On November 9th 2015, Nadia Abu El-Haj posted an ‘open letter’ to me, “Let’s Get our Facts Straight about BDS,” in response to an op-ed piece I published in Haaretz a few days earlier. Here is my brief response to her.
On Edward Said: I never claimed that had Said been alive he would have been opposed to BDS. I know that Noam Chomsky, who shared many of Edward’s views, recently spoke against BDS. But I cannot tell what Edward’s position would have been, so I did not. I did say that BDS slammed Said’s Diwan, the Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra project that remains an important part of his good legacy.
On anti-semitism: Abu El-Haj paraphrases me correctly when she invokes my observation that BDS is not being honest about the endgame it seeks. What I find bewildering is her claim that by indexing this I ‘raise the specter of anti-semitism‘. I never thought BDS to be anti-semitic, and am not inclined to change my mind if an odd anti-semite occasionally jumps on its band wagon. I do insist that BDS is duplicitous. My article attempts to shed some light on the political agenda which drives this doubletalk, spiraling BDS (and Anthroboycott behind it) into all kinds of contradictions and confusion.
On economic sanctions against Israeli companies: I never claimed they do not happen. I argued that BDS’s leadership, which focuses almost exclusively on academic boycott, does very little to promote them. My article suggests an explanation for this bizarre strategic choice.
On Israeli universities: I never claimed that ‘Israeli universities are overwhelmingly in favor of dialogue and compromise’ as Abu El-Haj misquotes me. I did say that Israeli universities are ‘inhabited by individuals who, like Said in his time, are overwhelmingly in favor of dialogue and compromise’. When it comes to the distinction between individuals and institutions, Abu El-Haj, like most protagonists of academic boycott, seems to become confused.
On BDS’s endgame: Abu El-Haj returns to this in her last paragraph, promising to refute my assertion about BDS’s real intentions and ‘get our facts straight’. I read that paragraph, then read it once again. I am thankful for the illustration it provides of my main argument in Haaretz. QED.
On Syntax: Letters can be significant and moving because they use the second person, directly addressing their recipients. Nadia Abu El-Haj’ and I have had our conversations and collaborations in the past. We know each other personally. I notice now however that even as she writes a text she calls ‘a letter’ to me, she cannot bring herself to address me in the customary second person. Being an individual and not an institution, I wonder: do protocol-abiding boycotters need approval from a yet to be perfected clause in a future sub-section of one of PACBI handbook’s convoluted chapters before they can engage in direct public dialogue with someone like me?
On boycott and personal relations: Anthroboycott insists that it targets institutions, not individuals. I and other Israeli anthropologists obviously have personal acquaintances amongst anthroboycottists. When the campaign to boycott us began we expected those of them who identify themselves publicly as supportive of a boycott to reach out, at least on personal communication channels, and put our minds at ease. We are still waiting. Is distinguishing the personal from the institutional and the political proving to be impossible so early in the day? Where will we all be AFTER our colleagues have passed a boycott resolution against ‘our institutions’?