Brooklyn-Jenin: The boycott Is legitimate for promoting peace

on 40 Comments

Oh, Weakness

On the way from Brooklyn to Jenin I stopped for a bit of a rest in Tel Aviv and saw that the community of creative artists was still in an uproar around the Ariel Culture Hall issue. I think that some things should be said in the name of militant art and the more radical voices of the artists who signed the petition. In my humble opinion, the argument is not only about Ariel and the Green Line [1949 ceasefire line] but also a debate about the nature of art itself. Or in the words of philosopher Alain Badiou: what is militant art today, and is it actually possible?

What one needs to understand is that art – perhaps distinct from culture – is not supposed to be welcoming, and creating bridges that span nations and cultures is not its job. Militant art is the art of the weak, the person who barely exists in the public sphere. The person whose density is hardly noticed in the political world, the one whose opinion is taken into account by no-one. Militant art is the artist’s ability to act from a condition of near-total disappearance and to create unrivaled power from that position of weakness. Michael Handelzalts wrote, with true concern for the actors, that “the actors will be the ones who pay the price.” And I say that when all is said and done, the actors are the only ones who stand to gain from this, because while the terrible occupation will probably not end due to their protest, but they may become free of the stultifying embrace of a narrow-minded establishment.

The boycott on them by the right-wing should be seen as a blessing. It is a legitimate boycott, which brings into focus the civil war between fascists and humanists. The government’s threats to cut budgets should also be seen this way, since the entire process helps unveil the hoax of Israel democracy around the world and can start separating Israeli art from Israeli politics, which is rather like surgery to separate conjoined twins. Perhaps it will be from the near-absolute nothingness, from our complete defeat by the nationalist spirit which blows throughout our country, that militant art can be made here, too.

It is important to say here that establishment art is not always wrong or bad – wonderful things have been created in that way, throughout all of history. Despite this, the greatest artists knew when to break the contract with the establishment devil. Handelzalts is correct in saying that if the artists do now bow their heads they will be defeated by the state. But those who are prepared to take a risk for art will also be the ones who bring into being the beginning of a new art. That is the reason that I followed my friend Juliano to Jenin: that is where I felt the power of weakness, or art’s ability to say something new. Or as my friend, Hezi Leskali, once wrote in his horribly simple poem, “Oh, Weakness.”

A Few Words On The Artists’ Organization Against Livnat

Freedom of creation is an issue worth fighting for, but in our case, it is not the point we are dealing with. We are dealing here with a much more dramatic struggle, with action against the occupation, with the struggle for the right of the children in Jenin to see an excellent play being performed in Haifa in up-to-the-minute Arabic, or their elementary right to travel freely to Lydda and hear a hip-hop concert by Dam.

Many of the cinematic artists who signed the petition supporting the Ariel resisters have previously collaborated with the occupation regime in a worldwide rebranding of Israel as an enlightened state. They smeared those very artists who responded to the Palestinian call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel and said that they were using an unacceptable tactic, that of a cultural boycott. I cannot deny being very gratified to see those very same cinematic creators taking that very-same strategy, albeit a tad late. However, if we all agree to admit the obvious fact that the settlers are not the primary persons responsible for the ongoing occupation, and that it is, rather, the elected government of Israel, which has carried this blame over the years, we can understand that a cultural and academic boycott on any government institution is a legitimate boycott for the promotion of peace and justice in nonviolent ways.

At the end of the day, I hope that there is no intention to build an impassable wall along the Green Line that will separate Jew from Jew. Rather, there is an honest desire to break down the walls which separate Palestinian from Palestinian. Many people are sick and tired of separation walls and racist selection. Many of us just want to experience an open space where audiences and actors, Jews and Arabs, can move freely together in the joint space of Israel-Palestine.

This article is from Udi Aloni’s Brooklyn-Jenin column he is writing for the Israeli website Ynet about his experience living between New York City and the Jenin refugee camp, where he is teaching a film production class. You can read the entire Brooklyn-Jenin series here. This article was translated by Dena Shunra.

