Saturday, January 27, 2007

"And they complain about a boycott?"

MANY people are still thinking about the idea of an academic boycott of Israel.
Would it be an effective way of responding to calls from beleaguered Palestinian academics and students for solidarity? Could it be misguided and hit the wrong people? Myself, not being an academic I don't have to make a decision, but I'm inclined to think a boycott aimed at individuals merely because of their nationality would be wrong, amounting to collective punishment which the enemy practises but we don't because we're not racists.
(It would be a different matter if someone specifically accused of crimes was coming, whatever their nationality).

A boycott targetting institutions on the other hand, as the AUT conference originally attempted, is a legitimate idea, particularly if the institutions are shown to have government links or be involved in oppressive policies.
The anti-boycott group Engage seems unable or unwilling to see the difference, and its big man Dave Hirsh has been urging members of the new academic union UCU to demand of candidates for office where they stand on "boycotting Israeli colleagues", as though that was being raised.

Even when they say they are against it, he doesn't seem satisfied. Singling out "left" candidate for general secretary Roger Kline, Hirsh wanted to know why the SWP was supporting him, and he doesn't like Kline citing his old Communist dad as saying you can criticise Israel without being antisemitic.
Engage was supposed to be on the Left itself, or so we were expected to believe. Maybe Hirsh was still upset over setbacks in his own college, Goldsmith's, or maybe he just couldn't stop the mask slipping.

Anyway, someone who has so far had genuine doubts over the academic boycott is Yigal Arens, an Israeli-born information systems specialist working in the United States. When he recieved an invitation to take his expertise to Israel, he hesitatated. While he was considering whether to accept, those who were to have been his hosts made his mind up for him. They may also have helped tip the balance of his thinking towards the boycott in principle.

At any rate he has headed this letter to a friend, with its interesting picture of just how "independent" of government some academic institutions are,

"And *they* complain about a boycott?"

Although raised in Israel -- living there from age 6 to 23 -- for many years I have been an outspoken critic of Israeli policies including their occupation of Palestinian territories.

On January 9 I was called by a US professor who specializes in security informatics. He said that he was co-organizing a small workshop on the Internet and its growing role in terrorist and anti-terrorist activities. The goal of the workshop would be to identify key research issues and set a research agenda. The workshop would include 20-30 people from the US, Israel, the UK and other European countries and was being paid for by NATO. The other co-organizer was Dr. Bracha Shapira of Ben-Gurion University (BGU), and the workshop would be held at BGU in early June.

The US researcher invited me to participate in this workshop. He said that the organizers were particularly interested in my presence and were very eager for me to accept the invitation. I have been involved in organizing related activities for several years now.

I told the US professor that I would have to think about this. I had a potentially conflicting obligation. Also, I said I wanted to be sure that I'd be treated no different than any other American participant, since I'd had an unpleasant past experience at another scientific meeting in Israel. He said he wasn't aware of any problem -- the Israeli organizer wanted me there. I said I'd give him an answer in a week.

On the following Tuesday, January 16, I received a urgent call from the US prof. He apologized profusely and said that he had been told by the Israelis that government personnel would be present at the workshop and that they would feel uncomfortable if I participated, and therefore he was told to rescind the invitation, which he was doing.

I wrote an email to Dr. Shapira to ask what happened to suddenly change their mind. That was on January 16. Since she didn't respond I sent her another email on January 19. She finally answered only on January 21. Her explanation was that the US co-organizer "exceeded his authority in extending the invitation without full consultation with the conference organizers."

Obviously, this doesn't answer any of the questions that come to mind given the specific interactions I had with the US co-organizer. She also uses peculiar language to describe the relationship between two co-organizers of an academic workshop.

I understand that a couple of reporters have contacted Dr. Shapira for her reaction. She has either refused comment or repeated that the original invitation was issued without consulting her, but has not addressed the question of official Israeli involvement in the process.

