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08 February 2013


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And by sharing a platform with Mr. Barghouti, currently a PhD student at Tel Aviv University and therefore a participant in/beneficiary of the Israeli education system, could she not be said to be breaking the very boycott she seeks to impose? Or does Mr. Barghouti get her a free pass due his support for a boycott of his own institution, and indeed of himself?

One might even go futher, by sharing a platform with what, as they would see it, is a current member of an educational body that forms an integral part of the Zionist apparatus of repression, might more radical elements of the BDS movement not be within their rights to call for Ms. Butler herself to be boycotted on the grounds that she is a de facto collaborator with Zionism?

It all gets dashed complicated when you start to think about this boycott business.

John Protevi

I have no problem collaborating with Israeli scholars and artists as long as we do not participate in any Israeli institution or have Israeli state monies support our collaborative work.

You know, Tomatis, you probably should rethink your strategy of trying a Gotcha in comments to a post that refutes that very Gotcha.

Just trying to tease out the implications of this boycott that so many seem so enthused about. As you brought it up, I’d guess that the number of Israeli scholars that don’t receive money from the Israeli state (i.e., their salaries) is zero and the number of students (including Mr. Barghouti) in the Israeli educational system who don’t receive benefits of one sort or another from the Israeli state is also zero.
I daresay there are some Israeli artists that don’t receive direct state subsidies but they’ll have been educated in state institutions, performed in govt. owned spaces etc. etc.
So it would seem impossible to collaborate (if I may use that word) with all Israeli scholars and most artists without directly or indirectly benefiting from money the Israeli government has spent.
I guess it could be said she only means she won’t participate in projects that are *directly* funded by the Israeli state, in the form of money received directly from some ministry or whatever. If that’s what she means then it’s not clear how she’s in favor of any boycott at all, as the term is generally understood.
Oh and regarding the attempt to draw a distinction between scholars and their institutions, how’s that going to work? How come Mr. Barghouti, the PhD candidate at TAU, isn’t counted as forming part of the institution of TAU, as many BDSers would see it, an integral part of the satanic machinery of Zionism? Because he’s pro-BDS I suppose. Well, who’s going to decide who’s sufficiently pro-BDS not to be boycotted? What formula of words will have to be affirmed to cleanse one of one’s potential “boycottability”?
And a long series of et ceteras
As I said, it looks pretty complicated.

John Protevi

It took me 30 seconds on Google to find the PACBI statement on Barghouti and Tel Aviv University:

As for the first point, you seem unable to understand this phrase: "support our collaborative work." surely you don't think that Israeli state monies supported the Brooklyn College event in particular or the collaborative work that Butler and Barghouti do with BDS, do you? That would really be playing a long game!

Mohan Matthen

Tomatisblog @3: "the number of Israeli scholars that don’t receive money from the Israeli state (i.e., their salaries) is zero." This isn't quite correct. There are Israeli scholars who work outside of Israel. This, in part, is why I find Butler's "BDS does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship" a bit strange. It could mean that she doesn't discriminate against Israelis, provided that they don't work in Israel. This was the point of my University of Chicago example.

As for Barghouti, I suppose it's ok for somebody to say "boycott my university."

I’m familiar with PACBI and its views and I don’t regard them as morally or otherwise privileged or definitive. Anyway, I’ll not test your patience more, at least for the moment.

Fair enough, it had never occurred to me that BDS might be so conceived as to affect Israelis working outside Israel

John Protevi

So you can dream up whatever you want and foist those fantasies on the bogey you call BDS, but when I cite the group that Barghouti founded they are not definitive? Whatever.

As for your closing, that's really pitch-perfect passive-aggressive. So congrats on that, at least.

John Protevi

Hello Mohan, I think the most charitable reading of Butler's statement would be to exclude salaries and to restrict the sense of "support our collaborative work" to funding of specific projects.

Sergio Tenenbaum

Whether or not the academic boycott endorsed by Butler should have extended to her own event (I agree with John that it is unclear why it should), it is worth noting how extensive the boycott is, at least as stated. It includes, as Mohan points out, anyone who is a Faculty member in an Israeli University. I would think it would be completely inappropriate, not to mention extremely counterproductive, for a public university to take an official stand that woud alienate nearly half of the population is supposed to serve. It is also worth noting that, as stated, the boycott extends to members of the Department of Politics and Government at the Ben-Gurion University, whose department has been threatened of closure in a thinly veiled attempt by the Israeli government to punish Israeli academics who oppose the occupation. As far as I know, the Department (as opposed to many of its members) has never officially taken a stand against the occupation.

