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Israel unfair target of selective outrage
By Cathy Young | June 5, 2006
IN THE 1980s, there was a concerted movement to make South Africa
a pariah state because of its policy of racial apartheid. Today,
a similar effort is directed at the state of Israel. A week ago,
the anti-Israel campaign achieved two significant victories. Britain's
National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education,
one of the country's two leading educators' associations, voted for
a boycott of Israeli academics and colleges unless they take a stand
against Israel's ``apartheid policy." On the same day, the Ontario
division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the largest labor
union in Canada, voted for a boycott of Israel because of its treatment
The British Foreign Office condemned the teachers' boycott as ``counterproductive
and retrograde." The reaction from Israel was even stronger. The
chairman of the Knesset Committee for Science and Technology, Zevulun
Orlev, asked the British parliament to ``decry the anti-Semitic and
Anti-Semitic or not, the movement to boycott Israel is hypocritical,
sanctimonious, and quite simply wrong. It is a shocking example of
selective outrage. Yes, Israeli policies are a legitimate target
for criticism, and even most of Israel's supporters will admit there
has been ill-treatment of Palestinians. Yet no one is demanding a
boycott of Russian academics over Russia's occupation of Chechnya,
and the accompanying atrocities (which dwarf Israel's human rights
abuses in the occupied territories). No one wants to boycott China
because of the occupation of Tibet, the persecution of religious
minorities, and other abuses by the Chinese regime. No one wants
to boycott Saudi Arabia because of its misogyny and religious intolerance.
Partly, this double standard is rooted in the familiar leftist mentality
that strenuously condemns bad behavior by Western or pro-Western
governments while turning a blind eye to the far worse misdeeds of
communist and Third World regimes. But the movement to boycott Israel
is especially repulsive for several reasons.
Apartheid-era South Africa, whose pariah status also reflected a
double standard, was at least a truly repugnant regime intent on
preserving white supremacy. Israel is a flawed democracy intent on
preserving itself in the face of forces intent on its destruction.
What's more, the anti-Israel boycott combines this anti-Western,
anti-democracy bias with an element of ``picking on the little guy." The
British professors and the Canadian public employees are not boycotting
American institutions because of the occupation of Iraq. Obviously,
such a boycott would cripple any institution's ability to function.
But lashing out at Israel as a proxy for America is something that
can be done with minimal inconvenience.
Nor should anti-Semitism be discounted. British scholar Mona Baker,
a leading champion of the boycott, has written that while other countries
are guilty of abuses, singling out Israel is appropriate because
``Zionist influence [that is, Israeli influence] spreads far beyond
its own immediate areas of dominion, and now widely influences many
key domestic agendas in the West. . . This is particularly obvious
in the case of the United States, where Zionist lobbies are extremely
powerful with both Congress and the media." An international Jewish
conspiracy: a sadly familiar tune.
Maybe American institutions should consider responding to such anti-Israel
boycotts with their own boycotts. So far, the American Federation
of Teachers has sent a letter to Britain's National Association of
Teachers strongly condemning the move. The American Association of
University Professors, which has generally taken a stand against
academic boycotts, has remained quiet.
Jonathan Knight, who directs the American Association's program
in academic freedom and tenure, told me that the issue is moot because
the British group no longer exists as an independent body. On June
1, it merged with the British Association of University Teachers
into a single group, the University and College Union, which is still
deciding which policies of the two original organizations it will
follow. The British Association of University Teachers previously
approved a resolution to boycott Israel's academic institutions,
but then rescinded it after an outcry.
Right now, while the decision is being pondered, would be a good
time for the American Association to make a strong statement against
this boycott. But this raises the issue of just how strongly the
US group is committed to the anti-boycott cause. Its planned conference
on academic boycotts came under fire for giving eight of the 22 speaking
slots to strong supporters of the Israeli boycott -- and then collapsed
after the revelation that the conference packet inadvertently included
an anti-Semitic article from a Holocaust-denying magazine.
The American Association should now stand up and be counted. A boycott
of Israel would be the shame of academe.