Commentary Magazine


Topic: boycotts

University Deserves Kudos, Not Blame

As a country with more than enough real enemies, the last thing Israel needs is for its supporters to start attacking its friends. But that’s what seems to have happened to the University of Texas – which has been attacked as an anti-Israel boycotter for taking a courageous stand against the boycott.

It began when Israel National News published a perfectly fair article with an unfortunate headline: “New Boycott: U. of Texas Cancels Book Including Israelis.” The headline seems to accuse the university itself of boycotting Israelis, and that’s how many people evidently read it: Comments such as “U of Texas Press bows to boycotters,” or the more generic “scandalous!” and “shameful,” soon appeared on Twitter and Facebook.

What actually happened, as the news story makes clear, is that the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies wanted to publish a collection of women’s writing about life in the Middle East that would include both Arab and Israeli authors. The problem began when a Palestinian woman who had been invited to contribute threatened to withdraw her own article if the two Israelis contributors weren’t excluded.

The university, quite properly, told her to go ahead and withdraw; the book could live without her contribution. But she countered by persuading other contributors to withdraw their manuscripts as well. Ultimately, according to Inside Higher Ed, 13 of the 29 authors did so, and a few others were wavering. That left the university with four choices:

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As a country with more than enough real enemies, the last thing Israel needs is for its supporters to start attacking its friends. But that’s what seems to have happened to the University of Texas – which has been attacked as an anti-Israel boycotter for taking a courageous stand against the boycott.

It began when Israel National News published a perfectly fair article with an unfortunate headline: “New Boycott: U. of Texas Cancels Book Including Israelis.” The headline seems to accuse the university itself of boycotting Israelis, and that’s how many people evidently read it: Comments such as “U of Texas Press bows to boycotters,” or the more generic “scandalous!” and “shameful,” soon appeared on Twitter and Facebook.

What actually happened, as the news story makes clear, is that the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies wanted to publish a collection of women’s writing about life in the Middle East that would include both Arab and Israeli authors. The problem began when a Palestinian woman who had been invited to contribute threatened to withdraw her own article if the two Israelis contributors weren’t excluded.

The university, quite properly, told her to go ahead and withdraw; the book could live without her contribution. But she countered by persuading other contributors to withdraw their manuscripts as well. Ultimately, according to Inside Higher Ed, 13 of the 29 authors did so, and a few others were wavering. That left the university with four choices:

First, it could violate every known standard of professional behavior, and open itself to lawsuits, by publishing the withdrawn manuscripts without their authors’ consent. Second, it could make itself a professional laughingstock by publishing a collection of articles on life in the Middle East that didn’t include a single Arab author. Its critics seem to think it should have chosen one of these two. Yet it should be obvious that no self-respecting university would seriously consider either of them.

The third option was to capitulate to the boycotters and publish 27 of the 29 articles, excluding only the two Israeli contributions. Many universities would likely have done exactly that: Just consider the craven behavior of Yale University Press, which capitulated to Muslim pressure to exclude pictures of controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed from a book about the controversy over the Danish cartoons. But Texas, to its credit, did no such thing.

Instead, it chose the final option: It stood up to the boycotters and announced that if the Israelis aren’t published, the boycotters won’t be, either – even at the cost of canceling a book in which the university had already invested a good deal of time, effort and money. As Kamran Scot Aghaie, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, quite properly said, he refuses to “censor” people “based on religion or national origin. To do so is simply discrimination, and it’s wrong.”

That’s exactly how a self-respecting university should respond to anti-Israel boycotters. And for having done so, the University of Texas deserves kudos, not blame.

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Re: Beinart’s Slippery Slope on Boycotts

This weekend Jonathan weighed in on the letter signed by a number of UK artists calling for a boycott of Israel’s Habima theatre company.

Had the letter not contained the names of celebrities Emma Thompson and Mike Leigh, I doubt it would have made the splash it did – and, to further Jonathan’s point about Peter Beinart and the role he plays in delegitimating Israel, the letter’s signatories include the usual suspects among the Jews-for-Justice-for-anyone-but-the-Jews, whose fame, in the world of the performing arts, is more closely linked to their anti-Zionist crusades than their artistic talents.

Still, one point deserves to be added to Jonathan’s excellent take-down.

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This weekend Jonathan weighed in on the letter signed by a number of UK artists calling for a boycott of Israel’s Habima theatre company.

