Academic boycotts of Israel

by on December 6, 2013 at 7:01 am in Current Affairs, Education, Philosophy | Permalink

One of them is gathering steam (and more detail here):

The National Council of the American Studies Association announced Wednesday that it has unanimously endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities and other Israeli institutions — and urged its members to vote to make the boycott official policy of the association.

The move by the council, even if awaiting approval by the membership, is seen as a major victory for the movement for an academic boycott of Israel.

And yet I have a better idea.  If one is going to boycott institutions of Israel, should one not also boycott strong, powerful nations which have supported much of what Israel has done, especially strong, powerful nations which stole a lot of land from the original inhabitants, refuse to give it back, and have recently practiced torture, aggressive military intervention, and the murder of innocent civilians, and which spy upon much of the world, mostly without apology?

That’s right, they might consider boycotting the United States, starting with their very own name, which now would read “Council of the Studies Association.”  Cynical advocates of “self-deportation” (I am not one of them) might suggest a more general boycott of the nation as it relates to their choices of residence and employment, but I will settle for the group boycotting academic conferences in America.

I am in in Tel Aviv — albeit briefly — and happy to be here.  I am reminded of David Brooks’s recent column on the creeping politicization of life.  That is one trend we all ought to oppose.

Addendum: Here is a good dissent from the boycott.

Michael December 6, 2013 at 7:09 am

I’m very pro-Palestine, despite being raised Jewish. When doing my Ph.D., we had a conference and an Israeli scholar came, although there was a lot of controversy about whether we should support a boycott or not.

Of course, Brooks is never worth reading, but he is right on this point–there’s little reason to make business decisions based on politics (and yes, academics is a business). In most cases we can’t–if I boycotted all Republicans or libertarians, for instance, I’d be out of a job.

The best way to handle the situation is to express your feelings about the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the Israelis whom you interact with professionally. I was too scared of not getting a job, so I didn’t do this when I was studying for my Ph.D. (Another instance of money being power–if I wasn’t so scared of having a job to put food on the table, I may have said exactly how I felt.)

Tarrou December 6, 2013 at 8:18 am

Right, make sure you also excoriate all chinese, japanese, british, french, german, turkish, saudi, zimbabwean (and all other nations, except maybe Icelanders) whenever you meet them. Wouldn’t want to be hypocritical, would we? Look, this isn’t hard. Government is force, and any government long established* will misuse that force at some point. We should condemn this, but once one starts with the proposition that we must oppose any and all historical wrongs by mouthing off to the descendants of anyone who perpetrated them, we get bogged down pretty quickly.

*there are exceptions, mostly geographically isolated and with little in the way of natural resources to fight over.

Slocum December 6, 2013 at 8:46 am

“…except maybe Icelanders”

Aren’t you forgetting the whales?

dearieme December 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

What happened to the monks who were there when the Viking bastards took over, eh? I’ll bet they weren’t given a pension and resettled somewhere else.

john personna December 6, 2013 at 11:07 am

Isn’t the genetic evidence that Iceland was settled by Swedes who showed up with Irish slave girls? (I guess I am descended from both classes.)

On the main topic, it is silly to equate a population like America (or Iceland) which must deal with an oppressive past, and on that is arguably choosing one today. On that, I think democracy is a higher ideal than homeland.

Tarrou December 7, 2013 at 9:18 am

In purely practical terms, the creation of most stable societies requires that someone have a great moral crime committed against them. Machiavelli described this phenomenon many hundreds of years ago. Britain was built on four successive foreign invasions, and the ethnic cleansing of the Danes and Picts. America was built on the dispossession and periodic slaughter of indians. Turkey on empire and genocide. Germany as a single nation was built almost entirely to fight France in a series of increasingly horrific wars. Israel has its issues, to be sure, but they continue to this day precisely because they never had the callousness to do their dispossession all at once. It may have been better for them as a nation to simply have kicked all the arabs out in 1948 and kept it that way. It would have been a greater historical crime, but would they really have been any more reviled today? I doubt it.

We americans, and brits, and germans can only deal with “democracy” as opposed to “homeland” because our ancestors ethnically cleansed our homelands for us. I’m not sure there is any moral superiority to benefiting from historical crime while criticizing lesser crimes.

john personna December 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Well argued Tarrou, but I think you are suggesting “World War Z” as metaphor for a “democratic” Israel (within the walls). That isn’t really a higher morality, to make sure you clear the ground, before you start being good again.

Michael December 6, 2013 at 8:49 am

“make sure you also excoriate all chinese, japanese, british, french, german, turkish, saudi, zimbabwean (and all other nations, except maybe Icelanders) whenever you meet them.”

I do.

The Israelis are particularly horrible, because their atrocities are more recent.

Ape Man December 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

And this is why is so easy to through charges of antisemitism around when people criticize Israel. The double standard is breathtaking (and yes, I did read the part where you said that you were raised a jew).

Everything you said up until “The Israelis are particularly horrible, because their atrocities are more recent.” was perfectly reasonable. But you had to go and jump off the deep end. If you think Israeli atrocities are more recent then Turkish, Saudi, Zimbabwean, or Chinese then the most charitable thing I can say is that you read the news very narrowly.

Michael December 6, 2013 at 10:40 am

Fortunately it’s very easy to ignore people who casually accuse people of antisemitism. I’ve gotten too used to it to care.

