Thursday, March 27, 2014

What are the goals of the Palestinian Academic Boycott of Israel?

According to the website of PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the goals of the BDS movement are threefold:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Of these three goals, the first two are compatible with the continued existence of the state of Israel, although the existence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in the area of municipal Jerusalem outside the Green Line (in the area annexed by Israel after the 1967 war) complicates matters, and is one of the primary subjects of the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If Israel withdraws from the lands conquered in the Six Day War in 1967, the state will continue to exist with a Jewish majority. If the state of Israel treats Israeli Palestinians as equal citizens, it will be fulfilling the promises of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, issued in 1948:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Israel has not, in fact, ensured complete equality of rights to all of its inhabitants. Between 1948 and 1966, the Arab citizens of Israel lived under military rule. Even today, there is governmental discrimination in the allocation of funds to predominantly Arab towns and cities, and there is discrimination in housing and employment against Arabs (sometimes government imposed, sometimes not – for example, in the last couple of years, the government has been pushing for employers to hire Arab college graduates, who have generally had a very hard time getting hired in certain professions).

It is the third demand of PACBI that is the problem – that Israel agrees to “respect, protect, and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return their homes and properties.” Refugees from the 1948 war numbered about 711,000 people. As of 2012, 30,000-50,000 were still alive. Their descendants, as of 2012, are estimated to number 4,950,000, with a total number of 5 million people (according to UNRWA). If the PACBI demand covers only the people who themselves are refugees from 1948, then there would be no particular problem in those 30,000-50,000 people returning to what is now Israel. Since the places that they live are probably now occupied by other people, Israel would have to find comparable places for them to live. The problem is that the demand of return covers the descendants as well. If all of those people go to Israel, the population will become majority Arab-Palestinian, and the country will no longer be majority Jewish.

If the goals of BDS, as articulated by PACBI, are met, the state of Israel will cease to exist as a Jewish state, and the Jews living within its boundaries will become a minority.

The claim is often made that a “one-state solution” is ideal – that Jews and Arabs should live together in one state where the rights of each group will be safeguarded. There is no evidence from the history of the Jews in the surrounding Arab states that such a thing could be possible. For example, in Egypt, there are very few Jews left, perhaps about a hundred. There are probably no Jews left in Syria. The Jews of the Arab world, who numbered about 900,000 in 1948, have dwindled to tiny minorities in all of the Arab states. They were driven out or fled because of anti-Jewish persecution. Many of them went to Israel in the late 1940s and 1950s, while others went to France, other European countries, and the United States. Is there any reason to suppose that a new state with an Arab majority will treat its Jewish residents any better than the other Arab states?

If the ultimate goal of PACBI and the BDS movement is to make Jews a minority in an Arab dominated state, I see no reason why anyone with a concern for justice would support this movement.

BDS and the attack upon academic freedom at Vassar College

Legal Insurrection, the blog maintained by Professor William Jacobson of Cornell University, just posted a story about how the controversy over BDS at Vassar has taken a truly awful turn. I had previously read about the conflict on the Vassar campus on the Mondoweiss website, which I usually find completely unreliable, but Philip Weiss's article seemed fairly responsible to me. Even he seemed a bit unnerved by what's going on at Vassar. Perhaps he can begin to reflect on the damage he is helping to create in the United States around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He reported about a meeting that occurred at Vassar to discuss a study abroad trip to Israel/Palestine (part of a course - International Studies 110) that explored water issues and resources in the region.
I was at the March 3 meeting that so upset Schneiderman [one of the faculty members teaching IS 110], and it was truly unsettling... 
If a student had gotten up and said, I love Israel, he or she would have been mocked and scorned into silence. Or bedevilled by finger-snapping—the percussive weapon of choice among some students, a sound that rises like crickets as students indicate their quiet approval of a statement. 
I left the room as soon as the meeting ended. The clash felt too raw, and there was a racial element to the division (privileged Jews versus students of color). Vassar is not my community, and I didn’t want to say anything to make things worse.
(I'm not sure why Weiss assumes that all Jews are privileged, that no Jews are people of color, and that no white students belonged to the pro-BDS side. In fact, the president of the Jewish student union spoke out in favor of the academic boycott of Israel.)

