June 10, 2007

Boycott or not or boycott what? And who says so anyway?

Here's a fairly thoughtful article by Peter Beaumont at the Observer. It has a little round up of what's been going on boycott Israel-wise. I'd say the article's slightly anti-boycott but it looks like an attempt at simply relaying some facts. It starts with a "woman in black" explaining that she boycotts the occupation but she doesn't approve of any boycott of Israel itself.
Every Friday Gila Svirsky is to be found dressed in black jeans and T-shirt at one of Israel's major road junctions, in a silent vigil, carrying a placard that says simply: 'Stop the occupation.'

Those in her group - Women in Black - have been abused, sometimes violently, since they began their protests almost 20 years ago. Her activism against the occupation touches all areas of her life. She does not drink wine or buy food or other goods produced by Jewish settlers on land under Israeli occupation.

'I went to buy a sofa recently,' she says. 'I didn't think about it at first. But then when I had my credit card out, I thought, maybe there is possibility that it was made in the Territories. So I thought, I better ask. And the salesman said: "Oh! It was made in this wonderful settlement called Barkan." I said: "No sale". He looked really shocked.'

Svirsky believes in boycotting the Israeli occupation. But she cannot support proposed boycotts of Israeli academics by Britain's University and College Teachers' Union, or of Israeli goods by the National Union of Journalists.

'I have my own position on this, but I think the proposed boycott by the teachers' union is useless and counterproductive and only has the impact of alienating Israelis and Jews more generally. I believe the whole thing shifts the attention away from the real point of focus - the occupation - towards the idea that Israel is an outlaw nation. I agree that my country has done some terrible things - but a boycott that is useful is a boycott of the occupation itself.'
Ok, fair enough. Then there's a look at how the boycott proposals have come on to the agenda of unions and churches and how they have been perceived by Israelis. This is covered in a calm and factual way which is lacking in most coverage of anything connected with boycotting Israel. We have Sari Nusseibeh as the Palestinian academic who is against the boycott and there's even a little chat with Omar Barghouti "one of the founding members of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the Palestinian organisation that first called for an international academic boycott to mirror the conditions of exclusion confronting Palestinian academics." This is followed by an interview with Tom Hickey:
The philosophy lecturer at Brighton University and the proposer of the motion at the Bournemouth conference calling for the academic boycott, has already seen himself branded 'as an anti-Semite' for backing a boycott over the last two years. A member of UCU Left, an activist group within the union that his opponents have charged with being a front for the Socialist Workers' Party, Hickey insists he is as opposed to anti-Semitism as he is to Islamophobia or any other form of racism.
As I said, all calm and factual so far. Then it gets a bit weird. Cop this:
But if Hickey was hoping to open a debate, the response has instead been a ferocious counter-attack from Israel, pro-Israeli lobby groups and defenders of Israel in the US. It has not only angered those exclusively in the pro-Israel camp. The proposed boycotts have also outraged many journalists and academics - among them those with deep sympathies for the Palestinians - for what they argue is an attack on both journalistic impartiality and academic freedom.
If Hickey was hoping to open a debate? If? What's all that about? He spoke to Hickey. Why didn't he ask him what he hoped for? I'm not just nit-picking here. Look at the very next paragraph:
Already Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, has called to complain to Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett that the UCU vote threatens to strain relations between the two countries. A boycott of British goods has been suggested in Israel. Further afield, academics like Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard lawyer, have begun circulating a petition declaring themselves - for the purposes of any boycott - to be 'Israeli academics'.
Now the point being made in the "if" paragraph is that Hickey may have alienated, indeed "outraged many journalists and academics - among them those with deep sympathies for the Palestinians." So why follow up with what Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, has called for? Did he think that Tom Hickey wanted a night out at the Oxford Union with Israel's foreign minister? Where are these "outraged journalists and academics - among them those with deep sympathies for the Palestinians?" Look at that paragraph again. Can Tom Hickey really have been seeking to open debate with an old ducker and diver like Professor Alan Dershowitz? Or is it being suggested that Alan Dershowitz has "deep sympathies for the Palestinians?"

Am I being unfair here? After all Beaumont does mention a "ferocious counter-attack from Israel, pro-Israeli lobby groups and defenders of Israel in the US." Clearly Livni and Dershowitz are in there somewhere. So instead of carping and criticising why don't I read on to the next paragraph:
The US Anti-Defamation League has been equally vigorous in its response, taking a half page advert in the Financial Times last week reading: '38 journalists arrested in Iran; 700 activists detained and tortured in Zimbabwe, 400,000 murdered in Darfur - but British unions have singled out Israel for boycott. That's anti-Semitism.'
Ah yes, the Anti-Defamation League. Well noted for its "deep sympathies for the Palestinians." Not really though so I'm guessing he included those as "pro-Israeli lobby groups and defenders of Israel in the US." So where are these "outraged journalists and academics.......with deep sympathies for the Palestinians?" Maybe it was bad editing but they don't appear in this article but we can be sure these "outraged" anti-boycotters "with deep sympathies for the Palestinians" will be invoked many times over the coming months.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that there isn't opposition to some kind of boycott of Israel among anti-zionists and anti-occupationists. I am merely saying that to describe them as "outraged" without naming any looks like trying it on.


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