40 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    November 24, 2010, 1:12 pm

    If art is propaganda, is it art?

    I expect that the phrase militant art, is as, or more, fraught with intrinsic tension than the phrase Zionist AND democratic.

    • Avi
      November 24, 2010, 1:39 pm

      Define: “art”

      This ought to be interesting.

    • Hu Bris
      November 24, 2010, 2:21 pm

      Remarking that the phrase ‘Zionist AND democratic’ is merely ‘fraught with intrinsic tension’ is fine example of Witty’s passion for sophistry.

      Now, had he said ‘fraught with intrinsic dishonesty‘ . . . .

    • Philip Munger
      November 24, 2010, 3:08 pm

      If art is propaganda, is it art?

      A lot of art not normally viewed or heard as propaganda is. To stay within one fairly narrow definition – “a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position” – most religious art could fall into the category of “propaganda.”

      Under the above definition, all of J.S. Bach’s sacred cantatas could be considered “propaganda.” Yet Igor Stravinsky considered them to be the greatest set of creations in all of musical art.

      A lot of film music, from the score of Saving Private Ryan to the score of Schindler’s List (both by the same composer) helps underscore the propagandistic value of of a visual product. Is Saving Private Ryan not art, but Catch Me If You Can (another Spielberg/Williams collaboration) art?

      When I was a kid, our school band could play the theme from the movie Exodus and appreciate the music for its obvious beauty, even though it had been created to illustrate a clearly propagandistic product.

      For generations, artists in the USSR were directed to create art that was supposed to make people want to be more communist. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich was a genius in the way he would have a public program for mollifying the Soviet apparatchiks, and a secret program for the works, known only to himself and close friends. Does not knowing the true intent of the aural images of this body of protest work change the music from being propaganda to not being propaganda? I don’t think so.

      Excellent essay, Udi, by the way.

      • Richard Witty
        November 24, 2010, 5:24 pm

        Its an important question.

        Representation for agitation, utterly disrespecting the audience, and/or representation for inquiry, deeply respecting the audience.

        There is a lot of technically and aesthetically excellent propaganda, but the intention to disrespect the audience, stealing their freedom of thought, is ugly and horrendously regressive in its process.

        There is propaganda that is artful in the compexity and elegance of its argument and components.

        Progressive art however does not steal the audience’s freedom of thought.

      • Shingo
        November 24, 2010, 5:44 pm

        Is that your new buzzword for the week Witty “audience”?

        “Progressive art however does not steal the audience’s freedom of thought.”

        Seeing as you are progressive except for Palestine, and probably not an artist. you shoudl refrain from such nonsensical platitudes. By it’s very existence, art cannot steal the audience’s freedom of thought.

        What frightens you is that BDS will enhance awareness and freedom of thought, and you want desperately to keep the message within selected parameters that you are comfortable with.

      • Philip Munger
        November 24, 2010, 6:56 pm

        Representation for agitation, utterly disrespecting the audience, and/or representation for inquiry, deeply respecting the audience.

        I suspect people won’t willingly be part of audience so that they can be “utterly disrespect[ed]” unless they know that’s part of the deal.

        There is a lot of technically and aesthetically excellent propaganda, but the intention to disrespect the audience, stealing their freedom of thought, is ugly and horrendously regressive in its process.

        You lost me there. How can an artist steal somebody’s freedom of thought? You seem to be implying that Beethoven, for example, by writing the Battle of Vitoria Symphony (Op. 91), performed in Vienna in 1813, was stealing the freedom of thought of those Viennese who might have attended the performance, who had once collaborated with the French during their occupations of that city in 1805 and 1809. First of all, the Viennese collaborators were free to not attend. Second, they were free to think whatever they wanted of Beethoven’s rather bombastic pastiche.

        There is propaganda that is artful in the compexity and elegance of its argument and components.

