Funding pots can’t cure veruccas

Moan, moan, moan, moan, moan. These anti-boycotters are never happy. Just belt up, get a life.

But, but, but. The arguments I’ve found most convincing against the boycott of Israeli academics always stopped short of attributing antisemitic intent to pro-boycotters. With the exception of a small minority who were evidently hateful people associated with Holocaust denial (which is always politically motivated), who am I to say what they meant by their attempts to bring about a total social and material boycott of Israel? Effect, not intent, is the important thing here. Unintended racism is still racism. The boycott effectively discriminates against Jews. Intent, therefore, was not at the crux of the argument. But, although it’s a hard argument to have, intent matters.

Interesting developments this week. A generous pot of money unveiled for academic collaborations between the EU and its neighbouring countries (including Turkey and the Occupied Palestinian Territories). The Israel programme’s budget is E1m (for how long I’m not sure) excluding running costs. In the words of European Commissioner for Media, Culture and Sport, Jan Figel, the effect of this funding (though maybe not its aim) would be to make “boycott efforts a lose-lose situation”. It certainly does reinforce this lose-lose point.

A few days later, Gordon Brown announced a new UK-Israel academic partnership too – £700k over five years.

The funding will advance knowledge, help academics, and build international awareness and understanding. If you boycott, you lose out on these opportunities – simple. Very good idea. It effectively ends the boycott. Effectively. Just like the legal opinion in 2007 effectively ended the boycott. Until it came back with a self-righteous vengeance the following year passed by a group of UCU delegates who “will not be intimidated”. The next slogan, equally wide of the mark, will probably be “We will not be bought off”.

Funding doesn’t argue against the root causes of the boycott. The senior politicians who secured the budget simply rejected the very idea of a boycott by riding roughshod over it, in much the way that UCU rejected its members worries about antisemitism. The effects of funding collaborations effectively negate the boycott. Leaving the verucca-type thing on the left and in the unions isolated but untreated. The roots are still there.

The boycott is, and always has been, an occidentalist, essentialising campaign advanced by anti-imperialists who think that the US and Israel, as its supposed bridgehead in the Middle East, are the source of the world’s problems. It’s a campaign which needs oxygen of controversy, and in that respect it’s good to blow it out of the water. When boycotters rehearse their arguments against Israel, and inevitably against the people who make Israel’s case, from this fundamentally bad premise they expose themselves to, and often regurgitate, many of the old antisemitic themes about Jewish which have come to attach themselves to Israel. Steve Cohen has observed this in anti-Israelists, and so has David Hirsh.

The will to boycott Israel, or to talk of Israel as a pariah state, is a political (ethical and strategic) matter which also needs a political response as well as what appears to be something of a funding-as-decoy response.

So it’s that intent does matter after all – not as well as the intent to harm Jews, but also the intent to carry out a boycott which is generally accepted to contravene anti-racist law.

Wikipedia says that salicylic acid often works.


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