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Academic boycott against US gains traction – what about BDS?

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“You might as well boycott the United States,” professor Noam Chomsky flippantly told Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan a year ago in an interview where he said he did not back the cultural and academic boycott of Israel. Chomsky held reservations over “actions against Israel itself,” but said he did support boycotts “aimed at the occupied territories.”

Why not boycott Israel itself? Chomsky continued, “Just as I do not suggest boycotting Harvard University and my own university, [and] even though the United States is involved in horrific acts. […] You might as well boycott the United States,” he said.

But what was said in jest–a boycott of the United States and an academic boycott, in particular–is exactly what is on the move right now. More than 6,000 academics have signed a letter stating they will boycott attending conferences in the U.S. “in solidarity with people Affected by the ‘Muslim Ban’.”

Political science Professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center Corey Robin wrote a very noteworthy piece concerning the letter where he asked, “If you’re willing to support a boycott of U.S. academic conferences over Trump’s ban, why not BDS [against Israel]?” He noted in a parenthetical phrase, “truth be told, most of these folks wouldn’t even support a more limited type of boycott, in the case of Israel, of the sort that Trump’s ban has provoked.”

Robin said that the boycott of American academic conferences initiative “has drawn widespread and mostly positive attention in the media. Even the more critical responses have been self-questioning and exploratory rather than hostile and negative.”

Indirectly, Robin also responded to Chomsky’s aversion to boycotts against Israel as a whole and the U.S., “It should also answer what I always found to be one of the stranger critique of BDS: namely, people ask me and other supporters of BDS, if you think Israel is so bad, why don’t you support a boycott of the U.S.? As if proponents of BDS like myself would suddenly, in the face of an academic boycott of the U.S., get worked up into a self-righteous defensive lather on behalf of American academe.”

Boycott calls against the U.S. are not coming only from academia. There are also international consumer boycotts in their starting phases. Mexico has had a considerable wave of popular consumer boycotts, covered by Time, which quotes Protester Maria Garcia, of the Bi-National Coalition Against Trump. She said that Trump’s insistence that Mexico pays for the wall is the main contention.

“They can build what they want in their territory. But pay for it themselves. The demand we pay for it is a weapon to beat us into submission. It is blackmail,” she said.

There are renewed calls for boycotts targeting corporations such as McDonald’s, Walmart, and Coca-Cola. One of the most heavily trending hashtags is #AdiosStarbucks. This is all despite an “uneven playing ground,” as Time put it, with Mexico’s dependency on the U.S. economy and the fact that its own economy is only the tenth of the size of the U.S.’s.

In Europe, the British Metro reported groups are already suggesting alternatives to American products like sodas. “You don’t have to drink cola–nothing wrong with water or orange juice–and probably better for you as well,” one of the activist said, “With a little thought you could come up with alternatives to most things–Samsung phones instead of Apple, VW cars instead of Ford, holidays in Cancun instead of Florida to name a few,” said another.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post visited a Belgian bar in Antwerp where “the Coke bottles are out of the refrigerator. The bags of Lay’s potato chips are off the shelves. And a Belgian bar’s boycott of U.S. products is ready to start following the owners’ anger and concern with President Trump’s attitude toward the world.” 

Despite Coke being “the most popular soft drink on the tap,” the Post reported, it was “substituted by a Belgian-made soft drink. Lay’s potato chips have been replaced by Belgian-made Croky chips.”

These are perhaps small trends in some places. But there is a movement here that appears to be gaining traction. And, interestingly the mainstream media appears to be following with interest, keeping straight even the smallest details.

So back to Robin’s question: Why not BDS?

Why, one might rightfully ask, is a boycott against Israel, a country that is far ahead of the U.S. and Trump in many cynical ways, so contentious? Has the Israeli propaganda, labeling BDS as “anti-Semitic,” worked its magic? Reporters do not dare give it the same kind of positive or curious coverage, even though Israel has had its own equivalent of the “Muslim ban” from the start, as I noted a couple of days ago.

Referring to that same seven-decade “Palestinian ban” I wrote about, Robin also mentioned the similarities between the bans, “that is not a contingent feature of the State of Israel, peculiar to one bad hombre like Netanyahu, opposed by the great majority. That [a Palestinian ban] is a permanent feature of the State of Israel, constitutive of its founding and identity as a Jewish state, enforced by politicians and state officials across the political spectrum for nearly seven decades now.”

Wouldn’t the simplest rules of proportionality suggest that if you support a boycott of conferences held in the U.S.—or at least don’t think it’s a bad thing—than wouldn’t you support a boycott of the state of Israel? Or at least shouldn’t it be considered a legitimate topic of rational debate?”

So now the “great impossibility” as it were, of actually boycotting the U.S., the very thing that Chomsky expressed in a kind of mocking sense, is taking place. It is not being derided, downplayed or demonized in the mainstream media–it is being taken seriously.

This is perhaps the one good thing that the Trump reality may provide us, a falling of masks. And now, those who have considered BDS against Israel extreme or unhelpful will have to answer for why they are positive about a BDS against the U.S. And we may then begin to discuss whether Israel is really being singled out negatively, or positively.

About Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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3 Responses

  1. xanadou
    February 8, 2017, 5:11 pm

    “Chomsky held reservations over “actions against Israel itself,” but said he did support boycotts “aimed at the occupied territories.”
    That does not make sense. “israel itself” is what created “the occupied territories”.

    As for the int’l/academic boycott of the US: sic transit gloria mundi. This will only add to the growing revulsion against trumpty among the US academics and scientists and help the latter in their own fight.

    The cautious boycott of israel reflects the still significant fear of the corrosive international tribal web that has the means to blackmail corrupt politicians and anyone who will not submit to the zio pressure to cease, e.g., one’s support of the Palestinians, BDS, and speak out against israel’s genocidal policies, etc. Possibly an admission, regardless of hasbara’s histrionics that the zios know their tactics and rhetoric are waning in effectiveness and, worse, triggering the growing, no, not antisemitism, but antizionism that is injuring the average timid tribes(wo)man.

    Until the majority of Jews learn to stand on their own two feet and fight for their beliefs where it counts the most, i.e., among their own community, especially when approached on the QT to perform a service for the tribe’s network, the zios will remain strong and destructive first and foremost to their own people. Exactly what had precipitated and contributed to the Jewish hecatomb during and after WW2.

  2. Mooser
    February 8, 2017, 10:25 pm

    “especially when approached on the QT to perform a service for the tribe’s network, the zios will remain strong and destructive first and foremost to their own people. Exactly what had precipitated and contributed to the Jewish hecatomb during and after WW2.”



    1. (in ancient Greece or Rome) a great public sacrifice, originally of a hundred oxen.
    an extensive loss of life for some cause.

    2. any great slaughter:

  3. Elizabeth Block
    Elizabeth Block
    February 9, 2017, 6:22 pm

    I look forward to many academic and professional conferences coming to Canada (where we can demonstrate, if appropriate!).

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