Why I can’t sign the antiboycott petition

It’s here: http://www.petitiononline.com/stopucu/petition.html 

Although I rule out boycotting Israel – on the grounds that it is one state among many with more lamentable human rights records, and on the grounds that academic boycott is one of the worst ways to exert pressure on a state (see Martha Nussbaum in the current issue of Dissent at http://tinyurl.com/2eggqo) – I don’t feel I can sign a petition by which “you declare your opposition to any academic boycott”.

To do so would amount to declaring opposition to academic boycott per se. But academic freedom is not a universal principle – it can be nullified by totalitarian state agenda as it was in Nazi Germany or, increasingly, present-day Iran. Under those extreme circumstances I can’t rule out boycott; in fact to cooperate would be tantamount to collaboration. There’s no point seeking to uphold something that doesn’t exist in the first place, a point which Judith Butler makes in her 2006 Radical Philosophy article – see http://tinyurl.com/ytyybn.

It is true that Palestinian freedoms have been drastically curtailed – if only supporting them were as simple as turning our backs on Israel for a while. It isn’t. Israeli aggression is not the only factor in this conflict; Palestinian factions and more distant string-pullers continue to foment violence against Israelis.

I don’t think this boycott can be overturned by the principle of universal academic freedom, important as it is. And so, much as I’d like to make my mark, I can’t sign that petition as it stands.

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