For the record: I thought there was nothing wrong with the Brooklyn event or its sponsorship by the Political Science department; I would never set foot at Ariel university, and I would not participate in an event sponsored by an institution that, like the Shalem Centre, I believe to have as one of its main goals to provide intellectual legitimacy for the occupation or to provide a safe academic background for right wing ideology. Yet I think that the kind of academic boycott proposed by Butler is unjust and politically unwise (to say the least).

Sergio Tenenbaum

Sorry, I hadn't refreshed my browser, and I didn't see John's comment just above mine. But I don't see how the charitable reading helps; even if we exclude salaries, most collaborative work will involve travel, institutional support, etc. that will be provide by the university and, very often, by grants from your institution or national granting agencies.

John Protevi

Hello Sergio, in a passage excerpted in this post -- -- Butler claims to maintain working relations with many Israeli scholars.

That doesn't say anything, of course, about the overall justice of the BDS movement; it's just to clarify what she has said about her stance.

Sergio Tenenbaum

John, "Israeli scholars" has the same ambiguity; I took her to mean scholars that have Israeli citizenship (this claim, after all, comes just after she says "I do not accept any version of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship,"). I do not think she is saying that she collaborates with Faculty from Israeli universities.

Mohan Matthen

John, I am not sure that what you offer is any kind of reading of what she says, charitable or not. It's more of a wish about what she might intend. But let that go. I don't think we should be reading her charitably or uncharitably. She has uttered some words. They have a reading that isn't very attractive. They also have a harmless reading. So a clarification would be welcome. Unfortunately, she isn't reading this blog.

And we'll never know.

Mark Lance

A couple points are worth noting here. First the academic boycott is a tiny part of the BDS movement, the part supported by the smallest portion of those who endorse the general strategy. (I personally think it would be better if people supported it, but since so few do, i focus whatever energy I have for the issue on the other elements, as do most activists on the issue.)

Second, responding to tomatis's typical contribution, saying that PACBI is not privileged in the interpretation of the call is like saying the ANC had no standing to define the SA divestment movement.

Third, sergio, I think your comment about the counterproductivity of universities taking a stand misses the point. I am not sure I agree, but let's stipulate that you are right. That doesn't mean that universities and the elements of them can't work actively to change the ongoing system of apartheid and dispossession. It effectively means that they would be pressured to do so. Want to be seen as part of the democratic western world? Then end apartheid. That is harsh, and coercive for sure. But it can have an effect. It is very important to the non-orthodox elements of Israeli society to be seen not as part of the middle east, but part of the West. This says that there is a cost for that. By ananolgy, no one expected that south african sports teams would integrate without a change of government. If any tried, they would have been put in jail. So it would be unreasonable to expect them to. Nonetheless, the call was to boycott non-integrated teams. End apartheid, and you can play sport with the rest of the world.

Yoram Hazony

Israel's universities are almost wholly funded by the Israeli government, and see themselves as being apolitical in principle. They are operated by actual people whose concerns are primarily for the advancement of science and knowledge, as well as of course personal professional advancement as well, which they see as being largely about maintaining or increasing government funding for science and knowledge. Trying to get their institutions to take political stands in general, and those that are opposed to government policy in particular, is not something that any Israeli university president or dean is realistically going to spend her or his time on. It's fantastic to think that institutions that see themselves as apolitical in principle are going to take on a political identity or function just because academics in other countries wish it.

By the way, isn't there some kind of an ethical issue about harming one person (Israeli scholar) to attempt to get her or him to apply pressure on a second person (elected official) to stop doing something you perceive as harmful to a third person?

Julie Klein

I fully support Brooklyn Colleges's decision to host speakers on the BDS movement.

Generally, I find the idea of academic boycotts counter-productive. Should we boycott Chinese scholars? Saudi Arabian scholars? American scholars who received money from an administration whose policies we find (or found) reprehensible? In the present case, the Israeli academy has always been the home of the political left, and the Israeli university system produces a very significant number of Arab PhDs, physicians, etc. If the BDS folks wanted to accomplish something concrete, they would advocate for more scholarship money for Palestinian students at major universities in Europe and the Americas.

