A great article – Martha Nussbaum on ways to show your disapproval of a state’s policies.

Martha Nussbaum argues Against Academic Boycotts in the Summer 07 edition of Dissent. It is helpful for one reason particularly – one of the cornerstones of the argument against the boycott is that, in abuses of human rights, tyranny over ethnic minorities, and international aggression, Israel is far surpassed by a number of other countries. But thus far I feel I’ve failed, through lack of knowledge about these other countries and also my reluctance to exploit rhetoric in rhetorical times, to convince anybody I know that I’m not merely using diversionary tactics. Facts, and their careful, methodical comparison, are called for.

Martha Nussbaum is an expert in what she calls the Indian Government’s pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat. She is a leftist, as identified by the Wall St Journal, which called for her dismissal. By examining the case for academic boycott in general she takes apart the case for the boycott of Israel, first with reference to the other courses of action which are more sensitive and specific, and secondly by considering boycotts in action. She concludes:

Scholars who have strong views about the Israeli government would be well advised, I think, to focus on the tactic of organized (nonviolent and nondisruptive) public protest, directed at the government and its key actors. If an academic institution in Israel has committed a specific reprehensible act, then censure is an appropriate tactic. If an individual member of an academic institution has committed reprehensible acts, then those acts should be publicized and criticized by anyone who wants to criticize them, and one might also oppose rewarding such an individual with an honorary degree. I have argued that any more negative action, such as firing the individual, should be undertaken only in a narrow range of time-honored cases, such as criminal acts or sexual harassment. Meanwhile, all involved should focus on stating the facts to the general public, and making good arguments about those facts. As for the academic boycott, it is a poor choice of strategies, and some of the justifications offered for it are downright alarming. Economic boycotts are occasionally valuable. Symbolic boycotts, I believe, are rarely valuable by comparison with the alternatives I have mentioned, and the boycott in this case seems to me very weakly grounded.

Via Engage, trusty warhorse of boycott opposition.


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