02 June 2008

Godard & Boycotts

I read this succinct report yesterday morning.

French director Jean-Luc Godard, who was supposed to be in Israel as the guest of honor at the Tel Aviv University International Student Film Festival, has cancelled his trip - apparently due to political pressure.

In his statement to the festival's organizers, Godard wrote that he would not be participating because of "circumstances beyond his control." Last week, heads of the Palestinian movement to boycott Israeli academics and culture appealed to Godard, in an open letter, to refrain from participating in the film festival and to display solidarity with their cause. The writers related to Godard's past political involvement and his "declared" pro-Palestinian stance. (The Jerusalem Post ~ 2 June 08)

And, today, this similar notice appeared in The New York Times.

There are a few disturbing things about this. First, and most obviously, is the fact that, if the report is accurate, Godard equivocates. He did not say that he'd decided not to attend because he is honoring the boycott. He referred only to mysterious 'circumstances.' But I am not concerned with Godard's spine or lack thereof. Second, this is not an isolated matter; the calls for an cultural and academic boycott of Israel have been percolating more or less continuously for several years. Among the supporters of this strategy is the Palestinian Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. And, according to this report The Jerusalem Post the largest Academic Union in Britain recently re-instituted its call for a boycott. I have not thought the matter completely through. But my view at this juncture is that there is altogether too much moralism at work and way too little concern for consequences in the calls for a boycott - at least among those in Europe and the United States. Godard, of course, was asked to join the boycott by a Palestinian group, so perhaps that is irrelevant. There also is, despite my own critical view of the Israeli government's approach to the Palestinians (e.g., increasing reliance on repression, embargoes, walls, and all that), a real risk of aiding and abetting the voices of antisemitism. I resent the knee jerk reaction that calls any criticism of Israel antisemitic. But it is naive to think that there is no possibility of antisemitism at work here. Finally, I have come to be increasingly suspicious of boycotts and embargoes as political instruments simply because they are way too blunt. How would this boycott impact Israeli intellectuals, artists, and writers like, say, Amos Oz [1] [2] [3] [4] or David Shulman and their efforts to work for peace? Isn't it possible that engagement with individuals and groups who occupy the rather large range of progressive politics in Israel would be more effective in articulating criticism of Israeli government policy?
P.S.: You can find an extensive argument on the current calls for Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel in Dissent over the past several years: David Hirsch, Martha Nussbaum, Murray Hausknecht, Mohammed Abed, and Nussbaum again. There has also been a related back-and-forth between Mitchell Cohen and Andrew Arato at Reset.doc [1] [2] [3] [4]; the latter exchange shows how wide-ranging and complex the matters involved have become.

P.S.2: (Added Later that same day.) Some documents. You can find the initial (2006) call by PCACBI for a boycott here. You can find the supporting call from (mostly) Americans & Europeans here. And you can find a thoughtful explanation from John Berger regarding his understanding of the boycott here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there are any pro-peace, pro-Palestinian voices within Israel, they are to be found in academia. It is, then, a completely unreasonable and self-defeating strategy to boycott academics. And what about Israel's medical researchers, computer scientists, mathematicians, etc? Are they to be boycotted, too? If so, then how will boycotting them bring forth peace, or improve the lives of Palestinians?

From my perspective, all these senseless boycotts boil down to one thing: many Palestinians, and their far left supporters, have yet to accept the fact of Israel's permanence. They still harbor delusions that one day, just maybe, the Jews will pack up their belongings and return to Europe. Or, more sinisterly, they will be "driven to the sea" by the victorious Arab armies (See Hamas' charter).

I have to feel sorry for ordinary Palestinians. I don't think their international supporters realize how much harm they're causing them.

03 June, 2008 16:14  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Yeah, not an easy one... Here's a question- is the Israeli government being antisemitic for barring Norman Finkelstein from Israel-- for TEN years?

03 June, 2008 20:54  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Anon, I suspect that most residents of both Palestine & Israel would go for a 2 state solution at roughly the pre-67 war boundaries. There, like here, it is the extremists who (though a small minority) cause most of the trouble. The Israeli extremists are as much to blame, but not more, as the Palestinian extremists.

Stan, I don't know much about Finklestein. My impression is that he is a self-promoting loudmouth. He also got screwed in his tenure decision (by another self-promoting loudmouth & his friends). The Israeli gov't. is just taking a pebble out of its shoe.

03 June, 2008 22:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman Finkelstein has crossed the line when he met with members of Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which he considers his "friends." It's one thing to write books criticizing Israel, and quite another to meet with murderers of Israelis only to then have the chutzpah to waltz into Israel. I'm surprised that hack was only banned for 10 years.

