Campus Gaza: Academic Boycotts and Complicit Silence

SOLIDARITY WITH GAZAIn a previous post, “Accepting the Might to Exist: Some Israeli Lessons for Anthropology,” a close Trinidadian friend and non-academic collaborator, Guanaguanare, wrote what I thought was an especially penetrating comment on complicit silence from those one might look to for some guidance in understanding issues of conflict, human rights, on the human condition itself, from people who on other occasions and with other topics have been rather quicker in making judgments. I now have her permission to reproduce her commentary on the front page here. It is followed by links to discussions around an academic boycott of Israel, which I have previously been ambivalent about supporting, and am now forced to reconsider more favourably.

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Stepping Delicately Between the Butcher and the Policeman

January 7, 2009

[I] confess that apart from my small protest, I have not had the stomach or maybe the charity to try to assist others by elucidating or contributing a more consistent and earnest plea for justice.

What strikes me always is how much easier it is for me to direct my anger at the ones “responsible” for these man-made crises — world leaders, politicians, who by their scheming interventions or their despicable lack of action and lack of solidarity with the victims, allow the chaos to continue unchecked. I then do my “When will they ever learn?” shrug and turn back to my life. I entertain only briefly the suspicion that I am part of the problem but I guess the numbing factors of distance and my comfortable bed allow me to wash my hands and move on.

The fact remains though that I am part of the problem because I don’t raise my voice loudly and often enough when injustice is staring me in the face. I leave it to the politicians and leaders and the relatively few marching protesters to find a solution, the same politicians and leaders who I know are incapable of or don’t see any personal/national benefit in finding a fair solution. As long as we continue to distract ourselves and to let them act unquestioned, they are very happy to take advantage of our complicity. It is the biggest cop out ever and it is the game that most of us are quite contented to play.

I’ve been thinking about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and a particular excerpt that really struck me the first time I read it many years ago:

“You can’t understand. How could you?- with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbors ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums-how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man’s untrammeled feet may take him into by the way of solitude-utter solitude without a policeman- by the way of silence, utter silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbor can be heard whispering of public opinion? These little things make all the great difference. When they are gone you must fall back upon your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness. Of course you may be too much of a fool to go wrong-too dull even to know you are being assaulted by the powers of darkness. I take it, no fool ever made a bargain for his soul with the devil: the fool is too much of a fool, or the devil too much of a devil- I don’t know which. Or you may be such a thunderingly exalted creature as to be altogether deaf and blind to anything but heavenly sights and sounds. Then the earth for you is only a standing place- and whether to be like this is your loss or your gain I won’t pretend to say. But most of us are neither one nor the other. The earth for us is a place to live in, where we must put up with sights, with sounds, with smells too, by Jove!-breathe dead hippo, so to speak, and not be contaminated. And there, don’t you see? Your strength comes in, the faith in your ability for the digging of unostentatious holes to bury the stuff in-your power of devotion, not to yourself, but to an obscure, back-breaking business. And that’s difficult enough.”

I love the entire thing but it’s the subject of “solitude” that jumps out at me as being relevant to this situation…not so much what solitude can bring out in a human being but how we must all help each other to come out of that solitude in one piece (or ONE PEACE) and wiser. I think that on an individual level when we do not consciously address our own solitude and the demons we can encounter there, we do not advance ourselves beyond the passivity or self-delusion that we can fall back on to avoid the truth. Outside of ourselves, we do nothing to aid others in their solitude when we hang back and take refuge in passivity and popular delusions to avoid the truth. Israel and Palestine are so deeply alone now, so locked in the deepest of solitudes. Let us look at the most obvious of signs and that is the fact that foreign journalists are not being allowed into Palestine to report what is really happening. Other news agencies are buying into, for whatever reasons, the delusions that they’ve decided that we want to or should be fed. Israel cannot voice its wants except in the most guttural of tones, the sound of weapons. Palestine cannot voice its pain without a voice to express the anguish of a people who are being systematically displaced, dispossessed and murdered. On both sides, their mouths are opening in their solitude but no sound that can reach us is coming out…and we over here “with solid pavement under [our] feet, surrounded by kind neighbors ready to cheer [us] or to fall on [us], stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman” we don’t read lips. We didn’t read the Jews’ lips when they were being eliminated by the Nazis and we didn’t read their lips as we chased their shiploads of refugees from our ports. We don’t read the lips of Palestinians continuing to bury their babies with no recourse but to bring many more into the world to continue the struggle.

