Do Academic Boycotts Work? Noam Chomsky, Jackson Lears and Nada Elia debate how best to pressure Israel

IN JULY 2005, 173 PALESTINIAN NGOs came together and, invoking U.N. resolutions and the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, called for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.” So the movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) was launched.

Today, following the conflict in Gaza last summer and the continuing expansion of settlements on the West Bank, the debate has shifted from whether a boycott is needed to what kind. A boycott of companies such as SodaStream that benefit from the occupation of the West Bank? A prohibition against investing in any company in Israel or the Occupied Territories that is not involved in “peaceful pursuits;’ as is the policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? Or a boycott of Israeli academic institutions?

It is the proposal for an academic boycott that has drawn most of the press in the United States. In December 2013, the American Studies Association voted to join the academic boycott of Israel.

In These Times, discussed the merits of an academic boycott with three academics: Nada Elia, a diaspora Palestinian born in Baghdad and raised in Beirut, and professor of global and gender studies at Antioch University-Seattle; Jackson Lears, a professor of history at Rutgers University and the editor in chief of Raritan, A Quarterly Review; and Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT.

Nada, what are supporters of an academic boycott, as part of the BDS movement, hoping to accomplish?

NADA: We are engaging in an academic boycott to improve the daily circumstances of Palestinians whose rights are being violated. Israel is a settler-colonial state occupying Palestine. There is a system of extreme oppression, disenfranchisement and dispossession. If we agree that Israel violates the human rights of Palestinians, what can we do about it? The idea of BDS comes from its record of success in past situations of oppression and apartheid, like in South Africa.

JACKSON: I understand the need for the BDS movement and the frustration that Palestinians must feel in what major media still call the “peace process.” But boycotting ideas is different than boycotting products produced by settlers. Many Israelis who are horrified by the actions of their government are in universities. Israeli universities, for all of their complicity with the Israeli military industrial complex, remain a sheltering ground for people who are eager to promote the justice of the Palestinian cause. It would be a big mistake to increase their sense of beleaguerment.

NOAM: BDS is perfectly legitimate and has had considerable success. But is an academic boycott the right tactic? During the Vietnam War, the political science department at MIT was directly involved in developing counterinsurgency techniques. MIT was also the main academic center for resistance against the War. Would an academic boycott of MIT have been appropriate in the 1960s? I certainly didn’t think so. An academic boycott on Israel is one of the least effective tactics that one could think of. It shifts attention from the oppression of the Palestinians, and in particular our crucial role in it as Americans, to the question of academic freedom.

Nada, how would you respond to that?

NADA: The defense of academic freedom is a privileging of a freedom that Palestinians do not have. Palestinians do not have the right to go to conferences, the right to education. BDS is very much a tactic that educates people about the daily lives of Palestinians and that reinforces the fact that protecting the academic freedom of the few is basically protecting their privileges.

We are totally in conversation with Israeli academics who are endorsers of the academic boycott. We are boycotting complicit institutions. It’s not an individual boycott.

JACKSON: I’m not sure everyone who supports the academic boycott makes the same careful distinctions. The American Studies Association boycott has in fact prevented a Ph.D. student at the American Studies program at Tel-Aviv University, a Palestinian, an Arab citizen of Israel, from recruiting qualified outside readers to review his thesis.

Universities have always functioned to reproduce the existing social order, but, as Noam points out, they’ve also functioned somewhat paradoxically to shelter critics and dissidents against that social order. If we’re talking about educating Americans, members of the Israeli Left from Israeli universities ought to be encouraged to come here and not be made to feel that because of the actions of their government, they, too, are complicit.

NADA: The fact that it is impacting some people is not a critique of an academic boycott, it’s a statement of success. Academic boycotts have an impact, and they have to have teeth to be felt. The boycott of South Africa was felt by the South Africans. And yes, as Jackson said, some Israelis are outspoken about Israel’s violations. We embrace them. But the ones most qualified to educate people are the oppressed. It’s like saying a white person is the best qualified to speak about apartheid. No, the victims of apartheid are the best qualified.

NOAM: If one thinks an academic boycott is a relevant tactic, why not boycott American universities that are involved in the U.S. role in Israel? Nobody proposes that, and we have to ask why. The answer is because it will neither have a positive effect on policy, nor will it help educate and engage people in the United States to become more involved in a constructive way.

