Applause for the academic boycott of Israel
Israel's reflexive defenders have reverted to their customary blunt cudgel: the charge that critics of Israeli policies are anti-Semitic. Their recent target was the 5,000-member American Studies Association, which voted in December to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
The ASA vote mirrors an international movement promoting comprehensive boycotts, sanctions and divestment against Israel to compel its respect for Palestinian equal rights. The nonviolent movement was initiated in 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations one year after the International Court of Justice's judgment that Israel's separation barrier violates international law and should be dismantled. The movement is rapidly gaining momentum — last week, actress Scarlett Johansson scrambled to defend her relationship with SodaStream International Ltd, based in the illegal Israeli Maale Adumim settlement outside Jerusalem, and thus a target of boycotters.
The Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer inveighed against the ASA: "To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation — is to engage in a gross act of discrimination. And discrimination against Jews has a name. It's called anti-Semitism."
This is flat out nonsense.
There has never been a "worst first" rule for boycotts. Activists urging divestment from apartheid South Africa were not racist because they failed to simultaneously condemn the demonstrably worse Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. Nor were U.S. civil rights protesters required to inventory the world and only protest if our nation exceeded the abuses of others. Boycotts are justified whenever they are necessary and promise results.
There are sound reasons that U.S. citizens should respond to the Palestinians' appeal for support: Our country is Israel's principal — and often sole — defender in the international arena. Our diplomats have vetoed more than 40 U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Israeli practices, including illegal settlement of the West Bank. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, upon leaving office, described shielding Israel as a "huge part" of her work.
Is there a double standard here? Perhaps. Consider Iran, sanctioned up, down, and sideways, by the U.N., and virtually every level of government in the U.S., down to Beverly Hills, Calif., for possibly aspiring to have the nuclear arms that Israel already has by the score. Or Iraq, which occupied Kuwait in 1990, and upon its refusal to withdraw, was forcibly ejected by a broad international coalition of forces within seven months.
Allegations of Israel's human rights violations, including torture, home demolitions, extrajudicial killings, detentions without trial, excessive force, use of human shields, and deliberate attacks on civilian persons and facilities, have been amply documented by respected human rights groups and our own State Department. More than 50 Israeli laws either privilege Jews or discriminate against Palestinians, according to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
U.S. enabling of Israel, particularly in its colonial expansion into the West Bank, has voided the two-state option and fostered a single functioning state there in which only Jews enjoy relative security, prosperity, and full political rights, while Palestinians suffer gradations of oppression. It is both appropriate and necessary that U.S. citizens vocally oppose discriminatory Israeli practices and our government's complicity in them.
Discriminatory systems are inherently unstable, as the oppressed will continue struggling for equal rights, even against daunting odds. ASA members, who study, among other topics, American slavery and its demise, are acutely aware of such dynamics. Their entry to this vital discussion is therefore to be applauded — and emulated by others.
George Bisharat, a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law,writes frequently on the Middle East.