Friday, January 25, 2013

Academic Boycott of Ariel in Action

First, a Call for Papers was issued to academics on a university-sponsored forum in Israel for a conference at Ariel University on May 6 on "The Nation-State Dealing with Inter-Cultural Conflicts".  One professor immediately wrote back asking that if persons from "an institute for the Israeli conquest called by a general's edict a university" are permitted to make announcements, this would be a step towards "dark apartheid".

Another responded that it is the second's democratic right not to attend and that his own feeling, after reading what he wrote, is to attend.

An American professor then reacted by writing in agreement with the second:

I am concerned.  I do not want and cannot allow my presence on this list to imply any acceptance or endorsement of an Israeli university illegally established in occupied lands.  If there is a decision to allow these invitations to be issued on this list I will ask to be removed from the list.

but was then informed by the third

I am only speaking for myself, but though it will be hard for me to lose such a great friend of the Jewish state, I truly feel that if I had to chose between the freedom of this forum and your presence in it, I would regretfully have to choose the former.

A fourth then noted
Professor ________, I don't understand how your presence on this list can imply acceptance or endorsement of Ariel when you have clearly stated otherwise. If failing to leave a collective (and especially a loose collective like this list) implicitly means taking personal moral responsibility for whatever is happening in this collective, you will get some pretty strange implications: 1) If the NY times publishes an article by a settler (as it sometimes does) you will have to cancel your subscription. 2)  If the US congress moves to support Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel you have to give up your US citizenship.  3)  If Turkey, Egypt, Russia and China continue to talk with Iran, all those nations who decided to impose sanctions on Iran should, by your logic, stop talking with them.
Your threat to leave the list is in fact a statement that not only do you want to excommunicate Ariel, but you also want to excommunicate people who don't necessarily agree with you that Ariel should be excommunicated. What is the next step? Excommunicating those who don't excommunicate those who don't excommunicate Ariel?  Please enlighten me,

The answer was

Dear ______, There is no question that any line one draws is arbitrary.  When does involvement in an institution that shares in the occupation implicate one in the occupation?  If the Israeli Council on Higher Education treats the school in Ariel as a University like any other in Israel, then if one does promotional reviews for one member of the CHE does that implicate one in a set of standard operating procedures that  includes treating Ariel and TAU as parallel institutions?  If the US government funds activities in central America I find repulsive, does that mean I don't pay my taxes at all, or simply refuse to work with any US government branches that are involved in Central America?  The point is not to find the line that is not arbitrary, but to make sure one finds a line and stands on it.  Otherwise, all slopes can be made so slippery that the conscience never has a chance to speak clearly.  Perhaps this is not the line I should stand on, but for those who find the idea of establishing an Israeli university on occupied land ethically repulsive, where do you think the line should be drawn?  My fear is that unless we can draw clear lines to isolate this phenomenon then dozens, then scores, then hundreds, then thousands of scholars all over the world will draw the line around Israel itself.

I couldn't restrain myself and asked:

"Illegally"?  Didn't the High Court of Justice permit its establishment?  Is the court only to be respected in certain cases?

This is the level of "higher education" (and yes, there still is another appeal,, I think, pending but the okay was given).

I checked backed, and the conversation had continued:

A fifth reaction:
I am not sure how I feel about ______'s position, but we should face the bigger issue: since the declaration of Ariel as a university we all find ourselves having to make a decision whether to draw a line and where that line should be. Should we accept Ariel as any other Israeli academic institution; should we treat individual members of Ariel University different than academics in other institutions; should we make a stand only about Ariel as an institution thus maintaining the same level of contact with faculty members there as we would with others elsewhere. Of course there are other options. This way or the other we must also acknowledge that the pressure around the world for boycotting the Israeli academia will only increase because of Ariel. The questions raised by ____ and ______ are just a precursor for an issue we will have to eventually address. 
Yet another professor:
The legal system strives to impose equal injunctions on all of us. This is why the modern iconography of Justitia portrays the goddess with a blindfold. Moral imperatives, on the other hand, are in the eyes of the beholder. Some of us do not discern anything blameworthy in the settlement movement in general and in the establishment of a university in Ariel in particular, nor do they find any fault in the rather unusual procedure of that institute's accreditation.  For such persons there seems to be no reason to stay away from, let alone, boycott,  Ariel's academic events. Another subset of this list's participants either take issue with anything having to do with the settlement movement, or insist on accreditation procedures which were, in their opinion, brushed aside in the case of Ariel. For individual members of this subset, the undersigned included, there seems to be a strong moral reason to keep away from all activities associated with the "university" of Ariel. My point is that since the issue is a moral, rather than a legal one, there seems to be no objectively "correct" response to this issue. It is a case of facing one's conscience and in matters such as these we are all lone riders.

A word about the role of the Supreme Court in this matter. In making a decision in this case, the Court will not be called upon to opine on the morality of the issue. This is not a part of its business. The petition to set aside the accreditation of Ariel, is based on much narrower grounds, to wit whether the administrative agency in charge of accreditation violated some key rules of our public law, e.g. the imperative of equality under the law, of not being led by corrupt motives etc. Even if eventually it will not detect some forms of illegality which must trigger its intervention, the question of morality will still remain the individual problem of each one of us, not the problem of the Court.
That drew this response
I think you’re missing the point.  This isn’t about the moral imperative “to keep away from all activities associated with the "university" of Ariel.”  No one is denying you or _______ the right to do that. I’m reading this string as a proposal to ban the rest of us from SEEING an invitation about activities at the University of Ariel (or ‘“university” of Ariel’ if you prefer). Seeing!!  As if an invitation is the worst type of political porn. I can’t help but wonder what comes next? When do we start refusing to eat in the same restaurant, go to the same wedding, beach, school as someone who is on an open listserv where, once in a while, they might see these invitations?  Or when do we refuse to sponsor a student or hire a colleague who doesn’t sign some promise never to look at invitations from the dreaded University? Or publish in a newspaper or journal that has deigned to publish something by someone in Ariel. It’s time to stop this nonsense. If you don’t like the invitation, hit delete or decline it. But don’t stop the rest of us from SEEING it. Not on the main Israeli social science listserv!!

P.S.  The names were removed to protect, er, whatever.


The discussion goes on:

...    On the grounds that every server list belongs to its members, it seems to me reasonable that the members can decide who they will invite to join them in becoming members and using the list. On those grounds, I would support a move to ban from our lists people associated with the school that now flatters itself with the title of "university" in Ariel. Where I come from, such titles are earned very differently from the way this one was awarded.

    Unfortunately, I don't know how such a ban could enacted. Could we somehow electronically vote on it, for or against? And I don't know how, if enacted, such a ban could be enforced since, if I understand computers correctly, anyone with a computer keyboard can send messages to any list. Maybe, though, if a ban were announced, the people banned would be embarrassed to violate it. I wouldn't count on that though. Embarrassment doesn't seem to be a very powerful force in modern society.  

    At any rate,  I would not view such a ban as violating any principle of free speech or anyone's "right to know." Ariel employees can send their messages out via newspaper announcements, Arutz Sheva, or web sites associated with their school. No one stops them from doing that, and if they would do only that, I would be pleased not to have to delete their mail from my computer. By the way, for me it is not a simple matter of deletion, because I have to look at each message I receive to see where it comes from and why it deserves deletion.

     By the way, I am sure that, as time passes, the school in Ariel will attract some moderate teachers who are desperate for academic employment in these hard times, just as some settlements have absorbed similar people who are desperate for relatively cheap housing. That is the long-term strategy of right-wing ministers, and if it works out as they hope, we inside the Green Line will more and more confront the difficulty of deciding how to relate, professionally and personally, to those teachers in Ariel.


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