Butler's position is equivocal. There is clearly some hairsplitting on the issue of receiving state support and some attempt to walk a line that could be articulated more clearly.

Mohan Matthen

Yoram @ 16, I am in broad agreement with what you say.

With regard to this:

isn't there some kind of an ethical issue about harming one person (Israeli scholar) to attempt to get her or him to apply pressure on a second person (elected official) to stop doing something you perceive as harmful to a third person?
I just want to observe, following Mark Lance @ 15, that the same sort of issue arose with regard to South Africa. In that instance, it was thought all things considered to be right to harm white South African athletes, many of whom might have been innocent, in order to apply pressure on elected officials (improperly elected in the case of South Africa, given apartheid) to stop harming non-whites. So though there is definitely an ethical issue, I don't think that it is an absolute presumption, and if the wrong done to the third person is sufficiently great, and the complicity of the first person non-negligible, the presumption of wrongness may be over-ridden. All things considered, however, I agree with you on this point. I just don't think that most Israeli academics are complicit in the wrongs done to Palestinians.

Mark Lance

It truly amazes me how people will accept wars, accept imprisonment of fathers - certainly hurts innocent children; accept government economic sanctions - any innocent people in Iran being harmed?, and then when the issue is a grassroots nonviolent movement to end decades of the destruction of a society, one that has involved the institution of apartheid as well as a long litany of crimes, they are suddenly absolutist on the principle that no innocent can be harmed in any way in the process of ending vastly greater harm. Of course when Yoram characterizes the destruction of Palestinian society as "something you perceive as harmful to a third person" it becomes hard not to simply dismiss him as someone who has no interest in a serious discussion of how to end these ongoing crimes, but leave that aside. The main point is that it is hard to imagine how one could possibly consistently implement the principle of never harming someone innocent to benefit others. In this case, we are talking not about destroying an economy - as in Iraq - or ripping apart a family, or killing hundreds of thousands, but simply socially shunning some people, thereby interfering with their career.

I don't think complicity is a necessary condition for the justifiability of minor harms for major benefits, but on the issue of complicity, much has been written. Almost every Israeli university is directly involved in either settlement expansion, or the security establishment that goes with it. So certainly a typical Israeli academic is more complicit than was a typical South African athlete.

And the bottom line for people who don't think the harm to Palestinians is merely a subjective matter is this: If you oppose Palestinian violence, and recognize the patent reality that without massive grassroots pressure neither the US nor the UN is going to take serious steps to change Israeli government behavior, what do you suggest instead of BDS? I would love to hear of some strategy that has the remotest chance of changing things.

Aaron Lercher

Butler's statement of the goal of the BDS movement is not perfectly clear. But this is the relevant sentence:
"The point of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is to withdraw funds and support from major financial and cultural institutions that support the operations of the Israeli state and its military."
The goal is described more narrowly by, among other organizations, Jewish Voice for Peace:
"We support divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem."
From the organizational context, as well as Butler's own remarks, the "pressure ... on cultural institutions" she refers to is the moral pressure produced by asking them to do something.

Julie Klein

Mark, you write that "Almost every Israeli university is directly involved in either settlement expansion, or the security establishment that goes with it." It's also the case that almost every university in Israel includes, among its faculty, critics of the settlement policy, scholars who study and document its effects, and professors and students who take concrete political action (see the history of B'Tzelem, for example). And what of Arab faculty and students?

I don't see why it is impossible to be deeply opposed to the occupation and deeply opposed to any generalized academic boycott. Personally, I cannot imagine that an academic boycott would be efficacious in changing government policy, and I think that all of us are better served by open intellectual exchange.

I can certainly understand that any of us will refuse invitations to some institutions for reasons of principle (we all have our lists), but that is quite different from targeting an entire academic system.

Julie Klein

A footnote to my previous post: Mark, could you show some evidence for your claims that Israeli academia is "directly involved" in settlement expansion etc?

Mohan Matthen

Mark @ 19, you write:

[Given that] neither the US nor the UN is going to take serious steps to change Israeli government behavior, what do you suggest instead of BDS? I would love to hear of some strategy that has the remotest chance of changing things.
Are you seriously suggesting that a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is going to achieve this? Or are you saying that since there is no "strategy that has the remotest chance of changing things," one is justified in doing all sorts of things that show one's disapproval even though they won't change anything?