Of course, you’re wrong; what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians continues to this day, so it’s concurrent with what’s happening in Zimbabwe and Tibet–whether it’s greater in severity is debatable, but it’s a debate I’m certainly not going to have with you.

john personna December 6, 2013 at 11:09 am

I think “more recent” should be recast. It’s really about the future. The Israelis, more than most others in these comparisons, face decisions today about how open and democratic a society they want to live in. (Sadly, the Israelis who like democracy more seem to be voting with their feet, and immigrating, leaving Israel to …)

y81 December 6, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I don’t know if Michael is an anti-Semite, but he’s certainly a fluffbrain. You can’t say that Israeli atrocities are more recent than other atrocities, and that they’re concurrent, unless you truly don’t know or care what those words mean.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I’ve gotten too used to it to care.

lol. yeah, I wonder why that is

Sam X December 6, 2013 at 11:05 am

Kind of incredible when Brooks makes your point for you:

“But, if you live in a place without rule of law, where a walk down a nighttime street can be terrifying, where tribalism leads to murder, you know that politics is a vital concern.”

That’s a long sentence to say that government is force.

john personna December 6, 2013 at 11:37 am

I believe that sentence says that there is force, before or after government. With the latter though, the peaceful majority has more say in how it is used.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Wait, are you the guy Ken on Popehat hates?

Thor December 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I was alarmed when I got to “Of course, Brooks is never worth reading.” It’s the “of course”, that all-knowing and snide expression, that raised my eyebrows most. Never? One needn’t agree with him to learn from him. At the very least you get to see what an Obama voting moderate Republican who is trying to popularize naturalism believes.

As for “I’m very pro-P.” That’s just vacuous. What could this mean? What couldn’t this mean? Right of return, hand over Golan Heights, pro Hamas, skeptical about Hamas, this could mean anything. Good grief… Stop just stop.

Fred December 6, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Of course, Brooks is ALWAYS worth reading. He is always interesting, thoughtful, precise, balanced, and humane.

Pity you can’t see that, blinded by ideological fever. Pity, as well, the poor Israeli academics that you gratuitously harass at academic conferences.

Michael December 6, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Amazing how I explicitly said that I never discussed Israeli politics at academic conferences, and you take that as gratuitious harassment. This is why I refuse to discuss Israel with most people–the amount of irrational, emotional indignation it excites is ridiculous.

GiT December 6, 2013 at 8:37 pm

“Of course, Brooks is ALWAYS worth reading. He is always interesting, thoughtful, precise, balanced, and humane.”

Wow, it must be nice having such poor judgement and taste. Everything must seem so great for you.

Richard Besserer December 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Much of the divestment from South Africa was motivated far less by human rights issues (though those made good PR copy) than the simple fact that South Africa was slowly becoming ungovernable, whether foreign investors liked it or not. Countries at war, or on a permanent war footing, isn’t where you invest money you can’t afford to lose while the outcome is at all in doubt.

If a hedge fund asked me whether they should invest in Israel, I would first get a sense of how viable long-term they thought the Israeli economy as we currently know it really is. Short term, Israel’s nuclear arsenal and the continued implicit understanding that the United States will come to Israel’s assistance in case of clear and present danger, as in 1973 (Netanyahu’s ranting notwithstanding) will probably keep its enemies at bay for the foreseeable future. If Israel hasn’t been defeated in war by now, it’s not going anywhere.

(Iran’s bomb program is almost certainly intended for deterence of regime change—an Iranian government dumb enough to lob a nuke at Tel Aviv would be the first victim of the Samson Option. It’s perfectly possible that Iran has nukes already, bought or stolen from failed states in the FSU or North Korea. Any domestic bomb program would be for propaganda purposes, as well as to have a plan B in case their suppliers are cut off.)

More worrying are the demographics. Israel, almost alone among developed settler nations, hasn’t been a net-immigration nation for a long time now. The fastest growing parts of the Jewish population are poorly educated fundamentalist Jews not interested in, or interesting for, the economy of a modern developed nation. The wall has done nothing to solve the problem that educated Jews in the global North aren’t that interested in coming to Israel except as tourists.

Michael December 6, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Brilliant writeup, Richard–thank you.

Jan December 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Israel, almost alone among developed settler nations, hasn’t been a net-immigration nation for a long time now.
I’m wondering if that trend simply reflects the fact that the flow from the former Soviet Union halted to a trickle around 2000, perhaps because there were simply very few Jews left in the FSU by then. The only other country I can think of that might actually send a decent number of people to Israel is the U.S. Unlike most other countries in the world, Israel wouldn’t look to its neighbors for immigrants. From where else would Israel poach immigrants?

Rahul December 6, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Why the assumption that only Jews are potential and desirable immigrants to Israel? Assuming your goal is a “thriving economy of a modern developed nation” one would think if they wanted to and tried they could get immigrants from Scandinavia, Canada, France, China, lots of other such similar places. The same places a nation like Canada or Australia gets immigrants from.

If they are not, then they question either is why not or why don’t they want them. The key question for them will be if to live with relative increases “poorly educated fundamentalist Jews from within” or to look for a more vibrant crowd from without.

Jan December 7, 2013 at 7:24 am

That is a good point. Just because the vast majority of immigrants have been Jewish (or Russians pretending to be Jewish) doesn’t mean they need to be going forward. I don’t actually know if Israel still has such a huge bias in its immigration policy, but it used to be very focused on the Law of Return.

I do think it is hard to get people from rich countries to immigrate to the Middle East. One, the economic opportunities in their home countries are pretty good. Two, Israel is far away and somewhat foreign to most people. It’s not like a US–>Canada or Poland–>Germany type of move. I’d think their best chances are with tempting well-educated people from China, India and FSU countries (already a large community of the latter).

