|Anatomy of a Boycott -- Part One|
The Tip of the Volcano?
by Sara Bedein and Gila Ansell Brauner
The Fire Sparks Anew
In late Spring 2002, Dr Miriam Schlesinger, an eminent academic, translator and interpreter, was unfairly dismissed from an honorary editorial position on "The Translator", an independent academic Translation journal. This measure was taken on the grounds that she is Israeli and involved in the Israeli academic world, and was at the sole decision of the Editor, Professor Mona Baker of UMIST (University of Manchester Institute for Science and Technology, UK). Another eminent Israeli Linguistics theoretician, Professor GideonToury, was dismissed from a different journal edited by Professor Baker.
The incident did not spark any great debate, despite Jewish and academic protests, but it can be interpreted as representative of a new reality, or perhaps the forerunner of a new wave of anti-Israel sentiment being translated into spheres of action. This was the time when the myth of the Jenin massacres was being disseminated widely and the powers-that-be, together with the public, did not question anyone who joined the bandwagon. As time passes, however, it appears that there is a groundswell movement behind this action which looks set to hit many university campuses worldwide as soon as the academic year begins. Not only will students be subjected to pressures, vilification and even violence: there are and will be expressions of this in the faculty.
Furthermore, this is only one level of this phenomenon and it should be examined in the overall context. There are various expressions of boycott initiatives across the normal interactive spheres of Israel's lifeline to the world. Firstly, there are a few official, government embargos and sanctions; secondly, there are the unofficial and quasi-official initiatives to boycott Israel in multiple spheres of research, academia and international cooperation; finally, come the economic boycotts, many of which have connections to powerful political figures in certain countries.
The main concerns are:
The pervasive nature of the underlying messages;
Sources in the Israeli government have acknowledged that the US and British governments joined in an official ban on sales to Israel of any defense equipment that the IDF might use in Judea, Samaria or Gaza. The British embargo began in October 2000. The same Israeli government sources said that the equipment that the US and Britain had been supplying would be supplied by other, unnamed countries. The British embargo reached the point of the absurd when it was interpreted to include sales of special ammunition for Israeli marksmen competing in international sports events.
The only other western country to operate an official embargo against Israel is Germany; it operates in the heavy industry sector and was more recently extended to arms sales (see Article #2).
Academic Freedom and Professional Exchange
On April 6, The Guardian published an open letter signed by 120 university professors, including 90 from Britain, calling for a moratorium on cultural and research links with Israel at a European or national level, "unless and until Israel abides by UN resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, along the lines proposed in many peace plans..."
This petition produced the following responses:
a) More than 5,000 European, American and Israeli scholars signed a protest letter against the British anti-Israel boycott, and the collection of signatories appears with the letter on the Hebrew University website.
b) The European Commission subsequently issued a Press release (April 25th) saying that, "the European Commission is not in favour of a policy of sanctions against the parties to the conflict , but rather advocates a continuous dialogue with them which is the best way to bring them back to negotiations." Philippe Busquin, the EU Commissioner for Research continues, "I draw your attention to the very positive effects played by the scientific co-operation conducted at the level of the European Union between European, Israeli and Palestinian institutions and scientists...."
c) The Simon Wiesenthal Center has also played an extremely active role in protest and calls for solidarity, issuing its own petition and stated that,
"The government of Israel has the right and the duty to protect its citizens against terror. We sincerely hope that upon further reflection these scientists will understand the dangers of their request. We also call upon all our colleagues to express their support of the people of Israel in these trying times by fostering and developing scientific ties with their colleagues from the State of Israel".
Thus, the original UK academic petition to boycott Israeli academia and research (April 2002) has now grown to 700 private signatories, while both the British Association of University Teachers and NATFE, the lecturers' union, have followed suit at the organizational level. However, more recently, the UK National Union of Students has strongly condemned this as "an abuse of academic freedom" and a "racist" act.
The academic boycott is also extremely active in France and is expected to reach even higher levels of campaigning outside the virtual arena. The outlook is that tension on UK and US university campuses will rise sharply from the beginning of the upcoming academic year, while allowing courses under the guise of "Middle East Studies" to go unchallenged in the US when they are openly presenting only one-sided perspectives, and even diffusing anti-Israel propaganda.
Parallel International Phenomena
Why Protests Go Unnoticed
It would appear that the various anti-boycott counter-petitions (separately, by internationally renowned academics and members of the public, via the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the US) have made little impact on the groundswell of petitions with their British signatories, or anti-Israel action in UK academic unions; nor has this protest at injustice been digested and supported by prestigious faculties in the UK or the USA.
The broadest expression of the isolation of the Israeli scientific community is the refusal of researchers to come to Israel, for reasons of personal security, so that conferences and exchanges do not take place. Of course, conferences are not only in the scientific and academic domains, but cover the broader areas of professional and inter-community contacts.
"Whereas in the past Israel held many international congresses, says Gideon Rivlin, the chair of Kenes International, the principal organizer of such congresses, today there are no longer any international congresses in Israel." While occasionally one can find a few scientists who are willing to take what they perceive as a risk and come to Israel, such visits cannot be compared to the impact of an international congress."Until 2004, all congresses in Israel have been canceled,"adds Rivlin.
While no-one doubts the serious security considerations, it is believed that political peer pressure is also implicated in this decision.
"Many of them avoid saying that that's [ed: security] the reason, but in personal conversations it turns out that this is the case," says Prof. Hermona Soreq, a molecular biologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is involved in organizing many conferences.
The UMIST delegation did not arrive for its scheduled lectures at the International Conference on Ancient DNA, which took place in Tel Aviv in late July 2002.
Neurology researcher Prof. Idan Segev, also from HU, says that scientists tend to refuse to come not only to scientific congresses, but for joint research projects, too.
This comes full circle back to Israelis being avoided or sanctioned abroad. Israeli researchers are concerned that their articles could be turned down for publication on grounds of their nationality and professional affiliation.
None of the above isolation initiatives is taking place in a vacuum, but the international and domestic implications for Israel are accentuated by their frequency, their rapid dissemination via Internet and media, as well as by the obfuscation of some of the figures and motives behind them. For the present, the UK picture looks gloomy, while trend in various trans-national organizations appears to be in Israel's favor, but it could go either way.
More of the overall picture appears in the second article, Bubbling Under: From Economics to International Cooperation.
Points to Ponder
2. Are these messages to sanction visible across the board, or only in specific circles - to judge from your own environment?
3. What measures have been recommended or tried to counter this movement in your own environment - and how do you rate their success?
4. How can this phenomenon be addressed effectively?