Thursday, February 12, 2009

Letter from one of the organizers of the British boycott

Dear readers,
This post is the last in what turned out to be a mini-series on the issue of academic and cultural boycott of Israel - pro and con.

We will not pursue this further right now because we are not, and don't aim to become, a BDS discussion list.

I find the letter from Mike Cushman really valuable - because it comes from one of the actual organizers of the British campaign, and it sheds some extra light on some issues brought up in previous entries.

I will close with a short response by Lincoln Shlensky.

This discussion has been very valuable for me and for my fellow editors. I hope it has also been useful for you the reader.

A letter from Mike Cushman
I write as a member of BRICUP , the UK
organisation that promotes the academic and cultural boycott initiative and
as a member of the Universities and Colleges Union who spoke for the
motions on relationships with Israeli universities at both the 2007 and 2008

I want to contest a number of points raised in the jpn mailing of 11

Lincoln Shlensky contends that the boycott campaign in the UK has been a
failure. While it is clearly true that there is not, as yet, a national
boycott the campaign for the boycott has focussed the attention of many
people in the UK, academics and others, on the relationship between Israeli
universities and the state and the armed and security forces. This has
produced growing resonance, and this has accelerated markedly sinc ehte
start of the latest Israeli assault on Gaza. While it is also true that this
has mobilised opposition, this is because they saw the boycott call as a
real threat to be mobilised against and not safely ignored like many of our
previous campaigns.

The efforts of the boycott campaign have severely embarrassed the EU in its
attempts to widen ever further trade and research links with Israel. Now the
Green and Socialist groups at the European Parliament have come out against
further extension to Israeli privileges and stalled the latest proposals.
The UK example has stirred boycott action in many European countries and in
the US and Canada. Even more importantly when I visited the West Bank and
Gaza at the end of last year civil society groups unanimously demanded that
we step up BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, activities and in
particular praised BRICUP for its pressure on Israeli Universities. Their
plea was to end Israel's sense of impunity and they saw the ending of normal
relations with Israeli Universities as the leading weapon in this.

Since the Gaza invasion we are hearing form a small but growing number of
Israeli academics in Israel demanding they be boycotted.

Similarly Judith Norman's concerns about provoking Israel's use of the
'anti-semitism' weapon. In the UK, because of its blanket use, this is
beginning to be seen far more widely as an attempt to censor criticism that
a valid concern. Again it is the strength of the opposition that discloses
the effectiveness of Boycott as a tactic.

Aharon Eviatar's response is misplaced. I respect Dr Eviatar's physical
presence at Bi'lin on Fridays. I only went there on a Saturday and the
hostility of the soldiers to our presence was manifest if not physical.
However Dr Eviatar mis-represents the content of the PACBI call which BRICUP and other groups
are trying to implement. The call is not to single out individuals, we are
in no position to judge the moral credentials of individual academics. The
BRICUP call is for an end to research
partnerships with Israeli Universities, to not publish in, or review for,
Israeli based journals and not attend conferences organised by Israeli
Universities or held in Israel.

Similarly in working with other boycott organisations we have become much
clearer on which cultural events to boycott, those sponsored by the Israeli
Government or by organisations, like the Zionist Federation, which promote
the occupation and the blockade. Thus as I understand Naftali Kaminski's
account of what happened in Pittsburgh we would not have been seeking to
boycott that dance group. I would support all the actions Dr Kaminski
lists, but they are in addition to not in substitution for the boycott call.
The boycott is not responsible for the growth of Israeli fascism. Israel
called for a boycott of the Austrian government when Jorg Haider became a
senior minister, I hope (naively perhaps) that Israel's supporters will see
a call to boycott a government which has Lieberman as a senior minister as
equally valid.

Boycott is a non-violent weapon deployed by civil society to induce the end
of lethal weapons against Palestinians; it is the most potent weapon we have
to disseminate information on what is happening day by day on the West bank,
in East Jerusalem, in Gaza and in pre-67 Israel itself.

Lincoln Shlensky responds:

My comment on Mike Cushman's letter:

The argument that boycott does not single out individuals because "we [British academics] are in no position to judge the moral credentials of individual [Israeli] academics" does not clarify the scope of the boycott. In individual correspondence with me, Mike Cushman added, "Neither BRICUP nor PACBI would organisationally seek to prevent" an individual Israeli academic from presenting a paper at an academic meeting in the UK. This claim suggests that, as Aharon Eviatar fears, the prosecution of the boycott against individual academics, whatever their political record, would be a matter of (selective) enforcement rather than policy. But who would do the selecting, and on what basis?

Although it is a deplorable fact, as Mike Cushman pointed out in our correspondence, that "the real boycott is the one Israel imposes on Palestinians," I do not at present see the value in replicating such appalling behavior. I acknowledge that the British academics and others who support an academic/cultural boycott are justifiably and sincerely trying to raise public awareness of the Israeli occupation so as to end it more quickly; perhaps in retrospect their organizing will appear to have marked a vital historical step towards raising awareness of the injustices of the occupation. Yet I believe that other tactics, some of which Naftali Kaminski mentions, and others of which groups like Jewish Voice for Peace have initiated, are more likely to contribute to the critical task of ending the oppression of Palestinians as rapidly and decisively as possible.

Lincoln Shlensky

Jewish Peace News editors:
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Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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