03 June, 2008 23:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. -- Jim, I agree with you 100%. Most Israelis not only want a two state solution but they also want their govt to hold talks with Hamas. But, as usual, the fanatic settlers, and the Palestinian terrorists, will fuck things up.

03 June, 2008 23:35  
Anonymous J_G said...

I always find difficult to believe how hard it is for some people to understand a simple, classic, colonial conflict, where a group of europeans settle in a foreign land and terrorise, enslave, displace and kill the original population. It's impossible to feel any simpathy towards Israel if you adhere to some elementary, universally accepted principles.
The two state solution is not a solution. Remember: 600.000 arabs were expelled forcibly from their houses within what today is Israel and have every right to have this wrong settled. With their families, they are now 4.000.000 disposessed souls, waiting to return to their villages, most of them razed by zionist "terrorists".
The problem is that in 1948 a racist group was given the opportunity to seize part of Palestine. It wasn't granted to the jews of this world, but to a bunch of extremists, racists, that plenty of jews either despised or saw with horror. An example: It's well known that Menuhin, when asked what he felt about zionists said he believed that jews should be jews and not nazis, and how he payed for that. I learned a lot about zionism from other notable jews, like Lenni Brenner, Viktor Klemperer, or Edwin S. Black. It is not surprising that the German zionists congratulated Hitler on winning the election in a famous letter describing themselves as a brother party to the nazis, also worried about racial purity. It's truly two of a kind.
I am not antisemitic (something I find an impossible task: it's diffcult to build a "cliche" of jewry, so different the jews are, plus plenty of my heros are jews, and let's not forget that Palestinians and most other arabs are in fact semitic people) but I am clearly anti zionist.
Back to the boycott theme, I can't understand your doubts either. Remember South Africa? I am pretty sure that the apartheid the whites imposed to the blacks there wasn't half as harmful to them as the one imposed by Israel on the arabs. And yet the same whole world who agreed on boycotting the South African killers is unable to do any concerted effort to bring Israel back to reason.
The only solution is, like in South Africa, one unique country where all citizens have the same rights and a democratic rule: one human, one vote. I understand it has been tried in some other parts of the world for over 200 years with succes... even opposing communities end up living together without conflicts. Or at least solving conflicts peacefully.
There is a photo proposition on this subject, face to face (http://www.face2faceproject.com/) that I find particularly enlightening and enjoyable. If it wasn't so tragic, the conflict between jews and arabs in Palestine would be ridiculous.

04 June, 2008 09:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here we go again...

Israel is ANYTHING BUT a "simple and classic colonial conflict." First of all, the semitic Jewish peoples are as indigenous to the land of Israel as ANY Arab, period. Jewish culture and civilization, as I'm sure you're aware, was established in this land far before the Arab tribes consolidated themselves under the umbrella of "Islam," and certainly existed as a group for way before the concept of the "Arab Palestinian" was invented in the 60s.

Jews are by no means "European foreigners." To claim that the Jews who fled Europe, because of countless pogroms and a holocaust, are the equivalent of Belgium colonizing Congo is, simply put, moronic, unfair, biased, and strongly anti-semitic. I'm sorry, but you will never succeed in convincing any rational person that they are "European colonizers" on a quest for "God, glory and gold."

Also, the Jews who were entering Israel in the first aliya bought the land fair and square from wealthy Arab land owners, many of which were working for the Ottoman Empire as tax collectors, and resided in opulence inside Europe (France especially). Yes, some Arabs were squatting on these lands, but they NEVER owned it. If I buy a house on the market I have every right in the world to kick out the squatters.

600,000 Arabs were not forcibly kicked out from their homes. Some were indeed kicked out. Many left on their own. Others still were told by Arab commanders to abandon their villages until they defeat the Jews and crush the new state. Perhaps you weren't aware that at the time of these so-called "expulsions" there was a HUGE war going on and Jews were defending themselves against Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and various terrorist groups. The place was in total chaos.

Finally, your characterization of Zionists as Nazis is disgusting, and plain BS. Many of the original Zionists who emigrated to Israel idolized the rustic lives of the Arabs, in fact. Some even donned kaffiyas and sought to emulate them. The early vision for Israel was of a multicultural state where Arabs, Jews, and Berbers lived unified. Israel today is still the most multicultural country per capita on earth.

Stop spreading hatred and lies, and go do some reading!

04 June, 2008 16:01  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Seems a large part of the problem (as evidenced here) has always been one side proclaiming the other terrorists, and one side proclaiming the greater amount of suffering. I don't know what the solution will be, if any. A one state solution has also failed in places like Yugoslavia and the USSR, and a two state solution is also problematic at best.

If the US hadn't blindly backed each and every single thing Israel has ever done over the years however, bet we'd be a heck of a lot closer to some kind of settlement- whatever that may be...

04 June, 2008 19:49  

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