Gregory Baum – Israel’s creation depended on Hitler and the Holocaust

Corrupt History II – Gregory Baum on Pre-Independence Zionism

  1. The Hitler/Holocaust Thesis

by

Howard Adelman

Gregory Baum wrote, “If there had been no Hitler and no Auschwitz, Zionism would have remained a small movement.” In yesterday’s blog on Orthodox opposition and support for pre-independence Zionism, I pointed out a number of factors which suggest that, although Hitler, and to a minor extent, the Holocaust itself, had an impact on the creation of Israel, both were relatively minor factors with mixed effects, a position much against the widespread beliefs in both those critical of Zionism and its defenders, though not among most scholars.

One positive, if horrific fact, supporting the thesis is that 80% of the ultra-Orthodox – who strongly opposed secular political Zionism – were killed in the Holocaust. The slaughter of the Hasidim reduced a major source of diaspora opposition to Zionism and may even have increased the percentage of Jews supporting Zionism.  Of course, this is not generally what is meant when writers claim that without Hitler, there would have been no Israel. They really refer to enhancement of the motivations of Jews and guilt created by the Holocaust among bystanders. (“Understanding for Zionism and sympathy for its cause has waned in Western countries as the memory of the Holocaust has receded” – the Herzl Institute.) However, there is only miniscule evidence for this thesis. Nevertheless, the historical facts offer some data to suggest why the thesis could possibly be correct.

Though Ken Livingstone (Mayor of London 2000-2008) claimed that Hitler had supported Zionism, this is false news. However, there is a second argument that might suggest that Hitler enhanced the Zionist cause. On 25 August 1933, Nazi Germany and Zionist German Jews signed the very controversial Haavara (transfer) Agreement. The Anglo-Palestine Bank under the direction of the Jewish Agency had been part of the negotiations. Allowing German Jews to use a portion of their assets for Jewish businesses in Palestine to purchase German goods permitted German Jews, if they resettled in Palestine, to be compensated by those Palestine businesses. In six years between 1933 and 1939, Germany was able by this means to export about US$35,000,000 worth of goods. Jews who went to Palestine were able to recover about $US100 million of their assets. However, while a significant injection, this represented a very small part of the productivity in Palestine between 1933 and 1939. Far more than that was lost as a result of the 1936-1939 Palestinian uprising.

The deal also facilitated the migration of 60,000 Yekkes from Germany to Palestine under what today is known as an immigration investor program. Whatever the support for Zionism in Eastern Europe, among German Jews, there had been very little support in 1933 for Zionism. Their numbers represented about 2% of the German Jewish population and this is a significant source of the belief of Gregory Baum that Zionism was a small movement.

The Haavara Agreement strengthened Zionism on the ground in Palestine. However, it also set a precedent for breaching the anti-Nazi worldwide Jewish boycott imposed on Germany, a boycott instigated by the persecution of Jews with the firing of Jews from the government, the boycott of Jewish businesses, and the quotas imposed on Jewish enrolment in schools and universities. While the agreement led to the rescue of a significant number of Jews, it also created a deep chasm within the Zionist movement, a rift that some would argue seriously weakened it because of this schism. As Edwin Black wrote, “The Transfer Agreement tore the Jewish world apart, turning leader against leader, threatening rebellion and even assassination.” My interpretation is that the damage caused was more significant than the benefits, but it is a claim that is hard to make, for most of the 60,000 Jews might not have otherwise been saved.

Supporters of the H/H thesis also claim that Hitler and the Holocaust greatly increased the sympathy for Zionism. However, the reality was that the general antisemitism prevalent throughout Europe before Hitler even came to power had made Zionism a much stronger movement in Eastern Europe than most of its competitors even though it had an insignificant impact among German Jews. Zionism was NOT a small movement in 1933.

Further, the evidence seems to be clear that in 1933 there was already a movement among Orthodox Jews to support Zionism. This movement initially opposed  the community establishment and prominent rabbis that culminated in 1937 in Agudat Israel, an Orthodox political movement, formally shifting from an anti-Zionist to a non-Zionist position. On the other hand, even after Hitler, even after the Holocaust, Agudat Israel opposed the United Nations motion in November 1947 recommending partition and the creation of a Jewish state. If Hitler and the Holocaust had been so consequential in the creation of the State of Israel, then a major political party representing certainly the leadership in the Orthodox community would have shifted to support the creation of Israel. But they did not. So at least in this area, there is clear evidence that the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust had no major influence on Agudat Israel’s support for Israel.

One argument supporting the claim that without Hitler there would have been no Israel is based on the fact that WWII so weakened the British economy and military capacity after the war that Britain was unable to defeat the Zionist rebellion. On a broader scale, this position really credits Hitler for the dissolution of the British Empire, ignoring the worldwide forces behind the principle of self-determination quite independently of both Hitler and British power.

There is another argument that claims that the Holocaust benefitted Israel. As a result of the Holocaust, Germany paid Israel reparations and those reparations helped Israel to grow economically. But this happened after Israel was created and may indeed have played a role in ensuring the economic viability of the state. But it is not an argument supporting the claim that the Holocaust helped bring Israel into being. It is difficult to understand why the claim is so widely accepted that, “the Holocaust motivated large numbers of immigrants to move to Palestine” thereby creating a critical population mass. I will deal with this latter claim, namely that the Holocaust motivated large numbers of Jews to move to Palestine, in a separate blog on migration.

Further, roughly half the population of Israel came from Arab and other Middle East states. Their move to Palestine started before the Zionist movement developed tracks and mostly continued without formal Zionist help. But the really large movement came after the creation of the State of Israel. If Hitler and the Holocaust were the major sources for this movement, then the effort of Jews from Arab lands and other Middle East countries (Turkey, Iran) would have increased enormously after the war and put enormous pressure on the British attempt to limit Jewish immigration into Palestine. There was no significant pressure from Jews in Arab lands and in Iran and Turkey. The push came after the state was created, suggesting strongly that the creation of the state, for various reasons, stimulated the large migration from these sources. Migration pressure from this source did not result from the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust to influence the creation of Israel. Quite the reverse! The creation of the State of Israel instigated the mass migration.

Even within the major denomination of Jews in the New World, the sympathy for Zionism in Reform Jewry only took off well after WWII, well after the Holocaust. The latter two may have had an influence, but the evidence suggests that the Six Day War was really the turning point. The reason is that, in the build up towards that war, Jews who did not identify with Zionism identified with their fellow Jews under threat of annihilation and even feared that Israel would lose and the Jews would be slaughtered. Thus, solidarity with live Jews under threat acted as a much greater catalyst than the dead Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, though the Holocaust had begun to haunt world Jewry as well as the rest of the world. But by then, Israel was already nineteen years old.

What about the effects of the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust on the sympathies of non-Jews? Hitler rose to power in the 1930s. Was there any dramatic effort to stop Hitler from persecuting Jews? Were there strong government boycotts? Did countries open their borders to Jews in flight? If the rise of Hitler had such an impact, why was that impact not translated into some significant action then? There were a number of options available to countries which, at the very least, they could have considered.

During the Holocaust, and certainly afterwards, the West was chastised for not bombing the railroads transporting the Jews to the extermination camps. There is now ample evidence that those in positions of power knew about the transports. I happen to believe, based on my reading, that bombing the railroads leading to the camps by the West was not realistic since the fighter escort craft guarding the bombers would not have had enough fuel to get to places like Poland and back to Britain. But when I was reading documents in the British archives providing background for my research on Jewish refugees after WWII, I never read any evidence that there was a serious study of the alternatives available to interfere with the murder machine, quite aside from whether any of the alternatives was realistic.

Most significantly, immediately after the war, when the Anglo-American Committee visited the refugee camps in 1946, the concern was how to get rid of the refugees. Try to find any significant evidence of guilt over the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust influencing the decision to recommend that Britain allow the entry into Palestine of 100,000 Jews. If countries felt guilt about Hitler and the Holocaust, surely they would either have pressured Britain, a country on the economic ropes at the time, to change its policies and/or resettle the refugees. No significant pressure was applied. By 1947, the Jewish refugees collected in European camps totalled about 250,000.

When I read both the minutes of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine as well as the archival files and memoirs of some of the members, I could not find a hint of guilt about Hitler or the Holocaust, let alone some discussion of both. Instead, a very major concern was again the disposition of the refugees, by then increased to 250,000. I would argue that this problem, as well as the difficulties of any other solution, would lead both the Majority Report that recommended partition and the creation of a Jewish state, and the Minority Report recommending a federation, to see Palestine as a repository for the Jewish refugees.

