that if he had gone he would have used the occasion to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
While journalists named him “the poster boy of the academic boycott” and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement celebrated, Ha’aretz, the most progressive of the Israeli press, drew attention to the inflammatory language used by the conference organisers, who described themselves as “outraged” rather than that they “regretted” Hawking’s decision.
That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign. And that his stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.
Hawking’s public refusal follows that of prominent singers, artists and writers, from Brian Eno to Mike Leigh, Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich, all of whom have publicly rejected invitations to perform in Israel. But what winds Israel up is the fact that this rejection is by a famous scientist and that science and technology drive its economy. Hawking’s decision threatens to open a floodgate with more and more scientists coming to regard Israel as a pariah state. [Continue reading...]
In an editorial, the Boston Globe says: When the esteemed physicist Stephen Hawking announced his decision to boycott Israel’s Presidential Conference, a gathering of politicians, scholars, and other high-profile figures scheduled for June, the response was as predictable as the movement of the cosmos that inspired Hawking’s career. The conference chair, Israel Maimon, called the move “outrageous and improper,” while Omar Barghouti, a founder of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that advocates protests against Israeli policies, declared, “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support.”
In fact, the decision to withdraw from a conference is a reasonable way to express one’s political views. Observers need not agree with Hawking’s position in order to understand and even respect his choice. The movement that Hawking has signed on to aims to place pressure on Israel through peaceful means. In the context of a Mideast conflict that has caused so much destruction and cost so many lives, nonviolence is something to be encouraged. That is equally true of attempts to inspire cooperation on the Palestinian side.
Chances for a peaceful solution in Israel and Palestine are remote enough without overreactions like Maimon’s. Foreclosing nonviolent avenues to give people a political voice — and maybe bring about an eventual resolution — only makes what is already difficult that much more challenging.
The Guardian reports: Noam Chomsky was among 20 academics who privately lobbied Professor Stephen Hawking to boycott a major Israeli conference, it has emerged.
Chomsky, a US professor and well-known supporter of the Palestinian cause, joined British academics from the universities of Cambridge, London, Leeds, Southampton, Warwick, Newcastle, York and the Open University to tell Hawking they were “surprised and deeply disappointed” that he had accepted the invitation to speak at next month’s presidential conference in Jerusalem, which will chaired by Shimon Peres and attended by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
Hawking pulled out this week in protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, in the wake of receiving the letter and soundings from Palestinian colleagues. The 71-year-old theoretical physicist’s decision has been warmly welcomed by Palestinian academics, with one describing it as “of cosmic proportions”, but was attacked in Israel.
The Jerusalem Post reports: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu slammed Prof. Stephen Hawking for joining the boycott against Israel and cancelling plans to attend President Shimon Peres’s conference next month, saying the celebrated physicist should “study the facts.”
Asked by The Jerusalem Post about Hawking’s boycott at a press briefing, Netanyahu said, “He should investigate the truth, he is a scientist. He should study the facts and draw the necessary conclusions: Israel is an island of reason, moderation and a desire for peace.”
Netanyahu said that Hawking knows that there are many false theories in science. “There are also false theories in politics, and this [the slandering of Israel] is one of them, maybe the foremost among them,” he said. “There is no state that yearns for peace more than Israel, nor any state that has done more for peace than Israel.”
One official in the prime minister’s entourage went even further, comparing Hawking to Shakespeare and Voltaire, both of whom held anti-Semitic sentiments.
“History shows that there are people who are no less great than Hawking who believed things about Jews that it was impossible to imagine they actually believed,” he said. “I am talking about Voltaire, or Shakespeare. How do you explain that someone with the encyclopedic knowledge of Voltaire believed what he did about the Jews. How can you explain it? But it is a fact.”
Apparently, the official continued, “intelligence and achievements are no guarantee for understanding the truth about the Jews or their state.
What was true regarding Jews for generations, is now true about the state of the Jews.”
Let’s first consider Netanyahu’s own powers of reasoning and, for the sake of argument, take at face value his claim that there is “no state that yearns for peace more than Israel.”
Indeed, no state could yearn for peace more than one that throughout its history has never lived in peace. Likewise, a drunk can passionately wish he was sober.
But those who judge Israel negatively generally base their judgements on the Jewish state’s actions — not the peace-loving statements of its leaders. Judge us by what we do, not what we say — what could be more eminently reasonable, Mr Netanyahu?
As for Netanyahu’s nameless sidekick who predictably pulled out the antisemite card, how would he explain the fact that Hawking had initially accepted the invitation to attend the Peres conference? Did Hawking have a momentary lapse, initially forgetting he was an antisemite and only to later remember why he would hate visiting Israel?
