Starting with revision

It’s late in the day to start thinking about the ethics of a boycott of Israel, since debate swelled originally in 2003, as the article this is all about shows. Still, it’s as well to start with revision of what people have alreday said. In this article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, a vile and mediocre rag, two characters who, I am guessing, don’t have any fundamental criticisms of Israeli or Western policy, are yoked to Chomsky, all in opposition to the academic boycott.

Here the story editor generously sets Chomsky up as saying that the boycott is counter productive.

Nevertheless, he says, the effects of the boycott run counter to the intentions of those pursuing these means. [Philip Fine]

In fact, in the exact previous sentence Chomsky says something different:

I think the action is wrong in principle

This is what makes the TES a vile and mediocre rag. Gross errors this are fine provided you don’t sell yourself as nourishing the higher intellectual faculties. But now I’m wandering.

The claim assigned to Chomsky in this article is that academic campaigners should focus on the

cases where their actions can make the most significant difference, such as ‘crimes and atrocities to which their own state makes a crucial contribution’

Meaning what? Presumably Chomsky isn’t confused about this, but the article underspecifies whatever it is he’s saying.

— it could be that it is more effective to concentrate on our own state;

— it could be that it is hypocritical or inconsistent to focus on Israel when our own state is doing evil too;

— it could be that action at the level of academia is the wrong place to focus; and that the arms trade with Israel is a higher, or more hopeful, or more principled objective [not so sure I haven’t said this already]

In response, the two minor characters yoked to Chomsky say that academics themselves are critical of the Israeli government, and that Israel is country with a high ‘moral, political character’. This rules them out of the debate, probably because it shows they have no clue, that they’re engaging in a ploy, suggesting that Israel is a normal state which can be subject to normal civil political criticism. If it is, then boycott might be unneccesary. So the boycott I guess must turn on the idea that Israel is essentially not a polity with this kind of character. And for this point, I thank the aforementioned yokees.


About B.B.

I'm based in York.
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