Every Pro-Boycott Endorsement Weakens Israel’s Anti-Occupation Camp

 

The American Anthropological Association’s BDS proposal could have far-reaching consequences: strengthening Israel’s right wing and abetting BDS’s rhetorical pretense regarding its true aims.

By Harvey Goldberg, Yehuda Goodman, Dan Rabinowitz, Michele Rivkin-Fish, David Rosen, Gila Silverman, Alex Weingrod

This article was originally published at Haaretz

This Friday November 20th, the annual Business Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) will convene in Denver to determine whether or not to endorse a boycott of Israeli universities. One proposal, inspired by BDS (the Palestinian initiative to boycott Israel, sanction it and divest from it), calls for an academic boycott. Our proposal, in contrast, calls on Israel and the U.S. to end the Occupation and do justice for the Palestinians as part of a two state solution. It also calls to resist academic boycott and to foster dialogue – the only realistic path to reconciliation.

Emotions are running high. Attendance on Friday is expected to beat all records. Both sides are using traditional media, social networks, sponsored events and personal persuasion to get participants to vote. There is a sense that the signal that will be relayed by the AAA – a large, respectable academic association that took the trouble to send a Task Force on Engagement with Israel and Palestine to the region last summer – will reverberate with other academic associations.

BDS uses a moralistic, self-righteous and simplistic narrative to frame its position as representative of the ultimate good (all Palestinians) against radical evil (all Israelis). Within this framework they herald boycott as the only practical step available to counter Israel’s intransigence and bring justice to the Palestinians.

This contrived dichotomy is objectionable not only because of the travesty it produces of academic freedom. Its obsessive nature and persistent detachment from reality poses a much greater danger. If its approach to the conflict becomes widespread, it could spell disaster for Palestinians, Israelis and many others on a massive scale.

The boycott controversy was constructed to actively ignore and smartly hide a much more pertinent divide. Israeli society is split. On the one hand there is a cohesive right wing, now in power, convinced that clinging to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and keeping millions of Palestinians subjugated is the road to Israel’s survival. On the other hand, a consistent majority which regularly polls in favor of relinquishing these territories, that has not been able, since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, to ever stay in power long enough to implement such plan.

BDS’s essentializing, demonizing mission tries to convince listeners that the division between pro-boycotters and those who still believe in dialogue and compromise is the only one which matters. But if boycotters win, on Friday and on similar occasions later, they will profoundly impact the inner struggle within Israel. Their win will give the Israeli right a major boost.

A leftist Israeli member of Knesset told one of us recently how the success of BDS to boycott an Israeli film festival in New York in 2013 was met by right wing Knesset members with unmitigated glee. Boycotting a festival infested with subversive leftist Israeli film-makers, a right wing politician told him candidly at the time, was all the proof which right wingers needed to convince supporters that their propaganda is correct. The world is simply against us because of who we are, he said: it does not matter to anyone abroad what policies or actions we support or what documentaries we make. Bring on more silly boycotts, he concluded, and my party and those further to the right of it will stay in power indefinitely.

This is the paradoxical reality in which we live. The majority of Israelis are in favor of somehow ending the occupation and wants to give millions of Palestinian non-citizens an opportunity to have a state and live in dignity. But threats of boycotts and of sanctions exacerbate Israeli fears just as much as terror attacks do. This helps the Right, which poses as the only viable defender of a threatened national realm, to tighten its stranglehold on power ever more.

Instead of strengthening the Israeli peace camp, BDS weakens it, radically trivializing its efforts. Yes, dialogue has been frustrating and elusive. But academics are there to find innovative paths to justice and reconciliation, not to turn against each other in a futile, childish and destructive manner.

