Tanya Reinhart on the academic boycott

WHY US? (On the academic boycott)
Tanya Reinhart

Yediot Aharonot, May 4, 2005. Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall.

A boycott decision, like that passed by Britain’s Association of University Teachers to boycott two Israeli universities, naturally raises a hue and cry among Israelis. Why us? And why now, “just when negotiations with the Palestinians might be renewed”?

It may be worthwhile, however, to consider how the world perceives us. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel must immediately dismantle those parts of the wall that were built on Palestinian lands. We disregarded the ruling. We are turning the West Bank into a prison for Palestinians, as we have already done in Gaza in the course of 38 years of occupation, every one of which is a violation of UN resolutions. Since 1993 we have been engaged in negotiations with the Palestinians, and in the meantime we continued expanding settlements. In its judgement, the Court recommended to the UN that sanctions be imposed on Israel if its ruling is not obeyed. The Israeli reply – no need to worry! As long as the United States is behind us, the UN will do nothing.

In the eyes of the world, the question is what can be done when the relevant institutions do not succeed in enforcing international law? The boycott model is drawn from the past: South Africa also disregarded UN resolutions. At that time as well, the UN (under U.S. pressure), was reluctant to impose immediate sanctions. The South African boycott began as a grass roots movement initiated by individuals and independent organizations. It grew slowly but steadily until it finally became an absolute boycott of products, sport, culture, academia and tourism. South Africa was gradually forced to abrogate apartheid.

The international community is beginning to apply the same model to Israel in all domains, from the Caterpillar bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes, to sports and culture. In the eyes of the international community, the relevant question is whether the Israeli Academy is entitled, on the basis of its actions, to be exempt from this general boycott. Many in the Israeli Academy oppose the occupation as individuals. But in practice, no Israeli university senate has ever passed a resolution condemning, for example, the closure of Palestinian universities. Even now, when the wall cuts off students and lecturers from their universities, the protest of the Academy is not heard. The British boycott is selective – two universities were selected to signal to the Israeli Academy that it is being watched. But the Israeli Academy still has the option of removing itself from the cycle of passive support of the occupation.

One puzzle still remains Why just us? Why is Israel being singled out? What about Russia in Chechnya? What about the United States? What the U.S. did in Falluja, no Israeli general has yet dared to try. Indeed, the logic behind a boycott of Israel dictates that a boycott of the great powers is fully justified. It is only because at the moment there is a greater likelihood of success in stopping a small state, that Israel became the focus. Still, if an effort is made to save first the Palestinians and at least stop the wall, can we condemn that effort as unethical? Is it more ethical to refrain from trying to save anyone until it is possible to save everyone?

As usual, we believe that the solution lies in the realm of force. When the Valencia basketball team tried to boycott Israel in March 2004, and announced that it would not participate in the League Championship if it took place in Israel, the steamroller was set in motion; there were threats, there were mutterings about contracts, until Valencia was forced to relent and play here. Similarly, in the case of the academic boycott, the global Israeli lobby has tracked down, one by one, those who have declared support of the boycott, and have tried to make their lives miserable. The attempt by Haifa University to dismiss Dr.Ilan Pappe in 2002 was not instigated because of the Teddy Katz affair, but because Dr. Pappe openly supported the boycott and signed the original British petition calling for it.

It is possible that the bulldozer, which has come to symbolize Israel, will succeed in reversing the decision of the AUT in England. But will this prevent researchers from boycotting us quietly, without involving the media? Perhaps it would be more worthwhile for the Israeli Academy to direct its anger at the government and demand that it finally put a stop to this wall.

Counter-arguments: JVP, Baruch Kimmerling, Pappe

See article archive on the boycott, including pieces by Palestinian academics Lisa Taraki and Omar Barghouthi, on Sue Blackwell’s website. See link at left side, “Academic boycott of Israel.”

Ha’aretz editorial on the government’s decision to expand Ariel’s college into a university.

  1. I’m from Missouri
    “It is only because at the moment there is a greater likelihood of success in stopping a small state, that Israel became the focus.”


    1. I’m from Nunavut
      Still, if an effort is made to save first the Palestinians and at least stop the wall, can we condemn that effort as unethical? Is it more ethical to refrain from trying to save anyone until it is possible to save everyone?


