Anti Fascism

Howard Jacobson on the AUT Boycott of Israeli Universities


“In the boycott by the Association of University Teachers what has been expressed is not criticism or censure but villification. Criticism, the more particularly as university teachers should be expected to understand it, implies the free exchange of judgement and idea, the give and take – however harsh – of argument and counter-argument. Anything less is merely the closing of minds. And a boycott – especially a boycott of thinkers, scientists, philosophers, etc, those for whom open-mindedness should be paramount – is an expression of the closing of minds en masse.

There is some fancy abroad that where large numbers of people agree to close their minds together you have democracy in action. You don’t. What you have is mobilized prejudice.

In this instance, therefore, it is plain to me that the mantra ‘Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic’ has no bearing, because we are not confronted with any operation of judgement or debate to which the word ‘criticism’ approximates. ”

Hat tip: Engage


There are four statements on Normblog from prominent jewish academics who – whatever the prospects of overturning the ban – are simply not prepared to remain part of an organisation which has shown itself to be tolerant of racism directed at them.

Norm writes:

The strategic question of whether to fight on within an organization or to exert a different kind of pressure by leaving is always a matter of trying to estimate the likely consequences of alternative courses of action. What is not a matter of such estimation for me, but rather an issue of fundamental principle, is that of whether I can belong to an organization publicly committed to an anti-Semitic policy. This is what I judge the recent AUT decision to involve.

If the entire Jewish membership of the AUT resigned, there would still be enough people left in it to reverse the decision. And the Jewish resignations would put significant public pressure on everyone else in the Association to show that it is one fit for Jews to belong to – which at the moment has been put in question. So, though I respect the option of staying in and working to reverse the decision, I personally would have chosen to work for the same end by leaving.

I understand that reaction completely. I don’t think its for people who are not the subjects of a racist campaign to tell those who are how they should react. Others may, and indeed have, taken the different view that to allow political extremists to force all jews who are not themselves political extremists out of a union is to grant those extremists their victory.

It may be that the sight of racists driving jews out of a union will bring the union to its senses. I think it is more likely to be the subject of time limited hand wringing, and forgetting.

As a footnote, it is notable that racism directed against jews is customarily denied, ignored, or played down. In doing so, it is frequently the case that the denial of racism is accompanied by other, familiar, racist tropes: that jews are paranoid, that jews are clannish, that jews are prone to whining, and that jews need no protection because of their affluence and power. This is, I think, an aspect of the double standards on which this boycott campaign is premised.

It is not however the AUT, per se, which is a racist institution: it is the racists who have managed to gain a foothold in the AUT Council.

They Shall Not Pass