August 12, 2007

Engage on the offensive

Engage is getting a bit freaky now. Dr David Hirsh seems to be leading the group to a position where they don't just try to defeat boycott resolutions against Israel as they arise. It now seems that Hirsh wants various groups to declare themselves anti-boycott. In fact Engage seems to be degenerating into some kind of Campus Watch UK. See this:
The Editorial Board of the British Sociological Association journal, Work, employment and society, published by SAGE, supported the campaign for a 'boycott of academic and scientific institutions in Israel'.

This, it said, in a 2004 editorial, is to protest at
"that government's appalling war of occupation and vengeance in the form of collective punishment of the Palestinian people. While the legal implications of the BSA’s charitable status has prohibited the adoption of this as part of our publishing policy nevertheless, the current editor has continued to support the resolution."

Work Employment Society 2004; 18; 661
This journal has an editorial position that Israeli actions in the West Bank can be characterized as an "apalling war of occupation and vengeance...". "Vengeance" for what, one may ask? Perhaps this BSA journal is doing nothing more than echoing the old rhetoric about the Jewish God being a vengeful God, in contrast to the the Christian God, who is the God of love?

This journal also had an editorial position that this "apalling war of occupation and vengeance" constitutes "collective punishment of the Palestinian people". The use of the term "collective punishment" here clearly implies the criminality of the vengeful state.

The editorial of Work, Employment and Society does not mention any other human rights abuses anywhere else in the world. Only the ones committed by the "vengeful" Jews.

Does anybody believe that a person who works at an institution in the "vengeful" state would be fairly treated by this journal?

Can anybody explain why sociologists in Israel whose research interests are in the field of 'Work, employment and society today' should be punished for the "vengefulness" of the state in which they work?

Are sociologists in Britain going to allow a British Sociological Association journal to continue supporting a campaign to boycott colleagues from the "vengeful" state - and only from the "vengeful" state?

The whole editorial is online here.
Ok, now leaving aside the none too subtle hint of antisemitism see this comment from a Brian Goldfarb, no friend of the boycott movement and a regular commentor to Engage:
I have just retired as a Trustee (Executive Committee Member) of the British Sociological Association - my term of office ended at the April 2007 AGM, and I had been a member of the EC for 8 years (that is, since 1999). I am aware that the _then_ editor had such a policy, he wished to but was prohibited from publishing it in the Journal, let alone acting on it as far as selecting papers for the Journal was concerned.

The editorial team has since been replaced - as they are every three or four years, as a matter of BSA policy. What is printed reads as though it was (please note the past tense) meant as a personal statement, not a statement as to the editorial direction of Work, Employment & Society. Note that the quote states quite clearly "the legal implications of the BSA's charitable status has prohibited the adoption of this as part of our publishing policy..."

In 2004, this was brought up at an Executive Committee meeting at which I was an attendee - I missed only one in those 8 years. The then chair of the EC made it abundantly clear (as did the Executive Officer - the full-time, paid person who runs the BSA on a day-to-day basis - who had taken legal advice)that the BSA's charitable status made it impossible for it to have such a policy or for its WHOLLY-OWNED journals (that is, these journals are owned, lock, stock and barrel by the BSA, they are run by BSA Publications, a wholly owned subsidiary of the charity) to run any such editorials.

Please check immediately with BSA (David, you have the contact numbers and email addresses, as do I) and alter the piece as necessary.

The person (or team) that wrote that sentence in 2004 is no longer in charge of the journal, and, indeed, any editor writing such an editorial as a statement of editorial policy could find themselves removed from office as being in violation of the BSA's charitable status.

I fear that the current status of the Journal editorial team was not checked out before this article was published.
So where are we with this? A guy at this sociological association has expressed a personal view in the editorial of its publication and said that the board of the publication cannot express or support such a view. Hirsh has suggested that this personal view is official policy, yes? I think that's it. But he's been rumbled by someone who often comments at Engage. Usually when something like this happens, Hirsh deletes the original post and the comments and carries on as if nothing's happened but now he is digging in. Look:
Brian, could you please give us the reference in WES or elsewhere where the policy of the editorial board to support the boycott campaign but not actually to boycott, is rescinded?
Eh? But surely, oh never mind, here's Brian Goldfarb again:
David, where is the evidence that the current Board of WES is in favour of a boycott? Equally, that they are trying to do something about it in the pages of WES, specifically against the remit of the Executive Committee (let alone the Charity Commissioners and Charity Law)?

