no, i don’t support “academic freedom” for colonists in the zionist entity

the whole point of the academic boycott of “israel” is that palestinians have no rights to education (not to mention the right of palestinian refugees to return to their land among a whole host of other daily violations they endure every day). but critics of the academic boycott always love to shout how much more important academic freedom for zionist terrorist colonists who teach in zionist universities is than palestinians having the right to not be murdered, imprisoned, tortured, thrown off their land while their land is stolen (i could go on and on). they forget that academic freedom is a privilege, not a right. (you can click on the selected publications link at the top of the page and read my article from the new centennial review on the subject.) people i have been after for years now to join the academic boycott, who have never been moved by mass murder in lebanon or palestine, but who are now moved by neve gordon’s supposed persecution (in re: his article in the los angeles times last week supporting the boycott, though not, of course, supporting palestinians’ right to return to their land) to both boycott the zionist entity, but who also want to defend academic freedom in the zionist entity.

so imagine my surprise when i found that this piece on the muzzle watch website has moved some colleagues of mine to email me saying they now support bds:

What happens when an Israeli professor speaks his mind about the Israeli occupation? Let’s find out.

Take a look at Ben Gurion University Prof. Neve Gordon, who by the way, is a member of the Committee to Support Ezra Nawi.

He published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, titled Boycott Israel: An Israeli comes to the painful conclusion that it’s the only way to save his country.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

His opinion supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and the 2008 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has been met with the kinds of criticism that test the boundaries of freedom of expression and academic freedom in Israel.

Prof. Gordon’s piece offers what Naomi Klein termed the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal to address the Israeli occupation. If anything, the issues he brings up in his piece need to be urgently discussed in Israel and elsewhere.

In Israel they are discussed indeed. This is how…

Israeli Education Minister Education Gideon Sa’ar called the piece “repugnant and deplorable.”

Ben Gurion University President Dr. Rivka Carmi expressed shock at the lecturer’s comments and added the university may no longer be interested in his services.

It seems that Ben Gurion University’s interest in academic freedom is limited.

Carmi’s words:

“Ben-Gurion is a Zionist establishment which fulfills the vision of David Ben-Gurion on a daily basis… Statements such as this, which level blunt and inciting criticism at the state of Israel, hurt the excellent work that is being carried out at Ben-Gurion University and all universities in Israel.”

Academics who feel this way about their country are welcome to search for a personal and professional home elsewhere.”

In a letter to Ben Gurion University, she insinuated that Prof. Gordon’s words may amount to treason. That letter (in Hebrew) offers the most candid explanation of what is really going on here:

The attack this time is unprecedented in its scope and severity, both because of the extreme line that defines the writing, that is seen by many readers as an act of treason against the State of Israel, and also because the piece was published in a newspaper with a large circulation, including in the Jewish community. I have concrete and truthful reasons to believe that above anything else, this piece may lead to a destructive hit in the raising of funds for the university, and the piece’s potential damages to the university’s budget in this hard period of its history, and maybe in the future, is great.

BDS activists worldwide are paying close attention to the economic dimension of a single, well-placed article. In fact, the Magnes Zionist has already noted with irony that,

Some Los Angeles Jews have responded by threatening to cut-off donations to Ben-Gurion University, which is, of course, what Gordon was calling for!

So maybe this should now be the tactic of supporters of BDS in Israel: Get leftwing academics from all the universities to call for boycotts, and then angry Jews will response by cutting off funds from their university.

In fact, Richard Silverstein adds to the irony, when commenting on the position of Israel’s Consul-General in Los Angeles, Yaakov (Yaki) Dayan on this matter:

What interesting about this story is that an Israeli diplomat, whose job, one supposes is to promote Israel, including its universities, is calling publicly for a financial boycott of Ben Gurion.

The last word goes to Prof. Gordon:

From the responses to the article it seems most people don’t have the courage to discuss the main issues: Is Israel an apartheid state? How can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved? Is the settlement project good for Israel or will it cause the state’s destruction? It’s easy to criticize me while evading the tough and important questions.

We could not agree more, Professor. We need less hysteria and more open discussions on these issues.

it gets worse. some of these colleagues are asking me to sign a petition supporting gordon. it seems that jewish voice for peace thinks that the appropriate response to gordon’s article is to support gordon, not the palestinians being murdered. not the palestinians whose land is stolen every day. not the palestinians whose right of return is being denied for colonists living on palestinian land: including gordon himself! instead, here is what they have to say:

On Thursday, August 20 the LA Times published an op-ed in which Ben Gurion University Professor Neve Gordon wrote that the question that kept him up at night, both as a parent and as an Israeli citizen, was how to ensure that his two children as well as the children of his Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime. He concluded that the only thing that the only workable solution would be “massive international pressure.” (1) Following the publication of the article there has been such a vehement and aggressive attack against Gordon in Israel (2), that we believe “massive international pressure” will be needed to keep him from being fired from his job.