We are all human beings and Israel cannot be left in its solitude to forget this. We have to tell it that we are seeing its turmoil and that it has gone terribly wrong and that their fear of persecution is self-fulfilling. The Palestinians are human beings and we cannot leave Palestine in its solitude to believe that we have forgotten this. We have to tell it that we are seeing its pain.

Since we cannot write it on the sky or command divine intervention or get our acts together just yet to speak with one voice, all we have for the while and hopefully not for too long a while, are people like you, Max — people who ask, and ask and ask only that the truth be told and that we start doing as we so easily preach.

“…the earth for you is only a standing place”Heart of Darkness/ Joseph Conrad


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The Academic Boycott of Israel Raised at Concordia University

Almost two years ago, I was surprised by the abrupt and seemingly unwarranted appearance in one of our campus publications of an article written by then “President” Claude Lajeunesse on June 21, 2007, denouncing any plans by academics to boycott Israel, as if any of us had really been considering it. The story was picked up by the national media (see: “Montreal Universities Take Stand Against Anti-Israel Bias: Concordia Takes on the UCU Over Israel,” Amy German, The Hour, July 5, 2007). At the time, I had two reactions: (1) this is a giant “hat tip” to Jewish donors, by an official engaged in a permanent hunt for cash, ignore it for its obvious obsequiousness; and, (2) this is an intrusion into the very sphere of academic freedom that Lajeunesse claimed to defend. After all, as academics, if we decide to act, we are perfectly free to do so, it is our civil and political right, and instructing us on what not to think in anaytical terms is absolutely not the place of the chief administrator. I would think that such a boycott would not be actively enforceable, mandatory for all academics, and come with punishments when breached. I had always understood it as a voluntary, collective act that did not commit any institution as such — perhaps others had more formal, institutional bans in mind. On the other hand, I would like to see our university divest from any holdings that work to support Israel — that is a bare minimum.

Ironically, since that statement, discussions have been held precisely to consider the nature and purpose of an academic boycott. See: “Academic boycott of Israel? Quebec-based groups reopen debate,” by Uzma Khan, The Concordian, 02/05/2008. Rita Cant, writing in Concordia’s independent student newspaper, The Link (see: “Something academic” January 2008) wonders why the boycott of South Africa received such strong support, whereas the boycott of an Israel that commits massacres, blockades, collective punishment, torture, and extrajudicial murders, does not. She notes that while Lajeunesse opposed any talk of boycotts,

others continued to insist that the disinterested professor with eyes only for research was a myth: that academics, like other citizens, should not be held above the policies of their democratically elected governments. They said rather than fetter intellectual debate, the boycott reinvigorated a vital discussion about Israeli policy, one that was fast becoming off-limits.

Cant also makes an extremely incisive observation about the current political economy of academia, one that challenges the dusty old myths about the existence of an “ivory tower”:

The economics of academics has changed utterly since the boycott of South Africa and the anti-war campus protests of the ’60s: corporations have more representation than teachers on university boards; lobby groups are funding research; cutbacks and new management are replacing tenured faculty with part-timers with terminable contracts; research is secondary to finding the funding; the end result is the meaning of academic freedom-and indeed that of the academy generally-is new and largely uncharted.

She ends with a quote from Noam Chomsky that is particularly important, in my view, as it strikes right at my own reason for ambivalence: Why just Israel? Chomsky says,

“One crucial goal of successful education is to deflect attention elsewhere — say to Vietnam, or Central Asia, or the Middle East, where our problems allegedly lie, and away from our own institutions and their systematic functioning and behaviour, the real source of a great deal of violence and suffering in the world.”

Indeed, why just Israel, especially when as we have seen discussed on this blog, there are myriad interconnections that fuse American academia with the national security state, with military and intelligence interests, and with private corporations?

And I admit, since the discussions about the re-militarization, or increased militarization of the American academy seemed to reach a zenith, I came to my own decisions: not to publish in American journals; not to send manuscripts to American book publishers; and, not to travel to or through the U.S. and therefore also not to attend American conferences. Then as if designed to taunt me, I received news that in 2011 the American Anthropological Association will be holding its meetings in Montreal. Jesus H. Christ.

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Link Snow

When I run out of time, I do this.

The Gaza War… on North American Campuses,” Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed, 12 January 2009.

