We Should Boycott Israeli Academics
Professor of Middle East history
West Chester University
July, 26, 2002
Recently Prof. Juan Cole of the U. of Michigan
published a piece against the academic boycott of Israel. I have
presented the Chronicle(*) with a response which I hope they will
A copy of it is given below.
As one of the few American academics who has publically supported
the boycott of Israeli academia I would like to respond to the recent
piece, Why We Should Not Boycott Israeli Academics by
Professor Juan Cole.
To begin with many of the reasons Professor Cole gives against
the boycott are, I believe, inaccurate and misleading. I suspect
they are based largely on his sense of the situation in Israel or,
as his evidence suggests, the opinion of Israelis who also oppose
the boycott. Lets take these one by one.
First, he says that while he understands the impulse, the
shunning of Israeli academic institutions seems to me entirely the
wrong place to begin. In fact those who seek to boycott Israel
have not begun with academia. There are now on-going efforts at
an economic boycott and a divestment movement that pre-date the
effort directed at academia. This latter effort is a subset of a
larger, older effort.
Second, Professor Cole asserts that apartheid is not a part of
Israeli society. Specifically he says, While Arab-Israelis
are discriminated against in many ways in Israeli society, there
is nothing like apartheid. Leaving aside whether Israeli society,
as it functions behind the Green Line, is not itself bad enough
to warrant a boycott, Professor Cole surely knows that the boycott
was initiated because of what Israeli is (and has been for thirty
five years) doing in the Occupied Territories. There, according
to the testimony of Desmond Tutu, apartheid certainly does exist.
Third, Professor Cole asserts that Israeli academics oppose Israeli
policies in the Occupied Territories and therefore it is unfair
to target them. Thus, Israeli academics tend to be left of
center and finding one who expresses something other than distaste
for Sharon is no easy task. It seems especially inappropriate to
punish academics for the actions of a government they largely oppose.
Professor Cole may or may not be right about the personal distaste
many Israeli academics feel for Sharon, but where is their public
opposition to his governments policies? There are approximately
9000 academics in Israel. Only 66 of these signed on to the published
letter of support for soldiers refusing to serve in the Occupied
Territories. Only 20 signed on to a letter of support for Ilan Pappe
when the University of Haifa threatened to fire him, in part for
his opposition to Israels behavior. In October of 2000, when
Israeli forces killed 13 Israeli-Arabs demonstrating against that
discrimination Professor Cole noted, only a few dozen Israeli academics
registered any public protest. Even fewer now publically support
the various petitions circulating against the actions of the Sharon
government. (It is to be especially noted that these actions include
an on-going attack on the institutions of Palestinian academia).
On the contrary, Israeli universities have attempted to shut down
criticism, most of which has come from Arab-Israeli student organizations.
Not all, but most academics, fearing loss of their jobs and friends,
have remained silent. Whatever the private opinion of the majority
of Israeli academics might be, their public silence essentially
condones the behavior of the Israeli government.
Finally, Professor Cole notes that it should be remembered
that the Oslo peace process itself originated as back-channel meetings
of Israelis and Palestinians at a university in Norway. The current
boycott call would forestall important new developments deriving
from such exchanges. I am not sure if Professor Cole is going
to believe this, but the Oslo accords were a disaster. They did
get Arafat back into Palestine and the PNA established, but on the
unpublished proviso that they act as a security force for the Israelis.
The latter proceeded to use the accords to forestall any final agreement
while they continued to impose an apartheid regime in the Occupied
Territories. It is because Arafat and the PNA refused to forestall
violence against Israel under these circumstances that the U.S.
and Israel now seek his ouster and the reform of the
PNA. PNA corruption, which certainly does exist, is strictly a secondary
issue at the State Department.
Thus, if the boycott can forestall any similar agreements
then that is yet another reason to support it.
Israeli academics and their supporters cannot abstract academia
from the context of their own societys behavior. This is true
not only for Israelis but for American and other academics as well.
Whether it is the napalming of Vietnamese villages, the blowing
up of Israeli pizza parlors and busses, or the systematic imposition
of a colonialist apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories in
violation of the Geneva Convention and countless UN resolutions,
we find ourselves faced with an increasingly destructive and abnormal
situation. It cannot be business as usual for Israel under these
circumstances. If Israeli academics want worldwide acceptance they
should follow the lead of those brave Palestinian intellectuals
who have come out vocally against suicide bombings. It is time for
them to take a principled, moral and public stand against Israeli
government behavior that demeans our collective human status. Until
a very significant number of Israeli academics do so, this boycott
should go forward.
Professor of Middle East history
West Chester University
West Chester, PA 19383
(*) Chronicle of Higher Education, "Why
We Should Not Boycott Israeli Academics" By Juan Cole (July