Rahul December 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm

@Jan: “I do think it is hard to get people from rich countries to immigrate to the Middle East. “

Yes, but look at the number of rich western expats in Dubai, Saudi etc. In a restricted sense of the word “immigrant”, true, since most eventually travel back to the West. But many have lived for decades in the ME.

Ohad December 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm

The best way to handle the situation is to express your feelings about the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the Israelis whom you interact with professionally

and then of course plug your ears afterward – because you are not interested in hearing their perspective (or “feelings”) on the issue.

Sam December 6, 2013 at 7:10 am

This post is interesting, especially on the heals of the Mandela/Apartheid discussion. Politicization is dangerous but sometimes necessary. Being against it is also dangerous because it makes it to easy to rationalize away politics one disagrees with as too self serious.

prior_approval December 6, 2013 at 8:38 am

‘on the heals of the Mandela/Apartheid discussion’

Such a coincidence.

Vernunft December 6, 2013 at 7:24 am

Original inhabitants? waaaaat

Michael December 6, 2013 at 7:57 am

Yes–Native Americans were in the U.S. before the Europeans.

josh December 6, 2013 at 8:50 am

But certainly Palestinians were not the *original* inhabitants.

Brian Donohue December 6, 2013 at 9:01 am


“And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.”

Michael December 6, 2013 at 9:10 am

I suppose it depends on whether you believe the Old Testament/Torah is fiction or non-fiction. I see it as fiction, so AFAIK, the Palestinians are the original inhabitants.

Brian Donohue December 6, 2013 at 9:14 am

“I see it as fiction, so AFAIK, the Palestinians are the original inhabitants.”

I’m not so sure I agree 100% with your policework there Lou

XVO December 6, 2013 at 9:35 am

You suppose the Palestinians were there as the area was traded between several different empires and cultures over thousands of years?

josh December 6, 2013 at 10:14 am

I’m not sure it depends on that. History is actually kind of long.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 10:48 am

You think Palestinians aren’t Homo sapiens sapiens?

Al December 6, 2013 at 5:31 pm

In any case, it’s simply another arbitrary argument to impose one’s will on a population. The Israelis could have just as logically said that they are newer tenants, and because that is a valuable quality, they will reside. Of course, that argument may have marshalled less capital from suppliers who wouldn’t have appreciated the implications upon themselves.

Chip December 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

Islam didn’t even emerge until the 600s. So the religious-cultural impetus for driving the Jews into the sea post-dates these same Jews by a couple thousand years.

Michael December 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

Are the Jews moving to Israel the same Jews that lived there a couple thousand years ago?

Careless December 6, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Is anyone the same anything as 2000 years ago?


Andy McGill December 6, 2013 at 11:09 am

Some groups of Native Americans were in the US first, but of course they were killed and conquered over and over again by other Native Americans. The groupings of Native Americans at the time of Columbus was built just as much on violence and conquering as anything since Columbus.

revver December 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

but…but…its different when whitey does it.

chuck martel December 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Well, if that’s just the natural order of things why did the US care when the Germans invaded France.

Albigensian December 20, 2013 at 10:50 am

What more can be said about Israel? Are objections to Israel objections to Israel’s behavior, or to its very existence?

Overall irridentism is mostly a dangerous and foolish disease, as no one made the land and any people who live anywhere surely took the land they are living on from someone else, and once prior claims are recognized there can be no end to them. In general there is much to say for respecting established borders.

Which doesn’t get us very far in the Middle East. Israel is hardly “long-established” but then there never has been a Palestinian state, only a confused post-Ottoman history.

Part of the difficulty in sympathising with Palestinians is there appalling record of bad choices. Surely no one in Gaza could have had any illusion that a vote for Hamas was anything other than one vote, one time as any further “votes” would be made only with AK-47s? Nor can one ignore that Hamas’ position regarding Israel is starkly eliminationist- they’re quite clear that they don’t want and won’t accept a better deal from Israel, they just want it gone, forever. Although they’ll accept an interim truce if it moves them closer to that goal.

Nor can one ignore that the Israeli military does truly try to minimize civilian casualties (and when they fail the world is outraged, even though everyone knows- or should know- that civilian casualties are inevitable, especially when they are used as human shields). Whereas Palestinian fighters almost always try to maximize civilian casualties. The excuse for this offered is the superior might of the Israeli military, yet the larger picture shows a region with some 200 million Arabs and only ~6 million Israelis.

Israel looms large in everyone’s mind, yet a true-scale map shows it to be but a tiny sliver in a region that is overwhelmingly Arab. Ultimately the question comes down to, does it have a right to exist?

Chip December 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

Is there a sliding scale of bad behaviour that determines a boycott? Since I’m not aware of any other boycotts by the council, presumably Israel is the most inhumane country on the planet.

Unless this is just mindless moral exhibitionism of course.

Z December 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

Jew-hating has always been a part of the Left. Every leftist cult starts with the idea that they are special little snowflakes chosen to lead the people to the promised land. Having a different group of people claiming to be the chosen people is more than a little inconvenient. Scratch the paint off a lefty and you always find a swastika.

Jan December 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm

[head explodes]

Rahul December 6, 2013 at 11:50 pm

“Every leftist cult starts with the idea that they are special little snowflakes chosen to lead the people to the promised land.”

Isn’t the word “leftist” redundant in the above sentence?

dead serious December 7, 2013 at 4:36 am

Try as you might, nobody’s reading your shitty little blog, precious.

Back to the drawing board.

Ape Man December 6, 2013 at 9:35 am

And that is the problem I have with the boycotts.

I don’t mind when people put their money where their mouth is even when it is politics I disagree with. But when they have a double standard it gets under my skin.

