Sunday, February 8, 2009

Adrienne Rich explains her support for the US Campaign for a Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel

The issue of boycotting Israel — especially academic and cultural boycott — is a hot button one. I can testify to it from the responses I got after I'd sent the call to action to a number of lists: some recipients were quite angry.

Here is a supportive response from one of JPN's readers, Adrienne Rich.

I think it's worth sharing not simply because it supports my position, but because it conveys so well the struggle many go through before they can reach the conclusion that this type of action is necessary.

--Racheli Gai

Lincoln Shlensky adds:

Obviously, even JPN editors are not all in agreement on this topic (our initial post on this topic included my dissenting view). In the current political context, such diversity of opinion is all too easily suppressed by those who perceive the world in dualistic terms. This is demonstrated in a recent press release of the "Progressive Zionist" organization Ameinu, which claimed that JPN as an organization supports the academic/cultural boycott of Israel (see Ameinu's press release here <>). JPN is neither an organization in any traditional sense (we are a loose and volunteer collective of editorialists), nor did our recent post imply that as a whole we "support" the boycott (at least one of us does, and another of us does not). Ironically and symptomatically, Ameinu cannot hear (or cannot tolerate) such a diversity of opinion among "our people" (the English translation of its name).
I thank Adrienne Rich for communicating her views to us. As a long-time admirer of her poetry, I am all the more interested in her perspective when it does not perfectly accord with my own.

And Joel Beinin adds, on the subject of how we work:

The practice of JPN - the range of articles we include, the diversity of the editors, geographically and in terms of particular positions, and the mainly consensus form of decision making - suggests that we view pluralism as a value in and of itself.

And now to the letter:

February 3 2009

Dear All,

Last week, with initial hesitation but finally strong conviction, I endorsed the Call for a U.S. Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel. HYPERLINK "" I'd like to offer my reasons to friends, family and comrades. I have tried in fullest conscience to think this through.

My hesitation: I profoundly believe in the visible/invisible liberatory social power of creative and intellectual boundary-crossings. I've been educated by these all my life, and by centuries-long cross-conversations about human freedom, justice and power—also, the forces that try to silence them.

As an American Jew, over almost 30 years, I've joined with other concerned Jews in various kinds of coalition-building and anti-Occupation work. I've seen the kinds of organized efforts to stifle—in the US and elsewhere-- critiques of Israel's policies--the Occupation's denial of Palestinian humanity, destruction of Palestinian lives and livelihoods, the "settlements," the state's physical and psychological walls against dialogue—and the efforts to condemn any critiques as anti-Semitism. Along with other activists and writers I've been named on right-wing "shit-lists" as "Israel-hating" or "Jew-hating." I have also seen attacks within American academia and media on Arab American, Muslim, Jewish scholars and teachers whose work critically explores the foundations and practices of Israeli state and society.

Until now, as a believer in boundary-crossings, I would not have endorsed a cultural and academic boycott. But Israel's continuing, annihilative assaults in Gaza, and the one-sided rationalizations for them have driven me to re-examine my thoughts about cultural exchanges. Israel's blockading of information, compassionate aid, international witness and free cultural and scholarly expression has become extreme and morally stone-blind. Israeli Arab parties have been banned from the elections, Israeli Jewish dissidents arrested, Israeli youth imprisoned for conscientious refusal of military service. Academic institutions are surely only relative sites of power. But they are, in their funding and governance, implicated with state economic and military power. And US media, institutions and official policy have gone along with all this.

To boycott a repressive military state should not mean backing away from individuals struggling against the policies of that state. So, in continued solidarity with the Palestinian people's long resistance, and also with those Israeli activists, teachers, students, artists, writers, intellectuals, journalists, refuseniks, feminists and others who oppose the means and ends of the Occupation, I have signed my name to this call.

Adrienne Rich

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to


Robert said...

Thanks for posting this perspective, and thanks to Adrienne Rich for sharing.

I also agree that Israel's crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace, are absolutely intolerable.

The State of Israel is behaving like a monster, terrible and foul. To starve such a beast in order to restrict its horribly destructive and wrongful activities is totally reasonable.

It's important to remember that Israel is not only hurting Palestinians, but Israelis as well. And beyond—the actions of the State of Israel hurt us all. Israel is the powerbroker. Israel is clearly the antagonist.

I can't imagine how someone could look at the situation in an honest way and not see apartheid. I can't imagine how Israelis can believe that oppression and subjugation of Palestinians will move them closer to true security.

BDS all the way. Peace, Justice, Security for all.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Adrienne Rich manages a twofur. Most self-hating Jews have to content themselves with supporting people who want all Jews dead (including them once their usefullness is at an end). Adrienne manages to support people that would not only kill her for being Jewish, but also for being a lesbian.

Log Cabin Republicans have nothing on Adrienne for self-loathing.

Anonymous said...

I am with all of you in my opposition to Israel's policies. However...

As a researcher at an international laboratory with thousands of people and universities from every corner of the earth, I could never be in support of such a boycott. My Israeli colleagues -like all others- are not there to promote political ideas. They are there to work with the entire lab, promoting the advancement of science, reason and international cooperation. I can't imagine telling one of my friends/colleagues that I support the boycott against them. It's a blanket response and it's not fair, period.

As a sidenote, I want to mention that during the Bosnian war there was a total boycott against Yugoslavia, which included academic institutions with researchers working with us at the lab. Pretty much everyone was outraged that these people could not continue their work at the lab (also jeopardizing the projects they were working on, of course!). As a result, something amazing happened: Greek universities officially stated to the lab that the Yugoslavs were part of their academic staff, therefore bypassing the boycott. Of course, this was a lie and they were not being paid by the Greek institutions, but absolutely no one (including the lab's administration and management) resisted this. A magical moment.

Boycotting cultural and academic circles goes against the very principles we are fighting for. Peace will come through stronger cultural ties, not by severing them. We all work for the progress of humanity, and progressive Israeli intellectuals are no different. Do not punish them, they, too, are our brothers and sisters.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that any kind of boycott of Israel will only force the people into "siege mentality." Israel apparently needs to be persuaded, cajoled, and pushed very slowly into "trust mode." If Israelis believe that the world is against them, they will only see this as more of "the world always picks on the Jews" and they will respond accordingly.