The issue with regard to Palestine is not just Israeli policy, it’s U.S. government policy. If there’s going to be a change in policy with regard to the Palestinians, the U.S. role is the one aspect of policy that we can hope to influence directly.

NADA: We cannot look to the U.S. government, except as an enabler of Israeli atrocities. When we know that, what are our alternatives if not something grassroots?

Noam and Jackson, if not an academic boycott, what tactics do you think would be more effective?

NOAM: Tactics such as boycotting products from the Occupied Territories-and maybe going as far as the European Union directive to break all contacts with institutions involved in the Territories. Or a targeted boycott aimed at Ariel University, which is right in the middle of the West Bank. That’s a tactic that can help people understand what the issues are in the West Bank and be effective in policy terms.

NADA: Our role is to bring the focus back to the actual subject matter, which is the human rights of the Palestinians. At the same time, I would not say that an academic boycott as a concept is at fault. I would say it is the climate in the United States that has shifted toward a discussion of academic freedom because it is more comfortable to speak about academic freedom. Ariel University is a product of the Israeli government. Ariel is the fruit; we are looking at the tree. An academic boycott is simply part of BDS, and BDS keeps pointing the finger at Israel, not at the United States and not at Ariel. There would be no Ariel if it weren’t for Israeli policy.

NOAM: And U.S. policy. Therefore, we should design tactics that focus on Israeli and U.S. policies and don’t shift attention to something more comfortable and irrelevant. And there are plenty of choices that do not have that negative consequence.

JACKSON: We need to address tactics that will effectively challenge the default setting of American public discourse, which is uncritically pro-Israel. The American intelligensia, such as it is, is going to take Israeli professors and intellectuals seriously as critics of their own society. These critics of Israel policy inside Israel, like Michael Zakim, who teaches American history at Tel Aviv University, are willing to make a more powerful case than anyone in the U.S. government seems willing to make.

NOAM: The ones I know, at least, don’t regard the academic boycott as a sensible tactic. Unlike other BDS tactics, like boycotting products of settlements, such as SodaStream.

NADA: None of these are mutually exclusive with an academic boycott.

NOAM: Well, you can’t do everything, so you have to prioritize the things that are effective. In the case of South Africa, the educational and organizational groundwork was carried out extensively and successfully before targeted academic boycotts were implemented, and that’s crucial. That hasn’t been done here yet. We have a lot to do.

NADA: We have a lot to do, absolutely.

JACKSON: We can all agree on that.

March 2015

Do Academic Boycotts Work?;

Noam Chomsky, Jackson Lears and Nada Elia debate how best to pressure Israel

BYLINE: BY JOEL BLEIFUSS

SECTION: ACT LOCALLY; ROUNDTABLE; Pg. 8 Vol. 39 No. 3

LENGTH: 1420 words

Former Mossad Chief: For the first time, I fear for the future of Zionism (Haaretz)

vp-id-opchart-final-en-20140515

The nation of Israel is galloping blindly toward Bar Kochba’s war on the Roman Empire. The result of that conflict was 2,000 years of exile.

By Shabtai Shavit

Haaretz — Nov. 24, 2014

From the beginning of Zionism in the late 19th century, the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel has been growing stronger in terms of demography and territory, despite the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. We have succeeded in doing so because we have acted with wisdom and stratagem rather than engaging in a foolish attempt to convince our foes that we were in the right.

Today, for the first time since I began forming my own opinions, I am truly concerned about the future of the Zionist project. I am concerned about the critical mass of the threats against us on the one hand, and the government’s blindness and political and strategic paralysis on the other. Although the State of Israel is dependent upon the United States, the relationship between the two countries has reached an unprecedented low point. Europe, our biggest market, has grown tired of us and is heading toward imposing sanctions on us. For China, Israel is an attractive high-tech project, and we are selling them our national assets for the sake of profit. Russia is gradually turning against us and supporting and assisting our enemies.

Anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel have reached dimensions unknown since before World War II. Our public diplomacy and public relations have failed dismally, while those of the Palestinians have garnered many important accomplishments in the world. University campuses in the West, particularly in the U.S., are hothouses for the future leadership of their countries.

