To Boycott or Not to Boycott, That Is the Question No it’s not. Stanley Fish, law professor, and NY Times blogger, appears reasonable in debating whether or not an academic boycott of Israel is a good idea. However reasonable, though, he does not come to a concrete conclusion about such a boycott until the very end where he briefly mentions that “those actions, [the boycott of South Africa].. were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them.”
What he does is attempt to rebut arguments of opponents of the boycott. One such argument is that such a narrow focus on Israel is dishonest and hypocritical. The claim presents the question: Where are the calls for boycott of, and divestment from Sudan and China, not to mention Saudi Arabia and Iran? Picking Israel is dangerously close to antisemitism (if not more dangerous).
Yet Fish says, “If you supported the boycott of South Africa and the disinvestment by universities from companies doing business in or with that country, you are obligated, by your own history, to support the boycott of Israeli academics.”
“Anti-boycotters” do not (nor should not) argue what Fish paraphrases. Such an argument is moot, if not harmful in the end, since South Africa was clearly apartheid.Israel, on the other hand, has, by and large, acted justly (if not a bit meekly).
Fish misses the point entirely. Whether or not the theoretical boycott of a criminal state may be an interesting philosophical question, but is irrelevant with regards to Israel. Fish’s starting point seems to be that Israel is wrong and has committed crimes – and that the problem at hand is how to address these crimes.
I should expect more from a law professor. I don’t, but I should. Over 2,000 words, and not one actually deals with the question of Israel’s culpability. Fish’s implies that whether or not Israeli academics are responsible, the Israeli government is wrong, and is criminal. Indeed, his starting point is that Israel’s actions today are as wrong as apartheid South Africa’s were.
Nowhere does he look at Israeli actions in Gaza this past December/January, actual attacks, what preceded them, Israeli aid to Gaza, whether there was a causus belli, Israel’s jus ad bellum and jus in bello, and examine them in light of relevant international law – the UN Charter, Geneva Conventions, treaties to which Israel is a signatory. He just decides that 2009 Israel = 1948 South Africa. This is one academic that has definitely not performed “the tools of argument, fact and historical research.”