University: bad “misguided strategy”

January 16, 2013 by Larry Stillman
Read on for article

Sad to say, moves to put a ban on contacts between the University of Sydney and the Technion  is a misguided strategy, as with the boycott  involving the Centre for Conflict Studies…writes Larry Stillman.

As the  Technion has said,  many institutions are involved in forms of warfare research and activity–look at the Australian Defence Academy in Canberra which has students from  not very nice regimes, as well as engaging in applied military research.  If Sydney was involved in some way with a project or program of an Israeli University that breached human rights and ethics protocols I could see the case for a campaign, but this does not appear to be the case here.

Israeli academia is full of contradictions, and these need to be considered. Until Ilan Pappe left the University of  Haifa, he was free to say what he wanted. Shlomo Sand is free to spout his second class history and political commentary from the University of Tel Aviv, and the list goes on and on. There are lesser known Palestinian critics who also have academic positions. There are also academics who I would not wish to sit on the bus with because of their politics, but that is the nature of academia.

But sadly, Israeli institutions of higher education are themselves under siege from modern McCarthyites, whether the likes of  the right-wing nationalist Im Tirzu , to  local Israeli academics aligned to  foreign private “think tanks” with the aim of outing “critics”. Many on the right would like nothing better than to turn universities into factories for nationalist ideology, rather than free thought, something which Israel desperately needs if it is to have a democratic future.   The Department of Politics at Ben Gurion University has been particularly subject to such threats by the  Council for Higher Education (CHE), because of the vigour of academics such as Neve Gordon in opposing Israeli policies.  The CHE has politicized a review of the department and it is still  not known if the department is to be closed down, despite protests from significant academic organisations abroad.  And now, there is the establishment of the military-governed Ariel University on the occupied West Bank–a move opposed by universities inside Israel.

By wishing to isolate Israeli institutions even further, the BDS movement though a crude strategy really does the cause of freedom for all Israelis–and ending the occupation a disservice.   Stomping on academic contacts is a mirror image in this regard of the right-wing nationalists in Israel who wish to punish all those who do not agree with them.

One of the problems as I see it with some in the BDS movement (for all the claims of adherence to the BDS charter), is that some proponents want to use it as a crude, and negative instrument, rather than as a tool for positive change in arrangements between Israelis and Palestinians.  Proponents want to use this club because they believe that Israeli academics are generally apolitical and are therefore complicit in the occupation and other crimes. They also want to make  anexample of Israeli universities because of the iniquitous situation of Palestinian universities under occupation,  and the lack of interest in this in Israel.

Furthermore,  they rightly claim that institutions such as Tel Aviv and Hebrew Univ are built on Palestinian land and refuse to acknowledge this, and the list of other sins put forward is endless.   But a blanket ban will not solve this problem, because it is a problem that infects the whole society, not just Israeli universities. Naomi Chazan, who taught African politics at Hebrew University before being in the Knesset said that in response to attacks from the right:   “At stake, first, is one of Israel’s most precious treasures: its academic excellence. The production of knowledge and intellectual creativity depend on the nurturing of a climate of openness and the safeguarding of freedom of thought (yes, even when certain views are seen as anathema by many)”.  Given that academics tend to be politically liberal, creative, and pragmatic,  they should be seen as allies for a solution, not enemies.

The issue of  consciousness-raising and apologies for political sins, is part of the solution for the conflict between the two peoples. If they had any sense, proponents of BDS they would build links with Israeli organisations or diaspora Jewish critics who are prepared to take on these issues, but such “normalization” is something that is frowned upon in preference for a strategy which by and large, refuses to see  acknowledge Israelis or most Jews as having much of use to say because they may be “too sympathetic”  to their iron-clad concept of Israel.

This is of course misreading the situation and engaging in black and white thinking. While the BDS movement uses the South African experience as an inspiration, it is selective: change was as much about bringing along whites (particularly Afrikaners) as engaging in particular strategies for the oppressed population of South Africa (who are seen as similar to Palestinians).  Israeli Jews or diaspora Jews have their own particular history and  interests which does not make a parallel between them and the old regime in South Africa the same thing.  But to some in the BDS or Palestine movement, as with any movement, there is a need to find a simple target: and thus a crude view of  what consitutes “Zionist” interests provides an excuse for non-cooperation or a believe that the rights of Israeli Jews can be just wished away because they are “colonialist”.

I am opposed to the Occupation and the state-sanctioned crimes that go with it, but I believe in an internationally-backed joint political approach to finding a solution with as many Israelis as possible, even though that price is one which will, in my view, mean an end to current Israeli nationalism, but equally, one that will require Palestinians to take a deep breath. That solution will also mean massive changes in current arrangements, but I am also committed to long-term democratic process, not the crude, politically stupid solutions that come out of some in the pro-Palestine camp. We don’t need kangaroo courts.

Thus  the desire to punish Israeli academics collectively is not part of the solution, particularly when the freedom of Israeli academia is itself under siege. As I have said, if Palestine advocates wish to have real effect, they should work with their potential allies, not alienate them. And they should not get mixed up between their desire to feel good by spouting slogans in Sydney with what will work in Israel/Palestine.

Larry Stillman works at Monash University. He is involved in a research
project with Hebrew University. He is on the Executive of the Australian
Jewish Democratic Society. The views are his own.

Comments

18 Responses to “University: bad “misguided strategy””
  1. Leon says:

    Larry Stillman’s entire “edifice” is built on quicksand.
    Israel does not illegally “occupy” any one else’s land.
    The territory that Israel controls is totally consistent with that which was sanctioned by the international legislative organ, The League of Nations, in 1922, when it mandated “close settlement on the land” by Jews in their National Home between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in its entirety.
    Only land which is privately owned land by Arabs who have relatively recently begun to call themselves “Palestinians” can legitimately be called “Palestinian land”, and their tenure is secured by Israeli law. The rest of Israel’s land falls into 2 remaining categories: private land owned by Jews, and State lands. The last category accounts for the bulk of Israeli land and its disposition is the State’s prerogative exclusively.
    The Arab and indeed entire Islamic world has chosen to maintain a state of total war against Israel: terrorist, military, economic, diplomatic, propaganda.
    That being the case, Israel’s defensive actions have really been relatively restrained.
    The most recent facets of warfare which the enemy has boosted is the propaganda and economic war. In this it has managed to recruit some Israeli and other Jewish academics, who have exulted in their freedom of expression. In a way the situation is analagous to the Cold War phenomenon whereby academics at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge were Soviet recruits and acted as de facto agents of left wing fascism a la Soviet.
    The problem is that these same Jewish academics do not accept that others, whose views differ, also are entitled to freedom of expression.
    These self-styled “leftists” try to stifle criticism which is firmly fact-based, by resorting to neo-Macarthyist tactics.
    Clearly, however, they have failed to intimidate their opponents.

  2. geoffff says:

    When you read an article like this one by Larry Stillman, and his even worse follow up comments, you can only shake your head in wonderment at how far the Jewish and “Zionist” left/liberalism in the diaspora has retreated since 1967 and how bankrupt and barren it has become.

    He is opposed to the “Occupation” . It is the “Occupation” that is the root cause of Israel’s problems.. Therefore we need to find a formula that punishes Israel in order to save the Israelis from themselves. Everything else will then fall into place.

    Leaving aside the sheer chutzpah, even cowardice, of this from the safe side of the planet, it begs the question where has he and the rest of the Peter Beinart left been for the last 45 years. In a cave on Mars in blindfolds and with their fingers in their ears?

    This kind of sloppy intellectual laziness is no longer acceptable. The world has become too dangerous and this nonsense has become too useful to the enemy for that.. It must be firmly denounced. We haven’t got the time to waste on this easy, squalid sideshow. There are some seriously dangerous evils once again loose in the world and it is the easiest and oldest antisemitic smear in the books to blame the Jews or Israel for this hatred directed at them .

    Che Gorilla

    http://geofffff.blogspot.com.au/
    .

