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civility & terror Arrow vol 2 no 3 contents
About borderlands Volume 2 Number 3, 2003


Civility and Terror in Academic Life: the Israeli academic boycotts

Andrew Jakubowicz
University of Technology Sydney


1. One of the most intense side stories to emerge in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the argument and resulting institutional battles over whether academics throughout the world should boycott any engagement with Israeli scholars and universities. As someone who entered the debate on the "no boycott" side (Sydney Morning Herald 8 February 2003), while being supportive of the Palestinian right to a state, and having once been a firm advocate of the one-state solution (though no more), I have had to examine my position under strenuous critique from pro-boycott colleagues and pro-Israeli government supporters. I also write this as a secular Jew, who identifies with the ‘community’, has long been a critic of its conservatism, has relatives in Israel, lost family in the Holocaust, and has a deep revulsion for hypocrises of organized religions. The reflexivity involved is thus complex and I would not delude myself into thinking all my arguments are drawn simply from ‘reason’ – emotion plays a part and needs to be recognized. This article is therefore an elaboration of a case against the boycott, though recognizing that the decision on whether to oppose or support or participate in a boycott may represent a different assessment of the balance of competing issues.

2. I regularly receive two email lists – one from a colleague in Beirut recounts the latest horrors experienced by the Palestinian people under the occupation of the Israeli army; the other created by a colleague in Sydney recounts the latest horrors experienced by the Israelis in the face of Palestinian terrorism. Over the past year this one particular story appears in a different guise on each list – the global debate over the academic boycotts of Israel and the petitions against the boycotts. The continuing debate over the question of the validity and effectiveness of boycotts underpins the now complex international arguments over how academics can engage with states involved in questionable human rights activities.

3. These boycotts are the fall-out from the initial actions in 2002 by two long-time activists in the U.K., Steven and Hilary Rose, he a professor at the Open University, she at City University (I was once her colleague at Bradford university and would count both of them as friends even though we are no longer in close contact), and both major figures in the radical science movement, and the commitment of that movement to iconoclasm and freedom of thought. In April 2002, as the Intifada deepened and the government of Sharon seemed to become ever more intransigent and expansionary, amidst the images of the invasion and destruction of the Jenin refugee camp, the Roses initiated a letter published in The Guardian newspaper, calling on the European Union (EU) not to renew the Framework Agreement giving Israeli universities equivalent status to those in Europe. That is, the Roses wanted the EU to trigger its human rights criteria and thus refuse to fund institutions linked to the Israeli government while that government was involved in human rights abuses. This action then led to a further call to withdraw from all cooperation with official Israeli institutions including universities. The initial Rose proposal sought support from colleagues for cessation of EU links to Israeli academic institutions. But as it circulated further, the email was extended by some signatories to a boycott of all links to any Israeli academics, much to the anger of some of the initial signatories, causing some confusion as to who was calling for what (The Guardian 11 July 2002).

Israel and South Africa – parallel or opposed?

4. The Roses harked back to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, when academics had sought to isolate South African universities and research groups with ties to the government. At times the boycott had isolated even those South African academics who were opposed to apartheid, yet found themselves cut off from the international community, their potential contribution to the development of the sciences and arts in the racist institutions of their own country thereby truncated or strangled. Some agreed with the boycott, others resented the limitations on intellectual exchange critical to their own struggle against apartheid – yet the boycott continued, as did others in sport, business and culture. In toto these boycotts (though primarily the economic one) played no small part in intensifying the isolation of the nation and its people from the world community, reinforced internal opposition to the regime, and in part contributed to the decision of the regime to allow a transition to a multi-racial politics. A powerful precedent but an extremely controversial analogy, and one that bears some examination.

5. Two questions remain unresolved in relation to the South African case – is Israel the moral equivalent today of South Africa under apartheid, and did the academic boycott achieve anything – or were the economic and sporting boycotts, and other UN moves to isolate South Africa, the effective side of international action? In the broad debate about the current boycott calls, the proponents answer an emphatic "yes" to both questions, the opponents a variety of more or less emphatic or qualified "noes".

