Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Why single out China?

Today’s Independent carries a brilliant defense by biologist and secretary of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, Steven Rose, of the University and College Union annual congress resolution ‘to organise a campus tour for Palestinian academic trade unionists to explain why they had called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and to encourage UCU members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli universities’.

Here are some extracts.

Entirely suppressed in this harrumphing has been any thought about why Palestinian university teachers and their union, as well as all the NGOs in the Occupied Territories, have called for a boycott. Academic freedom, it appears, applies to Israelis but not Palestinians, whose universities have been arbitrarily closed, Bir Zeit for a full four years. Students and teachers have been killed or imprisoned. Attendance at university is made hazardous or impossible by the everyday imposition of checkpoints. Research is blocked by Israeli refusal to allow books or equipment to be imported.

Even within Israel itself, some universities sit on illegally expropriated land, Arab student unions are not recognised and there are increasing covert restrictions on Arab-Israelis (20 per cent of the population) entering university at all. No Israeli academic trade union or professional association has expressed solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues a few kilometres away across the wall, though the boycott call may finally encourage them to do so.

…If academic freedom means anything, it must be indivisible. And what are Palestinians to make of the uncensured insistence by senior Israeli academics that their family size constitutes a demographic threat to the Jewish state?

…Why pick on Israel, we are asked…No one asks those campaigning against China's occupation of Tibet why not Israel or Darfur?...The issue is not "Why Israel?" but "Why not Israel?" Yet the secular western press, so willing to express discomfort with states that describe themselves as "Islamic Republics" is seemingly untroubled by the ethnic assumptions underlying the claims of a Jewish republic.

Further, it is precisely because Israel prides itself on its academic prowess (just as South Africa did of its sporting prowess) that the idea of an academic boycott is so painful…

Lurking behind the thinking of even well-meaning opponents of the boycott is that it is in some way anti-Semitic. This ignores the fact that the boycott is of Israeli institutions, not individuals (so it would affect the tiny number of Palestinian academics in Israeli institutions, but not a Jewish Israeli working in the UK or US). Second,… Even a cursory look at the signatories of the various boycott calls will show the large number of prominent Jewish figures among them. It really isn't good enough to attack the messenger as anti-Semitic or a self-hating Jew rather than deal with the message itself, that Israel's conduct is unacceptable.

In relation to this last point, Tony Greenstein has a piece on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ blog inquiring into the question of who gets to speak on behalf of ‘the Jewish Community. The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London has been trying to prevent a meeting that the Jewish Society had organised with speakers from Independent Jewish Voices.

including Brian Klug, Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Professors Donald Sassoon and Jacqueline Rose, the UJS sought to prevent the meeting on the grounds that it was "propaganda for a particular viewpoint". When this ploy failed, Simmons sought to "balance" the speakers' panel - something the UJS has never attempted with pro-Zionist speakers.

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