An article by David Enoch, professor of law at the Hebrew University, in Haaretz 15.12.2022

(Translated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman)

Discussions of various boycott measures that are being, or will be used against Israel — both in the academic field and more generally — are premised on assumptions that one should challenge.

According to one such false premise, this is a threat that the State of Israel has the utmost interest in combating. However, such boycotts serve the real interests of the state. They may not serve the interests of certain groups within it, or those of the Israeli government, perhaps not even what some people think are the state’s interests. But this does not matter — the State of Israel has an interest in being decent, in no longer pursuing a policy of oppression and apartheid, and in being saved from the anti-democratic jaws that grip its neck. If there is a chance that boycotts will help with that, all the better.

A second false premise is that the State of Israel is a just democracy, and therefore any attempt to interfere in its policies is wrong (and perhaps anti-Semitic). But only in Israel can one argue in the name of democracy for arrangements that perpetuate the occupation and violent oppression of millions of people for 55 years, without any intention of bringing an end to a situation in which those under Israeli control have no influence over their rulers. The demand posed to those of us who still insist on fighting the occupation, namely to put up with the decision of the oppressive Jewish majority — ostensibly based on democratic principles — without giving millions under the occupation a say, is hypocritical and ridiculous.

In other words, if we want decent people around the world (and many supporters of boycott measures, even if not all of them, are decent people) to stop seeing us as moral lepers, we must stop being moral lepers.

The basic justification for the boycott measures is as simple as it is convincing: the occupation will probably not end until Israelis find it very inconvenient to continue. Understandably, there are measures that cannot be justified even for this reason (such as terror against innocent citizens). But boycott measures are non-violent measures, and given the horrors of the occupation and oppression, and the fact that the State of Israel has shown no intention of reaching a reasonable solution, certain boycott measures are completely legitimate. Denying this claim means that a nation under oppression has no right to act in any way — even non-violently — against its oppressors. A decent person will not accept such a position (nor the hypocrisy in declaring non-violent and strictly measured actions to be “legal terror” or “economic terror”).

If that is the way things are in general, what can be said specifically about the academic boycott?

First, it must be said that there is no such thing as an “academic boycott.” There are various boycott measures, with important differences between them. Thus, for example, the decision not to come to Israel for an academic conference that ignores the reality of the occupation is one type of action, while the decision to refuse to review articles written by Israelis in an international academic journal is another. In many circumstances. the first action would be justified, while the second would not. For the most part, discussing various measures and the conditions under which they are justified is more useful than the all-too-general question of when an academic boycott is justified.

Similarly, a distinction must be made between academic boycott measures against Israel and partial boycott measures, for example, against Ariel University. Trying to blur the distinction between such measures is yet another attempt to ignore the green line and with it the reality of the lives of millions of people deprived of any political or legal rights under occupation and oppression. Even if Israel’s Boycott Law states otherwise, there is no point in thinking that boycotting Ariel University is equivalent to boycotting Tel Aviv University or Haifa University.

Academic boycott measures are always problematic. They may harm science, the careers of young scholars, or perhaps even intellectual collegiality itself. Therefore, their significance should not be underestimated. It is important to make sure that their cost does not exceed their benefit. Therefore, singling out Israeli academia for the boycott would not be justified: while the latter is involved in the occupation, its involvement does not exceed, in general, that of every Israeli (and when the involvement of an academic unit is more central, such as Ariel University, boycott measures are indeed more justifiable). I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that the professional plight of several academics will shock the Israeli public or Israeli decision-makers into reconsidering their support for the occupation.

It follows that there is no point in singling out academic work as particularly worthy of a boycott. But there is also no point in singling it out for particular protection from justifiable boycott measures. I hope that the State of Israel will face more and more boycott measures of various kinds. I hope that these will mostly be more effective measures: ones that inflict financial burden, especially on business elites; ones that make it difficult for Israelis to show their face in the world; ones that harm Israeli representation in global sports. In that case, as part of a non-violent boycott campaign against Israel’s policies, the thought that academic circles should be exempt from the consequences of the struggle seems ridiculous to me, and somewhat narcissistic too. Under such circumstances, I would welcome very many measures of academic boycott.