Oh, and I didn't say that complicity was a necessary condition. In South Africa, there might well have been some individuals or groups of sportspeople who actively campaigned against apartheid.

I’m glad of Mark’s contribution to the effect that a boycott would have to be harsh and coercive. Were it not so, it would not be one at all. And Mohan is also right, if you think the harshness and coercion necessary to put an end to some worse wrong, then you’re on the way to having a defensible justification.
I might be wrong, but I’d guess that the chances of a boycott of Israeli educational institutions gaining enough traction to have any real effect on them are slight. Indeed attempts to impose one may prove to be illegal in some countries. There are people, however, who are sure to be affected by a boycott and they are non-Israeli Jews working in academia. Some will be affected positively of course as they will have opinions similar to Judith Butler’s and would be pleased to participate in a boycott. However, the many that don’t would face some difficult choices. They might assent to the boycott for the sake of a quiet life and to show in public that they are lined up with the righteous, either without being especially convinced of its merits or even while actually disagreeing with it. “Ah but the boycott would be strictly voluntary! No one would be forced to do anything against their will”. If no method, formal or informal, exists to enforce a boycott then it’s not a boycott at all and there’s no point in advocating it that it be implemented. After all, as things stand now, no one who doesn’t want to is obliged to collaborate with Israelis or Israeli institutions.
Or they might refuse to cooperate with it and risk being branded as supporters of what some people now see as a uniquely evil and illegitimate state, and being subjected to some degree of ostracization, however mild.
To which it might be replied: it’s not just Jews who would have to decide that, it would be all academics. The thing is though, about half the world’s Jews live in Israel. Whether they love it, hate it or aren’t too bothered about it either way, asking Jewish colleagues to boycott it isn’t the same as asking non-Jewish ones. Their reactions to a boycott would be subject to particular scrutiny. While a boycott would give some a chance to demonstrate what they would see as their high degree of moral probity by endorsing it, it would likely make others very uncomfortable indeed, if talk of it hasn’t already. Of course, some may regard such discomfort as trivial and a price well worth paying if it helps to put an end what they see as uniquely evil activities elsewhere.

Mark Lance

As I said above, the academic boycott is a tiny part of the BDS movement. It is only academics who obsess about this as if it is the main issue. So the question is whether BDS in general will achieve anything. And of course I don't know. I think it has by far the best chance of making a difference of any strategy - in concert of course with the vast range of forms of resistance going on in Palestine. How good is that chance? Well, maybe not very, but especially given that my own government is funding and facilitating this horror, I feel that it is good enough to spur me to support.

Mark Lance

Of course many people in Israeli universities are doing wonderful things. (As were many in South African sports, entertainment, business, and acaemia.) I've worked with many of them. But when one is being paid by an institution that is actively supporting crimes of state, one is complicit to some degree in those crimes. (Something that, of course, applies to many of us.) That was my only point, in response to Mohan saying that most academics are not complicit.

Of course you can be opposed to occupation and opposed to academic boycott. Whenever did I suggest otherwise? In fact, I've said twice now that the majority of folks actively working on BDS oppose the academic element. I don't agree with them, but I obviously don't discount their opposition to the occupation.

On the involvement of Israeli academia, here is a good place to start:

Mohan Matthen

"when one is being paid by an institution that is actively supporting crimes of state, one is complicit to some degree in those crimes."

This is an extreme position, Mark (depending, of course, on what you mean by "actively supporting crimes of state," which isn't how I'd describe most Israeli universities). Georgetown is Catholic, right? So what are you complicit in? And isn't this very close to the position that you said that "charity" should prevent me from attributing to Judith Butler?

Mark Lance

I take myself to be complicit in quite a bit. Obviously working for a Catholic Institution concerns me - though for the record, GU is not legally connected to the Catholic Church, but it is socially connected enough that I do think it an issue - as does participating in a capitalist society, paying taxes to a militarist and imperialist and increasingly authoritarian state, and many other things I could mention. This doesn't mean I'm a terrible person, any more than everyone in an Israeli Institution is terrible. But no one thinks that complicity always implies being evil. Indeed, complicity in morally bad institutions is probably inevitable in the modern world. But the fact that one benefits from participation in institutions doing evil is morally relevant. How it is relevant is no doubt a subtle and complicated matter. But I just don't see how working for and being paid by an institution could not make you complicit to some degree in the crimes it commits.