        And some rather powerful art propaganda bludgeons one rather loudly or colorfully. Complexity and elegance are not necessary components of fine art, high art, street art or any art. Nor does their presence make one work superior to another. As Aloni wrote above:

        Militant art is the art of the weak, the person who barely exists in the public sphere. The person whose density is hardly noticed in the political world, the one whose opinion is taken into account by no-one. Militant art is the artist’s ability to act from a condition of near-total disappearance and to create unrivaled power from that position of weakness.

        Whether it is prison blues, American urban ghetto graffiti, militant hip-hop (particularly that by women artists) or Palestinian street performers, the aspect of this art which is essentially truth speaking to power is integral to its worth. No art exists in a vacuum.

        Progressive art however does not steal the audience’s freedom of thought.

        But participating in furthering arts paradigms which set their parameters toward exclusion comes close to that. Israeli establishment art is getting more that way. Rapidly, from what I’m observing.

        The USA and some other countries aren’t much different. Corporate involvement in American symphony orchestras, opera companies and ballet troupes is a key to their survival. To pay these supportive companies respect for their vital services, these arts presenters fully understand that they have to present works to audiences that these corporations will find comforting to their employees, directors and so on.

        In 1989 I had the responsibility of presenting the first work of fine art about the Exxon Valdez oil spill to the Alaska public – the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra performed my new work, “Sphinx Island Elegy.” Exxon sponsored that particular concert. Although a few employees of Exxon told me afterward that my music touched their soul, others thought the Anchorage Symphony had betrayed a great benefactor, the oil companies. Some thought my music to be propaganda, some didn’t. Exxon, however, reduced their support of the ASO the following year by tens of thousands of dollars, to repay the ensemble for, to loosely paraphrase you, “stealing the audience’s freedom of only encountering comfortable thoughts” in the concert hall their oil had paid for.

      • Taxi
        November 24, 2010, 5:46 pm

        If you read the biographies of the romantic poets like Shelley and Byron, you will find there a constant endeavor by them to create linguistically decorative yet meaningful ‘political’ art.

        Their reputations are mainly that of experimenting with opium and free love, but their lifestyles and their ambitions were totally focused in actual political activism – instances too numerous to mention here.

        But I will leave you with Shelley and his support for feminism all the way back in 1812: ” Can man be free if woman be a slave?”.

        You think this is art or propaganda, Richard Witty?

        Mahmoud Darwish, propagandist or poet?

      • Philip Munger
        November 24, 2010, 7:04 pm

        Shelley – from “The Mask of Anarchy”:

        I met Murder on the way –
        He had a mask like Castlereagh –
        Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
        Seven blood-hounds followed him:

        All were fat; and well they might
        Be in admirable plight,
        For one by one, and two by two,
        He tossed the human hearts to chew
        Which from his wide cloak he drew.

        — that one must have really stolen Castleraugh’s freedom of thought for a moment or two, eh?

      • RoHa
        November 24, 2010, 11:09 pm

        Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!

        Dickens (Hard Times) Eliot (Daniel Deronda) and Disraeli (Sybil, or The Two Nations ) are conspiring to steal my freedom of thought!

      • Taxi
        November 24, 2010, 11:43 pm

        Don’t you just love the fire and fury of activist artists, Phil?! Did you know for instance that Shelley at 18 years denounced his aristocratic title and sailed the rough Irish seas to Dublin – standing there on street corners on a soap-box, preaching with shrill British accent his ideas on rebellion and freedom to startled Irish pedestrians; handing out hand-written pamphlets on freedom and equality for all – attempting as best as he could to educate and raise the consciousness of the occupied and downtrodden.

        Yeah Shelly’s incredibly succinct and bare imagery you quote may have even driven Lord Castleraugh’s eventual suicide – notwithstanding the ghosts of too many slain Irish freedom fighters that haunted Castleraugh for years.