Yigal Arens
Director, Digital Government Research Center
Director, Intelligent Systems Division
Research Professor,
Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
USC/Information Sciences Institute

Yigal is quite keen for this experience to widely aired, so I'm happy to do my bit with this blog. And for any UCU members worried at the thought of Israeli academics being "blacklisted" (quoth Engage), here at last is a case you can take up! Only this one is being boycotted by officials in Israel.

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At 2:41 AM, Anonymous Jim Denham said...

Youstill don't geddit, do ya, Charlie? If someone proposed a boycott (trade,academic, anything else) of, say; Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Iran...and any other staes you might choose to add, who have particularly bad human rights records, then I'd probably agree with you...

Except thaq, no: you don't propose boycotting any of those: just Isreal, which has a *better* civil rights record.

No wonder people like me bang on about "double standards" when Israel is under discussion!

For Two States!

-Jim Denham

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

I do "get it", Jim. The question of whether boycott tactics should be applied and if so how is one which requires careful thought and examination with reference to the particular struggle.
It is you who pays no attention to any of the arguments for a boycott, or to the points raised in this letter, but simply go on with your false argument that we cannot apply a boycott to one country or its institutions without applying them to all. You could have said the same about South Africa but I doubt if you did. So who is guilty of "double standards"?
Had you and I been older we might have been asked from 1933 to support the boycott of German goods too, a boycott which unfortunately was broken when the Jewish Agency signed an agreement with the Nazis which included imports of German goods. That boycott was of course a response to Nazi antisemitism, boycott of Jewish shops and rxclusion from jobs. It is no use saying one can't make comparisons with Nazism, because at the time the Nazis had not yet embarked on genocide (otherwise how could the Jewish Agency have justified dealing with them?)
Let's consider the boycott, or sanctions, that is seldom or insufficiently recognised. Unlike South Africa, which depended on black labour, Israel has excluded Palestinians, replacing them with migrant workers from the four corners of the earth. A giant lock-out. The Israeli government and its armed forces regularly prevent Palestinians from traching work or college, or hospital, by use of checkpoints, and the separation fence/wall separates farmers from their crops. Israeli bull-dozers rip up olive groves and destroy glasshouses and homes. Those Palestinians who have managed to harvest their produce found it blocked at checkpoints so they could not get it to market or export. A boycott enforced by armed soldiers and military vehicles is much more effective and intimidating than a few protestors leafletting your shopping mall.
In Israel itself, Bedouin who simply want to farm their ancestral lands are driven off by force.
I need not go on. Anyone who pays attention knows all this. And of course there are also the sanctions applied by the US, Britain and the EU against the Palestinians because they voted the wrong way. No double standards there? And meanwhile the EU gives trade privileges to Israeli goods, and goods marked as from Israel which are from the illegal settlements, but makes no effort to ensure Palestinian are allowed access to the market. "Aid" increasingly becomes just charity, not development -which the Israelis smash anyway. Well even prisoners get food parcels, and Palestine is being turned into a vast prison.
You say you are for "two states", but ignore the way Israel and its supporters are making sure a Palestinian state is strangled at birth.
Against this background, some Palestinians - leading academics, trade unionists and community figures - have appealed for international solidarity to take the form of boycotts. They see this as assisting popular resistance rather than desperate terror attacks. Some Israelis too -such as ex-pilot Yonatan Shapira who spoke in London last night -believe boycott is justified, as a way in which ordinary people can bring pressure on the Israeli rulers which governments have failed to do.
All this deserves consideration. It does not mean we have to accept the boycott idea without reservations, nor indeed are those calling for boycotts demanding they be applied blindly, without careful aim.
"People like" you - a member of Alliance for Workers Liberty if I'm not mistaken - can bang on about "double standards" or whatever you like, but it is people like you - fortunately not too many - who insist on special treatment for Israel and refuse to pay any attention to what the oppressed Palestinians and even some Israelis are saying.
The boycott tactic merits discussion, and careful thought. But it's for those who are on the same side to argue about tactics. Your cavalier ignorance shows you are on the other side. I would not even dignify you and your group with the label "Zionist". Just a bunch of arrogant Brits for whom affecting support of Israel and your phoney "Two States" slogan provides an increasingly thin veneer.