In 1946, when a survey was undertaken of the Jewish refugees about where they wanted to resettle, the majority indicated Palestine. However, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that representatives of the Jewish Agency manipulated both the refugees and the vote to ensure that outcome. In 1946, though Zionism was certainly a significant movement by then, in spite of Hitler, in spite of the Holocaust, a majority of Jewish refugees did not prioritize Palestine as a place to resettle.

However, this changed by the time UNSCOP visited the camps in 1947. The numbers had more than doubled. But genuine support for Zionism in the camps was now almost overwhelming. Why? Neither Hitler nor the Holocaust held positions as intervening causes. The reason was the recognition that Jews still were unwanted by the nations of the world. Without Palestine, the Jews might remain warehoused in camps for years. They did not anticipate that the West would begin to unlock the gates, especially in North America.

In sum, the evidence suggests that both Hitler and the Holocaust were reasons why the pressures among Jewry decreased in Europe because there were far fewer Jews, both to oppose and to support Zionism. Hitler and the Holocaust did not give Zionism a boost, but severely undermined its efforts by slaughtering 95% of the populations from which it drew its main base of support.  There is no significant evidence that either the Holocaust – which in the 1940s was still little discussed outside legal circles – or Hitler enhanced the Zionist movement in any way. The dedication of Zionists to converting more of the Jewish masses to their cause, their efforts in diplomacy with nations from whom they could get potential support, the military preparations on the ground, and, most importantly of all, the effect of the military victory in the War of Independence after the state had been created, had the most profound influence on support for the nascent state both among Jews in the diaspora and among non-Jews.

Why then the myth that Zionism became a significant movement only because of Hitler and the Holocaust. After all, even Nahum Goldmann, once president of the World Jewish Congress, claimed that “without Auschwitz there would be no Israel.” I will try to answer that question by the time I finish reviewing the other six theses that Gregory Baum put forth. In the interim, the preponderance of evidence undermines the thesis that the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust provided Israel with the resources, the population, and the approval of other nations to come into existence and subsequently thrive.

College Campuses, Academic Boycotts and Ethics

College Campuses, Academic Boycotts and Ethics

by

Howard Adelman

I had written that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel did not originally include the boycott of Israeli academics speaking on campuses outside Israel. The effort to boycott academics had an earlier and separate origin. The academic boycott movement did not begin among Palestinians or Arabs but by Westerners. In fact, Jews initiated the idea of academic boycotts. The key mover and shaker was Stephen Rose, an illustrious professor of neuroscience at the Open University in Britain and an expert on the physiology of memory who also wrote popular versions of his scholarly work (Genes, Cells and Brains). He is perhaps best known to the wider public for his radical opposition to evolutionary psychology and sociology, that is, the effort of scientists to use Darwinian theory to explain social adaptation. As an ex-Orthodox Jew and an adamant atheist and Marxist, he and his sociologist wife, Hilary, started a petition in 2002 that eventually garnered over 700 signatures of scholars, including 10 Israeli academics, to boycott Israeli academic institutions for their complicity in the occupation of Arab lands.

Rose belongs to a long list of renowned academics, some of whom, like Tony Judt and Hannah Arendt, began as Zionists. They include Eric Hobsbawm, Judith Butler and Richard Falk, as well as lesser lights such as Ilan Pappé (originally at the University of Haifa) and Norman Finkelstein. If cultural figures are to be included, add Harold Pinter to the list. In 2013, even Stephen Hawking, though not a Jew, was recruited to join this anti-Zionist Jewish cabal of Jewish humanists and secularists.

Some may assume that this is a victory for the Palestinian cause. Certainly it is a victory of liberal utopians who believe that Jews have only individual rights and no national rights. Unfortunately, it feeds a trope that the problem is one of rights when it is one of national self-determination. Palestinians and Arabs as the indigenous majority in the region have that right. Colonizing Jews do not but, ironically, this is a contention that cannot be established by right. That has to be openly stated. Further, against these armchair Jewish anti-Zionist academics who subvert the Palestinian cause by seducing others to join with them in the belief that the matter can be settled by intellectual and economic pressures when any realistic analysis will demonstrate that it can only be settled by force of arms. If it were not so far-fetched, one might be led to believe that the Jewish-led academic boycott is really a secret Zionist plot to milk the Palestinian movement of its militancy and reduce its efforts to petitions, protests and verbal haranguing with few substantive victories, however well publicized, and far more substantive setbacks.

Case after case demonstrates this. Let me list them:

  • The Rose petition instigated a counter-petition which garnered even more signatures
  • Not one university has joined the divestment effort and many universities have turned the tables and formally denounced the academic boycott campaign, including almost 300 S. university presidents who in 2007 denounced the boycott movement
  • When Mona Baker, inspired by the Rose petition, delisted Dr. Miriam Schlesinger of Bar-Ilan University (who also happened to be a former chair of Amnesty International in Israel and a staunch defender of the Palestinian cause) from the editorial board of her prestigious journal, The Translator, she added the delisting of Gideon Toury of Tel Aviv University to the dismissal list when Schlesinger refused to quietly resign. The result was a storm of protest, including from Judith Butler, a defender of boycotting Israeli institutions and not individuals, Harvard Professor Stephen Greenblatt, President of the Modern Language Association of America, and an overwhelming vote of condemnation by the British Parliament. (Can you imagine, parliament becoming involved in the appointment process of members of an editorial board of an academic journal?) Baker then put her foot further in her mouth when she insisted that she was only in favour of boycotting institutions and not individuals, and then complained she was the victim of a Jewish cabal
  • Even major victories – the overwhelming majority support (73%) in March 2015 of the students, faculty and support staff of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London favouring the Israeli academic institution boycott and divestment campaign – had no concrete practical results
  • The Association of University Teachers (AUT) in Britain initially supported the BDS campaign, but subsequently rescinded its support when the organization merged with the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), which had just voted to boycott Israeli academics who did not vocally speak out against their government; the merged result, the University and College Union (UCU) voted to withdraw from supporting the BDS movement following the lead of the AUT which decided in 2005 to cancel the boycott of Israeli universities because of the damage to academic freedom and the hampering of dialogue and efforts at peace between Israelis and Palestinians; however, in 2010, the UCU reversed course again in a very minor way against the backdrop of the Israeli operation against Gaza in 2008-2009 when the UCU agreed to begin an investigative process into the Ariel University Centre of Samaria
  • In 2010, the Olympia Food Co-op decided to divest in any investments in companies supporting the Israeli occupation (a symbolic move) and, more substantively, to remove all Israeli goods from its shelves in a campaign led by Noah Sochet, a Jew, but that decision failed completely to serve as a catalyst for any other co-op to follow its lead; on the other hand, Israeli and Jewish lobby attempts to use lawfare and other techniques to rescind the action failed abysmally and backfired against the efforts on the grounds that any organization had the right and freedom to decide which items it would sell and which it would not
  • At a totally different scale, SuperValu food distributors in Ireland decided to no longer distribute food products from Israel, but the gap was quickly picked up by another distributor
  • In 2010, the Senate of the University of Western Sydney cancelled its relationship with Ben Gurion University thereby offering token support for the BDS movement
  • Following Wayne State, in 2010, the Student Government General Assembly of the University of Michigan in Dearborn, an area inhabited by 40,000 Arab Americans, passed Resolution # 2010-003 endorsing the BDS campaign
  • Following a vote by the York University Federation of Students endorsing BDS, in 2013, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) at Berkeley voted to demand that the university divest the $14 million it had invested in companies affiliated with the IDF, namely Caterpillar, Hewlett– Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings, but the motion was vetoed by student government president, Will Smelko. (The veto seemed to be with respect to divesting its $135 million in General Electric and United Technologies and I have not yet been able to clarify the discrepancy.) The final vote for divestment was passed by a tiny rump left at 4:00 a.m. by a vote of 16:4
  • UofT Mississauga Students Union passed a similar motion as had a rump group at the end of the previous year representing the Graduate Students Union (GSU) at the university
  • At Oxford University, support for BDS was defeated by a vote of 69:10
  • The University of Manitoba Students Union voted to strip financial support from the Students Against Israeli Apartheid;
  • In April 2013, theAssociation for Asian American Studies (AAAS) and in December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) by a two-thirds majority and the Council of Native American and Indigenous Studies Association unanimously voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions;
  • 500 anthropologists from around the world called on Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 but did not endorse divestment and/or a boycott
  • In February 2011, the Carleton University Student Association (CUSA) first voted in support of an abstract motion condemning any state engaged in occupation of another territory and recommending divestment and then, after the amendment universalizing the motion of the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), voted to declare the whole motion redundant which then resulted in the very opposite of democratic dialogue – shouting, intimidation and even the temporary blockade of the room in which the meeting was being held thereby proving by the actions of the protesters that the arguments based on abstract human rights were a sham
  • In January 2015, student leaders at Trent University by a vote of 47:28 with 14 abstentions reversed a previous motion of the TCSA (Trent Central Student Association) to boycott Israel on the grounds that it was discriminatory
  • The numbers of academic associations and universities that have rejected such calls for boycotts and divestments are far, far longer, and include the best universities in the world like Princeton and Stanford as well as institutions like the Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Further, the American Council on Education in the U.S., its equivalent in Canada, the Canadian Association of Universities and Colleges (CAUT), have unanimously condemned boycotts aimed at Israeli academic institutions or Israeli academics individually; the American Association of University Professors also condemned the boycott effort. As AAUP worded their objections, “condemning violations of academic freedom whether they occur directly by state or administrative suppression of opposing points of view or indirectly by creating material conditions, such as blockades, checkpoints, and insufficient funding of Palestinian universities, that make the realization of academic freedom impossible” was both acceptable and even desirable, but NOT boycotts of either individual academics or their institutions. Dialogue, discourse, critique – there were the proper avenues for academics to make their views known
  • The states of Tennessee, Indiana, New York with other states lined up to follow, have voted to sanction learned societies that support BDS, in particular, ASA; in the U.S. Congress in February 2014, a bill, the “Protect Academic Freedom Act,” was introduced “to bar federal funds from going to academic institutions that back the BDS movement”
  • An objective and detached analysis would reveal far more defeats than the few and often only empty victories of the BDS movement after ten years of sustained and well-funded efforts. Instead, a few victories are broadcast ad nausea and often greatly exaggerated without a detailed examination on whether any changes on the ground have been effected, reinforcing the view that what counts for BDS are rhetorical and propaganda successes rather than any significant concrete wins .

