Friday, April 29, 2011

US campaign for academic boycott of Israel

One of the things that is so distressing about the campaign for an academic boycott of Israel (U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel) is that people whom I respect are participating in it, and I simply don't understand how they can add their names to a campaign that denies academic freedom, and in particular denies the right of scholars of Jewish Studies to work with colleagues in Israeli universities. Israel is one of the world centers of Jewish Studies, and if the academic boycott succeeded in the United States, it would strike an enormous blow to it. It's for this reason that I call the campaign for the academic boycott antisemitic.

Scholars and writers whom I respect who have signed on include: Ammiel Alcalay (poet and scholar), Judith Butler (gender theorist, UC Berkeley), Marilyn Hacker (poet whose work I first encountered as quotes in the novel "Babel-17" by Samuel R. Delany), Barbara Ehrenreich (well-respected feminist and political author of among other books, "Nickel and Dimed"), and Adrienne Rich, a Jewish lesbian poet whose work I have loved for decades. I feel betrayed by them - however bitter their criticisms of Israel, is it necessary to be part of a movement that is contrary to all of the academic values that we claim to hold dear?


  1. The Jewish world has been warning you for decades about this moral bankruptcy.

  2. Judith Butler hasn't just signed on to this but is a leading proponent who manipulates post-modernist discourse to add fuel to the fire. See her pretzel-shaped commentary on why Israel should not become the home to the Kafka archive (but why Germany should):

  3. Bella - I didn't know that about Judith Butler.

    Gerson - what are you talking about? what moral bankruptcy?

  4. The boycott is antisemitic because it arbitrarily targets one country and while ignoring countries whose human rights record is much worse” Israel but not China or Pakistan; Israel but not Russia or Iran; Israel but not Venezuela or Cuba. The list of countries with worse human rights problems is a long one.

    In any case, the boycott will not succeed because it will be challenged in court since it’s illegal to single out one country or people to boycott based on religion or ethnic heritage. (Judith Butler may be Jewish but her writings on Israel or the Jewish people are antisemitic.)

    The whole boycott enterprise is a sorry business and its legality is questionable.

    It would also limit my freedom of speech to ask me not to communicate with Israeli Jews and

    If I were targeted by these boycotnicks I would definitely sue.

  5. Interesting to note that a mere 74 names appear on that list and maybe 20 organisations. And some of those organisations are parts only of a wider organisation, suggesting that the support is fairly shallow.

    Here in the UK there's a whole trade union leadership for the boycott (not that they've got anywhere - they keep being reminded that it's against UK Race Relations law) -shame it's the major University Teachers union.

    So, nil desperandum, Rebecca

    Brian Goldfarb (via a cross-posting on the website

  6. Ros, if you go to the main site of the US Campaign for the academic and culture boycott of Israel, you'll see that there are a lot more than 74 signed up - there's over 500 individuals (academics) and then some number of "cultural workers" (a term which I hate - why can't people still be called artists or writers or actors?).

    I think you're right that the support is currently pretty shallow - considering how many college & university teachers there are in the US, the fact that they can muster up only about 500 is heartening. I'm not as bothered by the total numbers as by the people whom I respected who have joined the call to boycott Israel (or who, like Adrienne Rich, are leading that call).

  7. David - good point. I signed that petition back in 2007 too (anti-boycott petition organized by SPME).