Wednesday, February 5, 2014

David Palumbo-Liu Back to Defend BDS (Part 1)

The only thing Huffington Post blogger David Palumbo-Liu ever talks about on the Huffington Post is BDS. And how much he supports it. He has a some what legitimate point this time, however, because he's talking about the recent bill in New York to withhold state funds from schools that call for boycotts of Israel. Of course his article has an incredibly ironic and hypocritical title: "Politics Over Freedom, Again." Politics over freedom is what BDS is all about, especially academic boycotts. But like Jon Haber of DivestThis, I actually agree that legislation against boycotts isn't great, so I'm not going to defend that. But Palumbo-Liu says enough questionable things about this issue that are worth correcting, so we're going to start there.
"It was obvious these academic leaders [who criticized the ASA resolution] had not read the resolution [calling for academic boycotts of Israel]. The resolution places no restrictions on its individual members from so doing; individuals are free to pursue any relations they wish with their Israeli counterparts, period."
This is hair splitting, a classic argument by boycott supporters. Although the ASA resolution doesn't restrict individual Americans from talking to individual Israelis, it does prevent those scholars from interacting in an official capacity. Which, for those of us who can apply common sense to these things, does infringe upon their academic freedom to study with whoever is most qualified to work with (free from politics). According to the resolution, Israeli academics are free to work at American institutions as long as "they are not expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or of the Israeli government." So saying that this only applies to institutions, and not to the people in the institutions, is moronic. But we've been over that, so let's move on:
"Also, the resolution is also decidedly not anti-Semitic, another charge that has been leveled against it. It is a protest against specific state practices, not against a people."
The resolution may not be anti-Semitic (though I think in practice it is), but it's no mere protest either. People, Jewish people, and Jewish people alone, are being punished for what they not responsible for. I might add that the "specific state practices" are actually not very specific at all. Let me quote from the resolution now:
"We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA."
Israel is being punished in a matter that no other country in the world is currently being punished in this manner. Even though there are many other countries that "violate international law and UN resolutions" and "are a party to state policies that violate human rights." Not Iran, not Russia, not China, not Syria, not Saudi Arabia. Many critics of the ASA boycotts have pointed out that if they want to boycott countries that violate human rights, maybe they should start with their own country. But naturally Palumbo-Liu isn't going to touch any of these arguments because he cannot defeat them. He does attempt to take on the "singling out Israel' argument in a hilarious and ineffective manner:
"Indeed, one of the most common criticisms of the boycott is that it singles out Israel. Disappeared from view is the fact that the boycott was called for by more than 200 civil organizations in Palestine as a nonviolent and legal form of protest against the state that so happens to be discriminating against Palestinians -- Israel. And Israel is feeling the effects of these boycotts, criticisms, and acts of protest more now than ever."
Interestingly enough, this argument was taken on by both Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, and both rejected it for different reasons. Finkelstein rejected it because the "civil organizations" don't represent the Palestinian people, who happily do business with Israel. Chomsky rejected it because just because Palestinians demand collective punishment of Israelis doesn't mean Americans are obligated to listen to it. If 200 Palestinian organizations demand that Americans all go jump off a bridge, does that mean the ASA would endorse that too?

And obviously it goes without saying that this paragraph doesn't counter the argument that the boycott singles out Israel. Because it does. And Palumbo-Liu knows it, he just doesn't care. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the academic community does.

We'll get to the rest of his argument in the next part.

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