Mark Lance

(Patrick had trouble with the system, so I'm posting this.
Patrick S. O’Donnell (February 9, 2013)
First, to address Julie’s second question: Israeli academic institutions, “[f]unded by the government…have consistently and organically contributed to the military-security establishment and therefore to perpetuating its crimes, its abuse of Palestinian human rights, and its distinctive system of apartheid. Contrary to the false image—created and skillfully marketed by Israel and its apologist, academics included—of the Israeli academy as a ‘bastion of enlightenment,’ and a solid base for opposition to the occupation, the academy is in fact part of ‘the official Israeli propaganda’ according to Ilan Pappé, one of the leading Israeli ‘New Historians’ who exposed the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the Nakba.
Not only do most Israeli academics defend or justify their state’s colonial narrative, but they play an active role in the process of oppression. Almost all of them obediently serve in the occupation army’s reserve forces every year, thereby participating in, or at least witnessing in silence, crimes committed with impunity against Palestinian civilians. Despite decades of Israel’s illegal occupation, very few of them have conscientiously objected to military service in the occupied territories. Likewise, those who have politically opposed the colonization of Palestinian land in any public forum have remained a depressingly tiny minority. [….]
Even [the late] Baruch Kimmerling, a renowned Israeli academic who is [was] opposed to the boycott, writes, “I will be the first to admit that Israeli academic institutions are part and parcel of the oppressive Israeli state that has…committed grave crimes against the Palestinian people.”
Omar Barghouti proceeds to discuss two examples as a “small part of the evidence proving such institutional culpability” involving Haifa University and Hebrew University (see his book, BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions—The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, 2011: 109-115). Consider as well the insidious and pernicious species of neocolonialist ignorance, “Israeli Orientalism” that, “with some well-known exceptions…continues to prevail in the university departments of Near-Eastern, Arabic, and Islamic Studies—departments, moreover, that have furnished a major part of the intelligence services. Together, in one way or another, these views lead to a justification for dominating the Palestinian space, and beyond it, the Near-Eastern region, through stigmatization of the political and social backwardness of the Arab-Muslim world and what is regarded as its unprovoked natural aggressiveness against the values of Western civilization.” See too Sylvain’s discussion of the “Katz affair” in his indispensable book, Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (Other Press, 2006): 29-45.
Second, Mark’s question is an urgent and compelling one. The Palestinians have a spotted history when it comes to nonviolent strategies and methods, but such a history does exist, and the first intifada was marked by the predominance of nonviolent methods and tactics. The PLO was responsible in several ways for the breakdown of this period of nonviolent resistance, as Mary Elizabeth King has explained in A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance (Nation Books, 2007). But more importantly perhaps,
“The Israelis, in mimicking the reaction of the British during the 1920 and 1930s and failing to distinguish violent from nonviolent resistance, hastened reversion to a mentality of violent retaliation. Had the nonviolent protagonists in the territories received an Israeli response that differentiated them from their colleagues who were sponsoring paramilitary operations and bombings, their fealty to the PLO might have wavered still further. The failure to keep the intifada independent abetted factionalism, which by the third year was undermining its cohesion.”
We cannot look to Israel’s Military Court System, its Supreme Court, or even international law to provide us with reliable or timely assistance in the resolution of this conflict, as the first two have miserably failed and the U.S. has interfered with the ability of international law to make a significant impact (yet we should not give up on the last, as some developments of late are encouraging, e.g., the Human Rights Council’s Report on the Settlements).*
Many Palestinians soon concluded that a nonviolent struggle had failed and thus the prominence and persistence of the BDS movement represents a precious opportunity to mobilize individuals, groups, and organizations as part of international or global civil society (‘a strategy to which people of conscience all over the world can contribute’) to aid the Palestinians, much as it did in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. If we grant, as we should, that this is “a case of occupation, colonization, and apartheid by one side over the other,” we need to ask ourselves precisely what means are consistent with, conducive to, in harmony with a struggle to end such injustice. Nonviolent means do seem best suited to our purposes on this score,** and such means will not be “pain-free,” or come without sundry individuals and parties experiencing some measure of short-term inconvenience or suffering. The struggle will not disappear and we have a morally and politically charged choice to influence its character, as Mark makes clear: violent or nonviolent? As to the precise sort of nonviolent strategy and methods, well, that’s up to the Palestinians. In a small piece entitled, “The Boycott Will Work: An Israeli Perspective,” Ilan Pappé writes movingly of the difficulties any Israeli will face in coming out in support of the BDS, only part of which I cite: “It excludes one immediately from the consensus and from the accepted discourse in Israel.” “But,” he continues, “there is really not alternative. Any other option—from indifference, through soft criticism, and up to full endorsement of Israeli policy—is willful decision to be an accomplice in crimes against humanity. The closing of the public mind in Israel, the persistent hold of the settlers over Israeli society, the inbuilt racism with the Jewish population, the dehumanization of the Palestinians, and the vested interests of the army and industry in keeping the occupied territories –all of these mean that we are for a very long period of callous and oppressive occupation” (from his contribution to The Case for Sanctions Against Israel, Audrea Lim, ed. (Verso, 2012).
* See Lisa Hajjar’s Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza (University of California Press, 2005) and David Kertzmer’s The Occupation of Justice: The Supreme Court of Israel and the Occupied Territories (State University of New York Press, 2002). On international law, see Richard Falk and Burns H. Weston, “The Relevance of International Law to Palestinian Rights in the West Bank and Gaza: In Legal Defense of the Intifada,” Harvard International Law Journal 32, no. 1 (1991): -129-150, Falk and Weston again, “The Israeli-Occupied Territories, International Law, and the Boundaries of Scholarly Discourse: A Reply to Michael Curtis,” Harvard International Law Journal 33, no. 1 (1992): 191-204; Francis A. Boyle, Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law (Clarity Press, 2003); Victor Kattan, ed., The Palestine Question in International Law (British Institute of International and Comparative Law, 2008; and John Quigley, The Statehood of Palestine: International Law in the Middle East Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
** See Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011).

