From the Trinity Alps:

Phosphorous rains down on Gaza

Israeili phosphorous rains down on Gaza

More and more American and foreign academic organizations are looking closely at passing resolutions in support of Boycotting, Divesting from and Sanctioning (BDS) Israeli educational organizations and institutions, for their involvement in the illegal occupation of the West Bank, and for those institutions’ lack of concern for educational infrastructure in the Occupied Territories and in Gaza. This past week, two important American academic organizations have passed motions supporting Global BDS of Israel, and advocating the end of relations with Israeli academic institutions and organizations. Back in April, the Association for Asian American Studies voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Last week, the large and influential American Studies Association passed a resolution calling for academic boycott:

A powerful group of US scholars has voted to launch an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. With a membership in the thousands, the group has become the largest academic collective to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The American Studies Association (ASA) announced Monday that its nearly 5,000 members voted in favor of the boycott by a 2-to-1 margin on Sunday night. A total of 1,252 members voted on the issue, with 66 percent voting ‘yes’ and 30 percent voting ‘no.’ Three percent abstained from voting altogether.

The boycott calls on US schools and academic research groups to end all work with Israeli groups. It does allow individual Israeli scholars to still attend conferences and speak at American universities, as long as they do not do so in any official capacity of the government.

Yesterday, the Native American Studies Association passed a similar motion:

Another small North American academic association – the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) – decided this week to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Ohio State English Prof. Chadwick Allen, president of the association and coordinator of American Indian studies at the university, wrote on the association’s website that the move followed a “member- generated” petition asking that the group “formally support the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural Institutions that was initiated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”

Some academic organizations have decided not to boycott Israeli academia. The American Association of University Professors (a group I have been a member of) voted against academic sanctions last spring. But the issue is still being debated there, with a recent volume of their journal being devoted to the subject. The Modern Language Association will take up BDS at a January meeting:

The MLA, a professional organization of language and literature scholars, will hold a panel discussion on ”Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine” at its Delegate Assembly in Chicago on January 9.

The boycott panel is to consist of a group of prominent academics who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, movement, as well as BDS founder Omar Barghouti, but will not have a dissenting or pro-Israeli voice.

The issue of whether or not to boycott Israeli academia has been going on for over a decade, beginning in the UK, where it remains a heated subject.

Israeli reaction to the latest wave of resolutions has been divided. A small majority of leftist Israeli academics support BDS, but most do not. The Israeli technorati are very discouraged as well, especially in light of increasing divestment from Israeli infrastructure by a host of European institutions, governmental and non-governmentsal agencies, and private or corporate companies.

The most prominent objection to recent BDS resolutions came this morning (U.S. time – late yesterday in Israel) from former Israeli Ambassador to the  U.S, Michael Oren, at his Facebook page:

Much outrage has been expressed about the academic boycott of Israel by the ASA–that it singles out the world’s only Jewish state, the Middle East’s only democracy, undermines academic freedom, and defies Abu Mazen’s opposition to such boycotts. More needs to be said about fighting back. The United States has long imposed strict penalties on companies complying with the Arab boycott of Israel. Similar measures should be enacted denying state and Federal funding for any activities associated with the promoters of this racist anti-democratic measure. [emphasis added]

Oren  seems to not grasp that he is advocating the limitation of freedom of expression by American academics. By inaccurately assessing the boycott as inappropriate, perhaps anti-Semitic, Oren and others make the dubious claim that by “singling out” Israel for boycott, those who advocate BDS are treating Israel in a uniquely hostile way. What moves Oren might overtly encourage in the U.S, either through congressional legislation or other means, might get as little traction as did Israeli and Zionist pressure for us to intervene militarily in Syria or Iran this past year. Or, a supine congress, seeking 2014 election contributions, might actually implement laws criminalizing or sanctioning boycotts or divestment campaigns against the expansionist, increasingly racist, colonial enterprise.

