Heigh-ho, it’s boycott time again – as Zionophobic zealots of our universities decide to have another go at ostracizing their fellow academics in Israel.
Whether it’s in the best of taste to like Jews better when they’re in concentration camps than when they’re in their own country I leave to less interested parties to decide. But if anti-Semitism is repugnant to humanity, then it is no less repugnant to humanity to single out one country for your hatred, to hate it beyond reason and against evidence, to pluck it from the complex contextuality of history as though it authored its own misfortunes and misdeeds as the devil authored evil, to deny it any understanding and – most odious of all – to seek to silence its voices. For make no mistake, this is what an intellectual boycott means. We silence you. We will not let you speak. The UCU resolution includes proposals to “organize a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academics/educational trade unionists.” In other words, we will hear them, we will not hear you. Imagine the rapturous applause awaiting these Palestinian educational trade unionists – given free rein to vent their grievances while the other side of the argument is gagged. Like the millions cheering Stalin while the gulags quietly filled. I am normally wary of such comparisons, but someone from one of our participating universities needs to explain how what is proposed differs in spirit from the practices of those all-censoring autocracies that made the last century an inferno.
If you are Jewish and Israeli, catastrophe exists in a continuum that encompasses both past and future. Yesterday’s victory is only yesterday’s victory. Tomorrow can easily bring defeat. Never mind the size of your armory. Someone else will always get a bigger one. Considering this unceasing agitation and dread, it strikes me as miraculous how many of the civic arts of civilization and culture have managed to flourish in modern Israel.
The charge of being “complicit in the occupation” – the assumption on which the entire boycott is based – is breathtaking. An Israeli scholar dare not be in even the most partial agreement with his government. For an Israeli academic not to think exactly as they think on the campuses of Birmingham and Brighton is to be guilty of a crime for which the punishment is expulsion from the international community of thought.