We are losing the fight for support for Israel in the academic world. An increasing number of Jewish students are turning away from Israel. The global BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) against Israel, which works for Israel’s delegitimization, has grown, and quite a few Jews are members.

In this age of asymmetrical warfare we are not using all our force, and this has a detrimental effect on our deterrent power.

The debate over the price of Milky pudding snacks and its centrality in public discourse demonstrate an erosion of the solidarity that is a necessary condition for our continued existence here. Israelis’ rush to acquire a foreign passport, based as it is on the yearning for foreign citizenship, indicates that people’s feeling of security has begun to crack.

I am concerned that for the first time, I am seeing haughtiness and arrogance, together with more than a bit of the messianic thinking that rushes to turn the conflict into a holy war. If this has been, so far, a local political conflict that two small nations have been waging over a small and defined piece of territory, major forces in the religious Zionist movement are foolishly doing everything they can to turn it into the most horrific of wars, in which the entire Muslim world will stand against us.

I also see, to the same extent, detachment and lack of understanding of international processes and their significance for us. This right wing, in its blindness and stupidity, is pushing the nation of Israel into the dishonorable position of “the nation shall dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9).

I am concerned because I see history repeating itself. The nation of Israel is galloping blindly in a time tunnel to the age of Bar Kochba and his war on the Roman Empire. The result of that conflict was several centuries of national existence in the Land of Israel followed by 2,000 years of exile.

I am concerned because as I understand matters, exile is truly frightening only to the state’s secular sector, whose world view is located on the political center and left. That is the sane and liberal sector that knows that for it, exile symbolizes the destruction of the Jewish people. The Haredi sector lives in Israel only for reasons of convenience. In terms of territory, Israel and Brooklyn are the same to them; they will continue living as Jews in exile, and wait patiently for the arrival of the Messiah.

The religious Zionist movement, by comparison, believes the Jews are “God’s chosen.” This movement, which sanctifies territory beyond any other value, is prepared to sacrifice everything, even at the price of failure and danger to the Third Commonwealth. If destruction should take place, they will explain it in terms of faith, saying that we failed because “We sinned against God.” Therefore, they will say, it is not the end of the world. We will go into exile, preserve our Judaism and wait patiently for the next opportunity.

I recall Menachem Begin, one of the fathers of the vision of Greater Israel. He fought all his life for the fulfillment of that dream. And then, when the gate opened for peace with Egypt, the greatest of our enemies, he gave up Sinai – Egyptian territory three times larger than Israel’s territory inside the Green Line – for the sake of peace. In other words, some values are more sacred than land. Peace, which is the life and soul of true democracy, is more important than land.

I am concerned that large segments of the nation of Israel have forgotten, or put aside, the original vision of Zionism: to establish a Jewish and democratic state for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. No borders were defined in that vision, and the current defiant policy is working against it.

What can and ought to be done? We need to create an Archimedean lever that will stop the current deterioration and reverse today’s reality at once. I propose creating that lever by using the Arab League’s proposal from 2002, which was partly created by Saudi Arabia. The government must make a decision that the proposal will be the basis of talks with the moderate Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The government should do three things as preparation for this announcement: 1) It should define a future negotiating strategy for itself, together with its position on each of the topics included in the Arab League’s proposal. 2) It should open a secret channel of dialogue with the United States to examine the idea, and agree in advance concerning our red lines and about the input that the U.S. will be willing to invest in such a process. 3) It should open a secret American-Israeli channel of dialogue with Saudi Arabia in order to reach agreements with it in advance on the boundaries of the topics that will be raised in the talks and coordinate expectations. Once the secret processes are completed, Israel will announce publicly that it is willing to begin talks on the basis of the Arab League’s document.

I have no doubt that the United States and Saudi Arabia, each for its own reasons, will respond positively to the Israeli initiative, and the initiative will be the lever that leads to a dramatic change in the situation. With all the criticism I have for the Oslo process, it cannot be denied that for the first time in the conflict’s history, immediately after the Oslo Accords were signed, almost every Arab country started talking with us, opened its gates to us and began engaging in unprecedented cooperative ventures in economic and other fields.

