Academic Boycott of Israel Lacks Reason
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 13:01
Those seeking a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should welcome President DeGioia’s opposition to the American Studies Association’s recent vote to boycott Israeli universities.
The boycott does not target individual Israeli professors, however such professors would be blocked from participating in academic forums if an Israeli university sponsored them. The ASA’s primary motive for the boycott is its valid concern that Israeli universities often restrict Palestinians’ rights to an education.
I share these concerns and am deeply troubled by such actions. However, there is no secret as to how the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict beneath these policies can be resolved. The two-state solution is the only viable solution that ensures both Palestinians’ right to self-determination and Israel’s ability to retain its status as a Jewish democracy. The intransigence bred as a result of tactics like the ASA boycott is a step in the direction toward the current civil war-prone, unsustainable, binational state.
I fully recognize the discriminatory practices of the Israeli educational system toward Palestinians both within Israel and in the Palestinian territory. However, I ask advocates of the boycott to consider the true effectiveness of such a tactic.
On a philosophical level, the ASA boycott establishes the precedent that academic institutions, and by extension their individual representatives, are subject to removal from academia by virtue of their respective government’s political choices. Doing so censors academic freedom, the importance of which was recently described in THE HOYA’s editorial upholding Michael Scheuer’s “right to be radical” (“Scheuer’s Right to Be Radical,” A2, Jan. 17, 2014). Moreover, in a conflict whose resolution is predicated on the two sides’ abilities to develop a working dialogue, the boycott of academic exchange at best stagnates the peace process and at worst sets it back.
Both sides have the right to strongly disagree with one another. However, the prerequisite to progress is the willingness to look each other in the eye and overcome those disagreements through dialogue. The ASA boycott operates under the illusion of tangible action yet completely shuts out one side from the conversation. In doing so, it creates fresh divisions between individuals who could be collaborating in working toward peace. Academically, the most effective way to counter ideas one disagrees with is to challenge their intellectual and moral bases, not to boycott them.
Moreover, for a message to be effective it must be credible. The ASA calls for boycotting “the Israeli occupation of Palestine” as opposed to “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.” In failing to draw the distinction between Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders and the current occupied territory of the West Bank, the ASA implicitly fails to recognize Israel as a legitimate state, and hence undermines its credibility in the eyes of any serious negotiators. Even President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas himself drew this distinction last month saying, “We do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories.”
As the window rapidly shrinks on the viability of a two-state solution, cooperation of dialogue, not division caused by a boycott, is what is needed. Such cooperation was seen in last semester’s screening of “The Other Son,” which brought together over 100 members of the Georgetown community from across the spectrum of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for an evening of mutual recognition. Efforts like these require the participation of both parties — an impossibility if operating under the modus operandi of a boycott restricting the presence of one party.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The ASA boycott stems from the justified need to establish a Palestinian state, however, it is misguided in its tactics. Peace is the product of the painful negotiations of dialogue, not the divisive polarity of a boycott.
Elijah Jatovsky (SFS ’16) is Co-Chair of J Street U Georgetown.