      • RoHa
        November 25, 2010, 10:17 pm

        Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
        Like wither’d leaves, to quicken a new birth;
        And, by the incantation of this verse,

        Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
        Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
        Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth

        The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
        If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

    • Don
      November 25, 2010, 11:19 am

      Well, I hate to take a break from my vital planning work with the Supreme Etruscanism Council, but I could not agree with you more, Richard. Etruscanism has had to wrestle with the same (non) issues, as issues per se’.

      In fact, I think it is vital to pose the question, “If propaganda is art, is it still propaganda?”

  2. Hu Bris
    November 24, 2010, 2:16 pm

    The Nazi pilots and the Fascist Italian pilots and the Franco Fascists labelled Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ as ‘propaganda’ – Most other people would have quite happily called it ‘militant art’

    Why do people like Witty always end up making the same arguments that Nazis, and Fascists like Franco, were making 60/70/80 years ago?

  3. Taxi
    November 24, 2010, 4:36 pm

    Even silly-billy Yahoo news is talking about the BDS movement:

    link to

    Check out the comments too – seems the idea of BDS is gaining mainstream interest. Momentum round the corner?

    One more grand act of aggression by israel could surely turn the rolling BDS pebble into a roaring landslide.

    Good job guys and gals BDS-ing out there!

    • Taxi
      November 24, 2010, 5:27 pm


      Seems that yahoo quickly removed the above story from it’s front page – guess it musta slipped through the yahoo hasbara net eh :-)

      The link is still accessible though.

  4. kapok
    November 24, 2010, 7:14 pm

    A question fraught with paradox. Pindar, the famous Greek, would dance for whoever paid his fee. Virgil(who hasn’t heard of him?) wasn”t known to ruffle any feathers. Sholokov wrote some ripping yarns but stayed on Stalin’s good side…

    • RoHa
      November 24, 2010, 11:20 pm

      “Virgil(who hasn’t heard of him?) wasn”t known to ruffle any feathers.”

      And the Aeneid was a classic piece of state propaganda.

  5. jon s
    November 25, 2010, 1:06 am

    I support -and practice – a selective boycott of the settlements, because such a boycott targets specific Israeli policies and actions. A blanket , total boycott of Israel is apparently part of an effort to de-legitimize Israel itself, with which I can’t agree.

    • Shmuel
      November 25, 2010, 7:21 am


      Good to hear that you support and practise boycott of the settlements. I would like to propose that you extend your boycott – although not necessarily to a “total boycott of Israel”. You could, for example, boycott events and initiatives sponsored by Israeli governments that continue to favour Jewish settlement in the OPT, while denying Palestinians basic human rights. Please consider the following:

      Setting aside the difficulty of actually recognising settlement products, due to repackaging in Israel and false or misleading labelling (as well as the need for a little basic geographical knowledge – e.g. the locations of Barkan, Talpiyot or Mitzpe Shalem), and the general benefits derived from the settlements by the Israeli economy as a whole, have you ever supported or taken part in the boycott of any other country (USSR, Germany, China, Turkey, France, South Africa, etc.), due to specific policies you opposed? Such boycotts are meant to exert pressure on decision-makers, and in the case of democracies (even partial democracies), on voters. Even when policies can somehow be associated with specific areas or specific products, a boycott is pointless as a political action, if it doesn’t target those responsible for the policies in question. There would be little point, for example, in limiting one’s actions on behalf of Tibet to boycotting goods produced by Chinese settlers in Tibet, or divesting from companies complicit in the occupation.

      Speaking for myself, I have participated in boycotts against all of the aforementioned countries (and maybe a few more – who remembers), and never once was I accused of “de-legitimizing” any of them.

      • Shmuel
        November 25, 2010, 9:43 am

        I shouldn’t have included Germany in that list, as the boycott of Germany that I grew up with was not political in the sense that it made no demands upon the governments of the two Germanies to change any policies. It was more of an emotional boycott.

      • Antidote
        November 25, 2010, 10:12 am

        “it made no demands upon the governments of the two Germanies to change any policies. It was more of an emotional boycott”

        The Germans got the message, no doubt. ‘Whatever we do, they’ll hate us.’

