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Friday, June 01, 2007

From the Land of Stupid Boycotts

This note just found its way in my inbox from the good folks at Dissent Magazine, which I found worth sharing:

Yesterday (May 30), Britain's 120,000-strong University and College Union voted to endorse a motion to boycott Israeli universities, calling on British academics to condemn "the complicity of Israeli academics in the occupation. In the next couple weeks, local branches will make a final decision on the boycott. Unison, Britain's largest union, will also debate a similar motion at its upcoming meeting. In the forthcoming Summer 2007 issue (out the first week of July), Dissent contributor and U. Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum provides an impassioned argument against academic boycotts: "It is a poor choice of strategies, and some of the justifications offered for it are downright alarming. Economic boycotts are occasionally valuable. Symbolic boycotts, I believe, are rarely valuable...Scholars who have strong views about the Israeli government would be well advised, I think, to focus on the tactic of organized (nonviolent and non-disruptive) public protest, directed at the government and its key actors."

I had the chance to catch up with Martha a couple weeks ago in Miami over coffee and unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to touch on this subject. Needless to say, I'm appalled by the vote, at least in part because no set of institutions in Israel has been more prominent in advancing legitimate Palestinian interests than its universities.  But Martha's article suggests a host of reasons to be skeptical of the choice made.  For what it's worth, I'm looking forward to flouting the boycott, as it were, since I'm giving a few talks at the wonderful law schools at Bar-Ilan, Tel Aviv and Haifa later this month on my Retributive Damages project.   

Posted by Administrators on June 1, 2007 at 11:19 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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Tracked on Jun 3, 2007 4:55:40 AM


I agree. Beyond the point that Israel is probably best engaged through dialogue and not boycotts, its population being extraordinarily seeded with skeptical thinkers and dissidents, academic boycotts lock out the members of a society most likely to be open to new viewpoints and capable of working change in society.

I think Americans get a rather one-sided view of Israel to begin with--in my travels, I met many Israelis who were passionately opposed to their government's policies.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Jun 3, 2007 11:57:21 PM

Erratum: "The fact that the conception of *sovereignty* in international law and politics..."

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 3, 2007 10:19:04 AM


Because, as one learns in philosophy, an argument qua argument does not derive its validity or soundness from its source. In comments over at Opinio Juris, I've been making (more or less, and frequently by implication) an argument on behalf of a robust conception of sovereignty and a notion of treaty-making in American Indian history and practice that is not severed from international law and which permits us to understand Indian tribes as self-governing (i.e., after Allen Buchanan, as exercising some independent political control over significant aspects of its common life). Hence, such tribes should be seen as exercising self-determination short of full or complete sovereignty but nonetheless deserving coherent and institutional support from international law. In other words, such tribes are exercising intrastate autonomy (which helps account for why canons of treaty construction in Indian law differ in significant ways from that found in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties) and should have an international legal right to same. The fact that the conception of autonomy in international law and politics has been understood in new ways and is a far cry from the notion of "absolute" sovereignty (which, in any case, never existed, even among the likes of Bodin), lends indirect support to the argument. The persuasiveness or merits (or lack thereof) of such an argument are not ascertained by determining whether or not I live on Indian territory, am subject to Indian laws, or am myself an American Indian.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 3, 2007 9:37:30 AM

Patrick, I can understand why you think my reaction is foolish given your explanation, but I'm still surprised that you don't see any irony in listing Israeli's as a source for arguments "on behalf of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories []".

Posted by: Dutch | Jun 3, 2007 5:37:40 AM


Please carefully read what I wrote, as its meaning is plain and simple: "Some...that might be...." And I wasn't speaking to research about the boycott but about books like Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing Of Palestine (2006), Tal's War in Palestine, 1948 (2004), etc., insofar as they help bolster arguments long made by Palestinians themselves. I'm well aware of the literature from Palestinian academics (both living in the territories and elsewhere): my home library is chock full of it, and I've been reading it for well close to three decades now (as it overlaps with one area of my academic training, namely, Islamic Studies).

Nothing I said entails or implies anything whatsoever about Israeli academics "function[ing] as a substitute for those actually enduring the occupation," an absolutely silly if not preposterous notion in any case, and I cannot fathom how you might make such an inference from what I wrote (I've been been defending the Palestinians whenever the opportunity presents itself at Opinio Juris for some time now, including attempts to help folks understand why it won't do to see a group like Hamas as simply a 'terrorist organization').

I agree with Nussbaum's argument against the boycott. There are so many things one might do other than such a boycott (and Pappe is free to disagree of course, and if he does, I think he's mistaken).

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 2, 2007 4:43:11 PM

Patrick, it is that idea of yours that somehow Israeli academics are making the case for the Palestinians instead of the Palestinians themselves that enables the boycott.

The best arguments don't come from the Israeli universities, not by far.
They come from Palestinian universities, from the occupied territories. They know what the occupation entails.

Surely there is dissent amongst those academics part of the occupying nation. But they cannot function as a substitute for those actually enduring the occupation. Those dissenters still operate in the Israeli framework. It is no coincidence that the first person you name, Pappe, does not object to the boycott, specifically for this reason.

Posted by: Dutch | Jun 2, 2007 3:55:22 PM

erratum: problem

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 1, 2007 3:21:57 PM

I'm adamantly against such a boycott. Some of the best research and arguments that might be enlisted on behalf of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and elsewhere comes from academics in Israel: Ilan Pappe, Baruch Kimmerling, David Tal, Zeev Sternhall, Yoav Peled.... A boycott strikes me as counterproductive: a simple-minded response to an admittedly urgent ethical and political problems.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 1, 2007 3:19:31 PM

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