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On June 8th Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced that the Israeli government was forming a "task force" to combat the academic boycott. This is not their first attempt at such an endeavor. A year or two ago Jerusalem commissioned Benjamin Netanyahu to argue its case against the boycott. It seems that effort came to naught.
Now, with a big step taken in the direction of boycott by the British faculty union, and a host of other UK unions and organizations considering endorsement of the boycott, the Israeli government is trying again. The task force, which is characterized as a "public relations" endeavor, will be headed by Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Europe Rafi Barak and have among its members folks from both the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Education. There will also be representatives from the Histadrut (which will attempt to interface with foreign unions) and heads of Israeli universities and colleges.
Foreign Minister Livni is quoted in Haaretz (June 8, 2007) as saying that "We cannot afford to do nothing. We have an obligation to prevent the expansion of this process." And then she proceeded to tell us why. The reasons she gives suggests to us that Ms Livni has no real insight into the actual reasons why her government and nation is facing a growing boycott movement. Indeed, her reasons remind this writer of President Bush’s infamous explanation, "They hate our values," for why the US government imagines the 9/11 attack was carried out. In any case, let’s list some of Livni’s reasons and their all too obvious short-comings.
1. "We are dealing with hypocrisy and hatred, which must not be allowed to emerge…."
A. Ms. Livni does not elaborate on the alleged hypocrisy of the boycott supporters. However it is easy to give an example of the hypocrisy of the Israeli establishment when it comes to the academic boycott. They cry bitterly about the violation of Israeli academic freedom while simultaneously and systematically suppressing Palestinian academic freedom as part of a campaign to destroy Palestinian society and culture as a whole. Now that is hypocrisy for you.
B. And where is the hatred that, according to Ms Livni, fuels the boycott? Actually, there is very little evidence of open hatred. Rather, there is plenty of evidence of a passionate commitment to justice. Then there is the fact that some of the boycott organizers and supporters are themselves Jewish and involved in this effort not only for the sake of justice for the Palestinian people (a worthy cause in and of itself), but out of a desire to stop the apparent evolution of Israel into a Jewish fascist state. In other words, to obtain justice for the Palestinians may have the added benefit of saving Ms Livni and her crew from themselves. I would not call that hatred.
2. "We must initiate a move that will render the boycott illegitimate in the eyes of the world."
A. And just how does Ms Livni’s public relations team plan to do that? For some 40 years the Zionists monopolized the message on the Israel-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is because they have finally lost that monopoly, and the fate of the Palestinians at the hands of the Zionists is no longer hidden, that the academic and other boycotts are now gathering strength. So just proclaiming the same message of the past 40 years will no longer work for the Israelis. But the truth is that they have no new messages. There is nothing the Israeli public relations task force can say that cannot be countered with the truth of their near genocidal behavior. In a free information environment the Israeli message is doomed.
B. So, when Ms Livni says that she intends to make the boycott "illegitimate in the eyes of the world" what she must be inferring is that she and her task force will try to reimpose their past monopoly by using money, connections and assorted types of blackmail. These tactics will be directed toward a Western media that is already largely self-censoring in Israel’s favor. Here too the Foreign Minister misses the point. What is happening today, reflected in the growing strength of the boycott movement, is a grass roots phenomenon. It does not rely on a distorted and misleading mass media and never has. It has come about despite the distortions of that media. Thus it cannot be stopped by it. Yet the Israelis have nowhere to go, in terms of message, but to a mass media that can no longer do what they want it to do.
C. Of course, the Israeli task force will do what it can to pressure the leadership of unions, universities and colleges to act as their agents and attempt to suppress the boycott efforts. The Zionists have always been well practiced at twisting the arms of the elites. And this may actually serve to delay the movement for a while. But it cannot stop it. Ironically, the reason that this is so is that the Israelis themselves will not stop. They will continue to steal other people’s land, colonize it in violation of international law, and slowly but surely grind Palestinian culture into dust. The more they do this the more certainly they guarantee their own pariah status in the eyes of more and more people throughout the world. It is a tragic connection to which Ms. Livni seems oblivious.
3. And finally comes the threat. Ms Livni proclaims that "whoever promotes the boycott must understand that it has a price."
A. And what may that be? Will she make us suffer the manic stalking of Professor Dershowitz? Will she embarrass us with the finger wagging of Tony Blair? Will she send the Mossad out to assassinate us? Will she treat us as she treats the Palestinians? What will she do?
B. Well, once again the Israelis and their local Zionist allies might pressure academic administrations to go after some unfortunate untenured faculty supporters of the boycott. Those corrupted administrators might even threaten to expel some student supporters. On the one hand, this will disrupt the lives of people who are only guilty of being in active support of justice for the Palestinians. And that is a miscarriage of justice for which those administrators should ultimately be held accountable, through civil suits if necessary. On the other hand, however, such a tactic will inevitably backfire for the Zionists for it will create martyrstragic cases that can and will be used to convince more and more people of the ruthless nature of the Israelis and their supporters.
The boycott movement, in its academic and other manifestations has no power to intervene in the Occupied Territories and make stop Israeli killing, robbing and ethnic cleansing. It only has the power to bring the reality of this barbarism to the rest of the world and insist that as many people as possible shun Israel because of its behavior. Make it a pariah state as once was done to its apartheid cousin country South Africa. Ms Livni’s blind callousness and her feeble attempts at "public relations" cannot stop this process. Indeed, her hypocrisy will only serve to make the boycott stronger.
LAWRENCE DAVIDSON is a Professor of History at West Chester University and a contributing editor to Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture.