Friday, January 30, 2009

Terrorism by other means

A particularly grime-caked corner of the academic left, whose bias Marc Bousquet snickers is a “problem” that has been “manufactured,” has called for a cultural and scholarly boycott of Israel. Its spokesman, unsurprisingly, is an English professor by the name of David Lloyd. “The initiative was in the first place impelled by Israel’s latest brutal assault on Gaza,” Lloyd says, “and by our determination to say enough is enough.”

Congratulating themselves upon being “educators of conscience,” the organizers of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel argue that they are justified in calling for an academic boycott, because Israel is engaging in “scholasticide.” (The Double-Tongued Dictionary traces the concoction to an article earlier this month in the Guardian.) Lloyd and his collaborators explain:

Since December 27, Israel has deliberately bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, the Ministry of Education, the American International School, at least ten UNRWA schools, one of which was sheltering displaced Palestinian civilians, and tens of other schools and educational facilities.The fact that even Reuters, no friend to Israel, calls the Islamic University a “significant Hamas cultural symbol,” or that, during the three-week war in Gaza alone, Hamas rockets hit nine educational facilities in Israel, including high schools, kindergartens, and elementary schools, goes entirely unremarked by the boycotters. Because Israel is killing scholarship in Gaza (who knew that it existed?), they naturally seek to interfere with Israeli scholars’ efforts to do their work. Specifically, they call upon American scholars to freeze out Israelis who “do not vocally oppose Israeli state policies against Palestine,” and advocate a “comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions . . . including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions.”

Although consumer boycotts are increasingly common in America—economic researchers have found that they quadrupled in the period from the mid-1980’s to mid-1990’s—an academic boycott is a relatively new and untried thing. Two and a half years ago, a British boycott of Israeli scholars and universities lasted all of three weeks. It is, however, a familiar class weapon, or pastime. Most participants in consumer boycotts are high-income college graduates. The Scholars for Peace in the Middle East have started a petition drive to oppose and denounce the boycott, observing that “singling out Israeli academics and institutions for boycott is discriminatory. No other nation’s academics or institutions are being subjected to such action, whether or not their governments are in a state of war.”

While this is true, it misses the target. Victor Davis Hanson points out that those, like the academic boycotters, who complain about the deaths of many Palestinian Arabs at Israeli hands were strangely silent when “Russians blew apart 40,000 plus Muslims from the center of Grozny.” But though it will never happen, they could break their silence. They could protest what Hanson calls the Turkish Muslim occupation of Cyprus now in its fourth decade just as loudly as they protest that the “unilateral ceasefire declared by Israel . . . inaugurates a new phase of occupation of Gaza.” It is theoretically possible, even if it is completely implausible. The real problem is not that Israel is singled out, but that the academic boycott of Israel is one more turn of the screw in the abuse and corruption of American scholarship. The boycott is a nakedly political act, devised to influence Israeli policy, by using scholarly exchange as a coercive force.

In addition to its spokesman David Lloyd, the boycott’s organizing committee includes: Mohammed Abed, a philosopher at Cal State Los Angeles; Rabab Abdulhadi, an ethnic studies professor at San Francisco State; Lara Deeb, a women’s studies professor at Irvine and open advocate on behalf of Hezbollah; Manzar Foorohar, a historian at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo; Jess Ghannam, a psychiatrist at the University of California’s medical college in San Francisco and a longtime PLO flack who is president of the local chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee; Sherna Berger Gluck, a women’s studies professor at Cal State Long Beach and author of An American Feminist in Palestine; Sondra Hale, an anthropologist at UCLA; David Klein, a mathematician at Cal State Northridge; Dennis Kortheuer, a professor of education at Cal State Long Beach; Sunaina Maira, an Asian American studies professor at Davis; Marcy Newman, an English professor at An Najah National University in Nablus; Edie Pistolesi, a professor of art education at Cal State Northridge who gave her students the assignment of contributing to an anti-war display; and Magid Shihade, a visiting professor of Middle Eastern studies at Davis who also participates in something called resistance studies.

Lloyd himself is a self-identified Marxist (“the failure of the emancipatory promise of Marxism . . . does not necessarily entail the judgement that [its] analytical and theoretical insights have nothing more of value to tell us”) who teaches at the University of Southern California. The group was wise to choose someone with a fine Welsh name to speak for it, since the last thing it wants is to be understood as merely an American propaganda arm of the Arab boycott.

That’s what it is, however. The Arab League organized its boycott of Palestinian Jews in 1946 when it established a Permanent Boycott Committee and declared: “Products of Palestinian Jews are to be considered undesirable in Arab countries. They should be prohibited and refused as long as their production in Palestine might lead to the realization of Zionist political aims.” The academic boycott seeks what Hamas calls for in its charter and has failed to achieve so far—the destruction of the Jewish State. Thus it is terrorism by other means.