Thursday, July 26, 2007

Construal denial

In a post on the BMJ’s witless online poll about the academic boycott of Israel, Eve Garrard mentions a resolution [PDF] passed by the University and College Union:

Congress notes that Israel's 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.
Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.
Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.
Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.

There are many things one could say to this; I’ll limit myself to four.

First, the occupation is unjustified – although the behaviour of Palestinian political factions does suggest that “the fabric of Palestinian society” is quite capable of damaging itself.

Second, what do the UCU’s members judge the scope of this academic “complicity” to be? Is it “comprehensive and consistent” across all of “Israeli academia”? If not, then why does the motion complain about “collective punishment”?

Third, does the Israeli body politic have a record of responding in a conciliatory manner to outside pressure? Is the UCU expecting somebody to rush breathlessly into the Knesset with the news that “The international community is condemning our 40-year occupation – and the middle-class European lefties are leading the charge! We must mend our ways immediately before we become unpopular!”

Fourth, how can the UCU possibly mean that “criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic”? Certainly, criticism of Israel (which I assume to mean ‘criticism of certain Israeli policies’) need not be anti-semitic; indeed, it can be very well justified. But far too often, it can be and it is anti-semitic.

Criticism of China can be racist, criticism of Iran can be anti-Islamic and criticism of the USA can be, well, anti-American. None of this means that the governments of those countries do not richly deserve a lot of criticism for (some of) their actions. But to deny that there is bigotry in some of the criticism they do attract would be factually ridiculous and morally blind.

Israel seems to be a popular moral blind spot.

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