Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Real Problem With the ASA’s Boycott of Israel. By Peter Beinart.

The Real Problem With the American Studies Association’s Boycott of Israel. By Peter Beinart. The Daily Beast, December 17, 2013.


Why did the ASA ignore far worse abuses in Burma and Congo? For the same reason lefties rally endlessly against the economic policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund but not against the economic policies of North Korea. And for the same reason that in the 1970s and 1980s, academics across the globe boycotted apartheid South Africa while saying barely a word about post-colonial African tyrants like Sekou Toure, Macias Nguema and Paul Biya. Because for the global left, imperialism is the great sin of the modern world. And only Western governments and institutions—the United States, South Africa, the World Bank, IMF and now, Israel—can commit it. For institutions like the ASA, Israel’s real crime is not being a country where Jews rule non-Jews. It’s being a country where, in their view at least, whites rule non-whites. That’s empirically dubious and morally myopic. But not all political action fueled by moral myopia is wrong.
. . . .

The best argument against the ASA’s boycott isn’t about double standards or academic freedom. It’s about the outcome the boycott seeks to produce. The Association’s boycott resolution doesn’t denounce “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.” It denounces “the Israeli occupation of Palestine” and “the systematic discrimination against Palestinians,” while making no distinction whatsoever between Israeli control of the West Bank, where Palestinians lack citizenship, the right to vote and the right to due process, and Israel proper, where Palestinians, although discriminated against, enjoy all three. That’s in keeping with the “boycotts, divestments, and sanctions” movement more generally. BDS proponents note that the movement takes no position on whether there should be one state or two between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But it clearly opposes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders. The BDS movement’s call for “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” denies Israel’s right to set its own immigration policy. So does the movement’s call for “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”, which presumably denies Israel’s right to maintain the preferential immigration policy that makes it a refuge for Jews. Indeed, because the BDS movement’s statement of principles makes no reference to Jewish rights and Jewish connection to the land, it’s entirely possible to read it as giving Palestinians’ rights to national symbols and a preferential immigration policy while denying the same to Jews.
This is the fundamental problem: Not that the ASA is practicing double standards and not even that it’s boycotting academics, but that it’s denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one. I don’t think that position is inherently anti-Semitic, but I do think it’s profoundly misguided. Britain is not illegitimate because it has a cross on its flag and an Anglican head of a state. Germany is not illegitimate because its immigration policy favors members of a dominant ethnic group. Jews deserve a state that takes a special interest in their self-protection, just like Palestinians do. And disregarding both peoples’ deep desire for such a state is not a recipe for harmonious bi-nationalism (if such a thing even exists); it’s a recipe for civil war. That’s not just my view. It’s the view of the most popular Palestinian leader alive, Marwan Barghouti, who said earlier this year that, “If the two-state solution fails, the substitute will not be a binational one-state solution, but a persistent conflict that extends based on an existential crisis.”

Some Lessons in Effective Scapegoating. By Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg, December 16, 2013.

On Academic Freedom and the BDS Movement. By Omar Barghouti. The Nation, December 14, 2013.

Boycott a sting to Israeli apartheid. By Yousef Munayyer. CNN, December 19, 2013.

The ASA’s Boycott of Israel Is Not as Troubling as It Seems. By David Greenberg. The New Republic, December 19, 2013.

How the ASA Became the RASA (Racist American Studies Association). By Divest This. The Algemeiner. December 19, 2013.

The Academic Boycott of Israel Is a Travesty. By Leon Wieseltier. The New Republic, December 17, 2013. Also here.


For all the politicization of the ASA, it is indifferent to the politics of what it piously deplores. The occupation of the Palestinian territories is a political problem that requires a political solution. In the attempt to attain such a solution, the Palestinians are not inert victims or bystanders to their fate. They are historical actors; and their refusal to accept any of the plans for Palestinian statehood that have been proposed to them—the imperfection of the solution disturbs them more than the imperfection of the problem—is one of the reasons—one of the reasons—that they find themselves in a condition of such weakness. The Israeli settlement of the West Bank indeed must end; but even if it ends, Israel is a state by right with a perfectly understandable anxiety about its security. “We do not support the boycott of Israel,” Mahmoud Abbas, in South Africa for Mandela’s funeral, declared. He supports only a “boycott [of] the products of the settlements.” “We have relations with Israel,” he added, “we have mutual recognition of Israel.” But who is Abu Mazen to speak for the Palestinians, compared with an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego?

Comment by delta5297:

True, there are many countries that commit far worse human rights abuses than Israel, but only Israel is considered to be a First World democracy, and it must be held to a higher standard.
Also, the author criticizes the ASA for being “anti-Zionist.” But was Zionism ever a good thing? Zionism, as I understand it, was the idea that the Jews should create a state for themselves in their “historic homeland.” However the Zionists either did not care about the consequences, or they considered the fact that their ancestors lived there over two thousand years ago to give them greater rights to the land than the people who were already living there in the present. If this is what Zionism is, then it is a morally bankrupt ideology and we are right to be anti-Zionists. This does not mean that Israel’s existence should be abolished, after all the Israelis have been there for several decades now, but it does mean that the historical record should be re-evaluated and Zionism deemed immoral, just as the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans was eventually deemed wrong in the United States. Moreover, when Zionist sentiment is invoked by the religious-nationalist settlers as justification for claiming the West Bank in whole or in part, this argument/sentiment must be soundly rejected.
Lastly, it may be true that Palestinian leaders unwisely rejected peace deals in the past, but this does not give Israel the right to unilaterally alter the status quo with its settlement expansions. It was once said that Israel lacked a credible partner for peace on the Palestinian side, but today Mahmoud Abbas could justifiably point to Benjamin Netanyahu and say the same thing.

The radical anti-Zionist Left. By William A. Jacobson. Legal Insurrection, November 10, 2013.

A still, small leftwing voice against BDS. By Gerald M. Steinberg. The Times of Israel, November 10, 2013.

The Third Narrative. Two states, peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians. Ameinu.

NGO Monitor.

Divest This!