I can’t understand a consistent point of view where China’s occupation of Tibet is not worthy of boycott but Israel is. The main difference I can see is that China’s policy of importing millions of Han Chinese into Tibet has a longer term chance of “success” then Israels building of settlements does.

Chris H December 6, 2013 at 10:27 am

Or perhaps more charitably, Israel might be a nation that responds to those kinds of incentives better. The boycott in that case could be a compliment to the Israelis.

Of course I don’t think it’d be any more effective than boycotting China over Tibet so I think if that kind of thought process is driving these actions it’s rather wrong-headed and winds up setting a bad precedent for other countries (aka if you seem more responsive to outside pressure you get targeted more often).

belisarius December 6, 2013 at 7:46 am

Bring back the byzantine empire.

josh December 6, 2013 at 8:56 am

I feel like you are probably joking, but obviously this would be a wonderful development.

Mehmed II December 6, 2013 at 10:44 am

Why go all the Byzantines. The Turks are right there — they can do it.

Ray Lopez December 6, 2013 at 11:42 am

The Jews were anti-Byzantine, participating in some pogroms against the Byzantines when they retreated from Jerusalem around the fifth or sixth centuries AD I’ve read. So intolerance is not a monopoly of any nation (I’m generally pro-Israel btw, but anti-settlers). The Turks during the Ottoman empire also accepted Jewish claims on land in Palestine (i.e., they registered the claims) so indeed the original inhabitants were Jewish as well as Palestine Arab, though the former were in the vast minority. All this in the excellent, balanced, dovish book “Righteous Victims” By Benny Morris.

For the record I am not a racist but I do believe–though I can’t prove it, except by analogy to animal husbandry genetics–that mixed race people are superior to every other (the variance, mean, and curve is shifted, usually for the better). Look at the great athletes who were mixed race: Franco Harris (Italian-Black), Tiger Woods (Thai-Black) and many, many others. If Arabs and Jews can unite conjugally they can form–irony intended–a master race. But unfortunately for them–and good for me I hope–the master race will be a Spanish-Jewish-Greek-Asian offspring of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Lopez.

BTW Israelis are smarter than their Arab neighbors–this is fact not opinion–as can be seen from this graphic: Also note in the cited article the anti-Israeli protester misspelled “Boycott” as “Boicot” (sic). Unless the protester is Spanish, that’s embarrasing. :-) Troll on!

Jan December 6, 2013 at 8:38 pm

That’s very Soviet of you, referring to the Jews as a race and all.

Augustus December 6, 2013 at 11:54 am

Why stop there?

Collin December 6, 2013 at 7:47 am

Since I have given up on any chance of a two state solution with Israel and Palenstine, I going to everything to support the Iran nuclear deal.

Handle December 6, 2013 at 7:58 am

Ah yes, the zero state solution. The final solution.

josh December 6, 2013 at 8:56 am


Thor December 6, 2013 at 12:29 pm

ha ha! Good one

bob December 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

Was the academic boycott of South African institutions under apartheid equally ridiculous?

Ape Man December 6, 2013 at 9:38 am

A question for a question: What is the moral difference between China’s occupation of Tibet and Israel’s treatment of Palestine?

Jermaine December 6, 2013 at 10:01 am

There isn’t much moral difference, but it’s a question of leverage. Overall, there is probably more opposition to China’s occupation of Tibet, but we don’t have much leverage with China. That is not the case with Israel.

XVO December 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

Is the lack of a boycott of South African institutions under the current racial genocide equally ridiculous? (I guess there is no point in boycotting institutions that hardly exist.)

Benny Lava December 6, 2013 at 8:22 am

Linking to David Brooks = autofail

cowen_reader December 6, 2013 at 8:29 am

If one can analyze selling children on a marginal basis, surely one can analyze boycotting Israeli institution on that basis. It’s likely the conclusion would still be against it, but it would be better than more moralizing.

RPLong December 6, 2013 at 9:58 am

That took courage and clarity to post. Kudos.

I wish you had used your real name, but I’ll +1 your comment anyway.

anon December 9, 2013 at 8:45 am


I can get the moralizing, but not the econ analysis, at church and the music from Ari Lesser

Just replace Israel with South Africa December 6, 2013 at 8:53 am

In the above blog post and you perfectly capture the mindset of those reasonable people who felt boycotts opposing apartheid during the 1980s were distasteful.

And those reasonable people were very, very wrong.

Z December 6, 2013 at 9:10 am

You guys always have a Goldstein to scream at. At least this time he may actually be named Goldstein.

Richard Besserer December 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm

You know what? When avowedly anti-Semitic and white supremacist websites (some of whose correspondents occasionally troll MR) are holding up Israel as a model of racial realism, something has gone horribly wrong.

Ape Man December 6, 2013 at 9:41 am

A question for a question: What is the moral difference between China’s occupation of Tibet and Israel’s treatment of Palestine?

Mike December 6, 2013 at 10:24 am

That Tibet doesn’t want to push all the Chinese into the sea.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 10:52 am

If they wanted the Palestinians dead, they’d be dead. They’re not at a stalemate.

Cliff December 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Actually, wanting someone to be dead does not make it so.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm

They have complete military superiority and modern weapons. Killing 99% of the Palestinians would be a trivial task

Careless December 6, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Hell, it would be trivial for them to kill 90% of the entire Arab population.

We’re only in this situation because the Israelis do not want to kill people for fun and profit in the way people 50+ years ago did

JWatts December 6, 2013 at 11:58 am

That Tibet doesn’t want to push all the Chinese into the sea.