  3. Larry says:

    Since publishing this article, I have been provided with further detail concerning the Technion’s connection to the Occupation. Without a doubt, it has developed technology which goes far beyond the ordinary understanding of ‘defence’, but has developed systems that are used to oppress and lead to death of innocent civilians, in breach of international law. (see http://www.tadamon.ca/wp-content/uploads/Technion-English.pdf for details of the connections). The Technion’s track record with Palestinian Arab students is also nothing to be proud of. This is very different from the Australian Technion Society’s defence of the Technion which says that there is nothing wrong with “research that assists in self defence, homeland security and the battle with terrorism”.

    How do we deal with such a situation? My general principle in defense of Israeli institutions of higher education stands. Blanket boycotts in the context of the politics of Israel only have a negative effect both within Israel and the diaspora by reinforcing the siege mentality.

    However, Australian institutions of higher education should make it clear that they will not collaborate on projects with Israel or ANY country which do not meet ethical, human rights or international law criteria. Australians who support Israel need to consider very carefully if are prepared to they support human rights violations through their donations. You can direct your funds more appropriately to ethical projects in Israeli higher education that support the academic work that Israelis are renowned for, as well as opportunities for all Israelis, whatever their background. This is not being anti-Israel. It is taking a principled stand.

    • robert says:

      Larry
      I read the article.
      It is full of leftist jargon & slogans,such as the Arabs are indigenous and by implication Jews are not.
      That is the PA line recently repeated by Abbas in the UN.
      Defence R&D is NOT automatic oppression of Palestinians and it is both dishonest and partisan to claim otherwise.
      The default position that Palestinians want peaceful co existence and it is just Israel that is at fault , is at best naive but we know it is much more than that Any cursory reading of the Arab especially PA & Hamas media gives lie to the claim that PA & Hamas want to live at peace side by side
      As for the numerous “special filters” that keep out Palestinians there are lots of words and claims but no hard irrefutable facts presented.
      The very tone of the article reeks of propaganda
      In my experience Arabs in Israeli Universities do NOT keep their heads down,on the contrary..

    • The “occupation” myth is used by appeasers and self-righteous grandstanders to rationalise their support for the Arab cause, which is the dissolution of Israel.
      And so the learned weighty opinions of international lawyers who demonstrate the vacuity of that myth are ignored constantly by certain academics and intellectuals who have pretensions to proficiency in evidence-based conclusions. The result of such a counter-intellectual approach is that certain universities are becoming production lines of groupthink.
      An example is Sydney University’s Peace Centre: it does not tolerate pro-Zionist points of view because its agenda is not education but propagation (of its peculiar ideology.)
      Thus do some privileged people who are on the public payroll abuse their positions of trust and thus do they create a generation of Orwellian proles.

    • The violators of human rights are those who seek to weaken Israel by disseminating myths about it. The Israelis who work on defence projects are the upholders of human rights. More strength to them.
      Israel’s enemies operate on the premise that one of their human rights is to wage war against Israelis by slitting Jewish babies’ throats, blowing up hotels and buses, using human shields etc.
      In the 1930’s and 1940’s quite a few academics in the West collaborated with communism, rationalising its monstrous crimes; nowadays there is a parallel at work: demonising Israel for defending Jews and absolving the enemy of its abominable conduct.

  4. Harold Zwier says:

    Larry, there is an integrity of approach in what you write. Neither the anger of those who oppose BDS, nor the anger of those who support BDS, but an approach that first and foremost seeks change from the status quo of the occupation for the benefit of all parties. This conflict desperately needs public voices who expose the hypocracy of those who support the Palestinian cause but can’t see there is also an Israeli cause and vice versa.

  5. Robert says:

    Wonder why these “peace lovers” and the ilk of Bishop Tutu find the need to call for boycot of Israel only?
    The oxymoronic “peace and conflict resolution” center has a long history of being close minded on Israel, which is fine as long as we are not paying for them to peddle their prejudices.
    The response by the university is facile at best.Hosting this department reflects very poorly on Sydney University.

    • Gina says:

      They don’t – most advocate supporting boycotts called for by victims of unjust regimes eg we boycotted apartheid South Africa, Burma and most recent is the cricket boycott of Sri Lanka. Are you aware of the names of countries Australia has sanctioned?
      I wonder why you are so keen to dictate what action others should take?

