Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Of Bans and Boycotts:

John Berger, an author with an impressive bio, calls for a "a world-wide cultural boycott against the Israeli state." Even though he avows that "No boycott, in our sense of the term, should be directed against an individual, a people, or a nation as such.", this principle is waivable when it comes to Israel: "Today I am supporting a world-wide appeal to teachers, intellectuals and artists to join the cultural boycott of the state of Israel".

Hmm. I sense a cognitive dissonance here, trying to straddle both sides of an ethical divide, unsuccessfully. I call this a fine example of hypocrisy.

Here's one reaction to this ethically inconsistent proposal:

It is also surprising to see Elia Suleiman, the Palestinian film-maker, on the list of "cultural boycotters" since his first films were funded by the institute he is now boycotting. The Israeli cinema fund has always been an enthusiastic backer of new Palestinian voices, giving them money to make films that often contain severe criticism of the Israeli state and its right to exist. This is because the Israeli film industry is composed of people who care for Palestinians and want to help them. Establishing this boycott will weaken the Israelis who fight for the Palestinian cause, and will weaken the chances for peace.

J Harris

And all this is unfolding on the very day when we hear about a very concerted effort by "The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, as well as the heads of six of Israel's seven universities, and the education minister, the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and Knesset members" to demand "the elimination of the blanket ban" on Palestinian students studying in Israeli universities.

The democratic hygiene known as checks and balances seems to be functioning well in the state of Israel. The principle of academic freedom is not merely a mask that covers up a multitude of ignoble motivations. Action follows principle. Not the other way around.


Here's another academic ban:

Nearly 40 European and North American research institutes will suspend contacts with a leading Iranian think tank that helped organize last week's conference in Tehran of Holocaust deniers, a Paris-based researcher said Saturday. The institutes, from Warsaw to Washington and beyond, have agreed to suspend ongoing programs with the Iranian Institute for Political and International Studies, or IPIS, according to a statement issued by Francois Heisbourg, who organized the boycott.

As mollifying as this punitive boycott may be to my livid outrage with the Conference sponsored by this Iranian institution, I do agree with the commentator to this article when he says:

"Ooops! What's sauce for the goose, etc. By definition, the idea of a boycott is, or should be, anathema to all who post here and, broadly, accept the Engage mission statement. What was said, for the most part, in Teheran was thoroughly objectionable.

BUT...turning our backs is not the answer. Sweet though it was to see Irving go to prison, it was even sweeter to see him lose his court case against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. In prison, he becomes a martyr. Boycotted, these people similarly become martyrs."

Instead of being shunned, academics from this institution must be invited to international conferences where they will have to confront an onus of scholarship, scholars and evidence. How long will they be able to sustain these anti-historical positions, this disowning of knowledge, when faced with the burden of proof? These so-called scholars must be challenged and be made to face the emptiness of their allegations.


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