  6. Shmuel
    November 25, 2010, 11:33 am


    I don’t think there was any message in it for the Germans, other than “it’s still too soon”. This was in the ’60s-’70s, my grandfather (who was still alive at the time) was the only survivor of his entire extended family, and our community was filled with survivors who had experienced terrible suffering at the hands of Germans. Emotionally, we could not bring ourselves to enjoy anything German. This changed over time. Especially after my grandfather passed away. I remember the first German-made appliance my mother bought, in the early ’80s. By the end of the 80s, I even visited Germany. It was a matter of time and healing, not politics, or even hatred.

  7. yourstruly
    November 25, 2010, 1:29 pm

    that Palestine be free

    isn’t America key

    ariel (the settlement) not withstanding

    ariel (the person) no longer grandstanding

    sabra and shatila

    his legacy of shame

    gaza and jenin

    more of the same

    while back in the U.S. of A.

    home of the brave

    land of the free

    Israel, Palestine, where’s that

    so long as their squabble doesn’t hurt us

    except for those with dual loyalty

    (conflict of interests)

    hardly anyone cares


  8. jon s
    November 25, 2010, 3:38 pm

    Shmuel, thanks for your comment.
    -I have the geographical knowledge. I live here (in Israel).
    -I would love to boycott government initiatives. For example: not to pay taxes…
    -Seriously: I boycotted and demonstrated against South Africa during Apartheid, boycotted Germany for much the same reasons as you, protested the Soviet crushing of the “Prague spring” and for Soviet Jewry…
    -Perhaps you were not accused of de-legitimizing those countries because there was no de-legitmization campaign going on. Towards Israel there is such a vicious hate campaign .

    • tree
      November 26, 2010, 4:24 am

      -Perhaps you were not accused of de-legitimizing those countries because there was no de-legitmization campaign going on. Towards Israel there is such a vicious hate campaign .

      Perhaps you didn’t know this, but the campaign against the USSR was quite vicious in the US. None of this vicious kind of stuff has happened to Israel:

      By 1970, however, the JDL had changed its primary cause to the plight of Soviet Jews. From that point on, the main objective of the JDL was to terrorize Soviet establishments in the U.S. to influence the communist nation to change its anti-Semitic policies — specifically, its ban on emigration to Israel. The terrorism become so severe that President Richard Nixon feared JDL activity would threaten the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) II negotiations with the Soviet Union. In 1970 alone, the JDL committed five acts of terrorism, taking over the East Park Synagogue in Manhattan twice, in May and in November, to protest the Soviet U.N. Mission across the street. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, JDL members did everything from pouring blood over the head of a Soviet diplomat at a reception in Washington, D.C., to planting a smoke bomb in a Carnegie Hall performance of a Soviet orchestra. With each incident, the JDL claimed responsibility by phoning in its official slogan, in reference to the Holocaust, “Never again!”

      link to

  9. Shmuel
    November 25, 2010, 4:45 pm


    Obviously, boycott takes on a different form if you live in Israel. When I lived there (and when I go to visit), my focus is also on settlement products. There are of course actions of civil disobedience you can engage in (I did some of those too, but was not particularly brave).

    On the subject of delegitimising, there was plenty of “delegitimising” of the Soviet/communist and apartheid systems, to the extent that many called for their abolishment, or their transformation to the point of losing their essential political character. And in fact, those regimes/systems have been abolished, although the countries themselves, in one form or another continue to exist. That is how I see demands for equal rights in I/P – incompatible with Jewish control and supremacy but not with Jewish/Israeli presence and culture (see Magnes Zionist on the subject). Legitimacy is thus a factor of compatibility with democracy and human rights, not an inherent “right” or, when questioned, necessarily the product of “vicious hate campaigns”.