Embedded in what pro-boycotters say and write is an underlying urge to punish Israel. While Israeli academics are by no means justifiable targets of such anger, the basic sentiment cannot be blamed. But boycotters are not exclusively motivated by emotions. They also make political calculations. Their campaign, while ultimately geared towards a new reality where Israel no longer exists, often tries to pass as a moderate wish to merely end the Occupation, implying Israel might be allowed to remain. BDS’s statements systematically obfuscate the more radical vision. But as the debate of this campaign diversifies and deepens, and as more people learn to understand it better, the inconsistencies and confusions stemming from the tensions that exist between these contradicting goals emerge more clearly.

BDS sees Israel as a colonial project and an apartheid state which has run its course. For 7 million Jews in Israel and many more elsewhere however, the mere suggestion that Israel will be no more is unthinkable, unspeakable, abhorrent. Coercing Israel into relinquishing the territories is one thing. Forcing it to cease existing is quite another.

So far BDS scored victories and some defeats in academic circles. But let us assume, just for the sake of argument, its mission somehow becomes a runaway success. If it gets to dominate academe, conquer public opinion, shape the way important governments see the Middle East and turn the end of Israel into a universal blueprint, how will things pan out? Can anyone predict what a radicalized, desperate Israeli government possessing a nuclear arsenal might do when its captains become convinced that Armageddon is afoot?

BDS and its supporters must get real. The only way to diffuse the situation in the Middle East and prevent it from plunging the region and the world into colossal suffering is to accept that Israel is here to stay, make reasonable and doable demands from it and resume talking. A first step is to strengthen Israelis who are allies of the Palestinians rather than ostracize them.

BIOS

Harvey E. Goldberg is Sarah Allen Shaine Professor Emeritus in Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University.

Yehuda Goodman is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University.

Dan Rabinowitz is Professor of Anthropology at Tel-Aviv University. A former President of the Israeli Anthropological Association, he is cofounder of Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine.

Michele Rivkin-Fish is Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

David M. Rosen is Professor of Anthropology at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Gila Silverman is a PhD candidate at the School of Anthropology, University of Arizona

Alex Weingrod is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

 

The ‘Emics’ of Complicity

By David M. Rosen Professor of Anthropology and Law at Fairleigh Dickinson University

Ahmed Kanna claims that one of the reasons for boycotting Israeli universities is that these universities have strongly tended to support the occupation, and that this fact has been amply demonstrated by boycott supporters. Interestingly enough, the Task Force itself did not find this to be the case, and I hope that most of my anthropological colleagues will agree that the mere repetition by boycott supporters of the same narrative slogans hardly constitutes a demonstration of anything other than a commitment to that narrative.

BDS supporters continually use the term “complicity” to describe Israeli support of the occupation. The term complicity appears eight times in the academic boycott guidelines created by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, which serve as the foundational charter of the BDS movement. In thinking about the upcoming vote, it may be helpful to examine the “emics” of complicity and how charges of complicity function as a component of BDS rhetorical strategies. The BDS boycott guidelines identify three distinct human and organization levels and five separate modes of action and thought, which combined together, create the 15 forms of culpable thought and action. These levels are 1) individual complicity, 2) Israeli institutional complicity, and 3) Non-Israeli institutional complicity. The modes of action are 1) Silence 2) Justification, 3) Whitewashing 4) Diversion, and 5) Direct Collaboration. These fifteen BDS-defined forms of complicity make up the universe of transgressive thought and action with regard to conflict in Israel and Palestine. Individual complicity falls under BDS’s so-called “common sense” boycott standards, which target persons, while institutional complicity falls under the institutional guidelines.

While I can’t review all fifteen forms of complicity, it is clear that culpability rests in both doing nothing (silence) and in doing something. Individual anthropologists and departments in Israel which engage in the normal routines of academic life are presumed to be complicit in these ways. Presumably an anthropologist studying kinship and family or ritual in Israel would be complicit by virtue of her silence. A scholar advancing arguments of Jewish indigeneity in Israel and Palestine — thereby challenging the trope of the colonial settler state so widely embraced the BDS movement—might be charged with the transgression of justification.