      • Robert says:

        So you boycotting China over the occupation of Tibet and lack of human rights?
        Turkey over Cyprus and oppression of Kurds and denial of civil liberties such as free press and judiciary?
        The Moslem world over apostasy laws, blasphemy laws, gender apartheid and persecution of minorities such as Hazara, Copts to mention a few.?
        The PA & Hamas for imprisoning,torturing and out of hand executions of each other?
        Or Hamas dragging the half naked bodies of lynched “traitors” behind motor bikes through Gaza streets?
        Who are you kidding?
        Your BDS “cult” as Finklestein calls them has one aim. It was enunciated by Barghoutti a Tel Aviv Uni student,one of the founders of BDS. “We are interested in 2 Palestines side by side”.
        He can say that in Israel,yet you people have the gall to ignore it all and claim the moral high ground.
        PS Justice Goldstone who lived and worked under the apartheid regime wrote an op ed in the New York times rebutting the apartheid sloganeers.The rubbish that sloganeers are chanting when they stand in shopping Malls demanding boycotts.Yes of one country in the whole world that they want to boycott.
        Who are you kidding other than your self righteous,blinkered selves.?

        • Gina says:

          Ronny Kasrils, Archbishop Tutu and many others who lived under South African apartheid are very critical of the current Israeli regime. So is Prof. John Dugard. Have your read the report by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) titled “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law”?
          I do what I can to support human rights in Australia and around the world but being just one person I focus my energy where it can be most useful and support rather than criticise others who put their energy elsewhere.

          • robert says:

            The hypocrisy of the “new” South Africa knows no bounds,they are playing third world politics, they lost their moral compass long ago.
            Without the active support of South Africa,the murderous dictator Mugabe would be gone.
            It is South Africa that protected the genocidal mass murderer Al Bashir from the ICC.!

            Ronnie Kasrils is internationalist communist ideologue whose hatred of Israel is based on his ideology,it has nothing to do with the current situation.

            http://blog.unwatch.org.
            Five Facts About John Dugard

            The resolution adopted at yesterday’s Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council slammed Israel and decided “to dispatch an urgent fact-finding mission headed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

            Given the explicit bias that characterized the Special Session proceedings from start to finish, it actually makes perfect sense to have John Dugard head its fact-finding mission.

            Consider the following five facts about our newly named fact-finder:

            1. The mandate of special rapporteur on Palestine — created in 1993 by the discredited and now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights — is to investigate only violations by Israel, a one-sided duty John Dugard has zealously embraced since his appointment to the post in 2001. His reports stand out, even by UN standards, for their virulently anti-Israel prejudice. Not only does Dugard systematically ignore Palestinian acts of terror and their victims, but he has gone so far as to laud Palestinian “militarized groups armed with rifles, mortars, and Kassam-2 rockets [who] confront the [Israeli army] with new determination, daring, and success.” (See examples here.)

            2. There are many UN figures who like to lambaste Israel. But Mr. Dugard has the dubious distinction of being the only appointee of the UN who regularly rails against the UN-sponsored Quartet and its Road Map for Middle East Peace. Last summer, he even managed to convince seven other UN experts to join him in this bizarre line of attack.

            3. Mr. Dugard’s presentation on Wednesday at the Special Session dutifully lambasted the Quartet several times, suggesting that the UN’s membership in the grouping rendered it pro-Israel. (Yes, and Al Qaeda is too pro-American.) “Whether [the EU and the UN] can act as ‘honest brokers’ while remaining members of the Quartet is, however, questionable.” All of this, needless to say, flies in the face of the actions and recommendations of the Security Council and the Secretary-General, which have strongly endorsed and encouraged the UN role in the Quartet.

