Common Sense Boycotts

The Academic Boycott sponsoring organization, PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel), argues in Orwellian fashion that their boycott efforts are aimed at protecting academic freedom. They take great care to emphasize that their efforts are purely and exclusively aimed at institutions, not at individuals, and that individuals would not be targeted solely due to their citizenship. Left at that, I would still strongly object to such boycotts and a variety of grounds, one of which is that stigmatization is simply not containable. Containing pollution takes great communal effort, as any scholar of religion or anthropology would know.But as it turns out, they have no intention of containing the stigma from spilling over to individuals. On the contrary, they encourage it through the mechanism of “common sense boycotts“:

Mere affiliation of Israeli scholars to an Israeli academic institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott.

While an individual’s academic freedom should be fully and consistently respected in the context of academic boycotts, an individual academic, Israeli or otherwise, cannot be exempt from being subject to “common sense” boycotts (beyond the scope of the PACBI institutional boycott criteria) that conscientious citizens around the world may call for in response to what they widely perceive as egregious individual complicity in, responsibility for, or advocacy of violations of international law (such as direct or indirect involvement in the commission of war crimes or other grave human rights violations; incitement to violence; racial slurs; etc.). At this level, Israeli academics should not be automatically exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.

It is a brilliant mechanism of ensuring discrimination of individual scholars, while keeping liability at arms length. All you need to do to justify discriminating against scholars you don’t like is to announce that it is part of the academic boycott and you perceive the person to be complicit with Israel or Zionism. They don’t really need to be Israeli. Zionist is good enough. This is the basic unfairness of boycotts. They are simply morally dishonest about their practical effects. Academic boycotts in the end always translate to the individual level, and do not contain themselves from Israeli, to Zionist, and then sometimes even to Jewish, but do ensure that nobody is held responsible when the inevitable discrimination occurs, and there is no mechanism for policing the discrimination.

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