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Academic boycotts of Israeli institutions are among the ugliest efforts of anti-Zionist activists to discredit Israel and Zionism. There is no longer much pretence that these boycott activities are divorced from anti-Semitism. The Palestine Solidarity campaign in the UK failed to approve motions condemning anti-Semitism, and thereby announced to the world precisely what they are. As far as they are concerned, they concluded the artificial argument based around the question "is criticism of Israel anti-Semitism?" by answering the question in the affirmative. Their criticism of Israel is certainly anti-Semitic. They do not even have the decency to be hypocritical about it, as others have done.

The impulse to boycott Israeli Academics stems from the same ideology that caused the Nazis to boycott Jewish firms and throw Jews out of universities. Future generations will find it absurd and sad that Jewish anti-Zionists like Ilan Pappe supported boycotts against themselves, and their own universities. Perhaps they will also marvel at the Israeli academic system that tolerated such behavior in order to defend the sacred principles of academic freedom and the open society.



Engage has published a new discussion of the Academic boycott issue:

The principle of the Universality of Science and Learning - that academics do not discriminate against colleagues on the basis of factors that are irrelevant to their academic work (such as race, religion, nationality etc.) - is well established and almost universally respected. To boycott academics by reason of their country of residence breaches this principle and harms the interests of the academics concerned. Two kinds of argument speak in favour of maintaining the principle of the Universality of Science and Learning: 1) that undesirable consequences would flow from violating it, and 2) that to harm people who are innocent of wrongdoing is morally unacceptable. Those who wish to boycott Israeli academics attempt to defeat the second type of argument by claiming that these academics are complicit in discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel or the occupation of the West Bank, and/or that Israeli universities suppress dissenting voices. Analysis of these claims shows that they are without serious substance.



In reality, it is perhaps not necessary to make the issue so complex. It is enough to follow the principle of Rabbi Hillel: "Do not do to others that which is hateful to you," which is mainspring of all justice.

Imagine the protests that would erupt if Zionists were to boycott Palestinian universities! We are all aware of the tremendous howls of embittered anti-Zionists, heard on every campus and in every media outlet, to the effect that the "Israel lobby" is stifling debate. Yet these same people want to stifle the academic freedom of others, not because of what they believe or write, but simply because they are Israelis or Jews.

Michael Yudkin's article at Engage is a thoughtful analysis that demonstrates how to stand up for progressive principles and Jewish rights without being shrill or hysterical and without lapsing into defense of extreme Zionist views. It is a good model for progressive Zionist advocacy.

Ami Isseroff


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