They very much attempting to erase Tibet as a separate culture. When’s the last time Tibet launched an attack on China? It seems China’s behavior vs Tibet is worse that Israel’s behavior vs the Palestinians.

Brian Donohue December 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I think you misread Mike’s comment.

JWatts December 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

{slaps head} Yes, I did. My bad.

Roy December 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Wel actually it was late in the Yuan dynasty, but that is basically a historical obscurity, even less relevent than the time Poland was oppressing Moscow, even if it was more recent than the Irish invasion of Britain.

Richard Besserer December 6, 2013 at 12:38 pm

The co-operation of Israel and apartheid-era South Africa on far too much (say, nuclear weapons programs) just makes the comparison look far worse. .

A Definite Beta Guy December 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm

What are your opinions on Operation Nickel Grass?
Your ilk were around in the 1970s and demanded Israel be left to fend for itself during a surprise attack on a high holy day, by people who did not recognize their right to exist.
Hence, the difference between South Africa, and israel.
Only Nixon can go to China. You are not Nixon.

The Only Jim December 6, 2013 at 9:13 am

Tyler asked a good question, and you’ve all ignored it. Here’s the answer.

The reason these clowns are not boycotting the USA, or any other nation that can be accused of “bad behavior” (which is every last one of them), is because the only thing they are seeking is publicity.

Boycotting Israel gets you a tremendous amount of immediate publicity, You get the passionate support of the Jew-haters right off the bat, and there are more than enough of those to put you on the front page of the New York Times.

Axa December 6, 2013 at 10:02 am


The Association of Asian American Studies just adopted the show-business tactics of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

If the MIT boycotts Israel, I may be worried ( ). Until then, enjoy the show.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Wait, seriously, Asian American studies did this? Are they trying to make themselves more than 100% of a joke?

anon December 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Asian American studies did this?

Yes. Disappointing.

albert magnus December 6, 2013 at 10:06 am

I would argue they are boycotting Israel because its a first-world nation acting ethnocentrically. The US does some really awful things, but it does them for a random collection of weird principles, so no one holds it against us for very long (except the Native Americans, who we did clear out for ethnocentric reasons). For instance, we seem to be getting along with most of Southeast Asia despite blowing the place to smithereens a generation ago.

In other words in the eyes of the protestors, ethnocentricism+first world power = most bad. Everything else = less bad.

JWatts December 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm

China is a first world power.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 3:05 pm

No, it isn’t. It’s a superpower, but it’s not first world

JWatts December 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Fair enough, but at what level do we stop considering China third world? Or developing world? I don’t really know what is considered the benchmark anymore, though I’ll stipulate that China still has a lot of economic growth ahead.

Careless December 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm

It’s still a lot poorer than, say, Portugal, which has half the income of the US. There’s a long way to go

Sbard December 8, 2013 at 2:09 am

Third-world originally referred to the nations aligned with neither the US nor the USSR.

Roy December 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Honestly I have always been impressed with how little most Native Americans hold what we did against them. I have quite a few in my own family and aside from a little rhetorical posturing they are more patriotic than most of my other kin and a lot more likely to serve in the military.

And then there are the Filipinos who seem for the most part to not want any retribution for what we did to them. We killed a heck of a lot more of them than Israelis have killed Palestinians.

Rahul December 6, 2013 at 10:47 am

It’s interesting that the boycotting associations are Asian Studies and American Studies. I guess those sort of Departments have to do something to get attention.

collin December 6, 2013 at 9:42 am

I am not for the Israeli boycott but I think two wisest things we can do in the Middle East:

1) Sign a long term deal with Iran nuclear deal.
2) Remove as much military and foreign aid from the region.

In the short term this probably creates more political instability but the long run allows the Middle East to figure out for themselves.

Z December 6, 2013 at 9:52 am

I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with your point, but the most likely outcome of your recommendation is a nuclear exchange that spills into Europe. Maybe that’s what it will take to break the fever, I don’t know. But, you can understand why the world obsesses over the Iranians getting a nuke and why the Russians are using it to blackmail the West.

john personna December 6, 2013 at 11:46 am

There is that argument, which I wouldn’t choose as my first position, that owning a nuke makes any nation into a rational actor. The idea is that they are suddenly on the list for mutually assured destruction. If everyone remains rational, a nuclear Iran can’t be invaded, but neither can a nuclear Iran use it. The argument against of course is “wait a minute, these guys are crazy enough to do it” .. but are they?

TMC December 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm

That might make the most sense of the positions I’ve heard. A little scary though.

Brian Donohue December 6, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Well, if they really believe their stories of paradise in the Hereafter, they might. One thing about Commies- their interest is in the here and now.

john personna December 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm

If my informant can be trusted, the Iranian middle class is made up of pragmatics and closet atheists.

Roy December 6, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Those are my informants too, of course the middle class you are thinking of is an extremely affluent and remarkably narrow elite, and if you scratch the surface at all, especially of the ones who stay in Iran, you find they are not exactly atheists either.

The Iranian regime created by the revolution is a heck of a lot more broadly based than that of the vast majority of Iranians educated Americans know. This is a lot like assuming Hugo Chavez had no real support because every Venezuelan you know despises him.

I am in the weird personal position of being pro Israel and generally favoring Shiites over Sunni. I also think that other than the disaster that is Lebanon that Iran is in general the best of the lot. However that doesn’t mean I want them to have nuclear weapons, especially before their next revolution.

john personna December 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Perhaps many readers can relate to it in this sense … if strong central government creates cynicism among its subjects, what does strong religious government do?