Although I am not so naïve as to think that such a process will bring the longed-for peace, I am certain that this kind of process, long and fatiguing as it will be, could yield confidence-building measures at first and, later on, security agreements that both sides in the conflict will be willing to live with. The progress of the talks will, of course, be conditional upon calm in the security sphere, which both sides will be committed to maintaining. It may happen that as things progress, both sides will agree to look into mutual compromises that will promote the idea of coexisting alongside one another. If mutual trust should develop – and the chances of that happening under American and Saudi Arabian auspices are fairly high – it will be possible to begin talks for the conflict’s full resolution as well.

An initiative of this kind requires true and courageous leadership, which is hard to identify at the moment. But if the prime minister should internalize the severity of the mass of threats against us at this time, the folly of the current policy, the fact that this policy’s creators are significant elements in the religious Zionist movement and on the far right, and its devastating results – up to the destruction of the Zionist vision – then perhaps he will find the courage and determination to carry out the proposed action.

I wrote the above statements because I feel that I owe them to my parents, who devoted their lives to the fulfillment of Zionism; to my children, my grandchildren and to the nation of Israel, which I served for decades.

The author is a former director general of the Mossad.  SOURCE  http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.628038

John Legend Welcome to Join Cultural Boycott of Israel & not Grovel

John Legend expressed disapproval of Israeli lobby.
John Legend expressed disapproval of Israeli lobby.

John Legend is welcome to join the Cultural Boycott of Israel.  On 30 July, he tweeted “So sick watching our Secretary of State have to grovel so hard to tell Israel how much he loves them while Israeli cabinet shits on him.”  

John Kerry is not unlike some musicians, who also grovel for the apartheid state.  Lady Gaga, Elton John and Madonna all played for Israel, ignoring the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott.  No doubt Legend will be asked to play in Tel Aviv, but from all accounts it looks as if he won’t grovel.  

See http://www.PACBI.org for more information on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Bianca Jagger Tweets Her Support For Gaza

Bianca Jagger, with over 42,000 followers on twitter, tweeted “Israel must stop the killing and destruction RT Gaza’s 9/11: Israel destroys highrise building in #Gaza (LINK)”  Bianca jagger is enthusiastically invited to join the PACBI’s Call for a Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel.  

Boycott israel: Bianca Jagger
Boycott Israel: Bianca Jagger’s tweet on 8/23

“That’s for cancelling the BackstreetBoys, you scum!” message by IOF on bomb

Israeli.bomb.Backstreet.boy.gig

(July 26, 2014) During the Israeli massacre of Gaza, the IOF (Israeli Offense Forces) write in Hebrew on a military shell that’s about enter Gaza to butcher another child: “That’s for cancelling the BackstreetBoys, you scum!”

Join the boycott movement and SIGN onto this new petition asking the band NOT to reschedule.

Presently the twitter hashtag #ICC4Israel is trending, with people all over the world demanding that Israel face the International Criminal Court.  (SEE https://twitter.com/search?q=%23ICC4Israel%20international%20criminal%20court&src=tyah)

HT to Ronnie Barkan for the photo on twitter.

For more see  http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/israeli-canceling-backstreet.html

#BDS is tragedy turned into action. #Boycott #Israel

Scattered boycott efforts with no coordinated campaign efforts may not have the numbers needed to create a successful outcome.  On the one hand, it may make me feel good to displace Israeli apartheid cheese into the diaper aisle, confounding the store workers when they have to restock the item.  But on the other hand, joining in national and even international efforts for a boycott has big advantages.  One such international boycott effort is of Israeli “AHAVA” cosmetics made from stolen minerals in the Dead Sea.  AHAVA products are on sale at huge chains such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, ULTA Beauty Shops and Macy’s Dept. Stores as well as stores in Europe.  Boycott efforts have been in progress for years now.   The SODASTREAM boycott is another example, with highly publicized efforts in the press.  The BDS Movement states:

Trying to boycott the products of every single company that participates in Israeli apartheid is a daunting task that has a slim change of having a concrete impact.

It makes more sense to focus on optimal targets that are being targeted as part of national or international campaigns. Consumer boycotts are most effective when part of a broader campaign against a particular product or aiming to pressure a retailer to stop selling a particular Israeli product.

To join in campaigns that are focused, navigate through these websites:

http://www.bdsmovement.net/get-involved

http://www.endtheoccupation.org/section.php?id=203

http://www.pacbi.org/

AHAVA boycott

AHAVA boycott

Israel commits crime of apartheid: "Inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

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