Legal Insurrection gives all of the details about the ongoing conflict, which has given rise to some extremely nasty attacks upon pro-Israel faculty and students. One day the faculty members teaching International Studies 110 were confronted by a picket line of students from the group Students for Justice in Palestine at Vassar.. (The two professors are Rachel Friedman, Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies, and Jill Schneiderman, Professor of Earth Science and Geography).  The SJP students urged the students in the class to drop it and not go on the study tour of Israel/Palestine. This is a flyer they handed out to them:

From Legal Insurrection [Jacobson interviewed Friedman, and reports on the interview]:
In late February, Friedman arrived at Kenyon Hall on campus for her regularly scheduled class. 
As she entered the lobby of the building, near her class, Friedman was confronted with a line of SJP students holding posters and passing out flyers demanding that students not participate in the class and not go to Israel on the class trip. 
I spoke with Friedman at length about the incident. 
As Friedman describes it, protesters were lined up side-by-side across the lobby such that Friedman and the 28 students in her class had to push through the line to get to the classroom. While not physically blocked, Friedman described that this required her to physically cross the protest line, as the protesters created a space to walk through as she approached. 
The protesters made loud ululating sound similar to what is traditional among women in some Middle Eastern countries.... 
The protesters carried posters with slogans urging students to drop the class. While Friedman doesn’t have photos of the posters, Friedman recalls wording similar to ”It’s not too late to drop the class,” “Indigenous Palestinians don’t want you to take the class,” and wording regarding oppression of Palestinians.
Friedman said that she was “shocked” and “in 17 years at Vassar never experienced anything like this.” She said she “couldn’t believe protestors crossed over into [the] space of classes.” Even though the protesters didn’t enter the classroom itself, they imposed themselves physically in the pathway to the class. 
Friedman considered these physical actions to be a “new kind of transgression.” Friedman felt that the protest was “dangerous” from an academic perspective, and “crossed a line that no other protest crossed.” 
She said she would not have minded if the protest took place outside of the classroom vicinity and in a way that did not impose on those entering the class. SJP frequently leaflets and has a table set up in the student center, and Friedman said she doesn’t mind that. 
The protesters continued to make noise as class started, but eventually quieted down and left. The students in her class looked “shell shocked” according to Friedman. 
The class spent about a half hour talking about what had happened. Student comments during that session included that they “felt unsafe,” “bullied” and “harrassed.” Some other students felt that their “intelligence was insulted” by the protest.
The ASA claimed that their endorsement of the academic boycott of Israel would not have an impact upon individual scholars. They argued that it was aimed only at a boycott of Israeli institutions, not Israeli professors, and would not stop academic exchanges between individuals. Likewise, they argue that the boycott would not affect individual American (or other foreign) scholars.

I believe that this ongoing series of incidents at Vassar proves them wrong. The SJP students harassed both the students taking IS 110 and the professors teaching it. Their aim is to prevent anybody from going to Israel, even if the goal is to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What they are doing is fully in concert with what PACBI and USACBI have advocated.  The academic boycott of Israel is aimed squarely at the academic freedom of Israeli and international scholars. This is a particularly egregious case, in my opinion, because the SJP did its best to disrupt the free conduct of a class, thus damaging the academic freedom of the professors teaching the course and the students taking it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Photos from my recent trip to Spain

Egyptian temple (transported from area swamped by the waters of the Aswan Dam) in Madrid park.
In Madrid - pool in front of statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
A beautiful park in Madrid next to medieval walls from the Muslim period.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Murdering Palestinians by starvation

More on what is happening to the Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp, by Hussein Ibish:

Murdering Palestinians by starvation.
There isn't much the Palestinian people haven't suffered. But the use of enforced starvation against them by the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad at the Yarmouk refugee camp breaks new ground in cruelty. Hundreds are said to be facing imminent death by starvation, lack of water and medical care, and the loss, for almost a year now, of all heat and electricity....

Palestinians have been driven from their lands, forced to live in squalid refugee camps, murdered en masse by various hostile forces, suffered under decades of occupation, and besieged. For a time being, they were even "placed on a diet" by Israel, which apparently actually calculated how many calories each Gaza resident would be allowed at the height of the blockade. As a people, they could well be forgiven for thinking they had seen it all, short of outright genocide.