      1. I’m from somewhere else
        All due respect, but the academic left is full of hypocrites who can’t be bothered to say a word critical of Palestinian extremism, much less the policies of other govt’s in the region. So this boycott is hard to take seriously. It’s also idiotic, unworkable and self-marginalizing, not to mention ugly and contrary to the spirit of free inquiry, as Kimmerling (sort of) says.

        1. From a blue state
          It’s ugly, and so are things like boycotting sports teams and cultural links — yet these were effective against South Africa, no? Do you favor any kind of boycotting or sanctions against Israel, or should it be exempt from such measures because Palestinian extremists and other governments in the region commit atrocious things too? Should it be exempt because of how you feel about the academic left?

          Which of the institutions being boycotted has ever released a statement condemning IDF attacks on Bir Zeit? When have they ever concerned themselves with the Palestinian right to an education? When I went to An-Najah university in Nablus I was shown where an APC parked and killed two students in cold blood. I saw soldiers shooting at school kids and teargassing a school in Tul Karm for no reason. Where are the Israeli students who are so ready to protest fee hikes in Tel Aviv when the IDF plowed Israel’s wall through a school in Ras Atil? Did Haifa University issue a condemnation when soldiers shot a Palestinian University professor in the back last year?

          April 25, 2005

          “You brought the boycott upon yourselves”

          Tel Aviv, April 26, 2005

          Professor Moshe Kaveh
          Bar Ilan University

          Uri Avnery
          Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Bloc)

          Dear Sir,

          In various media interviews today you expressed anger at the decision of British university lecturers to declare a boycott against the Bar Ilan University, calling it “an unacceptable mixing of politics into academic life”. When asked about the “Judea and Samaria College” which your university maintains at the settlement of Ariel, you stated that this was “an entirely non-political issue” and that said college was nothing more than “the largest of five colleges which Bar Ilan maintains at different locations in Israel”. Indeed, you declared yourself and your colleagues to be proud of the decision to establish the Ariel college, and you felt no contradiction between continuing to maintain that college, at the investment of a considerable part of Bar Ilan’s total resources, and the maintenance of extensive ties with universities worldwide, including in Britain.

          As an example you mentioned your own ties as a physicist with Cambridge University and your plans to spend some time at Cambridge this summer – plans which, as you stated, remain unchanged also in the wake of the British lecturers’ decision.

          Surely, a person of your intelligence and experience can be expected to note the obvious contradictions in the above position. As you well know, Ariel is not “a location in Israel”. Rather, Ariel is a location in a territory under military occupation, a territory which is not and has never been part of the state of Israel. Moreover, Ariel is a special kind of location: it is an armed enclave, created by armed force and dependent for its continued existence on force, and force alone.

          The creation of Ariel is a severe violation of international law, specifically of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which specifically forbids an occupying power from transferring and settling its own citizens in the occupied territory. On the ground, the creation and maintenance of Ariel entailed and continues to entail untold hardships to the Palestinians who happen to live in the nearby town of Salfit and in numerous villages a long distance all around. Palestinian inhabitants are exposed to ongoing confiscation of their land so as to feed the land hunger of the ever-expending Ariel settlement, and their daily life are subjected to increasingly stringent travel limitations in the name of “preserving the settlers’ security”.

          The government-approved plans to extend the “Separation Fence” so as to create a corridor linking Ariel to the Israeli border necessitate the confiscation of yet more vast tracts of Palestinian land, depriving thousands of villagers of their sole source of livelihood. Moreover, should the Ariel corridor be completed, it would cut deeply through the territory which the international community earmarked for creation of a Palestinian state, depriving that state of territorial continuity and viability. For that reason, the plan aroused widespread international opposition, not least from the United States, our main ally on the international arena.

          In all of this the Bar Ilan University, of which you are president, made itself a major partner – indeed, since a violation of international law is involved, the term “accomplice” may well be used. The “Judea and Samaria College” which you and your colleagues established and nurtured has a central role in the settlement of Ariel, increasing its population and its economic clout. The college’s faculty and students are prime users of the “Trans-Samaria Road”, the four-lane highway which was created on confiscated Palestinian land in order to provide quick transportation to Ariel. The Palestinian villagers on whose land this highway was built are excluded from using it. They are relegated to a rugged, bumpy mountain trail.