Back in August, 2012, history teacher Joel Doerfler, wrote about the falsity of the “singling Israel out” meme, in a post at Mondoweiss:

In the recent debate over the proposed boycott of Israeli goods by the Park Slope Food Coop, it was asserted that critics of Israeli human rights abuses are unjustly ‘singling out’ the Jewish state. They are ‘ignoring’ the human rights abuses committed by other governments and eliding the criminal actions of the Palestinians.

One hears the same argument wherever and whenever the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict is brought up. What about Syria? Iran? North Korea? Myanmar? Zimbabwe? What about Hamas? Why is Israel the target of condemnation when others engage in far worse depredations?

Those who assert that Israel is being ‘singled out’ aren’t interested in assessing where to rank Israel on the scoreboard of global human rights violators. They’re just setting listeners up for an old familiar punch-line: Why is Israel being ‘singled out?’ Because the world hates the Jews. Why do some Jews harp on Israel’s depredations? It’s because they hate themselves.

The charge of ‘singling out’ is at once disingenuous and obfuscatory. It’s another way of saying that substantive criticism of Israel (not to mention organized political and economic action, including boycott and divestment, in support of such criticism) amounts to anti-semitism. It’s intended to stifle criticism — and indeed, honest discussion — and thereby distract attention away from the real-life conditions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza: from the house demolitions; the land theft; the ‘administrative detentions;’ the de jure and de facto deprivation of elementary rights of assembly and speech; the relentless settlement building; the roadblocks, checkpoints, and general interruption of free movement; the theft and wildly unequal distribution of water; the containment wall built on Palestinian territory; the settler violence against Palestinian individuals and property; the use of banned weaponry; the collective punishment of the entire Palestinian people; the bantustanization of the West Bank; the violations of international law; the blockading of Gaza; the manifest racism; and the daily harassment and indignities consciously and systematically imposed on an occupied populace.

I disagree with the ex-Ambassador. Strongly.

Israel is a unique situation for Americans, even more important structurally here, than in Europe or East Asia, for instance.

As a response to Ambassador Oren, I’ve updated and modified an open letter I first wrote in January, 2010, in the aftermath of the horrors of Operation Cast Lead:

1.  We don’t send hundreds of billions of American tax dollars to the North Koreans so that they can drop or shoot white phosphorus onto schools and hospitals.

2.  We don’t write tax policies that enable the Han Chinese to invest in housing projects that eject Tibetans from their homes in Lhasa.

3.  We don’t have a State Department chief spokesperson whose husband developed an expansionist policy paper for the Iranian government.

4.  We don’t cater to lobbyists from Sudan who constantly encourage us to go to all-out war against a neighboring country that hasn’t attacked one of their neighbors in generations.

5.  We don’t have a Pentagon whose offices are stuffed with people with dual Somali-American citizenship, who manufacture false premises to march us into a series of wars in the heart of Africa.

6.  We aren’t experiencing a time when a small group of ruthless Burmese generals and politicians have hijacked Buddhism, turning it into a militant version of what had once been a great religion, and branding anyone who doesn’t believe in a Myanmar expansion version of Buddhism as anti-Burmese or anti-Buddhist.

7.  Additionally, no North Korean, Chinese, Sudanese, Burmese or Somali general, politician, general or warlord is openly bragging that the United States is fighting two wars and threatening to start a third one, on their behalf.

8.  The Prime Ministers of Egypt, Syria, Tunisia or Libya have not appeared in American political ads in the most recently run national election, advocating openly against the incumbent president.

9.  Also, and importantly, there is no large body of American people who openly believe that we need to foster violence in North Korea, Tibet, China, Somalia, Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iran or Burma, so that we may enable the second coming of Jesus Christ, and implement a new age. And there is no cynical tie-in between Columbian politicians who hope to bring money to their country because of some apocalyptic religious myth, and American fundamentalist sects who total in the tens of millions of misguided believers.

 image:  Israeli artillery rains white phosphorus down on the U.N. School in Gaza – January, 2010