6. In a recent attempt to analyse systematically the grounds for likening Israel to South Africa under the apartheid regime, Daryl Glaser (Glaser 2003) proposed a series of criteria – derived from a theory of social democracy. He examined the structure of territorial separation, the "racial" basis of inclusion and exclusion, and the economic role of the politically subordinated groups. On each criterion he sought to reach a conclusion about the similarities and differences, and where there were differences, whether they demonstrated that Israel was more or less democratic and inclusive than South Africa.

7. The first and most fundamental question Glaser poses relates to whether Zionism is a "racial" philosophy (as was apartheid). He concludes that Zionism is based on a rather out of date theory of racial differentiation, not surprisingly seeing that its political development was generated by a political response to European anti-Semitism, itself the almost quintessential expression of racist ideology. However as Klug (2003) also argued, Zionism was presented as a way of removing the target of anti-Semitism from the inescapable racist societies of eastern Europe, and allowing a Jewish community to survive and a nation to take shape. The relationships between ‘race’ and nation, and between religion, culture and diversity, remain tortured and heavily ideological. For some analysts, nations express cultures, for others they represent the political formulation of a racial Zeitgeist, for others they are simply pragmatic institutional arrangements for managing diverse people in specific spaces.

8. The question that then flows is whether a racially differentiated polity is necessarily pernicious and exploitative? For instance, for many Jews living in Poland as citizens in the 1930s, their nationality/ethnicity was "Zyd", even if they were rationalists, secular and anti-Zionist. One can imagine an equitable but ethnically or racially diverse state, where ethnic difference may relate to specific cultural rights, and not affect obligations and opportunities of a common citizenship.

9. Glaser concludes that where reference is to the internal functioning of the territory of the state of Israel, levels of exploitative and oppressive practices do exist, but are moderate (at least until recently). Yet they are clearly evident de facto if not de jure – he points for instance to the difficulty that Jews have marrying non-Jews, and one could also add the recent changes to the citizenship laws that bar non-Israeli (non-Jewish) spouses of non-Jewish Israelis from becoming Israeli citizens. In the occupied territories and the land claimed as part of the expansionist ideology of the fundamentalist settlers, expropriation and oppression is widespread, and as brutal as anything under the most intense period of apartheid. In particular one would note the closure of Palestinian universities, the harassment of academics and students, and the prevention of Palestinians from the Territories attending the Al Quds university in Jerusalem (and indeed the closure of that university), arguments central to the Roses’ promotion of the EU sanctions (Jewish Chronicle 14 February 2003).

10. While the radical ‘edge’ (what noun here? Wing, face, bulk, majority?) of Zionism has clear racist and exclusionary elements, the huge internal debate and the legitimate dissent within Israel suggests that Israel as a nation cannot be deemed equivalent to South Africa – not the least as there is widespread recognition in Israel of the rights of Palestinians to their own nation (the point after all of the Oslo Accords of 1993). This does not undermine Palestinian arguments that Oslo was not the panacea and would not deliver the rising call for a right of refugee return to Israel. Glaser argues that this might be seen as similar to the South African advocacy of the Bantustans, a safe and excluded space for the oppressed majority to be corralled. Glaser concludes that "both Israeli Zionism and apartheid involve(d) the political domination of one ethno-racial group over another secured in part through coercive macro-territorial segregation" (Glaser 2003:418).

11. If one agrees that the expansion of fundamentalist settlements into Palestinian territory is essentially an imperialist exercise with ethno-racial dimensions, then it is also clear that this expansion is hotly contested within Israel – indeed is seen by many Israelis as the basis of their conflict with the nascent Palestinian state, a conflict which they want to see at an end. Such a perception was not widespread in the same way in South Africa. In addition, as Glaser notes, the economic exploitation of Palestinian workers within the Palestinian territories is not of great importance to Israel, while in addition Israel has been importing non-Palestinian workers for many of the more menial jobs that would in South Africa have been filled by indigenous people. The economic basis for the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is very different (and could be seen as counter-productive), whereas the Bantustans provided a reservoir of cheap labour critical to the survival of the white economy. Israel does not "need" to occupy the Palestinian territories – South Africa "had" to occupy the Bantustans.

12. Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote recently in support of the growing divestment campaign against Israel (Tutu and Urbina 2003) as a means of pressuring Israel to withdraw from the occupied zone. The campaign parallels the economic boycott of South Africa that was critical in the ending of apartheid - and focuses on institutions such as universities and local governments selling out of shares in companies with Israeli connections. The campaign has as one of its resources a Divestment Handbook and toolkit (Global Exchange (downloaded 2003)) produced by the Global Exchange group – whose motto is "building people-to-people ties" ( The handbook specifically explores "Israeli Apartheid: The South African Connection", and includes stickers for posting in supermarkets on goods with Israeli connections. Tutu noted that the economic divestment campaign had been very effective in convincing international capital to withdraw from South Africa – yet he made no mention of an intellectual or academic boycott.

13. While there was widespread support for the economic boycotts of South Africa, the academic boycotts were far more controversial – many academics who supported the economic actions were totally opposed to academic boycotts. Indeed, while institutions were affected there was no successful move to cut all South African academics off from international intercourse with their peers – though at times South African passports were not accepted for entry to many countries (as Israeli ones are not today).

Israel and Anti-Semitism

14. One of the deepest issues that the boycott raises relates to the question of whether critique of Israel is simply a manifestation of anti-Semitism, and therefore a mask for another version of the "Final Solution". Of the hot buttons pressed by the boycott, this one glows white. The Roses were furious with attacks on them that suggested that Steven Rose was a "self-hating Jew". They responded:

Are all those, including many Israeli academics, lawyers and refuseniks who criticise Israeli politics, and the many diaspora Jews who have signed the various petitions and calls for disinvestment, to be labelled self-hating or anti-Semitic? The charge is intellectually absurd, personally disgusting - especially when levelled against those whose own families died in the death camps and who have spent their active public lives opposing racism and Fascism - and politically hazardous, in that it suggests any criticism of Israel is equivalent to attacking Jews. (Jewish Chronicle 14 February 2003).

15. At one end of the spectrum any critique of Israel and the actions of its government is perceived as a more or less veiled threat against all Jews, given that Israel is seen to be struggling for its life in a sea of hostility – and that Jewry can only survive if Israel survives as a Jewish state. At the other end there is the argument that Israel is a racist state, and that it would benefit Jewry most if it ceased to exist, thereby liberating them from archaic ethno-religious rationales for horrendous human rights abuses. There are many positions along the spectrum, with most Jews supporting the existence of Israel as a Jewish state based on democratic and egalitarian principles, while non-Jews are more discomfited by the idea of a Western ethno-religious state, though in the West still overwhelmingly supporting the right of Israel to exist (though not to expand its territories).

16. In a recent review of this spectrum Brian Klug (Klug 2003) compares the "old" and "new" antisemitisms. He is interested in distinguishing between prejudice and conclusion, between perceptions based on pre-existing irrational hatred against Jews projected onto Israel, and anger at Israeli government actions that then spreads to Jews more generally. Klug concludes that "primarily, and for the most part, hostility towards Israel is not based on the fact that the state is Jewish…. It springs from Israel’s situation in an Arab and Muslim Middle East and the direction taken by successive Israeli governments, especially in the Occupied Territories" (Klug 2003: 138). He notes that if the antagonism to Israel is thought to be solely the result of anti-Semitism, then it makes any solution impossible – whereas if it were understood as a complex interplay of material, historic and political factors, then an outcome can be envisioned.

17. So offering a critique of the Sharon government only becomes anti-Semitic in two circumstances – if one argues that Israel has no right to exist because Jews should not have their own state (and if one does not critique all other ethnic or religiously based states); or if one argues that Israel behaves as it does because it is a Jewish state and manifests negative characteristics ascribed to a Jewish "race". On the other hand, critiquing Israel on these grounds when one has a Jewish background or make claims to be Jewish, cannot absolve one of the charge of anti-Semitism.

