Retaliation! If we can only find a way

From the archive (legacy material)

Schmuel Rosner | Haaretz | 8 June 2007

The British boycott exposed yet again the extent to which Israel depends on the help of the American Jewish community. But if American Jews react, what will the Brits say?
How to react to the so-called British boycott against Israel? This is a question asked by many players in the Jewish world after the University and College Union, Britain’s largest teachers union, voted to consider an academic boycott of Israeli universities. How can one take revenge against a body on which one has no influence? And, even if it was possible, would revenge make British academia more reluctant to boycott Israel, or rather more prone to spite criticism and stay the course?
Various groups and activists were struggling this week to find a way with which to convey their protest and anger. The Jewish Funders Network, for one, started collecting money to support universities’ exchange programs with Israeli institutions. “We are starting strong”, Mark Charendoff of JFN wrote to Haaretz. He was the one taking the softer route, encouraging Israelis rather than retaliating against the Brits. One of JFN?s members, the Connecticut-based Goldhirsh Foundation, chose a more confrontational measure: it will not give any grants to British researchers.
Thursday, Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy introduced a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives condemning the UCU. The resolution has the support of 30 members of Congress from both political parties. Will this help? Just this morning, in a meeting with an Israeli official, I heard a story about British Jews complaining over the accent of spokeswoman Miri Eisen of the Prime Minister’s Office. Eisen, all agree, is an excellent speaker. Her English is perfect. Alas, her accent is an American accent, and the complaint coming from Britain was that it does not fair well with the Brits these days. In light of such a complaint, it’s quite hard to imagine the U.S. House of Representatives influencing the British Academicians.
Exposing the hypocrisy and the irrationality of the boycott is easy. The Anti Defamation League is offering an add campaign on its web site doing just that. Will that change the decision? Such ads can only work against people who have shame, and I don’t think many such people can be found in the body that voted for the boycott.
Official Israel is playing its part this week by forming a new committee, announced yesterday, to fight the boycott. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Education Minister Yuli Tamir said such precedents should not be ignored. Those promoting this measure, Livni said, should know that it will have “a price”. Thus, a unified front was presented to the world: Two women of much different political convictions standing together against the boycott.
But what is it exactly that Israel can do?
Israel’s Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai threatened to mark all British products. That’s nice, but will probably result in the marking of Israeli products in Britain. And what about a counter academic boycott? The truth is that Israelis are terrified by the prospect of such a showdown. ‘A counter [academic] boycott is a mistake,’ said Tamir in the Knesset Monday. Professors weren’t enthusiastic either. “Let’s face it”, one said, “we need them more than they need us”.
I would suspect that in this case Israelis, realistic Israelis, would prefer to take the more mellow approach: Convincing, explaining, talking, engaging. They will act the old Jewish-Diaspora way, not the aggressive-Israeli way. Oddly, that’s not the case with some of the leading voices in the American Jewish community who were willing to take the battle to the enemy much more forcefully. Such a reaction, though, will bring to the fore a dilemma every Jew with some sense of history will be very quick to understand.
Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, threatens to “work on legal moves”. He told the Times Higher Educational Supplement that these would include using a U.S. law – banning discrimination on the basis of nationality – against UK universities with research ties to U.S. colleges. U.S. academics, he said, might also be urged to accept honorary posts at Israeli colleges in order to become boycott targets.
One such U.S. academician already reacted to the boycott two weeks ago. Nobel Prize winner Prof. Steven Weinberg (I nominated him for the the Jewish Man of the Year Award) decided not to travel to Britain this summer. If other notables will follow his example, if foundations will eliminate British institutions from their grants’ lists, if lawyers will sue, and legislators will keep up the pressure, it might help. It might also give those British academicians yet another reason with which to justify their ugly anti-Semitism.