Monday, January 5, 2009

Accademics call for boycott against Isreali universities

Academics in Canada (where faculty unions exist) and in England (and probably elsewhere) have called for a boycott of Israeli universities and their personnel. They have proposed that no Israeli accademic be allowed to speak on their campuses. See here and here.

This puzzles me. One may say that anti-Semitism is to blame, and I am sure there are enough anti-Semites (polite and not so polite) in academics to go around. But I just don't think that's the main reason. I come reluctantly to the conclusion that there is widespread misperception among intellectuals concerning "non-western" societies. Intellectual "liberals" proceed under the illusion that everyone shares or can be made to share there western liberal values - tolerance, open mindedness, a preference for non-violence, belief in the intrinsic equality of all human beings - in short, a belief in the power of enlightened reason. And so they bristle at every use of violence and recoil at the notion of a just war - thinking that every conflict situation can be solved by forbearance and tolerance, by "understanding." So, they wonder, why are Israeli academics not speaking out loud and clear against their government? Maybe a boycott against them will wake them up.

Large sections of humanity do not believe in and do not respect these western values. They have their own very different agendas, for example fundamentalist religious agendas. And they have nothing but contempt for the weak beliefs of the infidels. They use these beliefs against them. No one knows this better than the scholars in the universities and research institutes of Israel. They need to be heard not boycotted. 

In truth, of course, Israeli academics are probably the most critically minded analysts of their own government, in a society that respects freedom of speech. So, ironically, the call to boycott them, to refuse to allow them to be heard on the campuses of the boycotters,  violates the spirit of tolerance, understanding and freedom of speech that these critics claim to uphold.

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