Dissecting the Anti-boycott rhetoric

The intelligent observer of anti-boycott arguments proposed by Israelis can only be surprised at the construction of these arguments. None of the arguments presented by this camp go into claiming that Israel does not deserve to be boycotted for its racism and continuous violations of human rights. The question that lingers is: what messages are being disseminated in this rhetoric? I will review some of the major themes that have persisted throughout the debate.
“If you want to boycott Israel, you should start by throwing away your mobile phone and personal computer, because there is a high likelihood that there components were developed in Israel!” The sad thing this is true Motorola, Intel, US Robotics, Texas Instruments all keep R&D centres in Israel, many of which are in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Indeed, these companies should be boycotted until they withdraw from their support for the occupation. However, the message sent by this statement can be read as: “Israel is wrong, but Israel is strong! So what are you going to do about it?” This message tries to convey that it is difficult to boycott Israel, and hence the world should just be complacent with its racist practices.
“Academic boycott is an attack on academic freedom!” Attacks on academic freedom are wrong, they should not happen. But in the larger scheme of things, the value of human life, equality and justice come far before academic freedom. The basis on which our societies are based and organised allows us to limit certain freedoms in order to maintain the more fundamental freedoms. That is why the society does not frown upon imprisoning a murderer, because it is done as a deterrent and punishment for more fundamental infringements on other people’s rights. In any case this argument, is mainly directed towards academic, making academic freedom seem much more valuable that any other freedom being denied to the Palestinians (including their academic freedom). Is this in a way saying that academic freedom of Israelis is more important the Palestinians right to life?
“We should build bridges for dialogue, not walls!” Coming from the same institutions that advocate 8 meter concrete walls this sounds ridiculous. This argument builds on the ideal of cultural tolerance and understanding in order to gain support for intolerable behaviour. Building bridges between civilisations and cultures is a worthy cause, but who would have thought of building bridges with the Latin American Juntas- ah, I know, the USA!
“The boycott is Anti-Semitic.” This one tries to build on the guilt factor. But it is completely untrue. The advocates of the boycott are clearly proposing very progressive agenda that is not targeting Jews, in fact some of the leaders of the movement are (self-hating?) Jews. The movement is clear on this line, and does not welcome anyone who tries to hijack the cause for Anti-Semitic purposes. The boycott is directed at Israel as a state and its actions, if this is Anti-Semitic.
“The academic boycott will harm the academia.” If academics boycott Israel, they will lose on the potential of joint research projects and potential funding. If this is not extortion, what is? This argument aims to outline personal losses for people who will participate in the boycott. But this is what activism is all about, no? When you stand up for a cause you are willing to lose a little in order to allow more communal gain. So the question that faces academics here: what’s better, ₤100K of possible funding, or contributing to enhancing the quality of life of an oppressed population? Of course, academics can chose either, but I really don’t want to be taught by someone who chooses the former. In fact, I don’t think such a person is capable of living up to his/her role as an academic.
“Why Israel? Look at Sudan in Darfur, Saudi Arabia and women rights, UK and US in Iraq….” Well, this argument is a nice one, of course all violations of human rights are not tolerated. But what this argument says is the opposite: If these folks can do it, we should be allowed to do it without being harassed. Twisted logic, no?
None of the messages above says that Israel is not wrong. If this was brought to a fair trial, all the evidence against Israel brought up, and all the Dorshowitz’s in the world came up with these arguments, no self respecting jury would say “not guilty”, and no self respecting judge would rule with anything less than a boycott.
This sort of attitude, and the acceptance of anti-boycott rhetoric on the part of the undecided majority and, more importantly, the active actors in the international community, can only be seen as a message that reads: “Israel is indeed wrong, but it is against our personal/national interests to undo this wrong.”


Anonymous said...

Ned - where your arguments fail is that the boycott movement never tried to reason through the other, more constructive options. Those who are monomaniacally preoccupied with Israel don't tend to consider any other options for supporting the Palestinians than boycott. Boycott is pretty tough, isn't it, but the beauty of it is that it's cheap too - most of us can do it from our armchair.

You seem to think that arguments against the boycott which acknowledge the very great wrongs Israel has perpetrated on the Palestinians are failed arguments. Why?

You're very confident about dismissing charges of antisemitism as a smokescreen. I'd like to know what you make, then, of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign's rejection of two motions against anti-semitism proposed by ardent pro-boycotters Sue Blackwell and Tony Greenstein (among others). What happened there?


I can accept your (minority) binational stance but not the rationale you give for it. A peaceful binational solution is going to depend on the confidence of Israeli Jews, who have a long, long memory for antisemitism. Your boycott does nothing to promote this confidence. Maybe you don't want a *peaceful* binational solution?

Ned said...

On the contrary, I dream of having passover dinner with my Jewish neighbours. I want a state for both of us to live in and benefit from.
I am somewhat cutt off the PSC since I left the UK. But I remember clearly that there were objections sounded by Mona Baker and Sue Blackwell and others as to how the PSC is handeling this issue. I can only align myself with this side.
If the Boycott is not helping build confidence, maybe you are right on this one. The boycott is a comfortable choice, to an extent: yes. But the problem is, you are not providing an alternative. and I cannot think of one that has not been tried. My thinking is that the Israeli society is benefiting from what Israel was and is doing. It lives of the(continuous) dispossession Palestinians. And unless there is some sort of a shock that would wake them up and tell them there is something inherently wrong in how they are building their state, security and life style, why would they change? It is in human nature that we see our needs as more important than other people's needs, not matter how basic these are. That's why I support the boycott, with the hope that when Israel reaches the conclusion that what has been done is wrong, they will also recognise that this (boycott) was the only choice left. A lot work will have to be done on reconciliation before this dream is true. The boycott will only be one part of this reconciliation along with the masaccares, the suicide bombings, the Wall.... and many other issues.

Nikol said...

Good point. And what do you think of, for example, Shoher's attitude like here http://samsonblinded.org/blog/save-darfur.htm ?