The Australian action

18. Meanwhile in Australia, two local academics, Dr Ghassan Hage of Sydney University, and Dr John Docker of the Australian National University, initiated their own call to boycott – in this case quite specifically of Israel and all Israelis. Moreover the signatories to their call of 22 May 2002 (published later in Arena and as a letter to the editor in a number of newspapers) pledged themselves to a course of action inside their universities. The statement included the following rationale:

How long are we going to look passively at the Israeli crimes of war perpetrated daily and systematically, not as something anomalous, but as a matter of national policy? In the face of our government’s unwillingness or inability to act, civil society must step in to exert pressure against the continuation of this savagely anachronistic act of colonisation.

19. It then committed its signatories:

We call for a boycott of research and cultural links with Israel. We urge our colleagues not to attend conferences in Israel; to pressure our universities to suspend any existing exchange or linkage arrangements; and to refuse to distribute scholarship and academic position information. We note that while some academics and intellectuals in Israel oppose the government and some also are involved in cooperative Israeli/Palestinian research projects, the vast majority have either supported the Israeli Army onslaught on the Palestinians, or failed to voice any significant protest against it. The boycott we propose will inevitably also adversely affect those who don’t deserve it, and we regret that this has to happen.

20. Over 90 Australian academics from a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences signed this statement (I was not one of them). Some are well-known opponents of Zionism, others have not previously taken a public position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Some of the signatories are of Arab background, though the vast majority are not; a small number are Jewish. All clearly support the interpretation of events as drafted by Hage and Docker, and have made thereby a public statement that they are drawing a line in the sand – and the sand is inside their own institutions. The statement received the full force of editorial hostility in The Australian and the Sunday Telegraph, and a rebuke from the federal minister Gerry Hargrave.

21. The universities identified include the ANU, Adelaide, Sydney, Monash, Western Sydney (the largest contingent), Latrobe, Queensland, Newcastle, Western Australia, Melbourne, UTS (my own university), New South Wales, RMIT, Ballarat, Canberra, and Wollongong – about one half of all Australian universities.

22. The Australian Left has had a difficult relationship with the idea and reality of Israel, ranging from antagonism to warm embracing. The idea of Israel as a refuge for Jews after Nazism, the socialist model of the kibbutz, and the ideal of social democracy in a new land where technology transforms the wilderness, underpinned the early positive responses. Some have argued (Curthoys 2003) that this view glosses over the reality of the establishment of Israel and the brutality meted out to the resident Palestinian population, the use of terror to drive Palestinians from their lands, and the cover-up of massacres by Jewish fighters. Indeed the myth-making about nation founding remains a major issue, as much in Australia as in Israel. (Ilan Pappe, probably the most significant revisionist historian, will be speaking about these issues in Sydney in 2004, invited by some of the signatories to the academic boycott call – clearly not all Israelis are to be boycotted. The symposium at which Pappe may speak is supported by my own research group - and I look forward to his participation.)

23. More recently the treatment of the Palestinians and the apparently un-ending cycles of violence, the power of the Israeli military, and the images of tanks against stones have interacted with support for struggles for national liberation, to produce widespread hostility. There is also a Western tradition of ambivalence about Jews – deeply if not subtly embedded in the cultural frameworks of Christian societies – and now amplified by some immigrants from Arab countries who see Israel as the arch-enemy. The situation is further complicated by a deep-seated distrust of Arabs and the ideologies of Orientalism that have arisen out of nearly a millennium and a half of Christian/Muslim conflicts.

24. Perhaps it is this very engagement with Israel that generates the levels of frustration – a closeness not matched in relation with other countries. We have had no public calls to boycott academics in countries such as Russia (in Chechnya where many thousands of Muslim fighters for independence and civilians have been killed) or Indonesia in East Timor or Aceh. Indeed in the latter case Australian academics were constantly involved with Indonesians, trying to build coalitions and welcome Indonesian academics into the international community, seeing this as a means of increasing internal debate and democracy in that country.

25. Following the release of the call to boycott in Australia, two anti- boycott petitions were started – one on the internet by a group in Sydney, the other by a group in Melbourne that resulted in an advertisement in The Age – to which I was one of the signatories. In addition other groups moved to support Israeli academics who had taken oppositional positions to the Israeli government, so that they could continue to argue a case within Israel.