You are referring to a statement that specifically acknowledges that the journal cannot operate a boycott, even if the editorial team is in favour of one.

Either the current editorial team is in favour of a boycott and there is evidence that they are operating one (have Israeli sociologists submitted articles, only to have them rejected?), or there isn't. If the former. why not refer the evidence to the BSA Exec, via the office of the BSA (all BSA members have the address, both email and surface)?

Stop trying to make me prove a negative, especially when I don't subscribe to the Journal.
In other words, what's to rescind? Back comes Hirsh:
The evidence that the Board of WES is in favour of a boycott is that they said so in 2004 in an editorial and they haven't - to my knowledge - said anywhere else that they have reversed their position. Personnel comes and goes - has there been a statement changing the position of the board?

The statement from 2004 says that the only reason they are not operating a boycott is that they understand it to contravene the law which regulates charities. This, from a scholarly journal, is in my view not good enough. They seem to say they would be excluding Israelis from the journal if only they were allowed.

Given that the editorial board supports the Roses' "call" (at least did in 2004 and has not to my knowledge rescinded that support), and given that the Roses call for a silent boycott, and the Roses say that the boycott is already in force, it is reasonable then to ask for assurances that the editorial board is not doing what it says it believes in.
One guy, one outgoing guy has expressed a personal view and now it's the Board's policy set in 2004. So again, back comes Brian Goldfarb:
Again, stop trying make me prove a negative.

As Jimmy says, there is no evidence that the CURRENT WES editorial board, a different group of people, have supported the call of the previous editor for a boycott either.

This is turning into a witch hunt, which is rich coming from people who are, rightly, quick to condemn "loyalty oaths" from Israeli academics for the edification of the pro-boycotters.

It is also coming close to a scenario in which it is demanded that a newly elected government repudiate a policy statement apparently supported by a previously elected government - but one that was never turned into a bill, let alone an Act of Parliament. They wouldn't waste their breath.

David, last time I looked, you were a member of the BSA. Why don't you write to the executive officer and ask her what the BSA's policy is, and what the BSA's view of this is. I have. But I will have to wait until Monday at the earliest for an answer. Meanwhile, this is spreading and, to repeat myself, beginning to look suspiciously like a witch hunt.

No-one has any evidence that the present editor(s) of WES support a boycott. Perhaps they don't believe it's necessary, just as no-one here would actually expect Israeli academics to sign the Rose's loyalty pledges.
Maybe this will run and run, I don't know but why did this 2004 editorial get attacked now? Why does Dr Hirsh want associations that have no policy on an Israel boycott to declare against such a boycott? The post is, at the time of writing, the second post down on the forum/blog page. The one above is also about pressuring a professional association, the American Sociological Association, into declaring itself anti-boycott. That article goes into a long list of American labour organisations that have passed anti-boycott resolutions in spite of American unions' reputation for focusing on bread and butter issues only. Contrast that with the UCU leader's view that her members are only interested in pay and conditions. Are American trade unionists really as concerned with protecting Israel as they are with pay and conditions and therefore more concerned with what is a foreign affairs issue than their UK counterparts.?

But I digress. My own view is that shenanigans like these, in the UK anyway, can only benefit the Palestine solidarity movement. If professional or workers' associations declare themselves to be anti-boycott this raises the spectre of the boycott in a way that a mere voting down of boycott or pro-boycott proposals would not. I think so anyway. Dr Hirsh might think that this will have people thinking that the union movement or certain professional or academic bodies are riddled with antisemitism and that activists are exposing and fighting it. I think that many people will wonder why there are any proposals to boycott Israel and, as there are, there must be something boycott-worthy about Israel. They then might start looking into ways to deal with the last of the colonial settler states, and one of those ways might just be a boycott.


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