Beyond this, both individuals and institutions are subject to the charge of “whitewashing,” which covers almost any issue or topic in which Israel might, directly or indirectly, be cast in a favorable light. In the BDS worldview, “whitewashing” is the term used to stigmatize progressive and liberal practices in Israel that are said to exist merely as cover for Israeli crimes and as a diversion from the occupation. As an example, it was used recently to describe the activities of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. Any simple Google search will show that BDS supporters employ numerous synonyms for whitewashing. These include pinkwashing (Israel’s gay rights movement); greenwashing (Israeli’s environmental movement); genderwashing (Israel’s feminist movement); brownwashing, blackwashing, and redwashing (advocacy by members of minority groups on behalf of Israel); Healthwashing (Israeli medical outreach in crisis zones); Veggie-washing (Israeli vegetarian advocacy); and animal-washing (Israel’s animal rights movement). The laundry list of “washings” make clear that BDS rhetorical strategies are designed to mark out and dismiss virtually all activities in Israel, elsewhere regarded as normal and/or progressive, but which BDS rhetoric recasts as forms of complicity. Such categorizations are attempts to close down all ordinary forms of discourse.

With respect to the issue of direct collaboration, it is clear that no one has been able to actually demonstrate that Israeli universities or individual scientists behave any differently than universities in the United States, Canada, England or anywhere else in the world. Indeed one only needs to look at Vice News’ report last week of the “The Most Militarized Universities in America” to recognize that hundreds if not thousands of anthropologists across the United States are deeply embedded in highly militarized institutions in ways that, BDS rhetoric aside, are indistinguishable from their Israeli counterparts.

Finally, there is the BDS charge of complicity for non-Israeli institutions. Here the boycott guidelines identify Horizon 2020 as “the clearest example of academic complicity with Israel that is supported by governments.” Horizon 2020 is the largest European Union research program ever undertaken, which will make available more than 80 billion Euros in research funding over a period of 7 years. Here are only a few among the wide range of academic projects which involve Israeli universities: 1) Rounding the circle: Unravelling the biogenesis, function and mechanism of action of circRNAs in the Drosophila brain (Hebrew University); 2) Crisis on the margins of the Byzantine Empire: A bio-archaeological project on resilience and collapse in early Christian development of the Negev Desert (University of Haifa); 3) Single cell genomic profiling of renal cancer stem cells (Bar Ilan University). Towards the elimination of iodine deficiency and preventable thyroid-related diseases in Europe (Hebrew University in cooperation with more than a dozen European academic instiutions). I invite readers to decide how projects like these fit into one or more of the 15 forms of complicity.

It is clear that that the BDS notion of complicity has metastasized so as to embrace the entire universe of normal science and all of the individuals and institutions that support it, so long as these have any connection to the State of Israel. The question before us as anthropologists is what are the implications of joining up with BDS and this worldview? A vote to boycott Israeli anthropology will transform the American Anthropological Association from a scientific organization into a partisan NGO in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no doubt that this will be a celebratory moment for BDS activists within our association. But for those who, like myself, oppose both the occupation and the boycott, real justice in the Israel Palestinian conflict requires something else: it requires that the many anthropologists who are frustrated and angry about the situation in Israel and Palestine join with and not ostracize their like-minded colleagues in Israel, including the vast majority of the members of the Israel Anthropological Association. Voting for a boycott will harm both American anthropology and any prospect for this association to play a role in bringing about real justice in this conflict.

 

A Letter from an Israeli Student and Peace Activist

Dear Fellow anthropologists,

I am writing this letter after much hesitation, since I do not see myself as a spokesperson against the BDS movement, nor do I see myself as a representative of the Israeli State (although I am an Israeli citizen). Still, I decided to write this letter since I think that in such a complicated topic, those of you who go to vote at the AAA business meeting, Friday November 20th, should make an informed choice which takes into account what exactly the BDS movement calls for and all possible implications of endorsing BDS as a tactic of opposing Israeli policy. 