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Luther Blissett said...

I can't believe that Jazzy Jim Denham hasn't heard of the "Israeli Academic Monitor", launched in 2004 to 'watch' (read that as actively work against) and to "bring to light statements and articles written by and about the academic extremists and university anti-Zionists. It is our purpose to expose the activities and statements of Israel's academic extremists. We encourage students, scholars, and others to submit to us materials, and we will post and publish those that are appropriate and relevant." Citing Ben Gurion University as "leading the field, with the worst and largest numbers of anti-Israel fanatics on its faculty", they then list "University of Haifa, Tel Aviv University, and Hebrew University" as "not far behind". Included in their hitlist are all the academics who support 'Courage to Refuse', in fact, it looks like all the academics they watch are from the list of supporters.

And where was Jim Denham's condemnation of the Likudnik drive to sanction/boycott Iran? I'd like to see that.

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Jon Pike said...


Could you send me, via Engage, any further details you have of this worrying case.

You probably know that we argue for academic freedom and against political tests and discrimination, and you ought to know that we try to apply this generally. This is why I raised the IDF ban on Palestinian students attending Israeli Universities within the UCU, cirulating the Gisha appeal on our activists list. I'm perplexed that you think we would be unconcerned about this apparent violation of academic freedom.

On the distinction between an institutional and an individual boycott, perhaps you'd like to look at my piece: 'the myth of the institutional boycott' on Engage. At any rate, it would be good to hear, from someone, just what an instutional and not individual boycott amounts to, since all the boycotters I know supported the explicitly individual boycott resolution in Natfhe.

All the best

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Jon Pike said...

Sorry, here's the link:

In view of this, perhaps you'd reconsider the claim that 'Engage is unable or unwilling to see the difference?' You cite the AUT resolutions as an example of an institutional boycott, but 1) those resolutions specified a political test for individuals to win exemption, and 2) used a formulation later disowned by Pacbi because it was contradictory and misleading over precisely this issue. The onus is on those who advocate a boycott, in the face of criticism, to say exactly what it is that they propose.

Best wishes

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

I'm glad to hear that Engage would be concerned about this and other cases. All the details I have are in this and my subsequent post on the subject quoting a Ha'aretz report.
I must say I found the actual seminar described - dealing with intelligence and security matters, funded by NATO and attended by government officials- somewhat questionable for an academic institution, but then of course Ben Gurion University and Israeli universities are not unique in such matters, as we in Britain know.
So far as the difference between institutional and individual boycotts goes, I'd have thought this fairly obvious even to academics. If a British academic was asked to say, vet degrees for Bar Ilan university, and decided to refuse on the grounds of the boycott, that would be institutional (I am not going into which institutions and how they should be boycotted, that would be be for the boycotters to decide). If on the other hand an Israeli academic was prevented from speaking or attending a conference here solely because he was Israeli or employed in an Israeli university, that would be individual. I know of such a case during the South African cultural boycott, and it was wrong, the guy in question being opposed to Apartheid and assisting black trade unions. I have not heard of similar cases concerning Israel, except Mona Baker's in my view misguided gesture in removing two Israeli academics' names from a journal she publishes. There was also a move in Hungary I believe to boycott Juliano Mer-Khamis and his work for Jenin Freedom Theatre, but I doubt whether most people in support of Palestine solidarity would have gone for this. Every cause and movement, however just, has its fools and provocateurs to contend with.
So far as the NATFHE resolution went (RIP), from what I could see it was confused and vague, both failing to make the distinction or the case for boycott, and not giving any clear guide as to what academics were expected to do with it. I criticised it at the time, and doubt whether I would have voted for it.
Maybe some people did just "in principle" and bearing in mind that it left it to their consciences what to do, besides which Natfhe was about to sink beneath the waves anyway as a trade union. Paul Mackney who had said publically that he supported the AUT boycott resolution the year before (I was with him on the platform in Trafalgar Square when he said it) spoke out against the resolution that came up in his own union Natfhe.
Mind you, it may be coincidence, but after the Natfhe vote the Hebrew University decided to cancel a course for Shin Bet members. So even a confused boycott resolution does some good!
But that was institutional, whereas the Hebrew University academic who had first protested this course was individual.