            4. Much worse, though, was the opening of his Wednesday presentation. “At the outset I wish to make it clear that I have every sympathy for Corporal Gilad Shalit; and indeed for all Israel’s young soldiers compelled to serve in the army of an occupying power.” (emphasis added) In other words, Professor Dugard could not bring himself to express sympathy for the captured soldier without wrapping it in a sharp stab, drenched with cynicism, at Israel’s morality. We’ve seen nothing to suggest Corporal Shalit has felt anything other than patriotic about his service. One imagines that the vast majority of Israelis feel proud and justified in defending their country, and would find Dugard’s “sympathy” — for their being “compelled to serve in the army of an occupying power” –nothing short of insulting and contemptible.

            5. In his August 2005 report, Dugard for the first time broke instructions and explained that he felt compelled to address Palestinian violations as well. Would Dugard finally say a few words about Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism? No. What caused him to break his instructions was an issue of Palestinian victims — those who suffer from the Palestinian Authority death penalty. “The Special Rapporteur’s mandate,” Dugard acknowledged, “does not extend to human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority. It would, however, be irresponsible for a human rights special rapporteur to allow the execution of Palestinian prisoners to go unnoticed. . . The Special Rapporteur expresses the hope that these executions were aberrations and that the Palestinian Authority will in future refrain from this form of punishment.” (August 2005 report.)

            Nothing wrong with protesting a justice system whose methods make IRA “knee-capping” look tame by comparison. What is shocking, though, is that Dugard for the first time demonstrated that he is perfectly free in his reports to reference the terror faced daily by Israeli civilians — more than 140 separate suicide attacks, and 13,730 shooting attacks, over the past four years — and free to mention the attempted mega-terror attacks against Israeli skyscrapers, ports and fuel depots, which could easily have taken the lives of thousands more. All of this, Dugard has shown, he is free to mention. He simply chooses not to. To paraphrase Dugard’s moral justification of his mandate as quoted above, it is, apparently, perfectly responsible for a human rights special rapporteur to allow the killing of Israelis to go unnoticed.

            Bishop Tutu does nothing while Christians are being mudered and opressed in the Moslem World.Yet demands BDS when it suits 3rd world solidarity
            What has the Bishop done about Christians? animists ? or for that matter an Iranian Christian pastor threatened with death for beleifs.?
            What have the self annointed moral arbiters of the left.?

          • robert says:

            The “new ” South Africa lost its moral compass long ago and just plays third world politics
            Mugabe without their active support would be gone long ago
            South Africa voted in the UNSC to prevent the genocidal murderer Al Bashir of Sudan being sent to the ICC
            The same South Africa that is corrupt from top down murdered its striking miners recently.
            Kasrils is a doctrinaire communist Israel hater and has always been hostile to Israel
            Bishop Tutu would have some credibility if he acted against the murder and persecution of Christians and animists, let alone what Islamists are doing now
            http://blog.unwatch.org.
            Five Facts About John Dugard

            The resolution adopted at yesterday’s Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council slammed Israel and decided “to dispatch an urgent fact-finding mission headed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

            Given the explicit bias that characterized the Special Session proceedings from start to finish, it actually makes perfect sense to have John Dugard head its fact-finding mission.

            Consider the following five facts about our newly named fact-finder:

            1. The mandate of special rapporteur on Palestine — created in 1993 by the discredited and now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights — is to investigate only violations by Israel, a one-sided duty John Dugard has zealously embraced since his appointment to the post in 2001. His reports stand out, even by UN standards, for their virulently anti-Israel prejudice. Not only does Dugard systematically ignore Palestinian acts of terror and their victims, but he has gone so far as to laud Palestinian “militarized groups armed with rifles, mortars, and Kassam-2 rockets [who] confront the [Israeli army] with new determination, daring, and success.” (See examples here.)

            2. There are many UN figures who like to lambaste Israel. But Mr. Dugard has the dubious distinction of being the only appointee of the UN who regularly rails against the UN-sponsored Quartet and its Road Map for Middle East Peace. Last summer, he even managed to convince seven other UN experts to join him in this bizarre line of attack.

            3. Mr. Dugard’s presentation on Wednesday at the Special Session dutifully lambasted the Quartet several times, suggesting that the UN’s membership in the grouping rendered it pro-Israel. (Yes, and Al Qaeda is too pro-American.) “Whether [the EU and the UN] can act as ‘honest brokers’ while remaining members of the Quartet is, however, questionable.” All of this, needless to say, flies in the face of the actions and recommendations of the Security Council and the Secretary-General, which have strongly endorsed and encouraged the UN role in the Quartet.

