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Boycotting Common Sense

Two weeks ago, the British University and College Union (UCU), the union of university academics, passed an absurd and deeply offensive resolution calling on all union members to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions.” In plain English, the UCU is encouraging its members to agree to a boycott of Israeli academia–to cut ties with any Israel-based professors, conferences, journals, or institutions. This preposterous move presents itself in response to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Now let me start by saying there are legitimate reasons one might have concerns about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians (although, frankly, a bigger concern might be Palestinians’ treatment of the Palestinians, given Hamas and Fatah’s nasty new habit of throwing each other’s members off of rooftops). Even for those who are concerned about Israeli policies, however, there are several reasons that a boycott should be seen as a ludicrous piece of theatrical grandstanding at best and a shocking display of anti-Semitism at worst. First, the whole core premise of academic freedom is appallingly disregarded when certain perspectives are systematically delegitimized in what Burt Siegel, executive director of the Philly Jewish Community Relations Council (full disclosure: and my congregant), calls “the worst kind of intellectual McCarthyism.” Add to this the fact that many Israeli academics who would be penalized under the proposed boycott are on the political left and share concerns about Israel’s policies in the territories. Rather than furthering the Palestinian cause, the boycott would only strengthen those on Israel’s right who see a systematic campaign to delegitimize Israel.
And they’re right. What makes this campaign so outrageous and dangerous is that it punishes Israel’s actions, which are relatively minor, even as it stays silent about flagrant human rights abuses and genocide in countries like China and Darfur. The UCU is completely silent when it comes to these countries and maintains relationships with human rights abusers around the world, including with Serbia during the height of the genocide. And what’s worse is that the UCU is not alone in this hypocritical effort to single out Israel. The Presbyterian Church recently voted to divest from Israel; the National Synod of the United Church of Christ has a similar resolution for Israeli divestment on the table for their coming meeting, while the question of divestment from Sudan isn’t even on the agenda. In other words, it’s clear that Israel is being singled out for isolation, even as organizations carry on business as usual with far worse offenders. The truth of the matter is that the UCU boycott will do nothing to help the Palestinian cause; it isn’t pro-Palestinian, it’s just anti-Israeli. The true aim of the UCU isn’t to change Israeli policy or help Palestinians. Its purpose is to delegtimize Israel and turn it into a pariah state. That is why it is so insidious and that is why it must be opposed.

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posted June 19, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Some of the more evangelical type of Christian ministries (ie.John Hagee) continually speak up for Israel, go to Washington for Israel, partner with a rabbi-run orphanage in Israel,etc. These ministries tell Christians to read the Bible verse, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” and to constantly pray this verse, in addition to other verses about why we should support Israel and the worldwide Jewish community. Thanks!

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Gary Green

posted June 19, 2007 at 9:40 pm

Although the PCUSA General Assembly did initiate a “negative” process of phased, selective divestment in 2004 that targeted companies doing business in Israel, the resolution that authorized that action was removed by the PCUSA General Assembly in 2006 and replaced it with a policy that emphasized positive actions that would facilitate peace in the Middle East and no longer targeted Israel. This does not mean that divestment in U.S. companies doing business in Israel will not happen, but it signals that it is much less likely to happen. You can read more about the current policy and get the precise wording at an official PCUSA website:
You can read an objective view of people who were present during the deliberations and experienced first hand the spirit and intent of the final resolution that changed the policy at:
You can read the “spin” that pro-Palestine activists put on the policy change at:
As a person who was there and observed the proceeding, I can assure you that the account as reported on the IRD website is the most accurate.

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James Duncan

posted June 20, 2007 at 11:04 am

This action by the UCU is truly pathetic. I am not one to take the knee-jerk reaction of seeing antisemites around every tree. It is difficult for me not to see their actions as not being driven, at least in part, by antisemitism. If the UCU’s actions were consistent by passing similar resolutions against other perceived abusers of human rights, I could at least respect a consistent view. It is true that I am not Jewish, but, I don’t think it is a requirement to see this as antisemitism .
I am a science teacher who values academic freedom. Perhaps members of the UCU should go live in Israel or better yet, one of the bordering countries to get a “real-world” view rather than their hypocritical “ivory tower” perception.