Essentially, what I am urging you to do is to consider whether endorsing BDS in its current form will actually contribute to its goals. I write this based on my personal experience as a political activist against the Israeli occupation. In Israel, I organized and spoke in numerous demonstrations against current Israeli policy, and co-founded activities directed specifically in addressing gendered aspects of living in a conflict zone. I should also mention that I am a strong supporter of boycotts against Israeli products made in the occupied territories. Based on this experience, I strongly believe that BDS in its current form will probably reach the opposite of its goals. Furthermore, as an anthropologist, I am deeply disturbed by the preference to exercise authority to limit academic freedom upon any other alternatives.

Concerning the possible results of endorsing an academic boycott, please consider the following: The Israeli academy is exactly the sector of Israeli society where pro-Palestinian and pro-peace activity is most flourishing. Boycotting Israeli academy can only bring to weakening its ability to voice an opposition to Israeli policy.  Those who are arguing against this by saying that the Israeli academy is complicit with Israeli army and enforcing the occupation, should keep in mind that the only direct link between Israeli academic institutions as a whole and the Israeli army is that they are both significantly funded by Israeli tax payers, which is a result of the fact that most of the academic institutions in Israel are public. Second, anyone who thinks that endorsing BDS will change Israeli policy does not understand how Israeli politics works. Currently, what this move is more likely to do is stir greater crowds to a more militant, right wing position (I rely on current polls on this subject, so this isn’t just my perspective).

Concerning my second point, I urge you to consider whether choosing to silence voices of Israeli academics through endorsing an academic boycott is an appropriate pathway for a discipline that is troubled by questions concerning anthropologists’ authoritative practices. Furthermore, choosing to silence one group of academics as a main punitive action seems to be in contradiction with the discipline’s ethos of conducting a multifaceted, vibrant, professional discourse. There are multiple other measures to politically engage with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without harming the core of our professional ethos; without disenfranchising a whole group from participation in the international professional scene. For those who argue in return that Palestinian scholars are in fact silenced in these days by the Israeli occupation I say- this is correct. But how does silencing another group of people solve this situation? Since when retaliation by the same token is the optimal means to fight that situation?

I therefore urge you to carefully consider your vote on BDS, and all of its possible implications. Also, if you care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and want to do something about it, please know that there are many other possibilities to be engaged and contribute to bringing an end to the Israeli occupation that do not involve such problematic measures.

Yours,

AA

Vote YES on Resolution 1

Real Justice Requires Dialogue! Reject Boycott, Work for Peace: Vote YES on Resolution #1

On FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20 AT 6:00 PM in Colorado Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 2&3, the members of AAA will be asked to vote on two resolutions addressing the situation in Israel and Palestine.

SayYesSayNo

VOTE YES ON RESOLUTION #1

WE NEED YOUR HELP. Every vote will count. We believe strongly that the future of Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association is at stake. This is not just a vote about a boycott.

BEYOND COMPREHENSION

By, Cynthia Saltzman, Ph.D. Rutgers University-Camden, NJ

This article was originally posted on the AAA website

It is unfathomable and beyond comprehension that as the world’s attention turns to the devastating terror attacks in Paris with ISIS’s name seemingly behind the horrendous murders, the American Anthropological Association has decided to solely condemn Israel among all the nations in the world. There is no parallel effort to condemn any of the world’s terrorist groups committing atrocities daily or to sanction any of the nations that harbor them or any of the countries engaged in unspeakable abuses of their own people. What the AAA report on Israeli/Palestinian relations has implicitly concluded is that Israel is more evil than any other nation and presumably the only country to warrant an international boycott.

The AAA report on discriminatory conditions for Palestinians and the injustice of Israel’s settlements in occupied territories has led to an extraordinary leap of logic that an academic boycott of Israeli institutions is justifiable. By this logic, those who are doing research in China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and in any other country with an oppressive regime should be advocating an academic boycott of those countries. The question is not whether anthropologists have legitimate political criticism of Israel, but whether by singling out one nation for condemnation and an academic boycott and not holding other countries accountable for their repressive policies, anthropologists are, in the words of Daniel Orenstein, “ostracizing and painting blood red” Israel and Israel alone.