Have the economic sanctions efforts yielded better results than the academic ones? It is true that Israel’s membership in a variety of international political and economic organizations (EU, OECD, etc.) provides a veneer of respectability, and, more importantly, an instrument for strengthening the economic foundation of the state, but that is merely an acknowledgement of the political, military and economic imbalance between the two sides. Turning it into a message of moral indictment is simply akin to blaming the wealth of the United States for impoverishment and impotency of others.

In the very first year of accession to membership by Israel in the OECD tourism council in 2010, when the Israeli Tourist Minister, Stas Misezhnikov, made the claim that the decision by the OECD for Israel to host the 2010 annual meeting was a recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, Sweden, Turkey, South Africa and Ireland all decided to stay away from the conference in protest against such an outrageous interpretation of the decision. The UK also stayed away,but said its decision was not politically motivated. Greece and Denmark sent low level delegates. The Palestinians claimed this as a victory for the BDS movement – OECD refused to consider moving the locale of the conference even when the stupid assertion was made by the Israeli tourist minister. All the evidence pointed to simply another self-inflicted wound by the Israeli government. Had the minister made no such statement, the conference would have gone ahead as planned. But quite aside from the conference, the reality is that tourism from Europe to Israel continues to increase. Swedes increasingly head to Eilat as a winter destination. The reality is that this was not a boycott in any substantive sense, but a protest against an irresponsible and factually incorrect claim by the Israeli tourist minister; the effect had nothing to do with the BDS movement and, in any case, had no repercussions on the ground.

What about the widespread and oft-repeated report by electronic intifada that Brazil cancelled a $2.2 billion security contract for the 2016 Olympics with International Security and Defence Systems (ISDS) of Israel? BDS allies in Brazil had been lobbying for a decision to exclude ISDS since it won the contract for the FIFA world cup. BDS Labour unions in Brazil had protested the possibility of using a company which they linked to the use of technologies in suppressing the Palestinians in the West Bank. BDS claimed an enormous victory.

The reality was something else. ISDS did claim to have won a contract in October 2014, not for $2.2 billion, but for a small part of that huge security budget. The contract was for design, organization, procurement and management of the security operation. The contract was not for provision of the security. On 8 April 2015, the Brazilian government denied that a $2.2 billion contract had ever even been contracted with ISDS let alone cancelled. Whether ISDS even obtained the small part of the contract for planning and coordination, I was not able to learn, but it now seems clear that it never received or even claimed to receive such a contract. The contract for planning and coordination could have been cancelled, but neither ISDS nor the Brazilian government opined on the subject and, given that this was a core security issue, it is no surprise that both the Brazilian government and ISDS remained otherwise silent.

It seems unlikely given the lead time needed to undertake the planning and coordination, that such a planning, coordination and procurement contract would have been cancelled. Further, the Brazilian Air Force purchased Israeli drones to patrol the skies during the World Cup in 2014. It is likely that Brazil will rely on even more of those drones for the Olympics. Even if Brazil had cancelled the contract, it was only for a very small part of the overall $2.2 billion sum. ISDS would have had to have completed or almost completed its work by April 2015 if the security were to be in place by the time of the Olympic opening ceremonies in 2016. Whatever the case, BDS had been engaged in gross exaggeration and in the practice of claiming great victories where they were at best ephemeral.

Elbit Systems Ltd. is another Israeli international high tech firm engaged in the provision of homeland or company security systems offering a wide range of defence, homeland security and commercial programs throughout the world. It won a contract for supplying the Philippines with 28 upgraded APCs for the army in a modest $20 million deal in spite of an enormous BDS effort to prevent the contract. In 2010, BDS did succeed in getting the huge Swedish pension fund, Foersta AP-Fonden, and the Norwegian Oil Fund to delete Elbit from its investment portfolio.

I have argued above that any consequentialist examination of the BDS movement ends up finding it contradictory and self-defeating rather than capable of producing better results than any other alternative. I have also implied that on situational grounds, the BDS movement is not grounded in an in-depth analysis of the economic and political forces arrayed against the BDS movement and how the Palestinian cause can emerge victorious. Rather, the movement is based on the contemporary ethos of shaming, which can and has produced results on an individual, corporate or national front, but often misguided, poorly targeted, and unfocused results in the electronic equivalent of the Salem witch trials.

There is also a deontological ethical argument. Like the genocide and many other international conventions, what counts in determining exploitation, colonization, expropriation and apartheid are intentions. The 2002 Rome Statute defines a crime against humanity as an action by a regime that systematically institutionalizes “oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”  Proving intention becomes the key. The dilemma is postulating ethical concerns between two polarities, a regime dedicated to establishing equal rights for all members of a polity and one dedicating to denying rights in perpetuity to a polity.

In this case, there are three different groups: 1) non-Jewish members of the Jewish state, 2) members of a Palestinian collectivity on territory controlled and/or occupied by the Jewish state, and 3) refugees with the same ethnicity as the previous two outside the territory of either state. Re the latter group, if denial of return were to be termed genocide, apartheid or even continued oppression, virtually every state in the world in which there has been ethnic and religious conflict would fail such a litmus test. If it is the second, then the case has contradictory evidence – the seizure of territory, sometimes privately owned, to expand the territorial control of the state and, on the other hand, the provision for the creation of universities (there were none there prior to 1967), and elections in that territory as well as educational and religious autonomy.

Even if the depiction of good will cannot be sustained, the charges of evil intent also cannot be proven given the mixed record. Piling up the evidence on one side without considering falsifying evidence is no way of determining evil intent. This has even greater truth when applied to the discrimination against Israeli Palestinian citizens of Israel even when they are treated as second class citizens and discriminated against with respect to employment and housing. This is why a political argument for collective rights falls flat because what comes forth is the need to defend individual and NOT collective rights and then to offer self-defence as a higher moral ground when faced with discontent and criticism.

But the key and most important issue is a teleological one. For those involved in and concerned have four choices, two mushy liberal ones each with a proven record of failure, even as many still cling to hopes for the first option.