Mark Lance

Oh, and yes, this position is close to the one you attributed to Butler. The only difference is that you attributed to her not only the view that all Israeli academics are to some degree complicit, but the view that all forms of complicity imply that one is a legitimate boycott target. It was the second part that I thought was not part of what she meant to say.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Thanks Mark.

Ed Kazarian

Not taking a position on BDS or Israeli Universities here, since I do not feel informed enough to do so intelligently.

But I'm interested in an assumption that seems to be implicit throughout much of this conversation, namely that there is something materially different about boycotting academics and institutions of higher education by comparison to boycotts of, say, businesses or athletic teams. I'm puzzled by this, especially in the latter case. I think one could possibly argue that the cultural reach of sports is much greater in many respects than that of academia; and it is certainly the case that in many places -- the US very notably -- important, positive social changes have been led or solidified by athletes and sports teams. Given this, and given that (I suspect) a lot more people would be inclined to accept an athletic boycott than an academic one, despite the 'collective punishment' aspect of it, or the way in which it may instrumentalize innocent folks, I'd really like to hear what people have to say about why an academic boycott seems to be such a special case.

Yoram Hazony

Mark,you write:

I just don't see how working for and being paid by an institution could not make you complicit to some degree in the crimes it commits. (comment 27)

We actually agree on this point. Individuals may be forced to participate in institutions that are morally questionable for all sorts of reasons--such as having to feed one's family. And so these individuals are complicit to some degree if the institution is involved in wrongdoing.

Where we do not agree is on the issues that I think the moderators asked us not to get into: You keep referring to Israeli universities as committing crimes. Julie asked you to be more explicit and I think you should make it clear in your own words what precisely you are talking about when you say these things.

Yes, it is true that Israel's academic institutions assist in training Israel's security services. My nephew is in the air force and right now he is getting a BA at Ben-Gurion University that is part of his military training. If you think helping an Israeli pilot become a better pilot by giving him a BA means that Ben-Gurion University is effectively an extension of the Israeli military, and that the military is engaged in serious crimes, then I guess you will be willing to do as much harm as you can to Israeli universities to try to get them to stop. Please correct me if I am wrong because I do not want to misrepresent what you are saying. But I undertand this to be your position.

But if this is your position, why just boycott? Why not call for violence against Israeli universities and scholars? Perhaps this would get them to rethink their relationship with the defense forces? I don't see how your position leads to any other conclusion.