Had the letter not contained the names of celebrities Emma Thompson and Mike Leigh, I doubt it would have made the splash it did – and, to further Jonathan’s point about Peter Beinart and the role he plays in delegitimating Israel, the letter’s signatories include the usual suspects among the Jews-for-Justice-for-anyone-but-the-Jews, whose fame, in the world of the performing arts, is more closely linked to their anti-Zionist crusades than their artistic talents.

Still, one point deserves to be added to Jonathan’s excellent take-down.

The “artists” explain their call to target Habima on the grounds that Habima performed in the Territories and that “By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law.” The inference here is that giving a stage to Habima will undermine those in Israel who refused to go along and perform in Ariel and other settlements.

But it also suggests that performing in the Territories is a breach of international law.

Now that’s something else. There is no clause in the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding theatre companies from performing a play in Territories under military occupation as a result of a conflict still waiting to be settled.

As an international law scholar whom I turned to in order to confirm the absence of such a rule from the annals of international law said with reference to the boycotters – “for them it is not international law, it is ‘my’ law.”

Same with Beinart and others afflicted by the same selective moral indignation – they make up facts and rules as they go along, which they then invoke to prove their hatred for Israel right.

 

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The Brooklyn BDS Failure

Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

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Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

The Guardian’s U.S. News blog has a darkly entertaining rundown of highlights from the debate. You have to get past the predictable headline pitting Israeli goods against “human rights,” but after that there are treats like:

“Belonging to the co-op means belonging to justice. And injustice anywhere is an attack on justice everywhere,” said one young woman, who never quite made it clear which way she was leaning. A midwife announced that she had delivered babies on both sides of this argument, and that “peace on earth begins at birth.”

There were also references to hummus-inspired music, musings about the double-valenced implications of Chomsky quotes, and an explanation of how Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) can be properly and positively analogized to uncomfortable “house cleaning” enemas (and now you can’t unknow that!) By all appearances, the debate exceeded even the expectations laid out by the preemptive NY Daily News profile of BDS co-op advocates.

In many ways and on many levels, the Park Slope BDS failure is a perfect update to the failure of BDS across the United States. First BDS pushers tried to get entire left-leaning states to boycott Israel, and they failed. Then they tried to get left-leaning university campuses to divest, at which point they failed again. Now this.

Pity Norman Finkelstein. Having spent decades trying to demonize Israel in the highest international forums, he and his ilk now have to complain bitterly from the sidelines as 21st century anti-Israel activism is reduced to some guy trotting out intestinal cleansing metaphors in a futile effort to get vegan Israeli marshmallows banned from grocery stores in Brooklyn.

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Trendy Anti-Zionism Splits Brooklyn

“When we talk about hummus,” the Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch tells New York Magazine’s Matthew Shaer, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.”

Shaer was writing on the occasion of tonight’s vote-on-a-vote among the Park Slope faithful: whether the socially-conscious members of a popular Brooklyn food co-op should take another vote at a later date on whether to boycott Israeli products. Hirsch was not speaking specifically about this proposed boycott, but her comment about symbolism was appropriate: the food co-op isn’t exactly filled to the brim with products made in Israel. But the number of items isn’t the point. It’s the symbolic importance of expressing a chic hostility to the Jewish state. As Ruthie Blum put it in Israel Hayom last week:

The Jews of Park Slope are living very near to where their great-grandparents settled after getting off the boat at Ellis Island. However poor and dirty Brooklyn was in those days, it constituted freedom from an actual evil occupation – that of the Nazis. And however gentrified much of the New York City borough has become, many of its Jewish residents still care enough about the quality and price of their kosher food to join a food cooperative.

With a threat as great as Hitler’s annihilation machine looming large today, they should be ashamed of themselves for tolerating any assistance whatsoever to its enablers. In so doing, they are dishonoring their heritage and endangering their future.

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“When we talk about hummus,” the Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch tells New York Magazine’s Matthew Shaer, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.”