But against all odds, the savagery of the Assad regime has managed to discover a form of suffering new to even the Palestinians: starvation as a weapon of war. I suppose for a people who had suffered almost everything else, it was only a matter of time that Palestinians would actually be starved to death.

The crucial thing is not simply that Assad and his allies – Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia – must be held fully and completely responsible for this outrage. It must also be noted that the international community and the Arab world are not doing enough to respond to it, practically or politically. They have done virtually nothing as Yarmouk's pre-war population of 250,000 has shrunk in the past three years to 18,000 famished, cowering, and shivering souls....

Those who still worship at the altar of the false idol of "resistance" and see Assad, Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies as the embodiment of the Arab cause are not simply disingenuous or delusional propagandists. Their thinking – not even, but especially, if it is sincere – is profoundly sick.
[Ibish here is thinking of Arabs who still believe in this kind of "resistance," but in my opinion his remarks apply equally to George Galloway, or Judith Butler who said that “Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. It doesn’t stop those of us who are interested in non-violent politics from raising the question of whether there are other options besides violence.”]
This demented attitude has been put on full display by the Lebanese shill for Hezbollah and Iran, Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of the Al-Akhbar newspaper that is wholly devoted to those two faithful paymasters. With absolutely no sense of decency or shame, Amin writes, "the unfolding events [in Yarmouk] are 100 percent a Palestinian responsibility."
He claims that "Palestinians in Syria enjoyed advantages that their counterparts were deprived of in every corner of the world," untrue certainly of Jordan and Western states, arguably of Israel itself. Being Lebanese, Amin may even believe this, since Palestinians in Syria have indeed historically been treated well in comparison to those who have suffered under Lebanon's virtual apartheid policies, or in the clutches of the Israeli occupation....
Amin claims that either 27, or maybe 70, Palestinian salafis from Gaza (he cites both figures) have joined the fighting in Syria. Not Hamas members, mind you. Assuming this is true – and it would be a small number compared to the Sunnis fighters from other parts of the Arab world, and miniscule compared to the Shiite combatants that have rallied to help Assad murder his own people, especially Amin's Hezbollah cronies – who is to blame? 
According to Amin it is, believe it or not, the Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk themselves. "What are these Palestinians doing?" he thunders. "Why are they doing it? Who can stop them or convince them that their battle is elsewhere? Palestinian refugees are the ones called to conduct an overall review." 
Really? What were the dying, starving, and wretched refugees in Yarmouk supposed to do about this? Has even Israel ever come up with a more cynical argument in favor of the collective punishment of innocent Palestinians for the actions of a tiny few over whom they have no control?

Just Posted: Review of April DeConick, "Holy Misogyny," and Daphna Arbel, "Forming Femininity in Antiquity"

I just posted my review of two books at the November, 2013, Society of Biblical Literature meeting: Review of April DeConick, Holy Misogyny, and Daphna Arbel, Forming Femininity in Antiquity.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda by Timothy Snyder

Illuminating article by Timothy Snyder in the NYRB on Ukraine: Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda by Timothy Snyder.
From Moscow to London to New York, the Ukrainian revolution has been seen through a haze of propaganda. Russian leaders and the Russian press have insisted that Ukrainian protesters were right-wing extremists and then that their victory was a coup. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, used the same clichés after a visit with the Russian president at Sochi. After his regime was overturned, he maintained he had been ousted by “right-wing thugs,” a claim echoed by the armed men who seized control of airports and government buildings in the southern Ukrainian district of Crimea on Friday.

Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter through The Nation and The Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.

In fact, it was a classic popular revolution. It began with an unmistakably reactionary regime. A leader sought to gather all power, political as well as financial, in his own hands. This leader came to power in democratic elections, to be sure, but then altered the system from within. For example, the leader had been a common criminal: a rapist and a thief. He found a judge who was willing to misplace documents related to his case. That judge then became the chief justice of the Supreme Court. There were no constitutional objections, subsequently, when the leader asserted ever more power for his presidency.
The rest is well worth reading.


One of the earliest political events that I was really aware of and read a lot about at the time was the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968, when I was 12. I think most Americans who were politically aware at the time were more focused on the Vietnam War and the Democratic Convention in Chicago than on the Russian invasion. What's going on in Ukraine now really reminds me of what happened in Prague, although of course there are major differences. The Soviet Union is no more and communism has collapsed. Russian imperialism, however, persists.