Friday, December 20, 2013

How to Promote Conversation And Preserve Academic Freedom by Boycotting Israeli Academics

A storm in a tea kettle (larger than a cup but not yet a bucket) has erupted after the following calumny at ASA took place:

Members of the American Studies Association have voted in favor of endorsing the academic boycott of Israel by a 2–1 margin, making it the second major U.S. scholarly association, after the Association for Asian American Studies, to do so.
Of the 1,252 votes cast, 66.1 percent of members endorsed the boycott, 30.5 percent rejected it, and 3.4 percent abstained. Slightly less than a third of the association’s 3,853 eligible voting members participated in the 10-day online referendum.
On Engage, David Hirsh tried to appeal to the higher passions of one academic who had decided to succumb to the BDS campaign and vote for the resolution. By "higher passion" I mean what Spinoza called the passion for reason.

Claire Potter responded to his letter. Since I'm not a scholar or an intellectual, I could not really figure out why, when all is said and done, she voted for the resolution. Perhaps someone can explain it to me in plain English. I'd be much obliged.

In the meantime, I commented on these exchanges and here is a trail of my comments. I would like to emphasize that I do not understand why someone who is thoughtful, knowledgeable and virtuous, would vote to boycott Israeli academics. I do have some conjectures, though, assumptions, perhaps not too charitable but still, a plausible explanation that is based on principles may convince me yet that was a reasonable and adequate move:


” I’m going to take a leap of faith and say ok,”

I don’t know. I’m not a scholar myself but I do try to emulate the meticulous ethical thinking of scholarly role models, like Norman Geras. What I learned from him is that in making ethical decisions, there is no room for the self-indulgence implied in the option of “leap of faith”. Ethical thinking has to be based solidly and demonstrably upon first principles of fairness, clarity, justice.

So Claire Potter might as well have admitted that she did not change her mind but did change her decision due to her blind faith in the good faith of her colleagues. Fully aware of the weaknesses of her own decision to make this decision, in fact forcefully thwarting her own intuition and better judgement, she tries to find refuge in “cute” arguments like having succumbed to a “leap of faith”. This is hardly the kind of formulations and thinking one expects from an academic.

The concept of “singularity” exists in Mathematics to designate in general a point at which a given mathematical object fails to be well-behaved in some particular way. Being mathematically “well-behaved” is “not violating any assumptions needed to successfully apply whatever analysis is being discussed”.

Potter’s decision is ethically incomprehensible in the same way that singularity is mathematically not “well-behaved”. It is based on a “leap of faith” that is not really given any ethical structural support, and seems to be excused as a personal whim and self-confessed naivete. In the context of her entire apologia, what she claims is that in her vote “yes” she had to boycott and divest from her own conscience. Why? Because she really did not want to be perceived as one of those “odious persons”.

Jimmy Porter: Nigel and Alison, they’re what they sound like, sycophantic, phlegmatic and pusillanimous.
Cliff Lewis: Big words
Jimmy Porter: Shall I tell you what they mean?
Cliff Lewis: No not interested, don’t want to know.
Jimmy Porter: Soapy, stodgy and dim.”


“Criticism is not the same as boycott and it is not the same as demonization. ”

Criticism of policies does not end in removing human beings from other humanity. Demonization does.
Boycott is the first step taken after demonization has reached a certain saturation. It is the midway GOAL of demonization. It is the rational next phase in making the targeted subject a pariah. I don’t see anyway around this truth. It is also clear to me from Potter’s own response that she has internalized the logic and the sentiments of the BDS pushers. She testifies to being very moved by the narratives presented to her by Palestinian students. She seems to forgive the bad BDSers who bullied her verbally but she extends no such mercy to aggressive Zionist and anti-BDS voices. Your letters are very fine, nuanced, compelling, rational, even-keeled, polite, but they are no match to the passion of compassion that Potter has elected to surrender to, rather than maintain moral and intellectual clarity. It is so much easier, cozier to bath in the warm bath of self-righteousness than face the cold and hostile looks of disappointed friends.
 I’m reminded of this quote from “Scent of a woman”:
Lt. Col. Frank Slade: … Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard…”

She simply doesn’t understand antisemitism and does not want to. She has accepted the perversion given to this millennial phenomenon of hatred by the pushers of BDS. It was easier to do that.


As I pointed out, she internalized the total spectrum of BSD’ propaganda. There are no half-measures with this crowd. She will soon find out that she painted herself into a corner and that any slight dissension or mildest remonstration from her will be dealt with shouts and clamorous pounding to drown her words and get her to stay in line.
I know we are supposed to be grownup about these things and not throw around accusations and mindless analogies but I am beginning to understand how a fascist movement gets momentum and support from really good people.


Dr. Potter:
BDS promotes a violent transition from the UN Partition Plan of 1947, two-states for two peoples, one Jewish one Arab, to one state no longer Jewish. 99% of Israeli Jews oppose this vision and want to continue to live in security in their own and the only one Jewish state. Do you have difficulty living in a world in which there is one tiny Jewish state existing on 0.1% of the territory that is the Middle East? Do you understand what realization of BDS's vision will entail?

Replying to the question:

'Knowing the region and given the history of the conflict, do you think such a Jewish minority
[in an Arab-dominated Palestinian state] would be treated fairly?'

Edward Said said:

"I worry about [possible retaliation against the Jews].
The history of minorities in the Middle East has not been as bad as
Europe, but I wonder what would happen [to them]. It worries me a great
deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very
difficult for me. I really don't know. It worries me"

Do you know how at least one tenured and quite well-established BDS promoter imagines the end of Israel and its Jewish citizens? Here is a taste:

"I was looking forward to the end of the world as it would have permitted me--even for a second--to witness the end of the Zionist entity over Palestine."
" On this day in 1187, Jerusalem was liberated by Arab armies. There was
no Obama or Bush to rescue the crusaders. There will come a day when
there will be no Obama or Bush to rescue the Zionists. Stay tuned. "
" .. you won't know what will hit you in the future in response to all the war crimes that you have committed against our people. "  (If you want to know who it is, google one of the quotes)

Do you understand what you have signed on to? Is this the sort of conversation you want to promote?


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