          It is you and your colleagues, Professor Kaveh, who started mixing academics with politics. A very heavy mixture, such as few universities anywhere ever engaged in. You cannot really complain when people in Britain, who have different standards for what is the proper moral behavior of academics (or for human beings in general) take action which you do not like. In fact, if you are truly proud of establishing and maintaining the “Judea and Samaria College”, you must have the courage of your convictions and take the consequences. Much better, of course, would be for you and your colleagues to sever your connection with the ill-conceived settlement project – and than you can quite rightly demand that the boycott be removed from your university.


          Uri Avnery
          Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Bloc)

          1. Yes but…
            I appreciate your perspective, and your questions, and Avnery’s words. I’ll grant that the boycott’s critics are glossing over how targeted it is, although I remain disgusted, like Kimmerling, by the idea of making Israeli academics sign statements disavowing the occupation (and if Palestinians were asked to sign statements disavowing suicide bombing, I’d be every bit as disgusted). Reminds me of Dan Okrent’s comment about If Americans Knew, how they’ve called for Jewish NYT reporters to be taken off the Middle East beat. And we wonder why charges of anti-Semitism get hurled around.

            Bottom line: Reinhardt’s statement — “It is only because at the moment there is a greater likelihood of success in stopping a small state, that Israel became the focus” — is so totally disingenuous. (Is this what Bill was getting at?) Israel is the left’s favorite demon and everyone knows it. It’s been “the focus” since ’67, if not ’48.

            Should Israel be criticized, protested? Damn right. But I question the motives of those so ready to penalize Israeli people, and also, can you point me to the AUT’s condemnations of Egyptian or Malaysian tramplings of human rights and academic freedom? Maybe such condemnations exist, I don’t know.

            1. Yeah I’m paranoid, what about Jew?
              Yes, that’s what Bill was getting at, tho I am willing to concede the possibility that Reinhart is deluded rather than disingenuous, or even that I’m just paranoid. I think I come out supporting academic sanctions–despite the double standard–as long as the Israeli academy remains officially silent on Israeli academics’ complicity with illegal settlement activities. In other words, I am willing to err on the side of Reinhart being right about what explains the double standard. But damned if I am going to be silent about the double standards, or my misgivings. And intellectual bullying of the type recently witnessed on this website has only deepened those misgivings (way to go, guys).

              My paranoia has always served me well, thank you very much, and I ain’t giving it up.

  2. I am blue
    I’m also troubled by the passing-the-litmus test thing. I’m even more troubled by your comparing it with making sure Palestinians don’t support suicide bombings. It’s one of those subtle ways of describing the conflict as being of two equal sides with merely competing claims. The occupation is state-run and the state-run Israeli university system serves to justify it, and propogandize the state’s actions. Suicide bombing, a deplorable crime, is a symptom of the occupation, a reaction fostered by the violent repression. As former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg put it in an Aug. 29, 2003 article in the Forward:

    Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.

    We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below – from the wells of hatred and anger, from the “infrastructures” of injustice and moral corruption.

    Take away the occupation, a young friend in Jayyous told me, and Hamas will melt away like ice cream.

    As Pappe puts it in an interview with Ha’aretz:

    “The boycott on academia is part of a growing boycott that isn’t reported on – of Israeli products, Israeli singers. The boycott reached academia because academia in Israel chose to be official, national. Prof. Yehuda Shenhav checked into it and found that out of 9,000 members of academia in Israel, only 30-40 are actively engaged in reading significant criticism, and a smaller number, just three or four, are teaching their students in a critical manner about Zionism and so on. Academia has chosen to be the official Israeli propaganda.”

    Is the situation really that extreme?

    “Certainly. Academia is Israel’s most important ambassador in making the claim that we are the only democracy in the Middle East. And there’s another thing – which might make the Israeli elite think differently about its self-image as a Western society. If wherever an Israeli goes, he is told officially: `You aren’t really part of the West. You’re not part of enlightened society. You really belong to the unenlightened world’ – This is an important message to Israelis. They established this Western, or pseudo-Western, island in the midst of the Middle East, and it is very much dependent on what the Europeans, not just the Americans, think of us.

    As for your comment that Israel is “the left’s favorite demon,” here I quote journalist Gabriel Ash: “If Israel does not wish to be demonized, it should stop behaving demonically.”