  1. Liberal support for a two-nation solution in which Palestinians and Jews have their own nations and purportedly live side-by-side in peace, a position which still seems to enjoy support from some leading Palestinian figures such as Sari Nusseibeh, currently president of al-Quds University;
  2. Liberal support for a singular secular state with equal individual rights for every individual in the one state;
  3. A Conservative Jewish ideology or maintaining superior power and control by Zionists over the territory under the guise of both security and maintaining a Jewish majority in the territory;
  4. A Radical Palestinian vision of a single state dominated by Palestinians, including the refugees who, through victory on the ground, exercise their right to return.

The BDS movement is really based on the second of these options, even when sometimes, and in contradiction, employing the two-state language. If number 1 seems to be headed for the bankruptcy courts, considerable investment in option 2 might be warranted if the position were not so strategically weak in terms of situational ethics, and self-contradictory in the defence of Palestinian national and collective rights while denying the same to the Jews when insisting on a universal discourse of individual human rights. And when clearly understood, the resort to number 3 by more and more Jews and Zionists only undercuts both 1 and 2 even more, and moves state and national legislatures to introduce bans on promotion of BDS in the U.S. so that the most powerful state in the world more and more supports the hegemonic right-wing agenda in Israel.

The fourth option seems the only one left after discrediting the others, though this paper only focused on the BDS movement. If option 4 is reinterpreted as a focus on one’s own power, on the need to own and exercise that power instead of focusing on the horror of the other, if there is recognition that freedom and self-determination must be first exercised by oneself before one can become a true sovereign state, then everything is once again possible.

Conclusion (to follow in a separate blog)

ON BDS

ON BDS

by

Howard Adelman

Defining BDS

Yesterday evening, Derek Penslar was in town and gave a talk on BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign launched in 2005 on the first anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegality of the Israeli West Bank barrier. The blog below is not a record of Derek’s talk, but rather my own take on BDS with comments that arose from points Derek made or from some of the questions and comments. Needless to say, Derek’s talk was excellent as his talks always are.

In much of the public mind who are aware of the BDS campaign, the purpose is thought to be about West Bank settlements and objections to them. In fact that campaign has three stated purposes:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

This is a program far more extensive than opposition to West Bank settlements. Derek thought the goals were ambiguous since, given the goals as stated, according to Derek, no country, especially Israel, could know when it had satisfied the wishes of the BDS protesters. By parsing what the stated goals are and from talks with some of the proponents of BDS 4 or 5 years ago, I suggest that the goals are not as ambiguous as Derek suggested; rather, the ambiguity arises from the various ways different parties have interpreted the BDS campaign and how they apply it, for, as Derek noted, the BDS campaign is a movement not an organization and one with a bottom-up buy-in that allows different people and groups to use the BDS campaign for their own purposes.

As I read the goals of the BDS platform, the Israeli political right is correct in its interpretation. For BDS, Israel is considered to be on occupied Arab land. The program opposes the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”. (my italics) Though the program does not go as far as calling for the expulsion of Jews from the land, with the call for return of the refugees to their original homes (NOT stated in UN Resolution 194, though subsequently interpreted by UN resolutions to mean that), the object of the BDS plan is both the delegitimation and elimination of Israel as a political entity because Israel is considered a colonial and colonizing state occupying Arab lands. The campaign is not just about the current government’s policies and practices — however much many of us may disagree with them. Nevertheless, many supporters of the BDS campaign believe that the focus of the campaign is the West Bank settlements and have either ignored or not bought into its longer range goals.

In response to my original draft of this blog, Stuart Schoenfeld sent the following explication of those goals that clarify the vision embraced by those goals. On the goals of BDS: The three stated objectives were written to be inclusive of the three Palestinian constituencies

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; WEST BANK AND GAZA
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; ARAB / PALESTINIAN ISRAELI CITIZENS and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. THE DIASPORA

The intention was to have a campaign that would bring these constituencies together rather than have their issues addressed separately, avoiding the “divide and conquer” situation in which Israelis have more leverage. It also allows those who come from these different constituencies to work together in Europe and North America without in-fighting over their separate interests.

As a consequence of this coalition strategy, the only way to fully realize the interests of all three constituencies would be the maximalist position – a binational state with a Palestinian majority. This is a hard sell in public relations terms or as an achievable goal, but it seemed fairly clear a few years ago when reading the material for the “one state” conference written by the same people leading BDS. There seem to have been fewer “one state” conferences recently, but this is tactics, the strategic goal has not altered.

Calls for BDS go back to the origins of Jewish settlements in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century. They really took off after the 1948 War of Independence or what the Palestinians call the Naqba with the boycott led by Arab countries, a boycott which the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf ended following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords. Ironically, the BDS campaign took off after many Arab states began to covertly or overtly engage in cooperation with Israel.

The campaign has three thrusts: 1) an economic Boycott of businesses, academic institutions and artists from Israel and artists refusing to go to Israel; 2) a Divestment of investments in or loans to companies initially focused on businesses operating in or servicing or undertaking manufacturing in the West Bank; and 3) a Sanctions campaign. The campaign underway currently has not only these three main tools but three main foci: business, academia and culture. In the business campaign, the main tool is the boycott since sanctions are largely a state responsibility. Perhaps this is because, as Derek suggested, boycotts resonate so much with the disempowered for it allows them to do something to advance their cause and to feel that they are accomplishing something. As one of the students present last evening said, the BDS movement has a romantic rather than a realist appeal.

The main focus of the boycott is business. Ahava products are boycotted. They have been produced from products from the Dead Sea since 1988 with little relationship to settlement activities in the heart of the West Bank, unlike Dexia Bank, SodaStream (its stock fell 25% when it became the focus of the BDS campaign) and Veolia. Ahava products are produced in Mitzpa Shalem, a kibbutz located on the Dead Sea. There have been a number of successes here with an independent Ahava store forced to close its outlet on a fashionable London shopping street because of the disruption of picketers. Selfridges Department Store, the leading department chain in Norway and the second largest in the Netherlands have all removed Ahava products from their store shelves. One year ago, the Norwegian retail chain, VITA, that is the major outlet for Ahava products in Norway, decided to boycott all products originating from settlements in “occupied Palestine”.

Britain’s Trade Union Congress supported the BDS campaign since 2009. Three British universities – Edinburgh, Kent and Dundee – have also boycotted some businesses as a result of BDS. So did the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. In the area of business boycotts, the BDS campaigners boast significant successes. Veolia purportedly lost a four and a quarter billion dollar operating and maintenance rail contract in Massachusetts because of the BDS campaign which targeted Veolia. However, the MBTA/MassDot Board of the Massachusetts commuter line said it awarded the contract unanimously on the recommendation of the General Manager to Keolis for a superior proposal in terms of pricing, operations and maintenance. Similarly, a $63.5 million contract was purportedly lost in Canterbury, UK, allegedly because of the BDS campaign, but the truth is that the municipality simply renewed its contract with Serco.

Second, the campaign involves a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, but initially focused on Israeli institutions (and not individual academics) who are linked in any way with the West Bank settlements. As academics, this is the one of which we are most aware. Indirectly, a boycott campaign against academic institutions affects individual academics as Derek noted, but individual Israeli academics have been targeted in any case and many Palestinian academics now refuse to sit on panels with Israeli academics. However, as Derek also pointed out, almost ALL academics engage in personal boycotts of some kind. The BDS campaign, however, is of a different order.

Third, the BDS campaign entails a cultural boycott of artists from performing in Israel and a boycott of Israelis artists, but notably without any explicit relationship at all with West Bank settlements, who perform abroad. The most famous or infamous of these was the disruptions of the tour of Israel’s Batsheva dance company at the Burmingham Hippodrome and the Edinburgh International Festival (Don’t Dance with Israel Apartheid). The disruptions imitated those against the Soviet Union cultural tours of the Bolshoi and the Red Army Chorus to support the campaign to permit the emigration of Soviet Jews. The Israeli dance company Batsheva has been picketed throughout its tour and three protesters disrupted the performance in the theatre in Rome until they were removed and one protester in Theatre Royal in Plymouth used a megaphone to disrupt the performance. Disruptions took place in Edinburgh, Leicester, in the Birmingham Hippodrome with a banner dropped during the performance. With respect to Batsheva, they have affected performances from Turin to Aukland New Zealand, but have largely earned the BDS movement a negative backlash.

