Tuesday, 17 March 2009


Stanley Fish at the New York Times has a long and convoluted column that eventually gets around to focusing on the question of academic boycotts of Israel. I'm chiefly linking because he's got lots of useful links in his column, rounding up lots of the key spokesmen these past few years, so that's useful. He also has a good summary of the arguments for boycotting Israel:

(1) The academic critics of neoliberalism complain that one effect of the neoliberization of the university has been the retreat by faculty members from public engagement, with the result that intellectual work becomes hermetic and sealed off from political struggle. “We need,” says Henry Giroux, “to link knowing with action, and learning with social engagement, and this requires addressing the responsibilities that come with teaching . . . to fight for an inclusive and radical democracy by recognizing that education in the broadest sense is not just about understanding . . . but also about providing the conditions for assuming the responsibilities we have as citizens to expose human misery and to eliminate the conditions that produce it” (“Against the Terror of Neoliberalism,” 2008)

(2) In the eyes of many academics, a great deal of human misery is being produced by Israel’s policy toward Palestinians. Eliminating it is everybody’s business.

(3) This includes academics who cannot stop at just talking about injustice, but must do something about it, must act.

(4) The political resources of academics are limited, but one way academics can show political solidarity is to put pressure on colleagues who are silent in the face of injustice: “The boycott or the divestment campaign is the mode of political protest that is left after all other forms of struggle have been tried”; it is “the politics of last resort” (Grant Farred, “The Act of Politics Is to Divide,” Works and Days).

(5) Therefore, it is appropriate and even obligatory to boycott Israeli academics and Israeli universities “that have turned a blind eye to the destruction and disruption of Palestinian Schools” (David Lloyd, Daily Trojan). “If, in the midst of oppression, these institutions do not function to analyze and explain the world in a way that promotes justice . . . but rather acquiesce in aggressive neocolonialist practices, then others may legitimately boycott them” (Mona Baker and Lawrence Davidson).

Fish himself then goes on, eventually, to state a position whereby any academic boycott is wrong, including the one on Apartheid South Africa. This is a reasonable approach, of course. I'd add to it that perverse as it was, that regime was no-where near being the world's worst, not even in the Post-WWII world; Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Nigeria all spring effortlessly to mind, and a systematic list would be far longer. So, contrary to Fish's comment, including Israel on anyone's list is, indeed, perverse; singling it out as uniquely evil is, quite simply, evil itself.

I also think calls to boycott Israel are deeply hypocritical and harmful to the boycotters. Israel is one of the most creative places in the world, compared to size or not. How many of the boycotters will forgoe on taking advantage of scientific or technological advances created by Israelis? Hands, anyone?
taken from:Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations (http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/)

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