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Issue #1623      January 22, 2014

Backlash against boycott reeks of hypocrisy

The American Studies Association’s recent endorsement of the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions is a triumph for the entire boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Israel’s ongoing crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people – 65 years of ethnic cleansing, colonisation, denial of refugee rights and second-class citizenship, including extension of this brutal regime into the territories occupied since 1967 – has been perpetuated with the full complicity of Israeli academia.

The association’s vote powerfully affirms that such racism and injustice must not be legitimised through so-called “engagement” with abetting institutions.

Zionists have been quick to accuse the ASA resolution of violating academic freedom, but this accusation does not stand up to meaningful scrutiny. In fact, it is Israel that systematically denies this right to Palestinians.

And in reality, these attacks have little to do with academic freedom in the first place. Nor do they reflect an aversion to boycotts per se, which Israel and its supporters widely apply, for example, to the entire populations of Gaza and Iran – and now to the ASA itself.

Targeting Israel

Their real objection is that BDS targets Israel. Rather than admit this outright, however, BDS opponents typically complain of double standards. “Did [the ASA resolution’s] authors,” wrote editors of The Washington Post, “pause to consider China’s incarceration of writers and scholars who dare to think and speak out for freedom, or the ethnic groups in China persecuted for refusing to heel to the Beijing masters?”

Writing in The Huffington Post, Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan College, stated: “The ASA listens to civil society only when it speaks against Israel. As its scholarly president declared, ‘One has to start somewhere.’ Not in North Korea, not in Russia or Zimbabwe or China – one has to start with Israel. Really?”

James F Jones, president of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut made a similar point: “In this strange case, why the ASA would propose an academic boycott of Israel and not, for example, of Syria, the Sudan, North Korea, China, Iran, Iraq, or Russia escapes rational thought.”

Congressman Eliot Engel stated: “If you must ‘start somewhere’, then I strongly suggest the ASA turn its attention to Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s forces have indiscriminately shelled universities, killing students even as they sat for exams.”

Desperate

These arguments, however, are merely desperate attempts to distract attention from the fundamentally unjust nature of the Jewish state and trivialize Palestinian suffering.

As writer Mike Marqusee recently pointed out, these arguments are also virtually identical to earlier cries of “hypocrisy” against those who boycotted apartheid South Africa rather than “black dictatorships” elsewhere in Africa.

The logical fallacies here are numerous. First, one injustice never excuses another, nor do opponents of one injustice have to answer for unrelated injustices.

Second, the BDS movement has never condoned crimes by other regimes to begin with. Third, opponents of the ASA resolution wouldn’t support BDS no matter who else it denounced.

And fourth, they would never be making such arguments in the first place, were their own rights at stake.

True hypocrites

Who, then, are the true hypocrites?

Furthermore, the ASA didn’t “propose” the boycott of Israel, as Jones has claimed. Rather, it endorsed an already existing Palestinian call – as Jones et al would do were their purported empathy for the oppressed genuine.

Instead, just as hostile whites often condescendingly dismissed black resistance to Jim Crow as the work of “outside agitators,” defenders of apartheid-Israel portray BDS as the pathological brainchild of left-wing Western academics and activists. In both cases, the goal is to attack a movement’s authenticity and validity.

It didn’t work then; it won’t work now.

Indeed, more than anything these attacks signify that Israel has lost the battle for moral legitimacy. With Israel increasingly exposed before the world as a racist regime, its supporters now resort to assassinating the character of those – including a growing number of Jews – who demand justice for Palestinians.

These threats notwithstanding, the association’s stand is reverberating around the world.

“The ASA boycott of Israel,” wrote Palestinian BDS advocate Omar Barghouti, “will be remembered for many years to come as a crucial catalyst in this emancipatory process of reclaiming rights for all who are denied them.”

In Palestine, that process must ultimately lead to the end of Zionist apartheid, and, consistent with renewed Palestinian calls, a single democratic state throughout historic Palestine with equal rights for all.

Meanwhile, it is incumbent on all people of conscience to defend – and emulate – the ASA’s courageous stand.

The Electronic Intifada

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