Individual artists scheduled to perform in Israel, such as the Rolling Stones Tour, have been lobbied and pressured extensively but resisted as have most artists. Some, like Chris “Daddy” Dave cancelled his appearance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat. Ireland was the leading country in the artistic boycott campaign with 237 artists committed to boycotting performing or exhibiting in Israel but Riverdance resisted the pressure to cancel its show. There are a long list of other artists who have not resisted pressures by BDS. Artists seem to constitute one of the most susceptible groups to the BDS effort.

Support for BDS and the Divestment Campaign

Supporters of the campaign are varied but are concentrated in four institutional spheres, religious organizations, student and faculty unions and associations at and from universities and colleges, unions and, finally, states like Norway. The latter is important because Norway played such a critical role in getting the Oslo process going and concluded, erroneously in my analysis, that Israel was solely to blame for the failure of Oslo, a process in which Norway invested enormous personal resources and commitment. Norway was one of the first countries to support the BDS campaign when in December 2005, the Norwegian Sør-Trøndelag regional council supported a call for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli goods.

Ironically, just at a time when Norway has reversed course under a new centre-right coalition government (96 seats versus 72 for the opposition), Norway lifted its 2010 ban on investments in two companies in Israel, Africa Israel and Danya Cebus, on August 2013. The coalition backing the ban — including: Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC); Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem; and The Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign – called on the Norwegian government to reverse the decision since it claimed that the revocation was based on false information provided by Africa Israel in support of its claim that they were no longer building housing in Gilo. (Note where the housing was being built — in Jerusalem that in all the peace talks on land that will be ceded to Israel.) Norway’s leftist Minister of Finance in his 2010 decision determined that all land east of the 1967 Cease Fire Line was occupied land and, therefore, came under the purview of the fourth Geneva Convention.” In contrast, Africa Israel’s affidavit to Norway referred only to the West Bank. However, the BDS campaign in the end targets all Arab land usurped by the colonial Israeli state.

The trade unions in Norway have stepped up their support for BDS. The Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUMGE) lobbied and succeeded in getting the Nordea Bank to resolve not to invest in Cemex, an Israeli company in the building materials industry, since Cemex allegedly uses material from the West Bank to manufacture cement. The University of Oslo, and subsequently the University of Bergen, decided not to use the security company, G4S Secure Solutions (Canada), even though it was the lowest bidder because critics claimed the use of G4S would cost the university 2.5 million NOK in reputational losses because of using the allegedly controversial G4S security company, a fifty year-old CANADIAN company, and the leading one in the provision of security, because of its work in the West Bank. A Norwegian government pension fund divested itself of Elbit Systems because of its business activities in the West Bank. This year, Dutch pension fund PGGM divested its investments in Israeli banks and Danish Danske Bank divested from Israeli Bank Hapoalim for their investments in the West Bank as well as Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus.

Support for BDS in Canada

Allan Dershowitz’s offer to lecture free on Norwegian campuses was turned down even though Ilan Pappé, a strong advocate of BDS, was supported in his tour of Norwegian universities. So some countries are particularly susceptible to the BDS campaign, countries with a record and reputation as a middle road country promoting peace. The BDS movement has had a few academic successes. Denmark’s Technical University dropped out of a scientific collaboration project with Ariel University on the analysis of its laboratories. Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal stated: “We do not want to Danish scientific institutions participating in activities that may help to maintain the illegal settlements.” But overwhelmingly, the efforts have been a failure.

In Canada, BDS has been endorsed by, in Derek’s count, 9.5 student unions, the half point granted to McMaster because the students voted in support of BDS but the meeting giving that support lacked a quorum. The York Federation of Students, a university where I taught for 37 years, and the University of Toronto Scarborough Students’ Union voted to support BDS. The F4P, Faculty for Palestine, formed in the spring of 2008 as a sub-committee of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) includes over 550 faculty of all ranks (tenured, contract, emeritus, independent researchers, retired, visiting scholars) in support of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (PACBI).

Thus, Canada was not far behind Norway in supporting BDS. In May of 2006, the Ontario section of CUPE endorsed the BDS campaign. I believe more university student and faculty unions in Canada than anywhere else support BDS. (Windsor students, have joined the BDS campaign.) The BDS campaign is supported by the United Church of Canada by boycotting products of Israeli settlements. However, the effort to boycott Shani Bar-Oz soap products in Vancouver backfired and sales went up. Friends of Simon Wiesenthal started a campaign today against the McMaster University student union campaign in support of the BDS on the grounds that it has stirred up an anti-Semitic campaign on the campus.

Overall, the BDS campaign has been a general failure. It is a minority movement from the left often with union (CUPE) and United Church support, but overwhelmingly ignored by the vast number of faculty and students. More to the point, there has been little if any measurable effect on the Israeli economy. This raises the question of why have such a campaign if it only serves as an irritant and falls into the segment of 80% of boycott campaigns that fail?

Theorizing BDS – Judith Butler

One impact that I witnessed on my own campus, York University, was a coarsening of debate and discussion on campus. Judith Butler (UC Berkeley), who comes from a family whose Jewish roots go back to eastern Europe, is a leading proponent of BDS from the high intelligence rather than the mob side. Yet she backed a meeting restricted to pro-BDS supporters and banned anyone opposed. Heavily influenced by Derrida, Judith is a leading well-known philosopher of the postmodernist critical theory school who writes on gender and queer studies; her theory of defining gender in terms of performance rather than a natural essence is at the core of most modern gender theory. Though she roots her theories in an interpretation of the section of Hegel’s Phenomenology dealing with desire and life and with Lordship and Bondage that has been heavily influenced by the French Hegelian philosopher, Alexandre Kojève (cf. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth Century France), it is a school of thought which the Toronto School of Hegelians (to which I myself belong) directly challenged in our close readings of Hegel that tried to show how this Marxist interpretation of Hegel inverted Hegel’s meaning.

Judith has a chair in a Department of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature rather than a traditional philosophy department in keeping with the fact that the Modern Language Association (MLA), an association dominated by postmodern theory, has been a leading exponent of the BDS campaign. (See a previous blog, Academic Boycotts and Israel, that I wrote last year that focused on the MLA vote.) As Derek pointed out, academic BDSers come from Literature, Philosophy and sometimes Anthropology but not history and certainly not international studies.

Judith Butler is not only a leading proponent of BDS and activist as an executive member of the Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in the United States, but a leading theorist of the movement. Just as in her theory of censorship as an instrument of the state’s effort to control language and discourse, one of her main rationales for the BDS movement is that it takes away from the power of the state to monopolize and control who can and who cannot be sanctioned and hands it over to the people themselves. This complements Derek’s thesis that BDS is adopted by youth who feel disempowered. Judith merged the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, largely relying on Theodore Adorno’s aesthetics, and French and postmodernist thinkers, to develop a theory in which the individual develops his or her individuality and character in contention with the dominant norms of society. Hence the appeal of BDS practices to young adults on the cusp of self-definition who are permitted to pick and choose their focus since the BDS movement lacks any top-down structure to define and determine the agenda of any group. Her ability to arouse the ire of the right was most evident when she received the Adorno Prize in Germany and the awarders of that prize were taken to task for that award by the German Council of Jews supported by Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, and Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.

One of the interesting items that came up in the discussion last night was the fierce opposition of two Of Israel’s most formidable critics, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, to the BDS campaign. Finkelstein called the BDS movement a cult. Chomsky has not opposed BDS, however, contrary to what was said last night, but has opposed its implementation and the harm it causes to those who should be protected, namely Palestinians. As Chomsky said in a 2010 interview just when BDS had started to take off, “BDS actions are both principled and most effective when they are directed at our crucial contribution to these crimes [of Israel], without which they would end; for example, boycott of western firms contributing to the occupation, working to end military aid to Israel, etc.” In other words, BDS is well intentioned but relatively frivolous because it is not rooted in an economic analysis of capitalism and Israel’s role and undermines a two-state solution. As someone said last night, the criticism of BDS by Finkelstein and Chomsky represent the Old Left versus the youthful new new left.

Conclusions

As Derek suggested, the BDS movement should be combated but it is nothing to become hysterical about. The approach should be to understand its goals, motives and sources of support. It is an educational campaign aimed at consciousness raising rather than a serious effort to damage Israel economically. It is a psychological tool, an irritant like a horde of Lilliputians picking at the body of an economic and creative giant.

Academic Boycotts and Israel

Academic Boycotts and Israel

by

Howard Adelman

 

Introduction

There is no rest for the wicked, so the saying goes. If had not studied and taught logic, I might conclude that I must be wicked since I cannot get my planned rest. I had decided to take yesterday off after publishing a fairly heavy blog the day before – more philosophical than my usual fare. The temperature was 13 degrees and I went out to clean up the last of the leaves. That really exhausted me even though there were not many leaves and not much work and I only took on a very small area. I took a long nap after lunch.

