Boycott of Israel defies logic, morality

If you want to work against peace between Israelis and Palestinians, if your aim is to ensure the two sides never work out their differences, then it’s a really good idea to support the boycott of Israel.

The movement to boycott the Jewish state, known as BDS — boycotts, divestment and sanctions — produces exactly the opposite of reconciliation. It singles out one conflict in the world, and it targets one side in that conflict, exerting pressure in a way that defies logic and morality.

The recent decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli scholars and Israeli universities is a clear example of the perversion of the idea.

Even if you are convinced, incorrectly, that the only reason there is no Palestinian state is because of Israeli recalcitrance — ignoring the long history of vows and efforts by Israel’s neighbors to destroy it — even if you think it’s all Israel’s fault, even then BDS is still an idea that makes peace more difficult.

As the ASA was voting, presumably moved by the plight of Palestinians, a few miles from Jerusalem, in Syria, a dictator was dropping barrels full of explosives and nails on children. Not far from there, the Egyptian government was raiding the offices of human-rights organizations. In Iran, opposition leaders remained under arrest, and jails remained full of people who dared challenge the regime’s views. University professors and students are prisoners in several countries in the region. Palestinians, by the way, endure worse conditions in Syria, Lebanon and other places than they do in Israel or the West Bank.

The ASA and its BDS friends don’t boycott China or Russia or Iran. They do not boycott Syria or Cuba or Sudan. They boycott only Israel.

The ASA chose to tackle one country in the Middle East. It chose, as it happens, the region’s only democracy. And it chose the Jewish state. Israel is the only country it has ever boycotted.

Israel, the Middle East’s most progressive, liberal country, a place when political parties of all stripes — including Arab parties — participate in the political debate, is being singled out.

How do you think Israelis react to this? If you think the experience of watching the world’s only Jewish state targeted this way makes them feel more secure, more willing to lower their guard, more open to trusting the people who once vowed to kill them, then I suggest you study a little history.

Boycotts against Israel are the worst possible way to help Palestinians. They are such a terrible idea that even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared he opposes them.

And boycotts against Israeli universities and academics are the most reprehensible and immoral of all. They assault the fundamental principle that universities should be places where ideas are openly exchanged.

The ASA will now discriminate against academics on the basis of national origin, not of ideas — which would be perhaps just as terrible.

Israeli academics, as it turns out, are some of the most vocal and committed advocates for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Israeli universities are the freest, most open academic institutions in the Middle East. Their students and faculty include Arabs, Jews and Christians who are free to discuss any topic, any idea. They also, by the way, have produced scientific advances that have benefited the entire world, even those now calling for their boycott. But that’s a topic for another day.

When the ASA put its proposal on the table, the much-larger American Association of University Professors urged ASA members to reject this or any other academic boycott as a violation of academic freedom.

Anti-Israel BDS has become a toxic fad on many campuses. Striking an anti-Israel pose has become fashionable in certain circles, where people take pride in the illusion that they march to the beat of their own drummer, but are really marching in lockstep to the sound of the latest trendy beat.

This idea was so offensive that most of the roughly 5,000 ASA members did not vote, and in the end, with just 16 percent of the membership voting in favor, the proposal won by a landslide.

The group sent a message. But what exactly was that message?

Anyone who really wants to help bring a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should support those people, Israelis and Palestinians, who are working for reconciliation.

Stand with those who are committed to compromise, to coexistence, to open debate. And fight against those who seek to demonize either side. Then you will have done your part for peace.

Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.

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