Quick Takes: Ontario Union Wants Boycott of Israeli Academics…,” Inside Higher Ed, 07 January 2009.

CUPE Ontario to recommend support for ban on Israeli academics in response to Gaza bombings, 05 January 2009.

Ontario union wants ban on Israeli academics,” Josh Wingrove, The Globe and Mail, 06 January, 2009.

Statement on the Gaza Conflict, Canadian Association of University Teachers, 06 January, 2009. (I a member of this association, like all unionized full time faculty in Canada.)

University of Ottawa professor Costanza Musu: Why boycotting Israeli professors is wrong,” The National Post, 06 January, 2009.

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16 thoughts on “Campus Gaza: Academic Boycotts and Complicit Silence

  1. Lou Knee

    If anyone really cared about Gaza they would ask themselves why Hamas is shooting Fatah members in the legs. Why is Hamas hiding in schools,hospitals,mosques and the like.Hamas has been attacking Israeli cicilians for years and now they say they are marching to Rome.
    The Boycott Israel Umbrella Site
    lets Hamas talk for themselves.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Indeed, some of us have asked why, and we have our answers. Fatah violently persecuted Hamas even when the latter had been democratically and popularly chosen by Palestinians to lead them. (By the way, nice to see Israelis now supporting Fatah, the way Hamas has accused — when it was under Arafat, you were calling it an evil, terrorist organization, and backing Hamas as a counterweight. Come back when you can get your story straight, i.e., never.) As for Hamas hiding in schools, etc., you are desperately fishing for an excuse to commit genocide. I trust the UNRWA and Red Cross much more than any Israeli government spokesman, especially on matters of the massacres committed last week. Marching to Rome? Why not. Rome can only improve.

      That site, by the way, is ridiculously hysterical. I want others to see it too, for entertainment purposes. But be sure to repeat the “anti-Semitism” mantra, you can only wear it out more, and discredit it as a cause for concern while your side bombs civilians and preaches Islamophobia.

      I also want readers to see this excellent report in Vanity Fair. It comes up with some excellent answers to the previous commenter’s tripe about Hamas. If the pro-Israel camp chooses outright lies to defend its cause, it tells us all we need to know about that cause.

  2. MikeD

    ” … Israel that commits massacres, blockades, collective punishment, torture, and extrajudicial murders …” Is that a fact?

    From you ivory tower, please define a “massacre”. Please make your definition equally applicable to Darfur, Rwanda, Iraq, Afganistan, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Sierra Leon, etc …

    Do numbers matter? Does it matter how “related” the two parties are? Same or different religion? Skin colour? Ethnic tribe? Please do same for all other crimes you are accusing Israel of.

    Then, look at “all the lies they spread” about Hamas. And when you’re done, go and visit Gaza and that tiny sliver of land some still dare to call “Israel”. And while you are there, on both sides, ask refugees and great grand children of the refugees on both sides (Arabs and Jews) of “the border” where their ancestors came from, where their food comes from now, and who pays for the weapons (while they are still hot).

    The fact is, democracy is the best system we’ve got. The main question here is how do we defend it against those whose whole life has been dedicated to learning how it works and using to advance their own ends.


    1. Maximilian Forte

      What Ivory Tower? Why would anyone resort to such a foolishly outdated, irrelevant, and indefensible myth? Get past whatever jealousies and anti-intellectualism possesses you and keep the facts present: I am here, you are here with me — if this is an Ivory Tower, then you are part of it.

      Please define a massacre? Ok. The massive slaughter of defenseless civilians. It applies to wherever massacres occur, and not just the short list of places you provided.

      The other questions are better. But who says we have not asked, and answered these questions to our satisfaction? Democracy is the best system we have — and Hamas was democratically elected. Do you now not defend democracy, or do you defend it only when it produces the results you want? If the latter, that is not democracy.

  3. Pingback: Boycott Israel: Montreal Professors and Academic Employees « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

  4. Moheeb Abu Alqumboz

    BOYCOTT Israel within all levels starting from ACADEMIC and not ending with economic levels!

  5. Tali

    When I was in Daramsala (the Tibetan refuge in India), I woke up, early one morning to a thundering, continuous roar. I stepped outside and listened, to try to identify it. And then I realized: All the monks in the city have gathered to pray and meditate and that thunderous roar is hundreds of them chanting Om together.

