Friday, June 03, 2005
Letter to NATFHE's journal
The AUT made a bad mistake in April when it decided to boycott two Israeli universities. AUT members rebelled and overturned that decision by a big majority at a special conference on 26 May.
Had the AUT not rescinded its policy on 26 May, I suspect our recent conference would have passed emergency motions that committed Natfhe to boycott. As it was, it passed a slippery motion committing Natfhe to nothing but proclaiming the “right” of AUT to boycott Israel. Our Executive has passed policy saying a boycott of selected Israeli institutions should be an option.
Those who led the opposition to the boycott in the AUT were not right-wingers. They were socialists committed to Palestinian rights and a state alongside Israel.
Inside AUT – and at a large fringe meeting at our own conference – some people, appalled by the situation of the Palestinians, looked to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and advocated a boycott for lack of a better idea.
But, as the anti-boycotters in AUT pointed out, it is absurd and counterproductive to blame Israeli academia for Israeli state policy.
The boycott is positively harmful because it feeds into the anti-semitic (often “left” anti-semitic) idea that Israel is a uniquely evil state which must be destroyed.
Boycotting Israel is not the same as boycotting apartheid. For South Africa it was a matter of solidarising with the people of the country against a particular regime, not of demonising a whole nation. Solidarity with the Palestinians against the Occupation does not, and for a workable democratic settlement cannot, exclude sympathy with the Israeli Jews and respect for their right, also, to have their own state.
The boycotters apply criteria to Israeli academics which they apply to no other academics in the world. They don’t demand the “smashing” of Australia or Argentina for what happened to the indigenous populations. They don’t demand a boycott of US academics because of the Iraq war.
And they demonise Zionism. It is unfortunately common to see placards of left-organised marches which equate Zionism with Nazism and Sharon with Hitler.
We need respect for the democratic rights of both Palestinians and Jews. The pro-boycott current must be taken on, isolated and politically defeated in Natfhe.
Mark Osborn, Lewisham