Notes on Ali Abunimah and Jeffrey Blankfort interviewed on KPFA’s show Voices from the Middle East and North Africa (audio here).
Excerpts of Chomsky’s previous interview given: he distinguishes ‘feel-good’ and ‘do-go’ actions; the former might do harm to the victims; the latter could involve compromise. Key issue here is whether sanctions are educational or miseducational, and often boycott actions are often miseducational (as would be a boycott of an Israeli dance group); then he says that choosing a bad target offers ammunition to jingoist hardline supporters of Israel.
Chomsky offers two criteria for a good (he says: intelligent) boycott: it must be educational, and it must be designed in such a way as it helps the victims, rather than harming them. Any hardline supporter of Israeli crimes can claim with justification that boycotting Israeli crimes (and not U.S.) is transparently hypocritical, and so offers justification for those who support Israel’s crimes. So it is counterproductive from an educational perspective (the hardliners gain propaganda space).
Ali Abunimah then comes on the show, and agrees with Chomsky — but says that the boycott movement has made the right decisions and meets Chomsky’s criteria. Abunimah complains that Chomsky leaves no room for any boycott actions at all. Take the dance group example: we know, he says, because the Israeli government has said it many times, that Israel is using such artistic activities to burnish its image. If we can’t boycott them, then this leave the field open for Israeli government to use artistic forms for propaganda purposes.
Then they turn to the academic boycott, and guidelines issued by the Boycott National Committee (see websites). The guidelines, Ali Abunimah says, make clear distinctions between what is being boycotted and what isn’t. The academic boycott is directed only at the institutions; and there is a clear and documented link between Israel’s academic instutitions and the crimes that Israel commits. There is direct complicity between the academic instututions of Israel and the crimes, he insists (a link being different from complicity, I guess). Also, thanks to U.S. support of Israel, Israeli academics have much greater access to Western institutions than Palestinians, and that the boycott (he implies, but does not say) is directed towards redressing this balance. ‘We want to end the separate and unequal access to education and research which its the direct outcome of Israel’s restriction on travel and so forth’.
Then Ali Abunimah says that Chomsky’s comparison between breaking windows (defined as violent) and boycott (defined as nonviolent). Not clear that Chomsky would think that his point had been understood. And then Abunimah gets febrile and says that this is ‘disrespectful’ to the boycott and all it has achieved. We can’t dismiss it as a ‘feel-good action’, and that the boycott has a special relevance because it has been called for by the Palestinians.
Ali Abunimah then says that the boycott was used to great effect in South Africa, but does not address the disanalogy which Chomsky cited.
We then go on to one- and two-state solutions, which gives Ali Abunimah a change to rail at Chomsky’s insensitivity – ‘callous’. He thinks Chomsky is taking his lead from Israel and the U.S. in saying that there is a consensus for a two-state solution. But this is not the issue here. (Though he insists that one should not decide what one do based on what the powerful will accept.)
(Chomsky also makes the point that there is massive corporate and media agreement in the U.S. for its policy in Israel: therefore, what’s to lobby?)