When you complain that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement discriminates on the basis of national identity, you are nowadays met with a contemptuous sniff. Proponents of an academic boycott insist that individual Israeli academics are not targets; rather, institutional arrangements with Israeli universities—study abroad programs, for example—are. Similarly, the cultural boycott does not target individual Israeli artists, but artists and artistic groups that enjoy some sort of government sponsorship. Look, dummy, they say, our guidelines are crystal clear! This “is a boycott of Israeli cultural institutions, not Israeli individuals.”
In the case of the academic boycott, this distinction between individuals and institutions is paper-thin. Until fairly recently, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel had this to say about its commitment to principle: “In principle, since the call is specifically for institutional, not individual boycott, [activities involving Israeli academics] do not violate the boycott. However, all academic exchanges with Israeli academics do have the effect of normalizing Israel and its politics of occupation and apartheid.” Therefore, “academics could consider whether equally valuable contributions might not be made by non-Israeli colleagues; whether an invitation to a Palestinian intellectual might be preferable; whether the exchange is intellectually or pedagogically essential.” In other words, we’re against boycotting individual Israeli academics, but please see what you can do about boycotting Israeli academics.
Comically, the guidelines explain that individual academics are being boycotted because the movement is decentralized, not because BDS advocates should try to avoid exchanges with Israeli academics despite the fact that they literally just said that was the preferred outcome. “It may also be that as a consequence of the boycott Israeli academics are now having a harder time publishing outside the country, participating in formal exchanges, sitting on boards and international committees, and the like,” the guidelines continued.
These guidelines have quietly disappeared, but their disappearance probably has more to do with their foolish revelation of BDS hypocrisy than a change of heart.
Six Israeli choreographers were recently rejected as participants in a feminist art festival in Norway because the organizers could not “with a clear conscience invite Israeli participants” when Palestinian artists struggle to get their art out. The rejection letters assure the choreographers that they might someday be invited if political circumstances change. In the meantime, they were advised to “help raise awareness in your society about the concern that many of us artists and cultural workers around the world have about the brutal effects of the occupation.” Alas, this sort of thing is not atypical. Why would it be? The shunning of Israeli artists and academics is fully in line with the attitudes and actions BDS encourages with a hard nudge and a dramatic wink.
BDS does not want to have a debate, which it knows it will lose, about whether individual Israelis should be shunned until they join Jewish Voice for Peace. So they won’t stop lying. But watch what they do, not what they—except on the numerous occasions in which they slip—say.