    • Shmuel
      November 25, 2010, 4:51 pm

      If I understood your original comment correctly, you were advocating others – outside of Israel – following your practices with regard to boycott. That is where I disagree. For the reasons stated above, I believe the boycott should be directed at those who make the policies and give them substantial support, and not only their immediate beneficiaries on the various settlements. I think the institutional cultural and academic boycotts are particularly important in this context.

      • Richard Witty
        November 25, 2010, 11:00 pm

        There is an irony to the Palestinian assertion of a single state if they are simultaneously concerned with maintaining the Palestinian character of key cities and neighborhoods.

        For example, if property in Silwan were to be managed by equal due process under the law, including the request for open purchase of land regardless of nationality, then current title determinations would result in likely invalidation of a few Jewish settlers’ title.

        But, within a couple decades, the neighborhood would first become integrated, then likely dominant Jewish.

        The only prospect of retain Palestinian character to current Palestinian majority neighborhoods would be within a two-state format.

      • Shmuel
        November 26, 2010, 7:47 am

        Were property in Silwan and everywhere else in I/P indeed “managed by equal due process under the law”, there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. If and when that happens, I’m sure the people you accuse of “irony” would have no problem with Jews purchasing property in Palestinian neighbourhoods.

        The current problem in Silwan is not about “maintaining its Palestinian character” (that’s a Zionist M.O.), but about defending the “poor man’s ewe” (2 Samuel 12). While you’re at it, I suggest you read the mishnah in Avot 5,9 – particularly the approach of the wicked: “What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine”.

      • Richard Witty
        November 26, 2010, 8:26 am

        You think that if Silwan and most of East Jerusalem becomes majority Jewish in 10 years, that Palestinians would feel that justice were accomplished?

      • Richard Witty
        November 26, 2010, 8:27 am

        Or, that there would not be riots.

  10. jon s
    November 26, 2010, 1:06 am

    Shmuel, I certainly would not support a cultural and academic boycott.
    First of all, there’s the obvious double-standard: Israel is singled out for vilification while other countries with much worse human-rights records are not. Why not boycott the US and the UK for their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with their horrendous civilian casualties, and Russia for its wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and China for its human-rights abuses and its policies in Tibet ,and practically all the Moslem and Arab countries? What about Zimbabwe? North Korea? What’s the human-rights situation in Mexico? The singling-out of Israel – the only Jewish state in the world – leads to the suspicion that something else may be at play here- at least in some instances- namely good old-fashioned Anti-Semitism.
    Furthermore, a boycott that targets Israel’s academia , or Israeli artists and performers seeks to hit the most progressive sectors of Israeli society. I recall the case of Dr. Miriam Schlesinger who was “asked to resign” from the editorial board of a professional journal for the “crime” of being an Israeli – and this is a person who was the former head of the Israeli chapter of Amnesty International!

    • Shmuel
      November 26, 2010, 7:19 am


      When you boycotted South Africa and the USSR, were there no other, possibly worse violators of human rights in the world at the time? Did you boycott all of them too? If not, why not? Was it because you were anti-white or anti-Russian?

      As for the progressive sectors in Israeli society, the academic/cultural boycott appeal (see the PACBI website) clearly targets institutions and not individuals – for their active and passive support for the violation of human rights in I/P. To target individuals simply because they are Israeli is dangerous and wrong (as eloquently explained by one of the PACBI leaders and founders, Omar Barghouti).

  11. jon s
    November 26, 2010, 3:11 pm

    Shmuel, Yes , at the time those regimes were the worst examples of racism and of totalitarianism that I was aware of. My point is that today Israel is obssessively singled out despite there being worse human-rights offenders.