I am boycotting the annual meetings this year, because the AAA is acting irresponsibly in creating a movement to single out Israel among all the countries in the world and to indict its universities as complicit and accountable for the Israeli government’s activities. In my field work in the United States, I have seen American children in the inner city sick from lead poisoning and living in neighborhoods unsafe to play in playgrounds with drug needles and with some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Should we boycott American universities that fly the American flag and in so doing perpetuate conditions of radical inequality in this country? The hypocrisy of the AAA in its hate and condemnation of Israel is clearly evident.

The report of the AAA has already created damage. It has led anthropologists to reach harmful, anti-Semitic, and damaging conclusions on the basis of a biased report. Look at some of the comments on the AAA website. One anthropologist writes on the association’s blog, “I knew the settlers were awful, but the behavior towards Palestinians does, in fact, echo Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.” Anyone actually familiar with what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s would find this comparison bizarre and reprehensible. Furthermore, as the report itself points out, if a boycott goes into effect, there is no mechanism or standard in place by which to end it, and thus punitive measures against Israel could be indefinite.

If the AAA supports an academic boycott of Israeli universities, those anthropology professors in Israel who have been at the forefront of criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and advocating for a two-state solution, will undoubtedly be more isolated in the world community than ever before. If the AAA moves forward with an academic boycott of Israel, it will at the very least look daffy and have advocates for mutual respect shaking their heads at anthropologists’ single-minded bias against Israel at the very moment that terrorism poses a deadly threat to all of us. At the worst, the AAA actions will be a breach of academic freedom, put into question the legitimacy of Israeli academics, effectively stifle debate on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and lend support to forces of anti-Semitism as it backs a destructive boycott that has no prospect in place for its end.

Dan Rabinowitz’s response to ‘An Open Letter to Dan Rabinowitz: Let’s Get our Facts Straight about BDS’ by Nadia Abu El-Haj.

By Dan Rabinowitz, Professor of Anthropology at Tel Aviv University. First published on Monoweiss.net November 14 2015

On November 9th 2015, Nadia Abu El-Haj posted an ‘open letter’ to me in response to an op-ed piece I published in Haaretz a few days earlier. Here is my brief response to her.

On Edward Said: I never claimed that had Said been alive he would have been opposed to BDS. I know that Noam Chomsky, who shared many of Edward’s views, recently spoke against BDS. But I cannot tell what Edward’s position would have been, so I did not. I did say that BDS slammed Said’s Diwan, the Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra project that remains an important part of his good legacy.

Dan Rabinowitz introducing Edward Said key note speech at IAA Nazareth March 1999 (2)

On anti-semitism: Abu El-Haj paraphrases me correctly when she invokes my observation that BDS is not being honest about the endgame it seeks. What I find bewildering is her claim that by indexing this I ‘raise the specter of anti-semitism‘. I never thought BDS to be anti-semitic, and am not inclined to change my mind if an odd anti-semite occasionally jumps on its band wagon. I do insist that BDS is duplicitous. My article attempts to shed some light on the political agenda which drives this doubletalk, spiraling BDS (and Anthroboycott behind it) into all kinds of contradictions and confusion.

On economic sanctions against Israeli companies: I never claimed they do not happen. I argued that BDS’s leadership, which focuses almost exclusively on academic boycott, does very little to promote them. My article suggests an explanation for this bizarre strategic choice.

On Israeli universities: I never claimed that ‘Israeli universities are overwhelmingly in favor of dialogue and compromise’ as Abu El-Haj misquotes me. I did say that Israeli universities are ‘inhabited by individuals who, like Said in his time, are overwhelmingly in favor of dialogue and compromise’. When it comes to the distinction between individuals and institutions, Abu El-Haj, like most protagonists of academic boycott, seems to become confused.

On BDS’s endgame: Abu El-Haj returns to this in her last paragraph, promising to refute my assertion about BDS’s real intentions and ‘get our facts straight’. I read that paragraph, then read it once again. I am thankful for the illustration it provides of my main argument in Haaretz. QED.