I don't believe Israeli universities are criminal institutions and I don't see how the work they do, even when they are teaching soldiers, amounts to "committing crimes." I understand that some might not agree with my views on this subject. But you should understand that all this talk about Israeli universities committing crimes is not just hyperbole. It is incitement to do harm to actual human beings. Perhaps you will not yourself draw the obvious conclusions from what you are saying. But others very well might. And then you will have gotten yourself complicit in a whole lot more than you bargained for.

Mark Lance

I believe in nonviolence as a means of change. Violence against Israel is neither morally acceptable nor has any chance of success. Just for example, while boycotts inconvenience privileged academics, wars kill children. It is actually sad that you cannot, or pretend you cannot, see this distinction.

As for the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in state crimes, I have limked Israeli sources and Patrick has laid out the basic material. I am used to people who refuse to recognize crimes if they are committed by some preferred group. After all, you think the whole idea of Palestinian suffering is simply mynopinion. I see no point In carrying on extended discussions with them. I will not convince you on this, at most history will do that. And as you say, it is not the point of the thread.

Mark Lance

I'll let those on the defense of academia side speak for themselves, but for the bds movement it is not special. The cultural and sports boycotts are much more active and successful. Many prominent artists, for example, have cancelled trips to perform in Israel.

Mark Lance

Footnote to the last for anyone still reading, that I believe really captures what is fundamentally at issue in the question of BDS.

Yoram Hazony endorses an inference. He says that if I believe a university is complicit in "serious crimes" then "I guess you will be willing to do as much harm as you can to Israeli universities to try to get them to stop." He later implies that willingness to kill people is an "obvious consequence" of the view that they are in any way complicit in state crimes.

First, it is worth noting that this is the logic of many modern states. It is precisely what justifies Israel in bombing civilians in Gaza on the grounds that they haven't turned on Hamas figures who do bad things. It is the justification for the many Israeli assaults on Lebanon, the citizens of which failed to create an uprising against a government that fails to conquer Hizbullah. It was an argument made by US presidents when they killed civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was of course the logic of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, etc. It is essentially the logic of every modern war.

It is also a logic that BDS and other nonviolent forms of political intervention try to break, in the practical realm. (Of course it is too absurd an inference to be considered in the theoretical, but things like this become institutionalized and have a practical life of their own.) What matters - in my view, nothing is more important for the future of our survival as a species - is that we find a way between casual hand-wringing liberal impotence and a "do anything violent you like if you identify a crime" mentality. Radical nonviolent action is one such attempt. I know of no others.

Allan Olley

Well this is a bit late but first on Mohan's statement in the original post that few if any advocating boycotting South African academics under apartheid. Actually there were various calls for various academic boycotts. Although it may have been one of the more conversational aspects of the boycotts campaign.

With regard to the claim of lack of clarity I'm not sure it is so unclear. Israeli in this context seems to me to mean resident of Israel, since the boycott as I have ever seen it does not discriminate between say a product sold by an export business operating in Israel owned and operated by resident non-citizens or one identical but owned and operated by citizens, rather all such exports from Israel are part of the boycott as most participants understand it. Butler is vague on the point of what kind of indirect support of scholars would not lead Butler to avoid collaboration, but if Butler decides on a case by case basis in response to circumstances then it will necessarily a vague principle. I find it natural to read Butler as outlining just such a case by case discretion. I take it that some BDS advocates (and advocates of the boycotts against South Africa) take the spirit of the thing to be to avoid all discretionary consideration as much as possible.

On the question of justifying actions that have collective effects (harm) rather than focusing on complicity/guilt or whatever, another argument is just from necessity. Sometimes in order to stop an injustice being perpetrated you must (as a matter of the limits of what is physically/politically possible) take an action that you foresee may or will harm others, some would argue that provides a moral justification. So for example if the boycotts of South Africa worked then it may not matter if they harmed innocents (or were otherwise strictly unjust since they harmed less guilty people as much or more than more guilty people for example) because they were the least harmful effective means of preventing the harm of apartheid, given that we were obligated to prevent Apartheid (plus other considerations such as if ought implies can etc.).

Note in response to Mark Lance's footnote, I think the argument of necessity is the one most often used by the US to justify its attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, not some claim of collective guilt by the effected population as a whole (now what actually animates the minds of policy makers is less clear). I don't say the argument is validly or soundly applied by the US (I also don't say that it's not), just that such is the official line (including more broadly in much of the modern "rules of war").

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