    I don’t know if AUT criticizes Malaysia or Egypt or anywhere else. The boycott was the initiative of two Jewish academics, Stephen and Hilary Rose. I don’t know if they are lefties or liberals or what. Maybe this is AUT’s first political action; no idea. I do know that the same arguments were used during the grass-roots movement which ended in sanctions against apartheid South Africa: that sanctions had to be applied to every other nasty regime, including the Soviet Union, China, or it was illegitimate & hypocritical.

    The other main AUT agent provocateur mentioned most frequently in the press is Sue Blackwell. To her credit, at her website she has a section dedicated to identifying Nazis who try to hijack the Palestine movement, including David Irving and Israel Shamir.

    1. Two questions
      Am I to assume you are being tongue-in-cheek when you call Blackwell an “agent provocateur”?

      And what is Israel Shamir’s trip, I hesitate to ask?

        1. NYT on the boycott
          David — You asked about AUT’s motives. Sue Blackwell, who tabled the boycott motion, said:

          the move was taken because the Palestinian organizations asked for it. Had a similar call been issued by groups in Cuba, China or Sudan, she said, it might also have been heeded.

          A note about this Times article; it makes it sound like Katz’s findings about civlian deaths in Tantura were completely discredited. That is not so. Kimmerling concluded that Katz’ methodology was flawed, but that his findings were essentially correct.

          The following is from the website of Zochrot, an Israeli group dedicated to the memory of the Naqba:

          Sheikh Mohamed Nimr al Khatib, a well known Imam of Haifa, in his book “Nakbat Palestine”, published in 1951, reported the following moving testimony by Al-Tantoura witness, Marwan Iqab Al-Yihya, whose house-structure is still standing. The witness said:

          “I was working in Haifa and after its fall, I returned to my village Tantoura where I was born. The Jews attacked and occupied Kafr Lam in the north, and Ceasaria (Kisarya) to the south. To the east, there was Zikhron Yacoub colony and to the west, the sea. We were surrounded. The people decided to resist, more so because they were the last Arab village. On the night of 22/23 May the Jews attacked from 3 sides and landed in boats from the seaside. We resisted in the streets and houses and in the morning the corpses were seen everywhere. I shall never forget this day all my life. The Jews gathered all women and children in a place, where they dumped all bodies, for them to see their dead husbands, fathers and brothers and terrorize them, but they remained calm.

          They gathered men in another place, took them in groups and shot them dead. When women heard this shooting, they asked their Jewish guard about it. He replied we are taking revenge for our dead. One officer selected 40 men and took them to the village square. Each four were taken aside. They shoot one, and order the other three to dump his body in a big pit. Then they shoot another and the other two carry his body to the pit and so on.

          See also: Second time round for boycott debate, UK Guardian

          May 8, 2005

          Professors in Britain Vote to Boycott 2 Israeli Schools


          LONDON, May 7 – Acting in response to an appeal by 60 Palestinian organizations, Britain’s leading higher education union has voted to boycott two Israeli universities.

          The boycott, which has prompted outrage in Israel, the United States and Britain, would bar Israeli faculty members at Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University from taking part in academic conferences or joint research with their British colleagues.

          The resolution on the boycott, passed by the Association of University Teachers in late April, would allow an exception only for those academics at the two schools who declare opposition to Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

          The move has so angered Jewish groups in the United States that one organization, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, is considering calling on American universities to carry out a counterboycott against British universities.

          “This is unreal,” said Abraham H. Foxman, its national director. “These are not ignorant peasants or extremist ideologues. They are intellectuals teaching future generations to respect, to dialogue and to cooperate, and they are saying boycott the Jews again.”

          “What about those who are suffering in Cuba and China and Rwanda?” he asked. “Where is the support to deal with Sudan?”

          Critics of the boycott have denounced it in newspapers, on the Internet and in government declarations as antithetical to academic freedom, ill-timed, misguided and, at worst, anti-Semitic. Both sides see it as part of a larger trend of increasing pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied lands.

          Last year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) opted to begin divesting from companies that it believes benefit from the Israeli occupation. A similar call is being considered by the United Church of Christ.

          But Britain and the rest of Europe tend to be considerably more outspoken in their support of Palestinians and in opposition to the Israeli occupation. A sponsor of the boycott proposal, Sue Blackwell, an English professor at the University of Birmingham, said the move was taken because the Palestinian organizations asked for it. Had a similar call been issued by groups in Cuba, China or Sudan, she said, it might also have been heeded.