On Syntax: Letters can be significant and moving because they use the second person, directly addressing their recipients. Nadia Abu El-Haj’ and I have had our conversations and collaborations in the past. We know each other personally. I notice now however that even as she writes a text she calls ‘a letter’ to me, she cannot bring herself to address me in the customary second person. Being an individual and not an institution, I wonder: do protocol-abiding boycotters need approval from a yet to be perfected clause in a future sub-section of one of PACBI handbook’s convoluted chapters before they can engage in direct public dialogue with someone like me?

On boycott and personal relations: Anthroboycott insists that it targets institutions, not individuals. I and other Israeli anthropologists obviously have personal acquaintances amongst anthroboycottists. When the campaign to boycott us began we expected those of them who identify themselves publicly as supportive of a boycott to reach out, at least on personal communication channels, and put our minds at ease. We are still waiting. Is distinguishing the personal from the institutional and the political proving to be impossible so early in the day? Where will we all be AFTER our colleagues have passed a boycott resolution against ‘our institutions’?

Prof. Dan Rabinowitz teaches Anthropology at Tel-Aviv University. He is Co-founder of Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine, a former President of the Israeli Anthropological Association and of Greenpeace Mediterranean and current Chairman of the Association for Environmental Justice in Israel. He has books on Israel/Palestine published by Cambridge, UC Berkeley and Ashgate, and articles in American Ethnologist, JRAI, Critical Inquiry, IJMES, JAR, Ethnic and Racial Studies and more.

A Boycott Story: An Old Practice, but Only One Possible Path

By, Harvey E. Goldberg, The Hebrew University

In the summer of 1981, in London, I participated in a conference on North African society. My work has had Jewish life in Libya as a major focus. Never having been able to visit Libya, I hoped the occasion might be an opportunity to meet colleagues from there. Before the first session, I spoke with some students from Libya. They were surprised at my presence, and expressed curiosity in a friendly tone.

Among the participants from different countries, one other Israeli attended: a student finishing her doctorate. Her research was on the political history of Tripolitania. My studies dealt mostly with daily life within the Jewish community. She was scheduled to speak first.

When my Israeli colleague was invited to the lectern, a person suddenly got up and addressed the chair. He introduced himself as a Palestinian and asked whether it was true that the speaker—who had not yet begun—was an Israeli. Upon hearing that she was, he expressed an objection that he and others were not informed earlier. His critical remarks included the statement that “Israelis are not human.”

He then began to walk out, and was joined by some others. I saw some people hesitate as whether to leave or not. Near me was one of the students with whom I had chatted. At first he did not move, but then I saw him notice a signal from and older person. He then left too.

At the end of the session, I was approached by a man from a university in Tunisia. In concise and crisp French he told me: “In politics we are adversaries; in science we are colleagues.” His statement has always stayed with me.

As Mideast Violence Escalates, Debate and Dialogue Shrinks

By: Mira Sucharov, an associate professor of political science at Carleton University.

As hot as things have become in Israel and the West Bank over the last several weeks with escalating violence, here in North America a chill is palpable. It comes in the form of silencing within and across communities – in private homes, on university campuses and in community institutions. It’s coming from both sides: those who call themselves “pro-Palestinian” and those who call themselves “pro-Israel.” While the Palestinian solidarity side uses boycott and silencing, the Jewish community has its own internal conversation watchdogs.

Last week, a speaker at the University of Minnesota was shouted down, his talk delayed by 30 minutes. The invited scholar was Moshe Halbertal, a philosopher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a professor of law at New York University. It was a scholarly talk: the Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law, sponsored by the university’s law school. Prof. Halbertal is also a noted military ethicist who helped draft a code of ethics for the Israel Defense Forces. The Minnesota Anti-War Committee took credit for the stunt; Students for Justice in Palestine endorsed it.

