Alas, Stephen Hawking, if you think boycotting Israel helps Palestinians, think again.
Let’s hear from other academic voices. Raphael Cohen-Almagor explains the fallacy of a boycott campaign which no longer pretends to target only institutions, and now openly and predictably excludes Israeli individuals. Most Jews consider the boycott of Israel a threat to Jews, if not an active attack on Jews. Consequently boycotts exert strong introverting pressure on Jews. As an anti-Jewish strategy (which boycotting Israel often is) antisemites should understand why they fail to annihilate the object of their hatred. Norman Geras points out that antisemitism is interrelated with Jewish survival – it strengthens identity and mutual bonds between those who are designated and threatened as part of an ethnic group. Norm isn’t the first to note this paradox – unread as yet on my bookshelf is Dan Cohn-Sherbok’s book The Paradox of Anti-Semitism which contains many examples of Jewish leaders recognising this dilemma, from Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the spiritual dangers of integration to Theodore Herzl (“It is only pressure that forces us back to the parent stem”). In contrast, Moses Mendelssohn, Jewish Enlightenment leader, set out to secure both the Jewishness and the participation. Robert Fine looks at the beginning of Jewish emancipation when the establishment extended a hand, if mistrustfully and conditionally, to German Jews. Ruth Wisse observes that throughout history where Jews suffered a deficit it tended to strengthen their collective resource and tenacity. Since emancipation, freed of the deficit and with a state of their own, but retaining a strong shared memory of persecution and a disinclination to take their continued success for granted, Jews are seen to strive and excel when taken as a group. Consequently in today’s prevailing (and I think ill-conceived) meritocracies, Jews have successful positions in greater proportions than their overall numbers indicate. Consequently it is easy for people affected by antisemitism to forget the obvious: Jews are individuals, not a coordinated group.
So are Jews out of the woods? It depends on the resilience of this society. At the heart of the boycott, political historian Jonathan Lowenstein explains, is envy, and this envy is sharpened by a shrunken economy. And after the Enlightenment came a global competition for resources and a related decision by a great power to do away with all Jews and appropriate their prosperity. So while I think speciesist, tribalist views of Jews about Jews belongs to desperate times, on the other hand to quote Hannah Arendt when attacked as a Jew it’s opportune to respond as a Jew. Perhaps the desperate times have arrived.
Eve Garrard sets out the pleasures of antisemitism, (if you read nothing else, read that) which brought to mind Iain Banks’ lost tussle with antisemitism as his life reaches its premature end. In my trade union anti-Jewish activity I expected to be against the law has been found to be inside the law. David Hirsh and Sarah Annes Brown respond to the judgment from the legal action taken by Ronnie Fraser against the University and College Union on grounds of antisemitism related to anti-Israel campaigning. More on this from me in due course.
Stephen Hawking talked of pressure to boycott in ways which remind me of my MP’s appeal to populism in explaining that he is against gay marriage or protecting abortion rights because most of his correspondents have urged him to be. Perhaps Hawking represents a second phase, a mainstreaming of boycott. On the other hand, he has embraced the British Committee on Universities of Palestine, an organisation staffed by UK Israel eliminationists who, far from supporting a Palestinian call, instigated boycott themselves before any Palestinians had made call (takes your breath away, doesn’t it). There are so many reasons not to boycott.
Now, go and see if you can form some links with Israeli academics or cultural institutions, which despite all this acrimony are incredibly fertile, humane, questioning places.