Archive for the ‘boycott’ Category
Last week I was invited to participate in Tariq Ramadan’s “Islam & Life” show on PressTV. The title of the show was “Palestine: the ethics of Resistance”, but in fact the main topic of discussion was the boycott campaign in the UK. I shared a panel with Faizal Dawjee, who was introduced as a former journalist from South Africa, and Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead, secretary of BRICUP (pronounced like hicup).
There was no pretence of balance – PressTV identifies itself as the first Iranian international news network, Tariq Ramadan has his clear views on the subject, and the panel had two pro-boycotters on one side and myself on the other. Nevertheless, there was an honest, respectfull and open debate. I was given the oportunity to resopnd to every argument by my peers, and ample time to present my positions. Whether I did a good job of that is for you to judge.
So what now? Nothing. Gaza is still in ruins, its hospitals full of wounded. Israeli kids are still afraid to sleep. But the European left can sleep well tonight, and tomorrow return to contemplate the state of its holiday homes.
The last three weeks have been soaked in pain, anger and sadness. I am horrified by the pictures from Gaza and the cold facts of the carnage. I share the distress of families in southern Israel who live in constant fear. I make no comparison. Both are unacceptable. I am angry at the Israeli government for choosing a path of violence, and angry at the Hamas for leading the way to this path. This was a was on two peoples, conducted by two armies. The military actions of the Israeli government provided its citizens no more security than the absurd provocations of the Hamas provided its people dignity. I am sad for my friends, family and countrymen, who are blinded by fear and anger, to a point that then become numb to the pain of others.
But when it comes to the reactions I see around me, I am bemused and frustrated. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, in smaller portions, I’ve seen it all before. Some call it anti-semitism. I won’t even grant them this halo. No, here wearing a Kaffiah is a fashion statement, and so is boycotting Israeli goods. You know what? I’m just bloody sick of it. Sick of hearing about pro-Israeli vs. pro-Palestinian, sick of hearing “like we did with South Africa”, sick of hearing the rape of language, the intolerable ease with which frightful words are casually scattered like guji berries on your morning yoghurt. Words which should be reserved for the worst events in history. Rwanda was a genocide. Srebrenica was a massacre, as was Sabra and Shatilla.
Let me spell it out. There is no “us” and “them”, there are those who want to live, and those who want to kill. If you really care, help the people doing good on the ground. All your chanting and picketing doesn’t twitch a single donkey’s hair in the middle east. It hasn’t saved the life of a single child. Hamas will still do what it thinks it should, and so will the Israeli government. I’ll let you in on a secret: you didn’t topple Apartheid either: De Klerk and Mandella did it. All your fancy petitions and demonstrations serve one purpose: to make you feel better about yourself, allow you to feel morally superior. Fuck that. Save the money you spend on your post-demo cappuccino, and donate it to one of these. Or pay for them to publish a half-page ad in the guardian in place of your righteous hate banter.
Mira Vogel interviewed me for engage.
The first thing I came to realise was that the boycott was promoting exactly the kind of thing it claimed to oppose. It’s a collective discrimininative action, a form of collective punishment if you like which is exactly the kind of action which should be stopped. I’ve been working in the peace movement to stop Israel taking collective action against Palestinians. I’ve been campaigning against that, and here is a group applying collective punishment to Israel. So, idealistically and pragmatically it’s wrong.
Something that happened quite recently I was visiting York and walking down the street and there was a Palestinian stand with, among other things, leaflets promoting boycott. And I got into an argument with people standing there and I found myself getting emotional. And I reflected on this and thought “Hang on, why am I getting so emotional? There’s a lot of good rational reactions against boycott but my reaction was emotional. And I realised that I feel personally hurt by boycott because it puts me in the same lump as Lieberman, Elyakim Haetzni and all those evil Israelis I’ve been fighting all my life because the boycott doesn’t discriminate between me and them. Suddenly I’ve become one of them, in the same bag with all their lot.
Engage tells us that the national executive of UCU backs new boycott proposal. Engage give a very well-thought review of why the boycott is morally wrong and strategically stupid. I won’t repeat their arguments – go read them yourself. You should also read Shuli Dichter‘s account of why the Supreme Monitoring Council, the most broadly representative umbrella organization of the Arabs of Israel, directors of Arab non-profit organizations and the joint associations of Arabs and Jews did not accede to the boycott calls, despite the pressure they were under to do just that. Shuli is the co-director of Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality. His view is shared by Mohammad Darawshe, the Abraham Fund’s Director of Development for Europe and Israel. When asked recently, his response was clear and simple: the boycott is stupid, harmful and cheap.
And here’s a twist of historical humor: this news of a fresh attempt to boycott Israels bastions of forward thinking come at the same week when we are flooded with rabid rabbis calling for discriminant and even violent action against Arabs. What better illustration of the ludicrous hypocrisy of the boycott campaign? I mean, if you really care about anything other than your smug sense of moral superiority, your pleasures of intellectual colonialism, how about boycotting Dov Lior and Shmuel Eliyahu? Or better yet, supporting the Abraham Fund in taking legal action against them?
Imagine a country with separate school systems for its two major communities, but the universities are open to both, where students and staff from both communities work and research together right across the range of the university curriculum. Their research improves the life of minority groups in their society.
Mohammed Darawashe never pretended all their problems were solved. But these examples of creative ways to tackle disadvantage and promote equality in Israel made me feel sick when I thought of British trade union attitudes. The conference decision in the universities is perverse but there is a risk that boycotts would spread from the crazy fringe to trade unions that really carry clout, like Unison. It is time to get real, to see what is really being done by people who care in Israel, and to support not boycott their endeavours.
Mohammad will be speaking tomorrow at the Goodenough College.
The Guardian managed to surprise me:
If British unions are in the business of solidarity, they might consider flinging gestures at Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or Egypt where journalists and academics are imprisoned and tortured for expressing dissent.
I’m sure the UCU delegates are extremely busy, so let’s help them out.