  6. Rainbow Warrior

    Israel was founded by Zionists. There is a long history behind all of this. Which to my amazement many don’t know anything about it. All Jewish people are not like those in Israel, I assumed most people knew about this Zionists treachery. From day one of the Conception of Israel these people have betrayed their own people. They worked with the Nazis and collaborated with them. To the demise of their own people. Like those from Nazi Germany there are still many today that are alive and well. Children raised by such people learn to hate etc just as hateful and bigoted as their fore fathers.
    Did You Know: About Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis
    Zionists are just as bad, if not worse then Hitler and his death camps.
    The Nazis implemented the ‘Final Solution’, the extermination of all ‘non-Aryan’ peoples that included not only the Jews but also the Roma and the Serbs.
    The links to these are at the bottom of the post. Be sure to share.
    Zionists are equal to Nazis. That is why many Jewish communities around the world protested against them, because like many of us they don’t want them killing any more people either. At the hands of the Zionists many of their own people were killed also. Many Jewish people know all to well how evil Zionists are. We were never taught this in school. This has been for some reason kept out of classrooms. I am sure there may be many Jewish people who don’t even know this. For sure anyone who lives in Israel would not know this. They have all been brainwashed from day one. My father had a saying when you go to school you learn only what they want you to know whether it be the truth or not. This was not taught in schools that I went to. Lets not forget that Bushes Grandfather and numerous others in the US funded Hitlers war as well. Britain promised the Zionist Palestine. None of this was taught in our schools. So being left without this knowledge has warped peoples view of things.
    “THE ROLE OF ZIONISM IN THE HOLOCAUST” A very well written history of what happened. A must read.
    “Israel: “Did You Know?” A few things about Israel we all should know.
    “Interview: Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the ISM/UN Reports: Gaza destruction/ US Aid to Israel 6. 5 million a day”
    this also has some history as well as reports for the UN about the disaster left by Israel and a bit on how much money the US gives Israel and must be stopped. Israel gets on average 6.5 million a DAY from the US. US tax payers money. Israel has over 200 nuclear bombs and I a might be wrong but they will use them on their neighbors.
    If you check here!OpenView
    Sykes-Picot agreement text 1916 It is accordingly understood between the French and British governments.
    1917 Letter to Lord Rothschild
    Zionists are not Real Jewish people they are nothing more then Nazi war criminals.
    03/02/1919 Paris peace conference – Zionist Organization statement/Non-UN document
    03/01/1919 Faisal-Weizmann agreement/Non-UN document
    To understand what is happening today one must understand the past.
    The Zionist lied to the British. Even then.
    The Zionists said they represented all Jewish people, this too was and still is a lie. They use the Holocaust to promote their propaganda. The Holocaust they helped Hitler with that is. THE ROLE OF ZIONISM IN THE HOLOCAUST explains what they did and did not do. What they didn’t do was much of anything to help the Jews who were being exterminated.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      …and to think that all of this comes to us thanks to the sweetest doggy holding a rose in its cute muzzle…

      I know that there is considerable documentation and recognition within the Israeli Jewish community about the darker side of the more prominent Zionist leaders of the past, not to mention the present. I also have to note that I have personally known self-described, proud Zionists here in Montreal who are politically some of the most radical and enlightened individuals I have ever met: very militant about indigenous rights here in Canada and elsewhere, eager to learn the cultural practices of Caribbean immigrants, staunch defenders of the oppressed. There is clearly something else going on, and varieties of Zionism that operate on different levels and with different assumptions and goals.

      So while we know of Israelis who are critical of the dominant right wing Israeli project (who suffer the indignity of being labeled, by racists, as “self-hating Jews”)…how much is known about Zionists who are opposed to a dominant Zionism? And do all Zionisms involve a literal return to Israel? (Leave aside Rastafarians, who are zionists of another kind, and whose Zion is symbolic, as is the return, and is in any case Ethiopia-focused.)

  7. Pingback: Canadian Academic Boycott of Israel: Why We Need to Take Action « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

  8. Rainbow Warrior

    Norwegian Uni mulls academic boycott of Israel
    November 3 2009
    MIDEAST: Israelis Targeting Grassroots Activists

    EAST JERUSALEM, Oct 27 Israeli authorities are increasingly targeting and intimidating non-violent Palestinian grassroots activists involved in anti-occupation activities who are drawing increased support from the international community.

    Israel arresting boycott leaders

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