What both Netanyahu and the official exhibit is a tendency common among Zionists: a fixation on personal identity — which is nothing more than a smokescreen used to avoid honest debate about Israel’s behavior. Judge us by who we are, not what we do, is the way they would have it. But that’s not the way the rest of the world works and not even the survivors of the Holocaust get a free pass.
Ali Abunimah writes: A standard objection to the Palestinian campaign for the boycott of Israel is that it would cut off “dialogue” and hurt the chances of peace. We’ve heard this again in the wake of Professor Stephen Hawking’s laudable decision to withdraw from Israel’s Presidential Conference in response to requests from Palestinian academics – but it would be hard to think of a more unconvincing position as far as Palestinians are concerned.
One of the most deceptive aspects of the so-called peace process is the pretence that Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides, equally at fault, equally responsible – thus erasing from view the brutal reality that Palestinians are an occupied, colonised people, dispossessed at the hands of one of the most powerful militaries on earth.
For more than two decades, under the cover of this fiction, Palestinians have engaged in internationally-sponsored “peace talks” and other forms of dialogue, only to watch as Israel has continued to occupy, steal and settle their land, and to kill and maim thousands of people with impunity.
While there are a handful of courageous dissenting Israeli voices, major Israeli institutions, especially the universities, have been complicit in this oppression by, for example, engaging in research and training partnerships with the Israeli army. Israel’s government has actively engaged academics, artists and other cultural figures in international “Brand Israel” campaigns to prettify the country’s image and distract attention from the oppression of Palestinians. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.
Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”. [Continue reading...]
Iain Banks writes: I support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign because, especially in our instantly connected world, an injustice committed against one, or against one group of people, is an injustice against all, against every one of us; a collective injury.
My particular reason for participating in the cultural boycott of Israel is that, first of all, I can; I’m a writer, a novelist, and I produce works that are, as a rule, presented to the international market. This gives me a small extra degree of power over that which I possess as a (UK) citizen and a consumer. Secondly, where possible when trying to make a point, one ought to be precise, and hit where it hurts. The sports boycott of South Africa when it was still run by the racist apartheid regime helped to bring the country to its senses because the ruling Afrikaaner minority put so much store in their sporting prowess. Rugby and cricket in particular mattered to them profoundly, and their teams’ generally elevated position in the international league tables was a matter of considerable pride. When they were eventually isolated by the sporting boycott – as part of the wider cultural and trade boycott – they were forced that much more persuasively to confront their own outlaw status in the world.
A sporting boycott of Israel would make relatively little difference to the self-esteem of Israelis in comparison to South Africa; an intellectual and cultural one might help make all the difference, especially now that the events of the Arab spring and the continuing repercussions of the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla peace convoy have threatened both Israel’s ability to rely on Egypt’s collusion in the containment of Gaza, and Turkey’s willingness to engage sympathetically with the Israeli regime at all. Feeling increasingly isolated, Israel is all the more vulnerable to further evidence that it, in turn, like the racist South African regime it once supported and collaborated with, is increasingly regarded as an outlaw state. [Continue reading...]
Rachel Shabi writes: On Wednesday, George Galloway walked out of a meeting because it turned out he was going to be debating an Israeli. “I was misinformed” he said. “I don’t debate with Israelis. I don’t recognise Israel.” Later, he clarified the tactic on Twitter: “Israel: simple, No recognition No normalisation. Just Boycott, divestment, sanctions.”
Galloway is not alone in holding such sentiments – but as a tactic in support of Palestinians, it’s a dead end. Primarily, that’s because the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement doesn’t call for the avoidance of people purely on the basis of nationality. Thanks to Galloway, its national committee has just issued a statement, to clear up this particular fallacy.
Whatever your views on BDS – and there are many – Galloway’s move is plainly an own goal (assuming his goal is to support Palestinians, rather than generate publicity for himself). One reason that many left-leaning Jews don’t join the BDS movement is precisely because the boycott is perceived to be about rage against people, rather than an effective political tool. What’s the best way to cement that belief? Announce you’re avoiding Israelis as part of your commitment to BDS. Cue a flood of “told you sos” from those who say its all about punishing Israelis just for being who they are. [Continue reading...]
There’s a big difference between concluding that talking is fruitless, and refusing to talk.
Refusing to talk, prejudges the outcome and it attaches more significance to the act of communication than its content.
What talking can do is open a door into a creative space. It opens the possibility of arriving somewhere new.
Talking engages the plasticity of the human mind.
Rigid minds are always in conflict with the world because the world is always changing. So, even if we find ourselves up against the rigidity of others, it at least serves our own interests to keep our own minds flexible and explore the malleability of our own thought.