When I got up and went to my computer, there was a note that informed me that the day before the National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) had voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The note also interpreted this resolution as endorsing boycotting individual Israeli academics. From my peripheral knowledge and a quick check, I was sure the latter interpretation was incorrect. But I wanted to double-check and probe the reasoning, mechanics and intent of the resolution. I was going to the theatre last night and had considered possibly writing a review on the play, The Valley (Tarragon Theatre) this morning. However, I knew then and there that my blog this morning would be on the boycott resolution.

Then the announcement came through on the six o’clock news that Nelson Mandela had died. So after the theatre, I wrote a short reflection on the great man to add to the tens of thousands of accolades he will receive. This morning I turned to the boycott issue.

Background to the Boycott

The resolution itself was simple. It honoured and endorsed the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that is an integral part of the Boycott and Divestment (BDS) campaign. Unlike an original proposed resolution, it explicitly did not endorse the boycott of individual Israeli academics, but included in the boycott representatives of Israeli academic institutions – Deans, Presidents, etc. “The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication except if they are viewed as part of the propaganda machinery of Israel.” Further, the resolution was not binding on any individual member of the ASA. Finally, the resolution was subject to the confirmation by an electronic vote of at least 50% of its 3884 members. Voting was to be completed by 15 December.

In its official statement, the Council also said that it “voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.” The ethical argument was not elaborated. Nor were the material implications made clear. There was an added rationale: “A boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.”

The BDS movement to which the resolution paid homage has a website that begins with a quote from Desmond Tutu who addressed the University of Johannesburg which subsequently joined the boycott by severing its ties with BenGurionUniversity.

“It can never be business as usual. Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. [Ben Gurion University] is no exception. By maintaining links to both the Israeli defence forces and the arms industry, BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is a part of the overall Palestinian Civil Society BDS Campaign established in 2005, though it began separately by Palestinian academics in Ramallah in April of 2004. and remains a key part of the Palestinian-led, global BDS movement. The campaign is explicitly part of a much larger campaign for a comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.

The resolution passed by the ASA applies only to Israeli academic institutions. The boycott does not apply to institutions which retain official links with Israeli institutions, including many of the academic schools to which many of the members of the ASA belong. It does not apply to Palestinian institutions either even though, for example, in May 2005, in response to the BDS campaign, Hebrew University of Jerusalem President Prof. Menachem Magidor and Al-Quds University President Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, signed a formal agreement of cooperation affirming the continuing academic cooperation between the two universities.

Cognizant of the moral leadership universities should provide, especially in already turbulent political contexts, we, the President of Al-Quds University and the President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have agreed to insist on continuing to work together in the pursuit of knowledge, for the benefit of our peoples and the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.

Cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than boycotts or discrimination, bridging political gulfs rather than widening them further, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism, were their watchwords. The action was explicitly “predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals”. In spite of such arrangements, the boycott movement advertises itself as an expression of Palestinian civil society.

Background to the Resolution at the ASA

For the last four years, dozens of American studies scholars in the ASA have been actively recruited and joined in a campaign to support the academic dimensions of the worldwide boycott campaign. They were self-confessed “activist” scholars. Last year, the Academic and Community Activism Caucus of the ASA asked the Executive Committee (EC) to consider a resolution supporting the academic boycott of Israel.

One year later, from 21-24 November, the ASA held its annual meeting in WashingtonDC. It was attended by 1970 members.

Learned society meetings are strange rituals for any outsider to comprehend. They are massive, with a conference this size running about twenty parallel sessions, most for the presentation of academic papers on the topics advertised, but others for business, caucus and organizational meetings. I attend the International Studies Association which is about twice the size of the ASA, but the concurrent sessions are almost all academic sessions and there is nothing close to the number of caucus sessions held at the ASA.

In the whole academic program of perhaps 1000 academic papers at about 250 topical sessions, I was only able to spot one purely academic session that dealt with Palestine, and it seemed to be a stretch. Keep in mind that the overall theme of the conference was, “Beyond the Logic of Debt, Towards an Ethics of Collective Dissent,” a topic which in itself suggests the ideological orientation of the ASA. The one academic session was called: “Debt and ‘The Palestine Question’ in Latin America: Colonization, Zionism, Imperialism and Dissent” scheduled for the morning of the Saturday on which the caucus was scheduled to meet for an open discussion at 5:00 p.m. on the topic: “The Israeli Occupation of Palestine,” not exactly the most objective and neutral title. However, after all, this was a caucus about activism, not a scholarly discussion.

There was a prime time session on Friday entitled, “The Crisis of Palestine” with an open forum with a panel that addressed the plight of Palestinian universities and academics, and, as advertised, discussed “the profound pressures on teaching and research contexts in the U.S. and Palestine where education and intellectual freedom [allegedly] were under attack.” The Saturday session before the debate was entitled “Academic Freedom and the Right to Education: The Question of Palestine.” The panel focused on the boycott consisted of the president of ASA, Curtis Munez, Angela Davis, Ahmad Saadi (an anti-Zionist sociologist teaching at Ben Gurion University), Jasbir Puar (Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University currently finishing her third book, Inhumanist Occupation: Sex, Affect, and Palestine/Israel), J. Kehaulani Kauanui (a longtime activist promoting the boycott) and Alex Lubin (co-founder of the ASA’s caucus on academic and community activism), all advocates of an anti-Israel and pro-Palestine ideological line. One would not be surprised to learn that no one on the panel was critical of the boycott.   

It helps also to understand the ASA. It is called the American Studies Association, but many of the best known scholars of American studies do not belong. Many who still belong feel a nostalgic loyalty to the Association. Thus, of the small minority who signed the petition opposing the boycott, seven were former presidents of the ASA. The list of papers at the conference might suggest why. I ran through the program and stopped arbitrarily at one set of sessions set for noon on the last day. The titles of the nineteen concurrent sessions were as follows:

Indebtedness To and For the Nation of Immigrants … 316

The Urban Turn?: A Roundtable on the City (at the) Center of American Studies … 317

File Under “Labor” … 318

Ethical Confrontations with Antiblackness: To Whom is the Human Indebted? … 319

ASA Site Resources Committee: Activist Responses to the Policing of Sex in DC … 320

Confronting Carceral America: Activist Responses to the Punitive Logics of Debt … 321

White Supremacist Cultures … 322

Movement Debts in the Age of Neoliberalism … 323

Mobilizing Against Settler Colonialism: Idle No More and Allied Dissent … 324

Producing Play: Labor and Leisure in Early Video Game Culture … 325

Slavery, Trafficking, and Criminalization: Using Historical Metaphors to Assess Interlocking Systems of Oppression … 326

American Modern Design: A Question of Cultural Indebtedness … 327

Specters of Du Bois: Dissent as Decolonization … 328

Muckraking, Dissent, and Social Change: Writing in the Public Interest … 329

Genealogies of Neoliberalism … 330

Queer Reorientations of the Good Life … 331

Neo/Colonial Pedagogies and the Creation of Indebted Knowledges in the American Century … 332

Refugee Archival Memory: Disrupting the U.S. Logics of Freedom and Debt in Hmong/Laotian History … 333

The orientation of the ASA currently has a fundamental commitment to the study and critique of racism. US imperialism and settler colonialism. The primary mode of discourse is rooted in a post-colonial orientation to scholarship, an approach not used by the vast majority of scholars in America. These scholars approach the world of learning through a fixed lens with an emphasis on what they call settler-colonial studies that provides the intellectual scaffolding connecting liberal nation-states with exploitation and the role of universities in perpetuating inequality.

The traditional presidential address of this learned society was delivered by Curtis Marez, who has a PhD in English and is an Associate Professor in the Ethnic Studies Department of UC San Diego and who lists his main academic interests as Latino, migration and technology studies, more particularly, race and political economy in popular culture and media. He published Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics in 2004 which compared the official media representations of the drug culture with that of and by the media of immigrants and minorities.

