The Boycott Kabuki

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 18 2013 @ 11:11am

The American Studies Association has voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israel:

The resolution approved by a plurality of ASA members cites as a rationale the lack of “effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation” and calls for the association to boycott Israeli higher education institutions, which are described as being “a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”

And we’re off! Goldblog asks why Israel is being singled out:

Another approach of the American Studies Association would be to study the reporting of such organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as make lists of the countries that violate human rights on a regular basis (100 or so come to mind with minimum effort) and boycott them. Still another direction would be to boycott institutions in the U.S., which is occupying Afghanistan and conducting assassination campaigns in five or six countries around the world. Many members of the American Studies Association teach at institutions that receive research funding from the Pentagon. The most appropriate response by these academics might be to ban themselves from the conferences they organize and cease to read their own papers.

Scott McConnell defends targeting Israel:

A corollary to this point is that America, because of its “special relationship” with Israel, has a particular obligation to stand up against the injustices Israel is responsible for.

Beinart weighs in:

This is the fundamental problem:

Not that the ASA is practicing double standards and not even that it’s boycotting academics, but that it’s denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one. I don’t think that position is inherently anti-Semitic, but I do think it’s profoundly misguided. Britain is not illegitimate because it has a cross on its flag and an Anglican head of a state. Germany is not illegitimate because its immigration policy favors members of a dominant ethnic group. Jews deserve a state that takes a special interest in their self-protection, just like Palestinians do. And disregarding both peoples’ deep desire for such a state is not a recipe for harmonious bi-nationalism (if such a thing even exists); it’s a recipe for civil war.

That’s not just my view. It’s the view of the most popular Palestinian leader alive, Marwan Barghouti, who said earlier this year that, “If the two-state solution fails, the substitute will not be a binational one-state solution, but a persistent conflict that extends based on an existential crisis.”

Chait sees the boycott backfiring:

The ASA buoyantly predicts its boycott will pressure Israel into ending its occupation. I predict the opposite effect. In recent years, the context of the American debate has changed markedly, as Jewish liberals have grown openly frustrated and angry with hawkish Israeli governments. The ideological and generational split has created a novel opportunity for critics of Israel’s occupation. Absurdly discriminatory academic boycotts make anti-occupation (but not categorically anti-Israel) liberals — like, say, J Street — forget what’s so terrible about the occupation and remember what’s so terrible about the anti-Zionist left. It’s the best news Netanyahu has had in months.

But Matthew Kalman suggests that the ASA boycott could also backfire and help the Palestinian leadership:

“No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas told reporters [at Mandela’s memorial last week]. “But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal…But we don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel. We have mutual recognition of Israel.” It wasn’t quite a denunciation of the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] campaign, but the remarks threatened to transform the boycott from its self-image as the principled projection of native Palestinian policy to the bastard foreign child of freelance troublemakers. …

One of the motivating factors behind John Kerry’s current push for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is the belief of U.S. and European officials sympathetic to Israel that the BDS campaign is beginning to make inroads that will, left unchallenged, begin to nibble away at mainstream support for Israel in the democratic world. From Abbas’s point of view, this surely should be good news and strengthen his hand in the current peace talks, helping to speed up their glacial progress.

And the beat goes on.