    The distinction between institutions and individuals in regard to the boycott is, I fear, essentially meaningless. What are institutions made of? The individual men and women who work, teach and study in them. In the example I mentioned, Dr. Schlesinger was dismissed as an individual – and I understand that you would object to that – but since she holds a position in an Israeli university she would be subject to the boycott anyway.
    shabbat shalom

    • David Samel
      November 26, 2010, 3:58 pm

      Jon, do you think that Israel should be allowed to get away with its human rights violations because other countries are worse violators? Do you think the victims of worse human rights violations (as you claim for Tibet, Zimbabwe, North Korea, etc.) are likely to benefit from undermining the BDS movement against Israel? When there were protests in London, Paris and San Francisco as the Olympic torch was being transported to Beijing, did you think that the protesters were engaging in anti-Chinese racism because there were other, more serious human rights violations in the world? Do you think the worldwide history of anti-Semitism insulates Israel from accountability for its human rights violations because its critics may be suspected, with no supporting evidence, of being anti-Semites? Do you think that people must first research and make pronouncements on every other potential human rights problem in the world before earning the right to criticize Israel, lest they be smeared as anti-Semites?

      • Richard Witty
        November 26, 2010, 4:22 pm

        Israel should reform.

        To the extent that its existence is threatened its choices are much much more limited to defend or offend.

        BDS is not so much a communication of identification of injustice with the intent to stop the injustice, as a punishment for injustice combined with punishment for existing.

  12. Shmuel
    November 26, 2010, 3:45 pm


    Sure, there was no internet, but were Soviet Jews and racial segregation in SA really the worst examples of racism and totalitarianism at the time (not to mention other forms of state brutality)? What about South America, Vietnam, Iran, China, etc.? Israeli abuses are pretty bad (even if they are not the absolute worst in the world), and Palestinian civil society has asked the world for help – just as the anti-apartheid forces and Soviet Jews did. The “singling out” argument doesn’t wash. If you see injustice, you should address it – especially (as in your case and mine) if that injustice is being perpetrated by your government and society, in your name. I would think Palestinians also have a particular reason for focusing on this issue, as it happens to affect them and their families directly. Others may join for all sorts of reasons – religion, ethnicity, political philosophy … or it may just happen to be what they notice, as happened with you and me and SA and the USSR. Some may even join for lousy or even immoral reasons, but that shouldn’t stop people like us from joining a just cause.

    Whenever this subject comes up here, I like to link to Jerry Haber’s blogpost on the subject: link to

    Do take a look at the guidelines at the PACBI website (including the document “Individuals vs. Institutions”). Individuals will of course be affected by the lack of co-operation between say university departments, but that is not the same as not allowing those individuals to participate in conferences or to serve on the editorial boards of academic publications. And yes, there are grey areas (as PACBI concedes and tries to address). The fact is that Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the occupation and Israeli violations of human rights, and the isolation of those institutions sends a message that business cannot simply go on as usual.

  13. jon s
    November 27, 2010, 11:47 am

    Shmuel, I tend to agree with at least part of what you’re saying : injustice perpetrated in our name is our responsibility. Nevertheless, the double standard and hypocrisy cry out : to be criticized for human rights violations by Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, to be lectured on human rights by Turkey. Gimme a break. Turkey!
    It’s like you live on a block full of murderers, rapists and drug dealers, and the cops constantly harass you for not paying your parking tickets.
    shavua tov

    • Shmuel
      November 27, 2010, 12:27 pm


      I know it was just an analogy, but Israel is accused of murder and ethnic cleansing, not parking violations. Maybe the problem is that you don’t fully appreciate what Israel has done and continues to do. It can be a tough paradigm shift (I went through it myself).

      The double standard works another way too. Israel demands to be treated like a western democracy and generally gets its wish. Were the US or the EU to relate to Israel as they do to Syria or Libya, Israel and its supporters would be outraged. Israel demands special treatment, as “the only democracy in the Middle East”, special status and special alliances. In effect it demands to be singled out, and then complains when the attention is not to its advantage.

      As for hypocrisy, Israel itself plays the same game, criticising the human rights violations of others without looking in the mirror. The fact that Saudi Arabia or Turkey also accuse Israel of grave violations of human rights doesn’t mean those accusations can or should be ignored.

      Shavua tov to you too.

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