Roy December 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Oh I agree, 30 years of theocratic rule has dramatically damaged the moral authority of organized religion in Iran, but that doesn’t necessarily create atheists. When Charles II was restored in England after the fall of the Protectorate, the Puritans were discredited by Christianity certainly was not.

I suspect we are very close to a tine when the moral standing of Shiite clerjcs will be inversely related to how much political power they seek. It is already happened, just look how many of the current ayatollahs are excluded from government, or even placed in internal exile. I am really looking forward to the post theocratic state, but I suspect it will remain a religiously conservative one with a lot of popular pietism.

Z December 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Suicidal maniacs are rational too. Just because they may disagree with you, does not make them irrational. Iran could very think they are bringing back the invisible flying Imam by nuking Israel. Not knowing if that is true, the Jews would be perfectly rational to nuke Iran first. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

john personna December 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

“Suicidal maniacs are rational too.” … not in any rational sense, no.

RPLong December 6, 2013 at 10:07 am

So for those who support such a boycott, I have another question for you: How do you see the whole Israel-Palestine conflict being resolved?

If it were as easy as putting pressure on one side or the other, this thing would have been solved 30 years ago.

TC’s right, but far too subtle. The point is that while we here in America get our jollies by protesting the atrocities of foreign nations, we have an awfully messy garden of our own to attend to. We spend all our time “boycotting” and “protesting” and sharing things on Facebook, convincing ourselves that all the real atrocities and crimes against humanity are being committed by foreign people against foreign people in foreign places, and that the global community needs to wake up.

All the while it is our government bombing, droning, torturing, spying, and waging economic warfare.

TC’s point is that a nation that can’t be moved to care about its own actions holds precious little moral authority over the actions of foreign governments.

The sick thing is that if you don’t spell it out for people, they just don’t get it. TC should be more explicit on issues like this. We very obviously and desperately need that kind of moral clarity in American political discussions.

GiT December 6, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Given the reputation of the field, I really doubt people teaching American Studies are ignoring atrocities in the US.

C December 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

I completely take Tyler’s view on this and Stanley Fish’s as well (expressed in several very good essays in the NY Times). I find this entire drive to boycott to be laughable and completely outrageous at one and the same time. Why are we casting in political terms the day-to-day professional work done by professors, researchers, and students at our universities, or Israel’s? Universities should not be boycotting universities on political grounds. Political boycotts are the realm of governments and political institutions.

Urso December 6, 2013 at 10:45 am

There’s an old joke in college football circles that goes something like “The NCAA was so mad at Alabama that they put Jackson State on probation.” Same principle here – the boycotters are so mad at the Israeli government that they’re striking out at some math professors.

Mohammad December 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

Tyler’s comment can only come from someone who believes the rest of Israel is like Tel Aviv. His suggestion of boycotting the US for its “bad behavior” is a clear case of false equivalency. Tyler, take a visit to the occupied territories of West Bank or Gaza while you’re there and then ask the questions.

The U.S. does not *currently* continue the practice of expropriating land from families, deny them citizenship, and close off access to cities and roads based on the person’s race or religion. Gaza is the largest open air prison in the world, with no access to food or energy except what is rationed by Israel. The West Bank has been divided into “bantustans”. And Israel continues to settle foreigners from Eastern Europe and other places and grant them citizenship on the basis of their Jewishness.

chuck martel December 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm

“Gaza is the largest open air prison in the world”
Does that mean a Gaza resident can’t leave until his sentence is over? If it’s a prison, how come it’s so full of weapons?

Naive question December 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm

“Gaza is the largest open air prison in the world” — The Israel army has completely withdrawn from Gaza and it is now ruled 100% by the Palestinian Hamas. It has a border with Egypt across which Gazans may trade with Egypt or travel through Egypt (if Egypt and Hamas mutually agree to it, like between every two countries/regions) without Israel having any say it in.

Are you suggesting that Israel should not have withdrawn from Gaza? This was clearly demanded from it.

Are you suggesting that Israel has an obligation to provide food or passage to independent Gaza? Why? Does Egypt also have such an obligation? Does the Palestinian authority?

How would you expect that Israel respond to Gaza’s declared position calling to the destruction of Israel?

Lukas December 6, 2013 at 10:42 am

Guilt (for whatever) is always that of an individual, not that of a nation.

Boycotting Israeli academia will most likely just punish left-wing and pro-palestinian scientists there, I don’t think either Bibi or some settlers in the West Bank will care much. Actually I think THEY will love it because it supports their idea that everybody is out to get Israel.

Stupid, stupid idea.

sk December 6, 2013 at 10:46 am

We should all boycott American Studies departments. Utterly useless people who only suck up increasingly scarce resources. In general anything with ‘studies’ in it is guaranteed to be garbage.

prior_approval December 6, 2013 at 10:52 am

Does the Center for Study of Public Choice escape your scorn because it only uses the singular form of ‘studies’ in its name?

sk December 6, 2013 at 11:15 am

Of course. If they pluralize the name, all bets are off.

prior_approval December 6, 2013 at 11:37 am

Well, that is a relief – for a minute there, I thought that someone might actually defend the Institute for
Humane Studies just because of its ideology, as compared to its name.

sk December 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Nope, then it joins the ranks of American Studies, Gender Studies, Women’s Studies etc. in the dustbin.

Sbard December 8, 2013 at 2:16 am

What about East Asian studies? That’s usually considered a reasonably reputable branch of academia.

uffs December 6, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Why the heck are the resources of which you speak increasingly scarce?

Rahul December 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Funding dollars?