            4. Much worse, though, was the opening of his Wednesday presentation. “At the outset I wish to make it clear that I have every sympathy for Corporal Gilad Shalit; and indeed for all Israel’s young soldiers compelled to serve in the army of an occupying power.” (emphasis added) In other words, Professor Dugard could not bring himself to express sympathy for the captured soldier without wrapping it in a sharp stab, drenched with cynicism, at Israel’s morality. We’ve seen nothing to suggest Corporal Shalit has felt anything other than patriotic about his service. One imagines that the vast majority of Israelis feel proud and justified in defending their country, and would find Dugard’s “sympathy” — for their being “compelled to serve in the army of an occupying power” –nothing short of insulting and contemptible.

            5. In his August 2005 report, Dugard for the first time broke instructions and explained that he felt compelled to address Palestinian violations as well. Would Dugard finally say a few words about Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism? No. What caused him to break his instructions was an issue of Palestinian victims — those who suffer from the Palestinian Authority death penalty. “The Special Rapporteur’s mandate,” Dugard acknowledged, “does not extend to human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority. It would, however, be irresponsible for a human rights special rapporteur to allow the execution of Palestinian prisoners to go unnoticed. . . The Special Rapporteur expresses the hope that these executions were aberrations and that the Palestinian Authority will in future refrain from this form of punishment.” (August 2005 report.)

            Nothing wrong with protesting a justice system whose methods make IRA “knee-capping” look tame by comparison. What is shocking, though, is that Dugard for the first time demonstrated that he is perfectly free in his reports to reference the terror faced daily by Israeli civilians — more than 140 separate suicide attacks, and 13,730 shooting attacks, over the past four years — and free to mention the attempted mega-terror attacks against Israeli skyscrapers, ports and fuel depots, which could easily have taken the lives of thousands more. All of this, Dugard has shown, he is free to mention. He simply chooses not to. To paraphrase Dugard’s moral justification of his mandate as quoted above, it is, apparently, perfectly responsible for a human rights special rapporteur to allow the killing of Israelis to go unnoticed.

            No Madam you are not doing what you ” can” you just do not want to know.

          • robert says:

            Gina
            The “new” South Africa lost its moral compass long ago and plays third world solidarity politics.
            They keep Mugabe in power and kept Al Bashir the Sudanese genocidal racist mass murderer out of the ICJ
            Remember the Durban conference? A disgrace at every level.
            Kasrils has been an anti Israel communist ideologue all along and not paricularly honest either
            Dugard has been shown( See UN Watch )to be completely prejudiced pro Palestinian and his travelling “Trial” roadshow is just a self indulgent joke. The only question is who is paying?
            Bishop Tutu would have more credibility if he acted for Christians being persecuted in Moslem world.
            That he only needs to act and call, for BDS when it comes to Palestine speaks for itself and reflects the “new” South Africa,likely the next Zimbabwe.

      • Shirlee says:

        Why do you choose to boycott Israel, when it should be the leaders of Gaza and Judea and Samaria made to suffer. They are at fault and if anything and they should be boycotted. That doesn’t suit your agenda though. Does it?

        Plus the fact, the Arabs in Judea and Samaria are happy the way things stand at present. Ridiculous boycotts deprive them of work and they have asked for them to stop. Again that doesn’t bother you.

      • It is the aggressors in the conflict who should be penalised; those aggressors are the “Palestinians” and the Arab states. Those entities refuse to recognise the human rights of the Jewish People, and have for a century waged war against us, using illegal means such as human shields, targeting civilians, maintaining economic boycotts.
        That they have a demographic and petroleum advantage over us in no way justifies appeasing them; nor does it justify slanderous, baseless accusations against Israel.

      • It is the aggressors, namely the “Palestinians” and the Arab states who should be boycotted since they have been opposing the human rights of the Jewish People for more than a century; and they are indulged by dupes in the West who reinforce their abominable conduct.

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