UK Politics

Shalom Lappin: Opposing the Boycott

Read Shalom Lappin’s piece at Normblog:

It is important to understand precisely what the PACBI boycott call entails. It is not an instrument for criticizing Israeli government policy or an effort to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory beyond its 1967 borders. This movement does not seek a peace between Israelis and Palestinians within the framework of a two-state solution. It is an integral part of a rejectionist programme to dismantle Israel as a country. The architects of the campaign to support the PACBI boycott call within the UCU are perfectly aware of its nature, and have never concealed its objectives.

The boycott campaign is largely the preserve of political extremists. That it has proven so resilient and effective in penetrating professional unions is due to the fact that it has encountered little active resistance within the mainstream. This is part of a larger pattern in which the obsessive hatred and demonization of Israel as a country has moved from the margins of the far right and the far left into the broad centre of public discourse through an ongoing stream of negative comment in the press. While much of this comment contains entirely legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies and actions, the image of Israel as an irredeemably criminal country has gained increasing currency across the political spectrum. This image now informs a set of largely unquestioned assumptions that define the parameters for much discussion on the Middle East in Britain.

People who do not share these assumptions have remained largely silent and aloof from the debate. Senior political leaders, labour union officials, journalists, cultural figures, academics, and university administrators have done little if anything to counteract the rise of the narrative that identifies Israel as a latter day junior Nazi state, even when issuing the occasional pious criticism. The rank-and-file memberships of the UCU and other unions have tired of the boycott spectacle, convinced that it has nothing to do with them. Most now simply stand aside, allowing the boycott advocates to stampede their conferences. As a result, small groups like Engage and their supporters have been left largely on their own to struggle against this narrative. The Jewish community, with its historically timid leadership, has offered low-key support from the sidelines, but it continues to avoid seriously confronting the problem, in the hope that it will subside, as in the past.

Shalom suggests two ways forward.

First, we should encourage our colleagues and all organizations (in Britain and abroad) to break their ties with any union or agency that adopts a boycott resolution of the kind that UCU or the NUJ has passed. We should include in the class of such resolutions those aimed at Israel in general, rather than, say, the products of settlements in the occupied territories. We are concerned with boycotts that deny Israel’s legitimacy and conform to the Arab League model, rather than targeted boycotts aimed at particular Israeli practices. It is also imperative that the counter-boycott not be applied to individuals, regardless of their political views or their support of the boycott. Its focus should be institutions and organizations that engage in discriminatory behaviour.

Second, we should invite agencies and institutions that have not declared their position on the boycott to adopt a policy of non-discrimination that excludes the primary provisions of the boycott. In January 2003 the Linguistics Society of America adopted a non-discrimination statement in response to the first (unsuccessful) AUT boycott motion earlier that year. Its text offers a model for such a policy.

Linguistic Society of America

Resolution: opposition to all discrimination and political sanctions against scholars on the basis of religion or ethnicity

3 January 2003: Approved by members attending the 77th Annual Business Meeting, Atlanta Hilton, Atlanta, Georgia

1 July 2003: Adopted by LSA membership in a mail ballot

Whereas there have been calls for and instances of boycotts of individual scholars (faculty, students, and administration) and their universities, in response to the actions and policies of the governments of the countries or regions where these scholars work, or to the scholars’ religion or ethnicity,

Let it be resolved that the Linguistic Society of America opposes all discrimination and political sanctions against scholars in any aspect of professional life (such as employment, publications, promotion, conference participation, educational exchanges, and research collaboration), where such discrimination is based not on the conduct of the scholars themselves, but solely on the scholars’ religion or ethnicity, or on the actions or policies of the countries or regions in which these scholars live and work, or of which they are citizens. Such boycotts violate the principle of free scientific interaction and cooperation, and they constitute arbitrary and selective applications of collective punishment.

This statement provides an economical, but effective defence against discrimination directed at Israeli academics under cover of the boycott. It does not mention the boycott or Israel, and so it can be used against a campaign directed at any national group and seeking to exclude people on the basis of their citizenship or country of residence. It is a natural extension of existing anti-discrimination laws that rule out unequal treatment for racial, religious, ethnic, or sexual reasons. Refusal to endorse a suitably customized version of this statement can reasonably be taken as evidence of support for the boycott. Therefore, an organization that will not commit itself to this policy should be subject to the counter-boycott.

Do you agree with Shalom?

More on combatting the extreme Left’s boycott campaign at Engage.