Andy McGill December 6, 2013 at 10:56 am

This is a lazy and logically bad argument against the boycott — it is what freshman sit up nights arguing back and forth with each other. Every nation on earth, including indigenous peoples, exists because of violence and force.

The boycott is wrong because it is totally contrary to the mission of colleges and universities. If professors are willing to ignore ideas and facts to further political ideas, then there is no reason why state legislatures and politicians shouldn’t be able to legislate what the colleges teach as “truth”.

save_the_rustbelt December 6, 2013 at 11:03 am

Grown up hippies become liberal arts professors.

China is oppressing 1B people, and no one seems to care. Crazy.

Roy December 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I remember when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors refused to condemn China for its treatment of Falun Gong because it wasn’t that body’s place to have opinions on foreign policy.

I have never laughed so hard in my life.

(To the boards credit they reversed themselves 5 years later.)

john personna December 6, 2013 at 11:12 am

I’ll go on record saying that the US should have tried to build a one man, one vote, democracy from the earliest days. That wouldn’t have been bloodless, but it it would have been less an outright theft.

Of course, there’s not much we can do in 2013 to support the democratic ideal in 1600, is there? And the modern Tribal ideal is interested more in protecting “homelands.”

Sam X December 6, 2013 at 11:17 am

So everyone who doesn’t support boycotts–

Do you also not support the Iranian sanctions? Because realistically most of what that accomplished was the same thing, to squeeze the daily lives of average people.

Andy McGill December 6, 2013 at 11:22 am

Boycotts are political acts. If universities want to play politics and use politics in their academic work, then the government should set up political appointees to direct the universities politics and academic work.

Sam X December 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

I get your point but I don’t buy the overarching Brooks thesis that life should be depoliticized. That’s a very convenient point of view for the status quo but the truth of the matter is that politics is everywhere in our daily life. Everyone above us is arguing “Why don’t you protest China’s treatment of Tibet?!” Which is about as far from the matter at hand as possible. (Boycotting one institution doesn’t imply support for another by virtue of not-boycotting it.)

The government shouldn’t make political appointees to universities, but universities should be allowed to respond to political developments. Nothing is a-political (just as nothing is objective), and to say so is a repressive act.

Andy McGill December 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm

You don’t see the Physics Department printing up periodic tables without the elements discovered by Jews.

If academic freedom is necessary for truth seeking, then a boycott of ideas from anywhere should be unthinkable. It is only pseudo academic fields, that are more political bias than truth seeking, where having a boycott makes any sense.

Ape Man December 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm

For what it is worth, I think the US should stop giving Israel economic and military aid. The only thing that really gets under my skin is those people pretending that Israel is special case of moral outrage. There is not single empirical metric by which Israel is worse than a lot of other nations of the world that nobody seems to worry about. The only thing that makes Israel special is that our government gives them so much money. How boycotting Israel is suppose to fix that is beyond me.

Roy December 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I support the sanctions because Iran signed a treaty saying it wouldn’t build nuclear weapons in exchange for nuclear technology.

Israel never signed that treaty. Neither did Pakistan or India.

The sanctions are the result of breaking that agreement.

fred lapides December 6, 2013 at 11:54 am

If, as biologists tell, us, human migrated Out of Africa, then they moved into this and that land and there is little need to seek out “original inhabitants.” Suffice it to say that during the British Mandate, there was no nation in what is referred to as Palestine, but it was a land with Arabs, Jews, Christians…and the the UN said: Let there Be two nations. And the rest is the madness we now see in that region.

I am against academic boycotts, no matter what. That said, the intellectual boycott is a sheer waste of time because there are so many nations that sell and buy and develop and seek coopeation with Israel’s industries and medical and health and electronic places.

But then academics–I am now a retired one–, esp. in the humanities, usually are puffed up with their importance and feel that their statements and positions change the world.

freethinker December 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Rahul says “It’s interesting that the boycotting associations are Asian Studies and American Studies. I guess those sort of Departments have to do something to get attention.” True. These subjects have very low market value and by arranging this boycott the guys feel useful.

Boycotter December 6, 2013 at 12:20 pm

This boycott is about promoting academic freedom not rectifying historical abuses. (Read the article.)

But a clearer frame for this audience might be to say it is about open borders for academics. The Association has, in fact, boycotted Arizona for its stance on immigration.

As for charges of hypocrisy, how many academics today shout about the need for more open borders in the US yet are silent about opening borders in Israel?

JWatts December 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

“As for charges of hypocrisy, how many academics today shout about the need for more open borders in the US yet are silent about opening borders in Israel?”

Well it would be hypocritical for an Israeli academic to shout out about the US needing more open borders but remaining silent about open borders in Israel. But from an American academic POV, it’s hardly hypocritical, or even particularly relevant.

Boycotter December 6, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I’m speaking specifically about academics who have dual citizenship in Israel and the USA.

Naive question December 6, 2013 at 3:54 pm

“This boycott is about promoting academic freedom not rectifying historical abuses.” — You must be kidding: any way you look at it, the academic freedom is Israel is far far greater than that in any Arab country. Try to find any definition of “academic freedom” (rather than the question of who is to blame about Israel’s occupation of parts of the West Bank) in which Israel is inferior to any Arab country.

With all due respect, such an idiotic claim only proves the hypocrisy of the boycott.

Thor December 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Not sure if people know it, but the leaders in the field — that is, the arbiters of power in the area, within the MLA, among other places — in American Studies are Marxists or militants close to that position, politically. A goodly number of them are affiliated with the Marxist Literary Group. That should tell you a lot about their objectivity or their concern with finding pragmatic, moderate, non-ideological solutions. They don’t even recognize the complexity of the issues.

sk December 6, 2013 at 1:02 pm

This is the case of most ‘Studies’ departments in general. They’re rejects of other fields who found homes in useless and illegitimate departments. They’re even worse than education departments, and that’s saying something.