26. In preparing this piece I asked a number of the signatories to the Arena boycott call, what they had done to implement their commitment. Had they moved motions in faculty meetings, proposed action by University research committees, advocated cessation of specific links with Israeli universities, blocked applications for research funding that might include Israeli colleagues? I found no evidence of any action arising from the boycott - though some signatories said that the public statement in and of itself was sufficient to signify to their university’s executives that the issue is alive and on local agendas.

27. One signatory said she regretted signing the call to boycott, but felt such frustration with the intransigence and cruelty of the Israeli government that she was drawn into the boycott call. She has yet to make any public statement of her regret and reversal of her position. Another has made a formal commitment to a research group in which we both participate that he would do nothing to impede research links with Israel in spite of signing the boycott call.

28. These examples may all appear a small matter in the wider scheme of the Middle East chaos – however a number of significant issues are at stake. The boundary between political condemnation of the Sharon government, and victimisation of all academics of Israeli nationality whatever their political position, has been crossed.

European moves

29. In July 2002 the publisher of several private academic journals in the UK, Prof Mona Baker, decided to sack two of her editorial board members because they were Israelis associated with Israeli universities - despite their personal opposition to the Israeli government on the Palestinian question and their unquestionable academic qualifications. She argues now that it is their links to Israeli institutions that is at stake – not their nationality. Her university – University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) – has undertaken an inquiry into the sackings, which have been widely criticized by many academic organizations, and attacked by British politicians. The UMIST Inquiry itself has been criticized as a "witch-hunt" by pro-Palestinian groups.

30. Then late in 2002 the British editor of the journal Political Geography refused to forward a paper for review for publication because the authors were Israelis – even though one of them was an Arab and the paper was critical of the Israeli government. Only after the American editor and the editorial board demanded that academic standards be adhered to was the paper sent for review. In Paris controversy has engulfed two universities where there were moves to call on the EU to terminate its Framework Agreement exchange with Israel – demonstrations, calls by ministers, and a huge internet petition have condemned any such action by the universities.

31. While the EU went on to renew the Framework Agreement with Israel, the Roses’ initiative did have some longer term impact. In June 2003 two international academic committees associated with the EU announced that they would investigate how EU money was being spent in Israel, while in response to questions from the Guardian’s Polly Curtis (10 June 2003), the European research commissioner Philippe Busquin argued that the funds would foster Israeli/Arab cooperation. Pressure is to be kept on the EU to monitor expenditures, and to ensure that the funds are not used for purposes that run counter to EU human rights policies.

What are the issues now?

32. The debate over the boycotts is fully under way in the UK, Europe, North America and Australia. There are three groups joined together in uncomfortable alliances on either side. Those supporting the boycotts include Palestinian activists who see the boycott as a weapon of war against Israel (and maybe seek the eradication of the Israeli state); people on the Left (a difficult position to identify simply) who see Israel as a US agent in the Middle East and the sharp end of western imperialism in the Arab lands (and who may see the solution in Palestine as a unitary secular state including Palestinians and Israelis) (Curthoys 2003); and those who express the same outrage and frustration as my colleague with the actions of the Sharon government (but who want a peaceful equitable outcome between Palestinians and Israelis). There may also be some people who are simply anti-Semites and have more complex motives and beliefs about Jews and global knowledge.

33. Those opposed to the boycott include right-wing Zionists (including some who may seek the eradication of political Palestine); middle of the road Jews and others in Israel and elsewhere who fear that the anti-Israel rhetoric masks a re-emergence of political anti-Semitism on a global scale; and social progressives who are not Zionists but who believe that dialogue is a better way forward than walls of silence between those whose views differ. This latter view is articulated for instance by Sally Hunt, chief general secretary of the Association of University Teachers in the UK who said of the European Union moves on the sixth Framework : "We warmly welcome any constructive engagement, particularly between Israeli and Palestinian universities, as a move towards peace. We would urge the EU to monitor this collaboration and to ensure that academic research work is used as a building block to develop mutual respect, understanding and security for the region as a whole" (The Guardian 10 June 2003).

