Israel needs another British invasion
Instead of boycotting Israeli universities, British academics should come and reinforce those who oppose the occupation in them.
Guardian Comment is Free blog.
By Hillel Schenker.
First, my credentials: From June 12, 1967, the day after the six day war ended, I have been opposed to the establishment of even a single settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As for Jerusalem, I regret the fact that it did not become an international city in accordance with the original UN partition plan in 1947. Since it's too late for that, in the future I believe that a creative solution to the Jerusalem issue requires the maintenance of a united city, with West Jerusalem serving as the capital of Israel, and East Jerusalem serving as the capital of a future, viable Palestinian state based upon the green line, the 1967 borders, with possible border rectifications based upon a negotiated equal land swap.
That said, I am also opposed to the motion that will be presented at the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) conference next weekend, which encourages academics to "consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those (Israeli academics and institutions) that do not publicly dissociate themselves" from the occupation.
If anyone wants to end the occupation, as I do, that is not the way to go.
First of all, most of Israeli academia, particular in the humanities, is a centre for anti-occupation pro-peace activity, by both lecturers and students. This is true for the universities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ben-Gurion in Beersheva and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as many of the new academic colleges that have emerged in recent years. Even the religious Bar-Ilan University features a number of prominent doves on its staff, such as Dr Menachem Klein and Professor Uriel Simon. These universities host many seminars and conferences that seriously explore the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to resolve it. The journals published at these universities, frequently edited by members of the teaching staff, are open forums that discuss the problems of occupation, aspects of the conflict and the quest for a solution, both at the micro and the macro levels.
And secondly, a boycott, even a selective one, will only reinforce general Israeli anxieties about anti-semitism, particularly in Europe, and will cause Israelis to become more defensive and less open to constructive, realistic solutions. It's hard to feel the pain and hear the legitimate calls for justice from the other side when you yourself feel that you are under attack. I'm not saying that legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy equals anti-semitism, but it cannot be ignored that there is a growing anti-semitism, particularly in many European countries.
What is the alternative?
I agree that all of us, Israelis, Palestinians and other nationals must increase our efforts to promote an end to the occupation and a peaceful, non-violent and fair resolution of the conflict, which I believe is based upon a two state solution - a viable Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state living in peace and security. We must this do this now, while there is still a window of opportunity for a resumption of negotiations, before we enter another round of unilateral actions and senseless mutual violence which will cause the loss of numerous lives on both sides.
So what would I propose to the NATFHE conference this weekend?
Another British invasion.
In the early 60s, the so-called "British invasion" led by the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Kinks, etc., changed the face of pop music, in America and around the world.
I would recommend a British invasion of Israeli academic institutions. Come to conferences in Israel, say your piece and help reinforce the Israelis who are fighting the good fight. You will find a welcome ear in academia, among the students and in the Israeli media. Write what you believe in Israeli academic journals, and base it upon professional, scientific analysis. Help to strengthen the majority of Israeli public opinion that supports significant withdrawal from the West Bank and a two-state solution.
You should listen to Palestinian Professor Munther Dajani from the political science department at al-Quds University, who said the following in a roundtable organized by the Palestine-Israel Journal on the role of civil society:
In academia you are searching for the truth, and the truth lies in research and scientific cooperation between all parties ... By definition, cooperation is opening a dialogue in order to let the others know your needs ... Occupation is something we should all fight against. Most Israeli academic institutions are with us and have released statements calling for an end to the occupation. Why boycott them and prompt them to work against us when now they are working with us?
Your model should be Jean Paul Sartre. In the spring of 1967, at a time of total impasse in Israeli-Arab relations, he published a special issue of his journal Temps Modernes, devoted to rapprochement. He did this in cooperation with the Israeli peace monthly New Outlook, established under the inspiration of Hebrew University Professor Martin Buber's philosophy of dialogue, and the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram.
He did not succeed in preventing the six day war, but he did help to lay the foundations for future Israeli-Egyptian peace. You can't ask Sartre about this anymore, but you can ask Claude Landzmann, who accompanied Sartre to Israel and Egypt and edited the special edition, which featured articles by Israelis, Egyptians and other nationals.