GiT December 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Pretty funny on the blog of professors affiliated with the Mercatus/Liberty/IHS/&etc panoply of ideologically motivated research groups.

boycott individuals not institutions December 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I believe that the israeli boycott is stupid, the south african boycott was stupid, iranian sanctions are stupid, and the suggestion that americans should boycott america is also stupider. There’s no point in boycotting israeli professors who oppose israeli apartheid, only on account of their being israeli. The idea that by boycotting people unjustly, you’ll shame them into convincing their government to change its policies is wrong. What you’ll do instead is only piss those people off because they’re being unjustly discriminated against.

Ryan Vann December 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

“iranian sanctions are stupid”

Are you kidding me? Iran sanctions, rather exemptions are among the greatest bargaining gambits the US has ever played.

Tom December 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm


Israel has strict immigration restrictionist and racialist policies. It tests immigrants’ genetic background for Jewishness, restricts immigration and travel by non-Jews, sterilizes some African immigrants, builds large and strong walls to keep out immigrants, rounds up and keeps African immigrants in concentration camps and deports them, etc.

You never voice your opposition to this, while at the same time supporting and promoting less restrictionist policies for the US and other countries.

It’s fine to accuse The National Council of the American Studies Association of hypocrisy for failing to boycott the US as well, although I’m quite sure they’re as opposed to the traditional US as they are to Israel so I don’t think they’re as hypocritical as you seem to suggest.

You’re a much bigger hypocrite for your consistent support and promotion of immigration liberalization and anti-national policies in the US and other countries while failing to say anything about Israel’s policies.

Richard Besserer December 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I sympathize. When Steve Sailer is praising Israel on an avowedly anti-semitic and anti-immigration website for its alleged racial realism, condemning the You-Know-Whos mostly for not having the good manners to let Christians do the same, something has gone terribly, horribly wrong.

dead serious December 7, 2013 at 4:55 am

Keeping people out is one thing. Expanding your borders by illegally squatting on others’ land – and mind you this is government sanctioned – is disgusting.

Any honest “libertarian” would find this behavior reprehensible.

phillip December 7, 2013 at 5:17 am

Tyler Cowen is an unprincipled hypocrite. He has no integrity. He promotes immigration for the US and attacks immigration restrictionists in the US, while saying nothing about Israel’s immigration restrictionism. The fact that he doesn’t say anything about Israel’s expansionism just makes him an even bigger hypocrite, since he’d be criticizing similar behavior by the US and virtually anyone else.

georgekasabian December 6, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Tyler’s wife is Jewish. He’s not really objective about this topic.

If this were the 80s, Tyler would be supporting boycotts against South Africa.

Bill December 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Tyler himself is Jewish, if I am not mistaken.

GiT December 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Would he? Plenty of people didn’t. Including, for example, the Israeli government.

Ed December 6, 2013 at 2:16 pm

The whole boycott thing has its origins in the perceived success of the boycotts of and sanctions against Apartheid-era South Africa. The argument is that the situations are similar, and they call for similar tactics.

This is not a proposal to give a sort of anti-award for the world’s most odious regime, or to put Israel into the bag government Hall of Fame. The idea is to use a political tactic that worked in resolving a similar problem thirty years ago and maybe it will work again.

You don’t boycott the US or China because the boycott won’t work. You also have to decide what you want the US government or Chinese government to do in order to end the boycott.

There are reasonable arguments against the boycott proposal. You can reasonably argue that Israel in the 2010s is not like 1980s South Africa, dissimilar enough that the problem is not serious enough to boycott and/ or the Israeli government is better able to thwart the tactic than the South African government. You can also argue that the situations are in fact similar, but that South Africa shouldn’t have been boycotted.

Ape Man December 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm

You know I could accept that as reasonable argument if that is the argument that was being put forth. But that is not what I see when most people talk about boycotting Israel. In this very comment section up thread there are people saying that Israel is in a special moral quality of awfulness.

The biggest difference between South Africa and Israel is that the US never supported South Africa like it has Israel. Bit rich for academics to boycott Israeli academics to try to get them to change their governments mind.

Ryan Vann December 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm

“You’re a much bigger hypocrite for your consistent support and promotion of immigration liberalization and anti-national policies in the US and other countries while failing to say anything about Israel’s policies. ”

This perspective prevails among many academic-libertarians. I don’t get it.

Anyway, this is quite the non-story. I don’t think anyone here will be surprised to find out that a lot of academics (read liberals) aren’t too fond of the Likud, about as surprised to discover academics don’t like Fox news (or Faux news as they so cleverly put it) or the GOP.

bill reeves December 6, 2013 at 10:29 pm

But boycotting the US would be HARD. And cost MONEY and CAREER POINTS. What we want is CHEAP, preferably FREE GRACE. Be moral and righteous and shout the right slogans wearing our Kaffiyehs without, you know, it actually costing us anything, well maybe a light sunburn on a summer’s day. After all, we’re progressive academics. We don’t PAY for anything.

James December 7, 2013 at 5:06 am

No. Being anti-American is a lot safer and costs less in money and career points than being anti-Israel.

anon December 9, 2013 at 8:53 am

Not costs less, more like icing on the cake.

Sam Gardner (@samwgardner) December 8, 2013 at 4:05 am

Some crimes are beyond “business as usual’.

What would be your tipping point where you would argue for a boycott?

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