At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Jon Pike said...

1) I’ve posted an item on the Aren case at Engage.
2) You seem to want to endorse the AUT resolutions in 2005 as good examples of boycotting – institutional, not individual, and targeted, not blanket.
3) However, the 2005 resolutions exempted some individuals who passed a political test, thereby targeting those who failed, or who refused the test (as I would – and I hope anyone who came from the Trotskyist tradition, like you, would.). This was effectively conceded by PACBI who change their position in February 2006, because of precisely this problem (see PACBI: ‘Altering the parameters of debate’)
4) Proponents of a general academic boycott of Israel explicitly stated that the targeting of Bar-Ilan, HUJ and Haifa was a ‘tactical move’ (Sue B, in the Guardian) en route to a blanket boycott. It was, in fact, a tactical move that Ilan Pappe later criticised. (This partly because the individual cases didn’t stand up to scrutiny). You rightly point out that a blanket boycott would be a form of unjust discrimination. But the targeting of the AUT resolutions was conceived by its supporters as a step towards that blanket boycott, which is one reason why many were suspicious of them.
5) For these two reasons, the AUT resolutions were different from a refusal to be an external examiner – your example above.
6) The details matter here. To your credit, you do more to get to grips with them than most advocates of the boycott. But not enough. I address the specifics in the piece on Engage which refers directly to the positions of Bricup and the SPSC. Both of these claim to support only an institutional boycott, but that claim is false: via individual exemptions and the abuse of language, they target individuals. And an honest opponent of an individual boycott would oppose both the Natfhe resolutions and the AUT resolutions, and the BRICUP advice and the SPSC advice.
7) Of course, even if you were able to say what a purely institutional boycott would look like, I wouldn’t support it for different reasons: it would be counterproductive, unjust and so on. But it would be a start.
8) It’s interesting that you say that Paul Mackney supported the AUT boycott resolutions.
9) There is, of course, plenty of work to be done by trade unionists in securing and defending academic freedom in both Israel and Palestine. The proposals for an academic boycott contribute nothing to that.

Best wishes

At 3:45 PM, Anonymous Jon Pike said...

aargh. Just for the sake of clarity, in my point 7) above, I don't (of course) mean to say that a purely institutional boycott would 'be a start.' What I mean is that a proper account of what a purely institutional boycott involves, would be a start. No-one has provided such an account.


At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Luther Blissett said...

Jon Pike,

Why doesn't ENGAGE speak out against the Israeli Academic Monitor, which targets all Israeli Academics who speak out against or support an end to occupation using some of the most threatening language towards academics that I have ever seen?

At 4:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yigal Arens forget to tell on his resume that he was a Matzpenist. Matzpen was a communist/socialist radical movement whose goal was to distort Israel in the 70's. The Leader of Matzpen, Udi Adiv (a friend of Arens) was caught by the Israeli Intelligence spying for Syria. Adiv spent several years in Israeli Jail.

Today, Yigal Arnes, remains a Matzpenist in spirit and in action. He diligently lend a hand to any anti-Israel/Anti Semitic organization as their speaker. He is an hypocrite of the first kind. Ask him to give back the keys of his house to the American Indian!