Marez’ address began with a reference to Michael Rogin’s excellent 1996 book, Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot that largely dealt with the story of Al Jolson, and, more particularly, the first movie talkie, The Jazz Singer, later remade as The Jolson Story, my personal favourite since Al Jolson was my favourite singer when I was a kid. Merez shows little interest in the book and the general thesis of one culture using another minority culture as a form of mediating and disguising a process of assimilation. He certainly ignored the critics of Rogin who argued that the process was not simply one way but itself was critical to transforming the culture of America,

Marez instead concentrates on the other side of that thesis, the white supremicist culture and the exploitation of the labour of blacks and the theft of “red” Indian lands on which the white supremicist culture was built. So the use of blackface is reduced simply to racism. Current revivals of blackface he sees as perhaps the result of a student need to distance themselves from poor people of colour in order to ignore and transcend the regime of educational debt into which they have been thrust. More positively, “students have been central to creative, collective actions against higher tuition and regimes of debt…[and] have also struggled to take some control over what student debt in effect finances by, for example, demanding that universities disinvest from companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.”

There, in a nutshell, like a shell game played with three thimbles and a pea, the pea of exploitation/racism is moved from the racism of white America to the role of universities as perpetrators of that racism and colonialism through putting debt for education on the backs of students, and then, to everyone’s surprise except the fraudster and the shills that surround him, to the third thimble the American economic and cultural oppression by Israel of Palestine. Of course, in an expert hand, you cannot follow the pea or see how it has disappeared up the arm of the player. Only a critical close examination reveals the whole game as an absolute fraud.

The Vote on the Resolution

The result of the vote of the forum was virtually inevitable, as likely will be the result of the electronic vote. Though concurrent with the forum there were two competing receptions, one by the University of Southern California and the other by Harvard American Studies, receptions which, according to the rituals of learned societies, informally grade the sponsor on the quality and quantity of free food available, the caucus meeting on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. was unusually very well attended by 745 members – a very impressive figure representing about 35% of the attendees at the conference. To provide the appearance of fairness, 44 speakers were chosen at random from those who expressed an interest in speaking and were given two minutes each to either express their approval or disapproval of the motion. Of the 44 chosen, 37 supported the resolution, each to immense applause, and 7 opposed who received only scattered clapping. For anyone who opposes mob pressure, the meeting was a travesty and an exercise in intellectually bullying, though conducted in a respectful manner all the more painful given the underlying structure and dynamic. There was no attempt to ensure dissident voices had a fair and adequate time to present a case – not that I believe it would have mattered in the end. The pro-resolution speakers echoed a common theme – Israel was a settler colonial state, the US was complicit in fostering this state and in its own history of settler colonialism, and the ASA commitment to anti-racist and anti-colonial scholarship required support of the boycott.

The Arguments

The proponents of the resolution argue that the resolution supports academic freedom by NOT targeting individual scholars but only institutions that are covert partners of a repressive state and by fostering academic freedom of Palestinians. There was no discussion about how the alleged repression by Israel of Palestinian scholars was congruent with the fact that a vocal anti-Zionist such as Ahmad Saadi could be hired by Ben Gurion University and permitted to travel to the United States to appear on a panel advocating a boycott of Israeli universities or how they could brand America as a racist colonial imperial state yet boast of its academic freedom. The contradictions were just too plentiful to point out, but in the dialectics of post colonial studies could always be dismissed or explained away. For faculty of this persuasion who express solidarity with the oppressed and constantly complain of intimidation and retaliation by “liberal” institutions,  there was little self-critical consciousness that the process in which they were involved was profoundly intimidating. To be a post-colonial scholar logically meant joining the boycott campaign, at the every least in its truncated anti-institutional sanitized version. 

The ASA has demonstrated that it is indeed an academic body of shared intellectual values and commitments but not the traditional shared intellectual values of the liberal university. They accuse Zionists of refusing to debate but from my own experience, the atmosphere of these halls do not welcome debate but ideological posturing including by those who oppose their perspective. Being dispassionate is not seen as a virtue. Being objective, comprehensive, logically consistent and using evidence to support one’s position are not put forth as virtues but ideological commitment is. They insist their arguments are both moral and reasoned. I do not find them to be so. They see themselves as victims of the powerful and wealthy Zionist lobby using its power and material resources to attack and intimidate them. But one finds little evidence of any of that, and in the few cases where academics have not achieved tenure who hold positions like these, other factors are often at work, though I do not deny that in some cases, and I myself have documented some, that donor interference and threats have affected a judicious consideration of issues.

These proponents construct the world into a manichaean cosmos of anti-colonialists and anti-racists versus the neo-con oppressive and inegalitarian state. Small “l” liberals are squeezed out of the debate for they do not fit into their cosmology except as patsies of the oppressive colonial settler state.

Make no mistake. Any reading of the movement and the thinking behind these resolutions is based on an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist ideology that fundamentally opposes even the existence of Israel. When the proponents of the boycott say such charges are ludicrous and , for example, Cary Nelson’s claim that the academic boycott movement aims at the “abolition of the Israeli state” is an outright lie, what else can one conclude if one opposes Israel as an imperial colonial state and claim Zionism is rooted in racism. Though they say they oppose the boycott of individual scholars, they make the argument for selective boycott of those scholars because they are cultural ambassadors for Israel and, in effect, support Palestinian dispossession and occupation. Liberal arguments for academic freedom are just excuses for inaction.

I recall years ago when I gave a guest lecture at Bir Zeit University and suggested to Sari Nusseibeh that he invite me to teach their for a term. He replied that he could not envision the possibility of a Jew teaching at a Palestinian university for a century. Times have changed,. Now anti-Zionist scholars, including Israeli scholars, are welcomed to lecture at Palestinian universities, but what about middle-roaders and even right-wingers? After all, anti-Zionist Palestinians teach at Israeli universities. But these contradictions are side-stepped rather than considered and debated. Certainly Palestinian scholars and researchers have struggled – given the governments under which they work and the shortage of funds, but any objective analysis would show that these institutions were born under Israeli occupation and grew up under it with all its horrible characteristics and restrictions from both sides and more usually from their own side.

The fact is that the underlying thesis that the academic freedom of Israeli academics depends on the moral eviction of the Palestinians is a distortion. Palestinian (and Jewish) anti-Zionists teaching at Israeli institutions do not depend on the moral eviction of Palestinians. Nor do other scholars. Nor do critics of the United States as an imperial colonialist state depend on the eviction of native Americans from their land or the racist suppression of blacks.

In the 2012 report entitled a “Crisis of Competence: the Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California,” the authors on behalf of the California Association of Scholars document how the infusion of political ideology into all discourse and debate negatively impacts on the quality of both teaching and research, politicizing the curricula and promoting a culture of hostility and disruption on campus hostile to the free expression of ideas. As a young student activist, I never envisioned activism challenging the liberal presumptions of the university, or the effects of such a challenge on research, scholarship and teaching. Part of the reason is the asymmetry of the debate in which one side openly supports open exchanges from many points of view while the other side believes that any scholarship that is not wedded to the anti-colonial struggle against racism and inequality is just scholarship in the service of oppression. The terms of the debate ensure liberals lose simply if there are enough anti-colonial scholars present. 

Defenders of the boycott rebut the charge that they are hypocritical because they focus on Israel and ignore the denial of academic freedoms in Arab states, Turkey, Russia and China, not by denying that Israel is less repressive. Rather, they argue that Israel’s infringement of Palestinian academic freedoms is more objectionable because Israel claims to be democratic while oppressing the freedoms among Palestinians by denying the free movement, free communication and free circulation of ideas to Palestinians, asserted as if these were givens rather than conclusions needing empirical support. Further, unlike repressive states like China, the proponents of a boycott argue that, only Israel is a large receiver of US military and other aid. So the asymmetry on criticism matches the asymmetry of American support. So why not target Egypt? and why repeatedly state that historically, it has been very difficult to criticize Israel in the USA?

The Implications

If you support the boycott, the contrasting and conflicting rationales can be ignored and the first positive vote by a large American learned society after the Asian Scholars voted to support a boycott resolution will be cheered and applauded. The opponents will cry foul and argue that the stance conflicts with the principles of academic freedom. They will argue that the resolutions are hypocritical in their application and based on complete distortions of the state of academic freedom in Palestinian academic institutions and greatly exaggerates the role of the Israeli state in the inhibitions that do take place. I myself agree with the advocates of the boycott, that the position is indeed a logical outcome of post-colonial premises.

That is the real problem!