34. The moral and political discourses and actions have sharpened considerably over the past year. Hostility to Israeli institutions has been mirrored by hostile reactions to academics and programs seen to be pro-Palestinian. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has become conflated with the politics associated with the US/UK/Australia invasion of Iraq, the lies and obfuscations of governments involved, and the emerging realization of the quagmire of terror unleashed by the invasion. In the local region, the string of bombings targeting western and Christian institutions and gatherings, especially in Indonesia, has heightened racialised thinking, and the power of racial stereotyping in explanations of social conflict, and nostrums for their resolution.

35. In the USA, conservative groups have mounted a campaign to withdraw government funding from Arabist scholars and courses that are claimed to be pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel. The campaign is centred on Campus Watch, a body that identifies academics whom it describes as ‘suspect’ in terms of their beliefs – and is managed by a group headed by Daniel Pipes, a recent visitor to Australia, populariser of the concept of "Islamist" ideologies, and an associate of the "unholy trinity" of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle. Campus Watch has identified eight prominent academics concerned with Middle East issues, and fourteen universities as potentially dangerous. There are also moves to suspend government funding of many suspect courses, and to replace them by State Department funded and approved language and culture courses.

Responses to my February piece in the Sydney Morning Herald

36. Following the publication of an earlier and shorter version of this paper in the SMH on 8 February 2003 I received a variety of responses. While I had an agenda of raising issues and stimulating debate on these issues of intellectual freedom and academic action in civil society, I was not sure what to expect in response.

37. The reactions and arguments that the article triggered reveal a range of orientations, and further confirm my sense of the divide and the dynamics of the groups on either side. It might be most useful here to refer to the negative responses (as there were a wide range of supporting messages and letters to the media).

38. I was described as naïve (both by those who support the boycott and those who oppose it ) for thinking that dialogue was of any use with either the Israelis/Zionists or the Palestinians/Arabs, as neither were open to rational approaches (or in the words of one pro-boycott advocate, he would be interested if I had seen any recent instant conversions). I was described as a "Left Zionist" who was not able to grasp that the only way forward was a unitary secular multicultural state, which would have therefore a Palestinian majority and would democratically encompass all faiths and cultures.

39. In the most extensive private response, I was condemned (by a former student) as a defender of "european jewish supremacy", engaged as "part of the frenzied attempts to maintain the position of ‘ultimate victim’ for jewish people". The writer then concluded with a poem that begins:

In this world:
It is not the jew/white who is being bashed by neo Nazis in european countries

And concludes

It is not the jew/white who is being bombed into oblivion.

40. I was writing this section of the paper the morning the news carried the death by bombing of Sergio Viera de Mello and 16 of his UN colleagues in Bagdad, and the bombing of the bus in Jerusalem that killed twenty Jewish worshippers including many children. The day before the bombing was of Hamas activists and Palestinian civilians by Israeli military. Anger may be cathartic, but may only be useful so long as it does not distort perception.

41. So what is to be done? What does the call for an Australian boycott of all research and cultural links with Israel achieve? Although it claims to target all Israelis – be they Jewish, Arab, Christian, Druze or anything else, it is likely that only Jewish Israelis will be affected (and then only if they are not outspoken opponents of the Sharon government). It is unlikely that any of the Australian signatories would move to prevent an Israeli Arab student coming to their university on exchange, nor refuse to deal intellectually with an Israeli Arab academic. Indeed Jewish Israeli academics hostile to Sharon’s government have been feted by European academics who support the Rose boycott call, and are referred to by defenders of the boycott call as voices of authority.

42. The Australian situation is rather different from the European scene. In Europe the focus was on formal institutional government-to-government ties – and the outcome was an increasing awareness of how such ties could be used to put pressure on the Israelis and support bridge-building. Two events in the UK – the Mona Baker case and the case of an Oxford academic who refused to take on an Israeli graduate student who had served in the Israeli army – have not worked out well for those anxious to advance the boycott call. In both cases the acts have appeared irrational and destructive of academic collegiality based on merit and universal values of intellectual integrity.

43. By not clearly thinking through the implications of their tactics the boycott group leave themselves open to perceptions of naivety or prejudice. What impact will the boycott have? Unless the signatories do something, and there is as yet little sign that they will (except by refusing to go to Israel themselves), there is likely to be little direct impact on the Israeli public opinion nor on government policy.

