Update: Reykjavík Modifies Decision to Boycott Israeli Products

The city of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, modified its position today on a boycott of Israel, deciding instead only to boycott products from the Occupied Territories.

Reykjavík

Reykjavík

That is a much more politically sensible decision and a smart one for Reykjavík. The initial boycott was going to complicate Iceland’s foreign policy, as it is not the national policy to boycott all of Israel. Indeed, Iceland has no specific policy about how to respond to the occupation, nor does it have one regarding economic actions against Israel.

The outcome, however, does have an unfortunate side effect: it will be perceived as a tacit acknowledgment that a boycott of Israel over the occupation is, indeed, an act of antisemitism. The hysterical reaction of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and the entirely inappropriate call by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (an institution which shames Wiesenthal’s name on a daily basis with their consistent practice of labelling any and all criticism of Israel as antisemitism) for Jews not to go to Reykjavík, will now appear to have been effective. Continue reading

Congressmen Try to Restrict Free Speech To Prevent Boycotts of Israel

This article originally appeared at LobeLog.

Earlier this week, a bill was hastily removed from the agenda of the New York State Assembly. The bill was designed as a response Freedom_of_Thought_Ben_Franklinto the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli educational institutions. But it was so poorly written that even opponents of the ASA boycott saw it as potentially damaging to academic freedom in general. The bill was removed from the fast track in New York so it could be re-written to be more acceptable to its potential supporters. A similar bill is currently working its way through the Maryland state legislature.

Now the US Congress is getting into the act, with a bill that has the same goal, but takes a different approach. The bills in New York and Maryland did not specifically mention Israel, although it was clear that the ASA action against Israeli academia is what prompted the bills. Instead, they tried to argue that academic freedom meant that the state must penalize institutions that choose to express themselves through the power of boycott if the target is a country that has extensive academic connections with the United States. Continue reading

Oppose Anti-Boycott Maryland Bill (SB 647): Impinging on Academic Freedom and Free Speech

Readers, I have started a petition to oppose this bill in the Maryland State Senate. It would be a severe governmental intrusion on academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The bill was put forth in response to the American Studies Association decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Whether or not you support the ASA decision, a law like this one must be opposed. It’s simply a bad idea. It would not only penalize any state-funded academic institution (as most are) from participating in ASA or any other association which passed a similar decision, it would even prevent individual academics from participating in conferences organized by such groups. The irony is that ASA went out of its way to make sure that individual academics would not be so constrained by their own decision.

Please sign the petition which is directed to the Maryland legislature and governor, especially if you live in Maryland. This attempt to promote governmental interference in academic freedom and free speech must be defeated.

Boston Globe Backs Stephen Hawking on Boycott of Israeli Conference

The Boston Globe published a groundbreaking editorial in support of Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli President’s Conference. I analyze its meaning and potential impact at Lobelog.

The Power and Weakness of Boycott

Recently, Norway announced that a major Israeli company and a subsidiary were to be excluded from its national wealth fund’s investment list. The reasons were past activity in building settlements in the West Bank and working on construction of the Separation Barrier.

Tel Aviv protest against the new cultural center built in Ariel settlement

Before I go into what this means for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), let me say I applaud this action. Continued development of industry in the settlements only entrenches their presence. It is crucial that foreign governments and corporations stop supporting that development and make it clear that settlement industries cannot expect “business as usual” and, most importantly, that those companies are not in Israel. That is a line that must be drawn clearly, in the boldest green. The message must be sent in no uncertain terms that the settlements are NOT ISRAEL!

Predictably, supporters of the BDS movement have been declaring how this incident proves their strategy is working, that their “movement” is making real progress. But that is really overstating the case.

This is, indeed, a victory for the BDS movement, but not nearly the one they will, understandably, purport. The two companies are part of the corporate group owned by billionaire Lev Leviev, who actively promotes settlement expansion. Leviev has been targeted by BDS activists spanning the spectrum from anti-occupation groups to anti-Israel ones for years. Continue reading

Performing In Israel, Not the Settlements

I weigh in on the controversy over some Israeli performers’ refusal to perform in thee settlement of Ariel. Click here to read the piece at MeretzUSA’s blog.

My Favorite Band and My #1 Topic of Interest

Ask anyone who knows me even a little bit socially who my favorite rock band is, and they will not hesitate for a second before they say it is Jethro Tull. So, at least they will be expecting me to say something about Tull’s leader, Ian Anderson’s statement that the band intends to perform their three concerts in Israel as planned.

Again, it’s well known that I do not support a boycott of Israel, while I do support a boycott of settlement products.

Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

That said, given the escalation by Israel embodied in Operation Cast Lead and its aggressive actions to defend its blockade as well as the assault on Israeli democracy by a large portion of the Knesset, I am sympathetic to those artists who have chosen not to perform in Israel.

But I think Anderson has chosen the right path to deal with these issues. He says:

Having long maintained the position that culture and the arts should be free of political and religious censorship and a distance kept between them, I took a decision, nonetheless, in February of 2009 that any future concerts in Israel by me or Jethro Tull would be for the benefit of charitable donations to bodies representing the development of peaceful co-existence between Arabs, Jews and Christians, and the fostering of better Palestinian/Israeli relations.

There are nitpicks I can make with that statement (Ian needs to be aware that some Arabs are Christians, and that Arab is not a substitute for Muslim, for instance), but the basic idea is just right—use a concert in Israel to promote reconciliation. I see that as far more productive than the boycott, which is not increasing the Israeli sense that the world won’t stand for the occupation nearly as much as it is reinforcing the Israeli sense that they are being “singled out.”

In my view, this is the better course. Anderson is not ignoring the situation, but he is refraining from getting involved in it, while trying to do something to help that does not necessarily favor one group or the other.

Anderson has generally refrained from being involved in politics, in a public way. As a result, I have no idea how well he grasps the Israel-Palestine conflict. Nor do I have much sense of where his sympathies lie, if he has any. I do hope he will consult with knowledgeable people (and I of course volunteer my services) as to which groups to donate to.

I would hope that BDS advocates would recognize that a band that doesn’t boycott Israel but contributes the proceeds of its shows to good organizations is working toward the same goal most of us are—an end to occupation and conflict. I’ve applauded Ian Anderson at literally dozens of concerts. I now get to applaud him in the context of my work. I like it.