          “Delegates were moved by the pictures we showed of Palestinian families being evicted,” she said. “They were moved by stories of attacks on a Jewish Israeli academic. They were moved by an account of the settlements and what they are doing in making a Palestinian state impossible. It was a response to the overall plight of the Palestinian people.”

          At the conference, delegates were told of the difficulty Palestinians face traveling from the occupied territories to Israeli universities; learned about a college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, which bars Palestinians; and heard about the treatment of a professor, Dr. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli Jew who is an outspoken anti-Zionist. Parallels were drawn between Israel and South Africa, where education was racially segregated under apartheid.

          Using language lifted from a Palestinian call to action, the British motions framed the boycott as a “contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.”

          Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which pushed for the union vote in Britain, said comparing Israeli occupation to South African apartheid was a fair parallel. While Palestinians are not officially barred from Israeli universities, they are effectively kept out, he said.

          “Palestinian academics have been denied the right to move, to travel and often to teach due to occupation policies,” Mr. Barghouti said.

          “They have been effectively subject to a de facto boycott for decades,” he said. “Aren’t they part of the academic community that deserves academic freedom?”

          But some academics in Britain said severing ties to Israeli universities was counterproductive because they provided opportunities to air differences and hold debate.

          “We think to target Israeli universities is to target some of the places that have some of the most open spaces in Israel, spaces that are against the occupation and against anti-Arab racism, spaces where Jews and Palestinians learn together,” said David Hirsh, a professor of sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, who opposes the Israeli occupation but is working to overturn the boycott.

          “A lot of people who support this are motivated by an understandable want or wish to help Palestinians,” he said. “What we have also said is that the union has adopted a position that is effectively anti-Semitic because it has chosen to hold the Israeli Jewish academics responsible for the actions of their state and university administrators, when the union doesn’t hold any other academic in the world responsible in that way.”

          Neil Goldstein, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said the boycott evoked “the sorts of techniques that were used to try to deny Jews the right to participate in academic life in prewar Germany.”

          British professors have declined to work with individual Israeli academics in the past, and a number of student unions have taken up the boycott cause. In 2002, a professor at a university in Manchester fired two Israeli academics from journals that she owned, saying that although they were friends, they represented the state of Israel. In 2003, an Oxford professor denied a student at Tel Aviv University permission to work in his laboratory because the student had served in the Israeli Army.

          In Britain, where some leading academics, including some Nobel Prize winners, have been highly critical of the boycott, 25 union members are trying to overturn it. They petitioned last week for an emergency council meeting, which now has been called for May 26 in order to hold another debate and a new vote.

          The approval of the boycott appeared to surprise even its framers; it had failed in 2003 and was opposed by the academic union’s executive board. This time, the authors of the motions narrowed the boycott to select universities and underscored its endorsements by Palestinian organizations, including the Palestinian higher education trade union.

          Haifa University was singled out because Dr. Pappe, who teaches there, maintains that he has faced harsh treatment for his views, particularly for supporting a student’s 1999 master’s thesis charging that Israeli soldiers massacred Palestinians in the village of Tantura during the 1948 war. The explosive paper was examined both by a university panel and by Israeli courts; all concluded the charges were not substantiated in the thesis. The court also found that some quotations in the thesis had been altered.

          Critics of the boycott say punishing Haifa University is a particularly inappropriate way to pressure Israel, because it is one of the country’s most integrated institutions, with Israeli Arabs making up about 20 percent of its student body.

          Bar-Ilan University became a target of the boycott because it recognizes credits from the College of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. Palestinians are barred from the settlement, and thus, the college. The British academic union judged that Bar-Ilan had made itself “directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories.”

          Just last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon elevated its status to university, a move that riled many Israeli academics and was widely viewed as a gambit to strengthen settlements in occupied territory.

          1. one last reply…
            Just want to clarify — I was not arguing for Isr/Pal “symmetry” with my remark about disavowing suicide bombers, I was merely envisioning a flip-side scenario for the sake of argument.

            In my view, there’s no getting around the following truth, uttered by David Hirsh in the NYT article:
            “…[AUT] has chosen to hold the Israeli Jewish academics responsible for the actions of their state and university administrators, when the union doesn’t hold any other academic in the world responsible in that way.” Emphasis on the latter clause.