Category Archives: peace comm

Boycotting for peace?

About a month ago another academic boycott was declared on Israeli academia by British University and College Union. The boycott “might involve refusing to work with journals published by Israeli companies or collaborate on research contracts with Israeli academics.” I have posted some thoughts on boycotting in my old blog about a year ago, but recently i read an interview with one of the Israeli initiators of the current boycott, Prof. Haim Bresheeth, who in the past headed the communication department in Sapir College, which is near Gaza. Today he is teaching at the University of East London. There is an EN version of the interview but it has an absolutely different emphasis. Actually the EN version is more of an article and is lacking many of the arguments found in the HE version, which is more of an interview.

According to the interview (at least the HE version), Bresheeth‘s basic argument for the boycott is if the Palestinians are suffering, Israelis should suffer too, and thus is the initiative. So, my question is: “and then what?” It reminded me an old joke about a granddaughter of a Decembrist revolt activists. On the eve of the October revolution, she hears some noise outside and asks her maid what is going on.

“There is a revolution, m’am,” the maid answers.

“Wow,” the granddaughter replies. “Just as my grandfather fought for! And what do they want?”

“They want to eliminate the rich,” answers the maid.

“Really?” asks a surprised granddaughter, “That is weird. My grandfather fought to eliminate the poverty.”

And that joke brings me back to Galtung’s definition of peace, as lack of structural violence. Deborah Du Nann Winter and Dana Leighton on their website, nicely summarized structural violence in the following terms: “whenever people are denied access to society’s resources, physical and psychological violence exists.” And then also referred to Galtung who “originally framed the term structural violence to refer to any constraint on human potential due to economic and political structures. Unequal access to resources, to political power, to education, to health care, or to legal standing, are forms of structural violence.” In other words, as long as there are people excluded from an equal participation in society, we are in the state of structural violence.

My reading of Galtung suggests inclusion as a pivotal principle of peace. I mean, an action aimed to promote peace is necessarily an action of inclusion. One cannot promote peace by arguing for exclusion. If we get back to the joke above and agree that being “rich” is more desirable than being “poor”, then acting to reduce poverty is an act of inclusion as opposed to elimination of the rich, or in other words an act promoting peace as opposed to an act promoting violence.

In a similar logic I think the idea of boycott is based on exclusion, which in turn is counterproductive for peace processes. Leaving aside the political and logistical complexities of carrying such an act, the mere logic behind it counterproductive to what the action aims to achieve. Unless of course, the idea is mere “punishment” of Israeli academics and not promotion of a constructive action (in that case i think it is even less legitimate, but that is a different story).

What are the alternatives? I think that if the British academics wish to act and influence through the channels they “control” instead of boycotting why not examine option of increased cooperation? Why not to get Palestinian scholars more involved in the academic debate, whether it is on the conflict, or even more productive in my view on the scholarly subjects? Why instead of further separating the two parties, create more opportunities for the two to work together? I can see how these activities can bring more understanding and motivation to work towards a mutually acceptable solution, but i fail to see how the boycott can contribute to those.

What do you think?

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If you are interested, for additional readings:

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace and peace research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167-191.

The margins

Just a couple of weeks ago i participated in PaXIM – a working conference dedicated to communication for peace at Washington State University. Together with Dor Reich I presented a study we are doing on discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the blogosphere. Since it is still a work in progress, i am uploading here only an extended abstract (the full paper should be finished during the summer). The point relevant for this post is that using heuristic developed for analysis of “peace journalism” we show that “the online environment hosts a surprisingly hostile discourse”.

However, a few days ago i read an article in Haaretz (HE) titled something like: “Syrian bloggers are trying to open a communication channel with Israelis”. Although the subtitle said “most of the blogs are run from outside Syria…” I was really curious and checked it out.

First, indeed all the blogs mentioned in the article are run from outside Syria. But not only that, 2 out of the 4 blogs mentioned in the article (with links provided only to 3 of them) are run by non-Syrians. This is something that keeps amazing me. Spending a few months or a few years in a country apparently makes you not just an expert on that society, but actually a part of it. I always found that confusing. Is being born in Russia and spending there my childhood makes me an expert on Russia? Many times i encounter attitudes that leave no room for doubt – the answer is yeas. But at the same time i doubt if spending half of my life outside entitles me of the Russian expert title. I assume that i could pick up on cultural clues and understand Russian society better than a person who has zero experience with this country. However, if we go back to the idea of a dialogue, is talking to me the same as talking to a person who is actually part of Russian society at this point of time, who lives it and fully identifies with it? Similarly, can an American professor studying Syria, be considered a representative of Syrian people for purpose of a discussion? Not to question the authority of the professor to understand, analyze, and comment on the Syrian society, but including him in “Syrian bloggers”?

Second, looking into the blogs themselves, and especially into the comments, it was difficult to find that attempt to build a communication channel with Israelis mentioned in the title. Joshua Landis’s blog is an interesting , but very “academic” commentary on Syria. At the same time the comments of his readers are examples of what can be described as war discourse. Similarly the blog of Ammar Abdulhamid is a blog of an opposition man. Together with the comments it is true to the idea of opposing the regime. Not really analyzing the blogs, but skimming them, i tend to think that the discourse created there falls into a similar pattern Dor and I found in blogs focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dialogue wasn’t something i found from briefly browsing the content.

However, there was one interesting example – an initiative called “Creative Forum: Creative Syria’s open forum for Syria bloggers and experts” (ironically run by two Americans). On that particular page the readers were asked to compose letters to a simple Israeli citizen explaining them why Israeli should give the Golan Heights back to Syria. The results i think are quite interesting. The posts (letters) and the comments created a discursive environment where Israelis, Syrians, and other people expressed their views on the subject and responded to each other in a relatively civil way. I find this a different and an interesting case to look into.

So, at the end, what is this post about? I think one point i wanted to make is about the utopian-deterministic stand the mainstream media is taking about the “new” media. Lisa and I had a long conversation recently about the problem with the deterministic view of ICT leading to peace. This is kind of a message one could see in an article such as this one, while in fact it is a distortion of a more complex phenomenon. At the same time, looking at initiatives like that of “Creative Forum” makes me thinking that the technology can be used in creative ways starting something that is close to an unmediated, grassroots discussion. It seems that this kind of initiatives is still at the margins and one thing is certain – it is not the technology by itself.