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?
If you are interested, for additional readings:
Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace and peace research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167-191.