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

I did not ask for Yigal Aren's "resume" before publicising what I thought was an interesting story, but I am grateful to the commentator with I dare say access to some dossier, for telling me that Yigal was in Matzpen.
Having been an active Zionist in my youth I owe a great deal of my subsequant education about Israeli reality and history to a fortunate meeting with the Matzpen emigres who came to London in the 1970s and with whom I have remained friends ever since.
I assume our informant is a newcomer to this blog or he might have realised that its author too is a "communist/socialist radical". Matzpen campaigned against the Occupation and sought a de-Zionised Israel with equality, able to take its place in a socialist Middle East. It pioneered the contacts with Palestinians abd discussions which led to Palestinians like Said Hammami and Naim Khider seeing the prospect of a just peace - a vision for which they paid with their lives.
Udi Adiv, an ex-para and kibbutznik, was not the "leader of Matzpen", but a member of a breakaway Red Front which, influenced by Maoist and guerrillaist ideas, went to Damascus to meet with members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. This brought contact also with a Syrian intelligence officer, and on their return to Israel they were betrayed to the authorities and Udi Adiv served time.
Had Udi been "caught spying" he might have been in the same category as Israel Beer, who was a high-ranking aide to Ben Gurion. But contact with someone deemed an enemy "agent" was enough to get you jailed in Israel, as Aharon Cohen of Mapam found when he was arrested for talking to an alleged Czech agent whom he met at an embassy reception.
I don't suppose anyone has considered blacklisting all their friends and political associates and forbidding them to attend an acdemic seminar, but perhaps I should not tempt providence here.
Then again, members of what became Lehi(the Stern group) approached Nazi German diplomats for an alliance in 1940-41, but this did not prevent Yitzhak Shamir's rise via Mossad (where he was probably involved in the deal with Otto Skorzeny) to become Prime Minister of Israel.
The attempt to discredit Arens reeks of the kind of disinformation we have grown used to from Shabak(Shin Bet), whereby Vanunu is supposed to have given information used to blow up a bus (not mentioned in his trial but only dug out when there is a campauign on his behalf), or Azmi Bishara supposedly gave intelligence to Hizbollah (surprising it did not improve their rocket aim). In this case a person is tagged a friend of a former "spy" and thus disbarred from giving information to an Israeli seminar. Highly logical!
As for lecturing "antisemitic" groups, that might apply to Mossad and Army officers imparting their knowledge to the Argentine military junta Hence Yitzhak Shamir's frank admission that the interests of the State of Israel would not always coincide with those of Jews in other countries. Indeed not.
I don't know of any contact between Yigal Arens and "antisemitic" organisations, nor does our informant provide any details. But his bracketing of "anti-Israel/antisemitic" makes me think that he is just essaying the all too common smear of "antisemitic" to anyone who criticises the Zionist state. As we've seen the Zionists are quite capable of collaborating with real antisemites.
Just as well our informant remains anonymous.
As for the American Indians, few other than outright racists and fascists would deny that crimes and injustice were committed against them in the rise of the United States, and modern Americans with any claim to be liberal or progressive would support some redress and measures to give native Americans gwnuine equality.
Our Zionist informant, with his confused remark about keys to the house(presumably he was thinking of the way many Palestinian families still keep the keys of the homes they were forced to abandon) admits a comparison, but seeks to use the earlier crime to excuse the ongoing crime of expropriation of the Palestinian people. Nobody in Matzpen nor among those with whom this blogger associates, Israeli or Palestinian, wishes those who have found themselves in Israel (including Jews brought from Arab lands) to give up their homes and become refugees in turn. But we want an end to the colonising, a withdrawal from occupation, and an acknowledgment both of past injustice and entitlement to an equal future for both peoples today, wharever state arrangements they choose to enable this just peace.
Our informant "forgot to tell us in his own resume" whether he has even thought about this, or is just on automatic pilot with his Pavlovian conditioning to attack "enemies of the State". Maybe he will learn to question what he has been taught. Pity it may have to be the hard way.


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