We are protecting here more than one person and one job. Help us protect the ability to talk openly about the Israeli occupation and about nonviolent options to address it, such a boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

When you sign this email, we will send copies to the Israeli Minister of Education, the leadership of Ben Gurion University, and to Neve Gordon himself.

if jewish voice for peace were really all about so-called “peace” they’d be fighting to dismantle the jewish state and fight for the right of return for palestinian refugees. but that, of course, would mean they cared about justice, too, which they so obviously do not.

the real response would be for academics to line up and support the academic and cultural boycott of “israel.”

11 responses to “no, i don’t support “academic freedom” for colonists in the zionist entity

  1. Marcy, so let me get this straight. An Israeli professor joins the BDS movement and you get upset because people are supporting him because he is an Israeli academic under fire? Or because this may boost the BDS movement, but for the wrong reasons? Were you aware that Muzzlewatch and Jewish Voice for Peace have been pushing BDS for some time?

    I haven’t read your blog much, but were you also upset when people supported Israeli academics Ilan Pappe and Tanya Reinhart, who joined the BDS movement a while ago?

    Why does support for Neve Gordon translate into support for the murder of Palestinians?

    Look, if you want to build an effective movement, you have to reach out to people for all sorts of reasons. There are Zionists who support BDS because they want a different sort of Israel. There are anti-Zionists who support BDS because they don’t want a Jewish state altogether. Ideological purity is a luxury, Marcy. You may criticize Israelis for remaining n Israel and, say, fighting against the Occupation, because their energy should be devoted to fighting against Zionism. But that sort of ultra-orthodox thinking won’t get Palestinians.

    If you don’t want to sign the petition, fine and dandy. But why cast aspersions on the motives of the people who do?

    I, for one, do not yet support BDS because I think it has been an ineffective and counterproductive tactic. But I am not anti BDS in principle, and when I am convinced that it is a good tactic, I will jump on the bandwagon. On the other hand, I have never written a word against the BDS folks, whose motives I don’t question at all.

    By the way, I offer this to you as a fellow traveler. From what I have seen on your blog, we agree on a lot of things, although we also disagree.

    • supporting gordon does not translate into supporting the murder of palestinians. but my point is that american academics are all up in arms about this one colonist professor who only now is coming to realize the importance of bds, though not the necessity of the right of return.

      i find it disturbing that people are putting their support behind colonists. period. where is this sort of support for palestinian refugees? that is my problem. the support is always quicker, more intense, and stronger for the colonists. never for the colonized.

  2. I meant
    But that sort of ultra-orthodox thinking won’t get Palestinians very far.

  3. excellent post marcy!

  4. Jerry, I don’t think the thoughts that Marcy has expressed in her post can or should be categorized as ultra-orthodox. If anything I would describe her thoughts as pragmatic. Having just been out to the Westbank myself, volunteering in a refugee camp, although admittedly only for two weeks, I feel I have garnered a little insight into the issues. I am also studying to be an academic.

    For a start it is worth saying that there are many ways that one can invest energy into promoting the Palestinian cause actively, both through organisations currently working in occupied Palestine, and through individual action. Knowing this, and how much work needs to be done, it does seem to me to be a mistake to invest energy into making sure that one Israeli academic keeps his job; no matter how worthy his sentiments are.

    Considering the bricks and the physical material of some of these academic institutions, such as Tel Aviv University which is partially built on the lands of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwanis, actively eradicates through its very material existence any visible trace that the Palestinian people lived in what is now Israel and concretely obstructs resolution 194, the Palestinians right to return, it does seem to me to be misguided to want to invest energy in keeping an Israeli academic inside of one of these institutions and in his job. Further more as Neve Gordon supports the boycott he must recognize his existence within an Israeli Academic institution as being part of the problem. Why should we argue otherwise?

    I would suggest that within academia concepts of free speech are practically bound up with turning up to conferences, exchanging ideas in various forms of talk such as seminars and lectures, and submitting papers and getting published, this practical and manifest form of free speech becomes very easily bound up with an exchange of capital; both cultural and economic.

    In blunt terms a trade is going on which sustains and furthers the careers of the academics which in turn then further sustains and furthers the academic institutions which have specified roles within the various nation states.

    When I read a statement like:

    “We are protecting here more than one person and one job. Help us protect the ability to talk openly about the Israeli occupation and about nonviolent options to address it, such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions.”

    being used to keep an Israeli academic in a job I can’t help thinking that the concern being expressed here is connected to protecting a version of free speech which is more aligned to the structure and free exchange of capital then any idealistic or more worthy notion of free speech.

    In Marcy’s article which she references at the beginning of her blog post: The Fallacy of Academic Freedom and the Academic Boycott of Israel, she quotes from a full-page ad in the New York Times put together by the American Jewish Committee entitled “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!”

    She writes:

    “The center of the ad featured a statement from Columbia University president Lee Bollinger that reads, “In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars, this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.”