44. The longer term effects are harder to predict. Calls for a total research and cultural boycott threaten the broader benefit of a global academic community, at a time the privatization of knowledge and its politicization are a major issue in all universities. While a few Israeli academics support the boycott call (though it is not clear whether they want themselves to be boycotted – a number regularly accept invitations to speak overseas to groups supporting the boycott), many of those with links to Palestinian scholars do not do so – their role in the struggle for a peaceful outcome is undermined by cutting them out of international dialogue. A boycott that takes the high moral ground but requires little of its advocates, undermines the morality of the position they claim – if it costs them little the underlying moral claims may not be seen as having any real strength. On the other hand, academic slanging matches on the Left may also not be helpful.

45. One consequence of the boycott call has been the establishment of a pro-Israel group of academics, who have been described on the Palestinian Monitor listserv as the ‘down-under’ version of the right wing US group Campus Watch. Membership of the Academic friends of Israel is limited to signatories to anti-boycott petitions, people vouched for by such people, or known public friends of Israel (The Australian, 29 October 2003). I have declined to join, as I do not think giving public support to the Sharon government is helpful either.

46. Many Australians, of whom I am one, share a deep loathing for the violent oppression and cruel colonial expansion that is now being carried out in the Palestinian territories, and a horror at the violence being loosed upon the Israeli people – it is not helpful at this stage (here I am being pragmatic I guess) to try to cut the circle and point the finger at either side as the sole party at fault. The boycott signatories who do nothing to advance the specifics of the boycott statement play into the hands of conservatives and radical Zionists, who claim their position is either racist or posturing, and into the hands of those who advocate violence against Israel as the only way forward for Palestinians. If the boycott signatories will not act in support of their beliefs as they have called on others to do, they should at least state publicly that they resile from their call to boycott, and thus have the courage, one way or another, of their convictions. Perhaps they should also feel drawn to condemn bombings of civilians by both Israeli and Palestinian extremists – as was suggested by Israeli writer Amos Oz:

The enemies of peace are the fanatics on both sides: those who reject any compromise, those who claim that the other side has the right only to die or to disappear. How can it be that these fanatic Arabs and extremist Jews manage to block the road for peace and to push us all again and again into the infernal cycle of violence and vengeance?(Oz 2003)

47. My own view is that the boycott is not the way to proceed; rather active dialogue with Israeli colleagues over the issues is required – a more time-consuming but intellectually potent process. It would be more useful to identify those parts of the Israeli academic system that participate in the expropriation of Palestinian lands, and critique that role, as was done with Australian and North American university groups involved with the CIA in South East Asia during the Indo-China wars.

48. Australian universities are under major pressures from political and economic forces that seek to make them more malleable, more reactive to conservative agendas, and less open as arenas for debate and argument. It is a bizarre twist that a significant part of the intellectual community that claims to defend these values of openness and free discussion now finds itself advocating closure and isolation.


Andrew Jakubowicz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney, and has published widely on ethnic diversity issues, disability studies and media studies. In 1994 he led the research team that produced Racism Ethnicity and the Media (Allen and Unwin), and more recently has been involved in multimedia documentaries such as "Making Multicultural Australia" (1999) and "The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu" (2001-2002). He was historical adviser to the exhibitions on the Jewish communities of Shanghai, at the Sydney Jewish Museum (2001-2002), the National Maritime Museum (2001-2003) and the national travelling exhibition "Crossroads: Shanghai and the Jews of China" (2002-2003). He is a member of the UTS Trans/forming Cultures Research Centre, and foundation chair of the Disability Studies and Research Institute. Email:


Curthoys, N. (2003), "Israeli Boycott", Arena Magazine, No. 64.

Glaser, D. (2003) 'Zionism and Apartheid: a moral comparison', Ethnic and Racial Studies 26(3): 403-421.

Global Exchange (downloaded 2003) 'Divesting from Israel: a handbook', URL:

Klug, B. (2003), 'The collective Jew: Israel and the new antisemitism', Patterns of Prejudice 37(2): 117-138.

Oz, A. (2003), 'The Two Cowards', New York Times, 19 August. URL:

Tutu, D. and Urbina, I. (2003), 'Israel: Time to divest', New Internationalist, Jan/Feb: 353.

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