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posted June 20, 2007 at 11:05 am

Wonderful post, Rabbi, and right on target. What is particularly troubling is that anti-Israel fanatics have no fear of being accused of hypocrisy, double-standards, or a hateful obsession with the Jewish state. They now take it as a given that some (many?) in the mainstream will agree with whatever hyperbolic accusations they throw at Israel, and that fewer and fewer will call them out for blatant anti-Semitism.
In my own church (Roman Catholicism) a bishop can attend an inter-religious meeting on one day (denouncing anti-Semitism), and then spend the next day in the Holy Land, producing a statement that denounces ANY attempt by Israel (checkpoints, barriers, etc.) to protect her citizens from Palestinian terror. When Palestinian olive trees are cut down because they provided cover for snipers, he will wail and nash his teeth in a public cry of outrage; but a kassam rocked that blows the legs off a Jewish 5-year-old produces no response. He is specific in his condemnation of Israel for a targeted killing of a terror mastermind, but protracted violence aimed at Jewish civilians is greeted with silence, or, when pressed, a general condemnation of “all violence.”
The British boycotters are just a more vociferous example of an increasing, and metastacizing, circle of hate.

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posted June 20, 2007 at 11:07 am

Remember Genesis 12:3. G-d is still in charge and you Israel is still his nation. They come against you to their own damnation. May the peace of G-d always be with you. I cannot understand anyone who reads the bible come against you Israel. Shalom.

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posted June 20, 2007 at 1:02 pm

I suspect if the same resolution was brought forward at a meeting of profs (particularly artsy profs) just about anywhere outside of Israel it would get the same approval.
Young Jews, in part for their own safety should either study at Jewish institutions or in non-artsy subjects.

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Reb Bahir

posted June 21, 2007 at 11:32 am

Well written and very accurate but (and there is always a but) there is a piece left out. Yes it is true that Israel has to work on human rights issues in its own country. It is not as bad as the U.S. during segregation, nor as bad as Great Britain has treated the people of Ireland and Scotland. And should we look at how non-English residents are treated in Great Britain. Never mind the history of Great Britain which must carry much of the blame for the woes in the Middle East because of their handling of the area after WW1 (Oy we could go on forever just on that). And yet Israel has work to do in regards to its own citizens and in relationship to the Palestinians.
But where is the balance. Before 1967 no one spoke of a ‘Palestinian’ nation. Only when Israel took the territories (West Bank and Gaza or Yehuda, Shomron and Aza depending on your politics)did the hue and cry begin. In addition, there is no recognition of the hospitals, and schools that Israel built in the West Bank nor the electricity and water that Israel supplies to the Palestinians even while Hamas sends rockets and human bombs into the heart of Israel. Where is the anguished cries for human rights when the perpetrators are Palestinians. When Palestinians slaughter Palestinians for befriending Jews or for having different political views, the British are silent. When Palestinians use children as human shields, the British are silent. When Palestinians slaughter women and children in other parts of the world, the British are silent. When Palestinians murder other Palestinians standing with hands raised in surrender and they do it in front of the families of the victims, British are silent.
I believe that the history of Great Britain vis-a-vis the Jews in Israel from its inception and before, speaks loudest to the situation. The British, in their self-righteous indignationare, are trying to whitewash their own culpability in their double dealing and their immoral lack of regard for the Jews and Arabs . They do not seek the light they only fan the flames.
May we learn to listen and to speak honestly and find the path to peace.
Reb Bahir

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posted June 29, 2007 at 8:32 pm

I am not very familiar with British history regarding Israel and Palestine.
I hope Reb Bahir has time to provide me with some examples of Israeli atrocities criticized by the British and corresponding Palestinian atrocities that went unrecognized. It would be helpful to have pointed out the times we are speaking of the British government and the times we are speaking about the British people or segments of it.

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