    I think it is very telling that in this pro-Israel add the notion of an exchange of ideas is framed in terms of a ‘market place’. I think it points to the fact that for academic institutions thought is capital. The boycott is more important than protecting the free speech of an Israeli academic it is about speaking up for, in a way that actually removes the need for words and mechanistic solutions, the Palestinian people who have been turned into refugees, occupied and had their educational opportunities forcibly removed from them.

    What makes me sympathetic to Marcy’s point even more is that when I visited the university in Abu Dis I was shocked to hear that at exam times the Israeli authority drops sound bombs and places loud arabic music near to the student halls to disrupt their studies.

    I think it is important that we remember and remain very clear about why the academic boycott is necessary. As far as I have formulated my thoughts so far (and I have not been thinking about all this for long enough) it seems to me that the boycott is less about protecting the free speech of Israeli academics or the academic community at large (which I think often has more to do with the exchange of various forms of capital) but more to do with speaking up for the often voiceless and silenced plight of the Palestinians. It is important to remind ourselves of this, and to be strict in the remembering, because if we don’t address and keep remembering the central reasons behind the boycott, I do believe we will get distracted away from the central issues (such as the right for the Palestinians to return) which if properly addressed might actually help us work our way towards peace.

    It is not ultra-orthodox to remember the initial reasons for the academic boycott – the initial reasons surely being that as academics the one leveraging tool we have is the withdrawal of our intellectual engagement, which is also a withdrawal of our capital investment from Israeli institutions. Surely we should not confuse this issue with free speech, we should especially not confuse this issue with protecting the free speech of an Israeli academic, this is about the physical freedom of the Palestinian people. If there is going to be a lasting peace this issue needs to be addressed. This is why I believe Marcy is being more of a pragmatist then you have made out. Anyway just some thoughts. What a great blog.

  5. Blue Pilgrim

    How about some academic freedom for Palestinian schoolchildren?

  6. “…Israeli authority drops sound bombs and places loud arabic music near to the student halls to disrupt their studies.”

    Unbelievable!
    We need a Michael Moore type of movie on this whole Palestinian issue.

  7. Steve,

    I don’t understand your point at all.

    You wrote:

    When I read a statement like:

    “We are protecting here more than one person and one job. Help us protect the ability to talk openly about the Israeli occupation and about nonviolent options to address it, such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions.”

    being used to keep an Israeli academic in a job I can’t help thinking that the concern being expressed here is connected to protecting a version of free speech which is more aligned to the structure and free exchange of capital then any idealistic or more worthy notion of free speech.

    Then, to back up this notion, you write:

    “I think it is very telling that in this pro-Israel add the notion of an exchange of ideas is framed in terms of a ‘market place’. I think it points to the fact that for academic institutions thought is capital.”

    which, of course, is the opinion of those WHO OPPOSE GORDON AND HIS SUPPORTERS. So by opposing the ad, aren’t you supporting Gordon, who is calling for BDS?

    In what way is Gordon’s support of BDS, or folks’ support of Gordon’s ability to support BDS, not a worthy notion?

    You write:

    “It is worth saying that there are many ways that one can invest energy into promoting the Palestinian cause actively, both through organisations currently working in occupied Palestine, and through individual action. Knowing this, and how much work needs to be done, it does seem to me to be a mistake to invest energy into making sure that one Israeli academic keeps his job; no matter how worthy his sentiments are.”

    Steve, exactly how much energy does it take to sign a petition?

    Some of the signatories on the petition have worked for months and years as volunteers on the West Bank. Yet they found the time (10 seconds) to sign a petition.

    I can understand various reasons for not signing the petition, even for a supporter of BDS. You may think that Neve Gordon may have good ideas, but the mere fact that he works for an Israeli institution, or for that matter, lives in Israel, makes him part of the problem. On the contrary, he makes matters even worse — because the Israelis can always pat themselves on the back and say, “You see, we allow folks like Gordon to work in our universities — what a liberal country we are!.” After all, doesn’t he make the BDS campaign harder? For the Israelis are always saying that BDS punishes the most sympathetic segment of Israeli society to the Palestinians — the leftwing university faculty.

    But all this is rubbish.. Either you support BDS or you don’t. And if you support BDS, then you support Israelis who support BDS. And if you support Israelis who support BDS, then you support their right to do so without being silenced?

    Neve Gordon has done more for BDS (and the Palestinians) then an army of bloggers have done. Isn’t it mean-spirited not to support him?

    I fail to see how supporting Gordon by signing a petition somehow runs afoul of devotion to the Palestinian cause. Norman Finkelstein, Ghada Karmi, Edward Said have all supported Israeli academics like Pappe, Reinhart, and Gordon. Did that sap them of their energy?

    Full disclosure: I have not exerted much more energy writing comments for this blog than in supporting Gordon!

  8. Pingback: Palestine « Openned

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