If you’re concerned by the extent to which civilians have born the brunt of violence and destruction in the Israeli-Palestinian context, Prof. Habertal is someone you’d want to speak with, especially in an academic context where the point is the free exchange of ideas. But it’s hard to pose tough questions if you’re trying to silence the person.

This blocking of Prof. Halbertal’s speech is a trend that gets its fire from the academic and cultural boycott of Israel organized by the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, along with the more general push against what many Palestine solidarity activists call “normalization,” meaning ordinary engagement with Jews and Israelis and their ideas. Activists argue that the target is institutions, not individuals. But the effects on individuals and open speech, as they were at the University of Minnesota last week, are clear.

Continuing in this vein, last week producers of Dégradé, a film about Gaza told from the perspective of clients at a hair salon, pulled it from the Other Israel Film Festival sponsored by the JCC Manhattan because it’s a “Jewish” festival. While it seems that the producers’ decision was their own, it suggests a dangerous precedent: fortifying the silos between acceptable audiences and unacceptable ones in the world of art, ideas and culture.

Meanwhile, while the Jewish community doesn’t talk in terms of boycott and anti-normalization, it has its own troubling rules of engagement.

There are the narrow speaker guidelines for those with whom campus Jewish groups allow their members to publicly engage in dialogue. The guidelines for Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish student organization, exclude anyone who “delegitimize[s], demonize[s] or appl[ies] a double standard to Israel, or supports the boycott, divestment and sanction movement.” While it’s natural that Israel supporters would bristle at those things, the rules effectively preclude Hillel students from inviting for debate and dialogue any Palestinian solidarity activists, almost all of whom, unfortunately, have jumped on the BDS bandwagon.

When my seven-year-long columnist post was cut from my local Jewish community paper last summer, I was told that it was to “make room for new voices.” Since then, it’s become clear that the publisher wanted only one angle on Israel. The columnist who focuses almost exclusively on the failings of Israel’s adversaries remained in place, while my replacement is steering clear of Israel altogether.

And then there are the corners of quiet shunning. I recently organized a Jewish community youth project involving rotating hosts. One of the participants pulled out, citing the fact that her husband “didn’t want me in his home.” He was appalled by my last Globe and Mail piece. When it comes to “support for Israel,” they said, “there is only one side.”

But some – young Jews in particular – are pushing back against this narrowing of discourse. First there was Open Hillel, a grassroots organization devoted to opposing the speaker guidelines mentioned above. (Disclosure: I am on the group’s academic advisory council.) And now there’s the Jewish People’s Assembly, which launched on Sunday in Washington. The group is demanding that Jewish Federations – the main funding body of local Jewish communities –“not condition support for Jewish institutions and organizations on these institutions’ adherence to red lines around Israel.”

One might fantasize about casting all the silencers into a room where they can sit in silence with each other to their heart’s content. Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue to try to talk, to write and to publicly grapple with the dilemmas of the day, trying to search for bits of common ground wherever they might be.

The original article was published at The Globe and Mail

What Your Boycott Means to Me

Like most academics in the summer time, I recently attended two professional conferences where I presented my research and heard about the research of my colleagues from around the world. Aside from the perk of world travel, summer vacation is an opportunity – perhaps the opportunity – to broaden horizons and learn about the state-of-the-art in our scientific fields. During this particular summer, I had pleasant conversations with Turkish, Chinese, and American colleagues, among many others.

Continue reading ‘s article.

Boycotting Israeli Universities and its Discontents

By: Dan Rabinowitz, Professor of Anthropology at Tel Aviv University

Those advocating a boycott of Israeli universities strive for the moral high ground, but puzzling contradictions cast doubts on their motivation

The initiative to have the AAA endorse a boycott of Israeli universities comes in two versions, each with its peculiar load of inner contradictions. The first version appeared in 2014 as a foundational statement. The gist: Israeli universities will be boycotted until ‘they call on Israel’ to end the siege of Gaza, withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967, grant Palestinian citizens of Israel full equality and ‘respect, protect and promote’ Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

Continue reading at Anthropology News