Shaer was writing on the occasion of tonight’s vote-on-a-vote among the Park Slope faithful: whether the socially-conscious members of a popular Brooklyn food co-op should take another vote at a later date on whether to boycott Israeli products. Hirsch was not speaking specifically about this proposed boycott, but her comment about symbolism was appropriate: the food co-op isn’t exactly filled to the brim with products made in Israel. But the number of items isn’t the point. It’s the symbolic importance of expressing a chic hostility to the Jewish state. As Ruthie Blum put it in Israel Hayom last week:

The Jews of Park Slope are living very near to where their great-grandparents settled after getting off the boat at Ellis Island. However poor and dirty Brooklyn was in those days, it constituted freedom from an actual evil occupation – that of the Nazis. And however gentrified much of the New York City borough has become, many of its Jewish residents still care enough about the quality and price of their kosher food to join a food cooperative.

With a threat as great as Hitler’s annihilation machine looming large today, they should be ashamed of themselves for tolerating any assistance whatsoever to its enablers. In so doing, they are dishonoring their heritage and endangering their future.

Lest you think Blum is being unfairly unkind to the aimless allies of the destroy-Israel movement, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was even harsher:

“I think it has nothing to do with the food,” he said of the boycott. “The issue is there are people who want Israel to be torn apart and everybody to be massacred, and America is not going to let that happen.”

The New York Times notes, “The boycott would be largely symbolic, because the co-op carries only a half-dozen or so products imported from Israel, including paprika, olive pesto and vegan marshmallows.” It’s possible if you have not recently been to Brooklyn, that sentence may strike you as absurd. But that is the modern reality for the borough’s residents, living among self-styled problem-solvers apparently in desperate need of real problems to solve–like how to stop the infiltration of Israeli vegan marshmallows.

As you might expect, Bloomberg is not the only city official who understands the inanity of the vote:

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, called the idea “ill conceived.” Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, said it was “madness.” Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, described the proposal as “an anti-Semitic crusade.”

Because there are a not-insignificant number of Israeli immigrants and their descendants in Brooklyn (close to 8,000 as of the 2000 census), and New York is famous for welcoming immigrants, one can imagine why these politicians aren’t crazy about the Park Slopers’ hostile “activism.”

New Yorkers are generally a quite proud people when it comes to their city. Let’s hope Bloomberg, Quinn and the others speak for many Brooklynites in their hopes that this shameful episode passes without bringing the city any more embarrassment.

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The Hypocrisy of the “Cultural Boycotters”

Abe’s post about the hypocrisy of rock stars who preach morality while cozying up to dictators inevitably brings the anti-Israel cultural boycotters to mind. Take, for instance, Grammy-winning jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, who canceled a planned performance in Israel last week at the behest of pro-Palestinian activists. But somehow, she discovered her moral conscience only one day after having received full payment for the scheduled show – of which she has so far agreed to refund only part. In other words, this paragon of morality used her newfound passion for the Palestinian cause to commit robbery in broad daylight.

Or then there’s indie pop group, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, which recently canceled their planned performance in Israel. They, too, cited “political” reasons, in addition to scheduling pressures. But somehow, their moral conscience awoke only after they had managed to book a more lucrative gig in Malaysia for the same time.

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Abe’s post about the hypocrisy of rock stars who preach morality while cozying up to dictators inevitably brings the anti-Israel cultural boycotters to mind. Take, for instance, Grammy-winning jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, who canceled a planned performance in Israel last week at the behest of pro-Palestinian activists. But somehow, she discovered her moral conscience only one day after having received full payment for the scheduled show – of which she has so far agreed to refund only part. In other words, this paragon of morality used her newfound passion for the Palestinian cause to commit robbery in broad daylight.

Or then there’s indie pop group, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, which recently canceled their planned performance in Israel. They, too, cited “political” reasons, in addition to scheduling pressures. But somehow, their moral conscience awoke only after they had managed to book a more lucrative gig in Malaysia for the same time.

If this naked greed posing as morality is the best the cultural boycotters can do, I don’t think Israel has much to worry about on the moral high ground front. But it’s time for the rest of the world, including Israel, to start calling a spade a spade. These artists don’t give a fig about either Palestinian suffering or Israeli “human-rights abuses”; if they did, they wouldn’t have booked gigs in Israel in the first place. At best, all they care about is earning some positive publicity by feigning concern for Palestinian rights. And at worst, as with Cassandra Wilson and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, their crocodile tears are merely a convenient way to earn some extra lucre.

In short, they aren’t “cultural boycotters,” and they shouldn’t be dignified as such – because that term at least implies taking a moral stand, however warped. They are cynical poseurs who have found a way to exploit the Palestinian cause for their own gain.

 

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