Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Boycotting Ariel Isn't the Answer

Here's an opinion piece from today's Haaretz, which I agree with. Boycotting Ariel College will not help anybody, and will not promote peace, just like BDS against Israel proper won't, either.

The voice of despair (Hebrew here)

By Avirama Golan

Academics from many fields, mainly from the exact sciences, signed a declaration last week to the effect that they are unwilling to take part in any academic activity taking place at the college in Ariel, known as the Ariel University Center of Samaria. The reason: Ariel is an illegal settlement in occupied territory, which is flourishing alongside Palestinian communities that are suffering intolerable living conditions and are denied basic human rights.

It's true that the college in Ariel was conceived and born in sin. Like the entire settlement enterprise, it bypassed the law, and in its case the Council for Higher Education, which opposed its establishment for clear academic reasons - it was done at the expense of shrinking the academic pie. With the help of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a unique status was invented for it: "a university center."

The right rushed to label the signers of the declaration with the usual epithets: delusionary, alienated, extremist. However, a perusal of the list reveals that although some of them do sit in the scientific ivory tower and deal with abstract theories (not something to be condemned, of course ), most of them are familiar with Israeli society from up close - and work within it out of profound involvement and commitment.

Still, the declaration arouses unease. Unlike the actors, who were forced by the theaters to perform in Ariel, nobody forces these academics, who are among the most respected scientists and intellectuals in Israel, to teach there. Those who are forced to do so are doctoral students, researchers and assistants; in the absence of job slots at Bar-Ilan University they go to Ariel, as did others who desperately needed a job and were given attractive offers.

These junior academics are like the young couples who moved to the "non-ideological" settlements, because only there one could find apartments and convenient mortgages, plus better and cheaper services than those disintegrating within the Green Line. They are victims of Israel's policy. We can understand that they are unable to sign the declaration.

For that reason, this is a verbal declaration without a price tag, and therein lies its weakness. And this weakness stems from another, which is more regrettable. The signatories are also those who are more exposed than others to the threats of a boycott against Israeli academics by their colleagues abroad. Their declaration seems directed less at the Israeli public and more abroad, at the boycotters, as if to say: We have nothing to do with the settlements. In other words, we are the "good guys," not the "bad guys."

That's a shame. They of all people are very familiar with the nature of the boycott from meeting at international conferences the BDS activists - those urging boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. For the boycotters, the very existence of Israel on what they see as Palestinian territory is illegitimate, and therefore the "university center" in Ariel is a petty matter, which is no different from the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, just as there's no difference between the colonialism of the late 19th century and the occupation of 1948 and that of 1967.

On the other side of the coin, the settlers are, in effect, making the same claim: Ariel is the "spearhead" of Zionism, like the wall and stockade of the hastily built kibbutzim under the British Mandate, and anyone who claims that the settlers are not legitimate is necessarily including Hanita and Ramat Aviv as well. This dangerous obfuscation, which has turned into government policy, is one of the main causes for the rejection of Israel in recent years.

It is doubtful whether most of the signatories to the declaration are interested in the fact that it pulls the ground from under the feet of Israel in general, including themselves and their work. But the voice that calls from their declaration is the voice of bitter despair - of those who no longer believe that Israel can recover and change, and are turning outward, to the world. That is the source of the unease aroused by the declaration. We can and must expect of these academics, of all people, who are genuinely anxious about the fate and image of Israel, not to despair; not to stop channeling efforts inward, to the society in which they live. Despite the very gloomy present, change, if and when it occurs, can come only from within this society and with their help.

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