Stephen Hawking and the Boycott.16.05.13

Stephen Hawking and the Boycott                                                                         16.05.13

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

Today I want to write about Stephen Hawking, not because I can identify my tiny correctable handicap with his enormous uncorrectable one, but because it is a simpler issue to get back to writing my blog. I myself have boycotted conferences – but only a very few. The last one was at my own university, York, where I had agreed to give a paper at a conference on considering a one state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian problem. I was going to present a paper on why a two state solution was the only reasonable solution and why one state solutions were really opportunities for complete victory by either one side or the other, even when one state solutions were advocated by utopians instead of greater Israel zealots or Palestinian anti-Zionist advocates. I cancelled my participation when the program indicated that the conference would not strictly be an academic conference but would provide a platform for ideological zealots, this time from the anti-zionist side, a development that ran contrary to the promise I was given when I agreed to participate. It was a personal and individual boycott of a particular conference and I never suggested that anyone join me or that others boycott or that YorkUniversity conferences in general be boycotted. I have no objection in principle to academics boycotting a conference.

Stephen Hawking’s position is different in most of these respects except that he too originally agreed not only to participate but to be the headline speaker in a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow 2013. The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow., 18-20 June. This year’s theme asked “whether the quality of leadership – in all realms of human activity – can make a difference. What is the desired dynamic in relationships between people and leaders in the face of powerful processes of change?” This year’s conference was also intended to honour Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday.

The conference was not a political conference. Hawking had not agreed to participate under certain conditions and those conditions were breached. He was persuaded to withdraw after enormous pressure was put upon him to withdraw as an endorsement of the BDS Campaign, the campaign to boycott Israel, divest from investing in Israel and participate in sanctions against Israel. He initially personally made no public announcement, but when the initial explanation offered cited his poor health – and his health is indeed poor — his office issued a statement of correction indicating that the withdrawal was an expression of sympathy for the Palestinian cause as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, with Hawking’s approval, described his withdrawal as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

 

Hawking has visited Israel at least three or four times before. In 2006, in a series of lectures sponsored by the British Embassy he gave lectures at Israeli and Palestinian universities. However, in 2009, he clearly and vociferously expressed his disapproval of Israel’s “disproportionate” response to the rocket attacks from Gaza and compared Israel to South Africa under the apartheid regime. In light of this, why was Hawking invited to headline the conference?

The criticism has actually not been of the withdrawal per se, nor even particularly of the reasons for the withdrawal – namely as an expression of sympathy for the treatment of Palestinians by Israel – but because the statement eventually made clear that the withdrawal was an expression of support for the BDS movement. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was begun on 9 July 2005 by 171 Palestinian NGOs who had formed The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel the year before and was a follow-up of the notorious NGO Forum, the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa in 2001. That conference harked back to the theme of Zionism is racism and promoted the equation of Israel with apartheid South Africa. It called for “mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel”.

The goal of the campaign was not recognition of Palestine as a state alongside Israel. The goal was the use of non-violent means to promote three goals:

1. Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian [note, not Arab-Israeli citizens] of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of return of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

 

With respect to item 3, note first that this is neither what Resolution 194 said nor what it meant when it was passed, though that is what it has come to be popularly interpreted as meaning following numerous UN General Assembly Resolutions over the years. (See the chapter on Palestinian refugee return in Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan (2011) No Return, No Refuge. New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press.) Secondly, with regard to the second point above, the basic laws of Israel – equivalent to constitutional principles – include the Right to Human Dignity and Liberty and “Declares basic human rights in Israel are based on the recognition of the value of man, the sanctity of his life and the fact that he is free” and “Defines human freedom as the right to leave and enter the country, privacy (including speech, writings, and notes), intimacy, and protection from unlawful searches of one’s person or property” including protection against infringements by means of emergency regulations. Subsequent basic laws on employment guaranteed every Israel national or resident’s “right to engage in any occupation, profession or trade”. Any violation of this right shall be “by a law befitting the values of the State of Israel, enacted for a proper purpose, and to an extent no greater than is required.” The problem in Israel is not recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian or Arab-Israelis but full implementation of those rights. Third, with respect to the first point, the call for the end of the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” is part of the rhetoric that Jewish Zionists are colonizers and occupants of Arab lands inIsrael and not just in the West Bank. The BDS campaign has as its most visible face in Canada “Israel Apartheid Week” that was initiated in Toronto in 2005 while Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East focuses on promoting strategic boycotting of Canadian and Multinational corporations operating in Canada as well as academic boycotts. 

 

The general spectrum of this campaign includes Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionist advocates, such as those who belong to the legal human rights organization, Adalah, who urge that Israel should be like Canada, a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural state” and not a Jewish state and, as such, oppose the “right of return” to Israel of Jews but advocate recognizing the right of return of Palestinian refugees. They inherently oppose UN Resolution 181 that initially recognized the partition of the land of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. Essentially, all of these advocacy groups deny Zionism as a legitimate national independence movement of the Jewish people while endorsing Palestinian national self-determination. Hawking’s agreement to support the BDS campaign has to be understood in this context.

If I agreed that Jewish national self-determination was illegitimate but virtually all other forms of national self-determination were legitimate, then I probably would also consider joining a boycott of state-sponsored events that implicitly if not explicitly endorsed the principle of Jewish national self-determination. So I do not think that Hawking’s joining such a boycott is “morally reprehensible and intellectually indefensible”. It may be morally objectionable and intellectually hypocritical and utterly stupid in my mind, but even stupid positions can be intellectually defended. Further, although Hawking’s position can be associated with the BDS campaign, it is not at all clear that he supports an academic boycott of Israel.

Nor do I find the criticism valid that Hawking, or others, who target Israel but ignore the myriad of other states who are abusers of human rights, are hypocrites with double standards. They are part of a campaign to delegitimize the right of Israel to exist or of Zionism as a movement of national self-determination. Members of the BDS and its related movements can readily admit – though they rarely do – that rights in Israel are upheld better than in most states of the world and, certainly far more than rights in China or Iran, Turkey or Egypt. That is not the real point. The real issue is of collective rights. Do Jews have a right to national self-determination in their ancient homeland? If you deny that they do while insisting that Palestinians have such rights, then focusing on Israel exclusively makes perfect sense quite aside from one’s right to be selective in one’s political efforts. What other national movement of self-determination is seen as inherently illegitimate? Kurdish national self-determination or Tibetan national self-determination or Chechen national self-determination may be seen as imprudent or impractical or unrealizable but not as illegitimate.

So I do not think the advocates of a boycott against Israel are guilty of a double standard. They have a single standard that denies that Jews are a legitimate national identity with any rights of national self-determination. Perhaps they also believe this is also true of Inuit people but I have never read or heard of any pronouncements of denial of such rights for any other people.

Nor do I think that academia should be immune from boycotts simply because academia is ostensibly dedicated to dialogue and discourse. As I indicated in my opening, I am for and participate in boycotts when I believe supposed academic occasions are betrayals of academic purposes. Further, I am somewhat hypocritical in this regard. I have attended academic conferences at al Quds University and Bir Zeit University in which ideological ranters participated but where the majority of papers were proper academic presentations but would not agree to do so in the context of my own university, not only because promises were made to me that this would not be the case, but because I have a higher standard for universities that thrive in a free western environment as distinct from universities which struggle hard to uphold academic standards in a political hotbed.

I do know if Stephen Hawking is aware that his decision to withdraw from the Jerusalem conference can be read as an implicit endorsement of anti-Zionism and antipathy to the principle of the national self-determination of the Jewish people. One would think he is not opposed to Zionism for he accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on a previous occasion. If he is not opposed to Zionism per se or Israel as a Jewish state, then he may simply be ignorant of the larger political context of the BDS movement. Further, criticisms of government policies at a particular time, whether of the American-led invasion of Iraq or of Russia’s treatment of Chechnya or of China’s treatment of Tibet, are not best exercised are not best pursued by boycotts of academic or intellectual conferences having nothing to do with such situations.

There is an even more serious problem with Hawking participating in the boycott that has little to do with political naiveté and ignorance and a great deal to do with reinforcing a so-called “shtetl” mentality in Israel, namely, the belief by a great number of Jews and Israelis, that no matter how hard they try, whatever the failures, the goyim will never grant Jews the same rights as others. Why be vigilant in protecting everyone’s rights when other so-called universalists are so negative about Jewish rights? Hawking’s position, without any chance of really being effective in the real world of politics, will affect those who are intransigent on both sides in reinforcing their positions and making the possibility of peace even more remote. Instead of reinforcing listening, instead of enhancing dissident voices, such stands shut down listening and reinforce ideology.