Rene — Etienne Balibar — Some Remarks about the Controversy on whether boycotting or not the Israeli Universities

Topic(s): Palestine / Israel | Comments Off on Rene — Etienne Balibar — Some Remarks about the Controversy on whether boycotting or not the Israeli Universities

Conduct a search in Google with boycott Israel and Etienne Balibar and most of the results have the following quote:
As Etienne Balibar says, “Israel should not be allowed to instrumentalize the genocide of European Jews to put [itself] above the law of nations.”
These are often pages which are justifying the academic boycott. What I have posted below is a text by him after a visit to Israel. The Joseph Massad article posted earlier got me curious to see what he had written. Here it is, -rg
Professeur mrite lUniversit de Paris X Nanterre
Professor, Critical Theory, University of California Irvine
Some Remarks about the Controversy on whether boycotting or not the Israeli Universities
I have just returned from a visit to Israel and Palestine, and I want to contribute some remarks to the ongoing debate about the proposal of a boycott of Israeli Universities.
I shall be permitted to first recall in which conditions I was invited to Israel and went there on a short visit from January 5 to 9, 2003. I was presenting a paper at the International Workshop on Catastrophes in the Age of Globalization organized by scholars working at Tel Aviv University, sponsored by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the Israeli Science Foundation. I am very grateful for this invitation, which allowed me to travel for the third time to this country in a difficult period of its history. To this main purpose of my visit, another two additional activities were added: 1) (with the other participants of the workshop) a meeting and debate, co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Alternative Information, with representatives of Israeli and Palestinian Humanitarian Associations and NGOs active in the Occupied Territories, and the UNRWA, which took place in East-Jerusalem on January 8 ; 2) a Lecture with debate that I gave on January 9 at MUWATIN (Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy) in Ramallah, on the joint invitation of MUWATIN and SHAML (Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Center).
On the occasion of the open session of the Workshop held at Tel Aviv University on January 3, I made the following statement before presenting my contribution :
This is not a banal opportunity for me to visit Israel, not only because it is only my third visit, but because of the dramatic circumstances. Another bloody suicide-bombing yesterday in Tel Aviv, and in the same time several targeted or untargeted murders of Palestinian civilians, while the US troops preparing for a war in the region have reached the 150 000 I have come here to work, talk, listen, discuss topics of common interest, but also to protest against the Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, and more generally the way the State of Israel is treating the Palestinian Question, i.e. the rights and lives of the Palestinian people. But I am not very fond of teaching lessons to others, and I would not have come if the protest did not come first, very eloquently, and with considerable risks for themselves, from Israeli Citizens, Intellectuals and Peace Activists. Indeed I want to join this protest, to participate in it in a modest manner.
I am a founding member of the French Committee of Solidarity with Birzeit University and other Palestinian Universities, and for the Right to Education in the Territories. Two months ago, a delegation of these Universities (7 professors and 1 student) who had succeeded to leave the West Bank and Gaza with great difficulties, came to Paris on our invitation. In various occasions (including a meeting with French academics and intellectuals at UNESCO on November 9) they testified for their isolation and the tragic situation in which they are now, which is part of the general condition of Palestinian people, subjected to occupation, curfews, humiliations, killings, destructions, etc., but has also specific aspects. Not only is their professional activity and the course of studies of their students made impossible for the present, but the future of a whole nation is threatened.
I was always convinced that there is in principle a universal solidarity of teachers, students, and academics. I am not demanding anything, but may I suggest that we, that you repeat more frequently and powerfully what some of us (both in Israel and abroad) have said several times: that the suppression of the right to teach and learn, the closing of Universities, the repression of students are intolerable, including under the conditions of military occupation. We cannot accept academic freedom on one side, with constraint and enslavement on the other. I would be happy to be able to convey such a message to Ramallah when I go there later this week.
During the same session, the foreign participants were asked to give their position with regard to the demand of a boycott of Israeli Universities which had been reported in the Press, and the petition against it launched in France after a prestigious University (Paris 6) had allegedly decided to implement such a boycott. I made the following reply (that I transcribe of memory):
A year ago I signed an appeal to suspend official scientific and cultural relations with the State of Israel, particularly those which are organized in the current Treaty of Cooperation between Israel and the European Union, as long as Israel denies the rights of the Palestinian people (in particular its right to education), and more generally does not stop occupying the West Bank, Gaza, and East-Jerusalem. As an academic, as an intellectual, I considered this demand a useful means to alert the Public Opinion and push into the direction of the observance of International Law in a situation of exceptional gravity. You have to know that the treaty between Israel and the EU gives Israel the same privileges as European nations themselves in the projects of education and scientific research. But it also mentions as a condition that the States involved comply with democratic rules. And these conditions, we thought, should not remain ineffective.
If I was asked today to sign again such an appeal, would I do it? No doubt I would consider again the positive and negative aspects, as one always ought to do. They depend on the circumstances, and also on the way we evaluate possible perverse consequences or misguided interpretations (there have been some, undoubtedly). It remains that intellectuals must find effective ways to influence the current situation, including from within their professional field of scientific activities, which have a political dimension, while emphasizing at the same time the responsibilities of our governments.
I am aware that my being here in Tel Aviv in these conditions may seem paradoxical or even immoral. You may wonder how I can on the one hand endorse such an appeal, while on the other hand accepting the invitation and hospitality of Israeli Academic Institutions: what kind of ethics is that? I admit that there is a formal difficulty here, but I dont think that there is a substantial contradiction. There was never a question in my mind (and neither, I think, in the mind of the authors of the appeal) to identify the question of a suspension of the official scientific relations with a boycotting of individuals or even a refusal to participate in activities with and within their collective institutions. I would find it totally absurd to isolate men and women whose courageous critique of their own governments policy we precisely admire. There is, I repeat, a difficulty which each of us has to confront with his/her own judgment, but I dont think there is a moral flaw here.
Finally, I will certainly not sign any of the anti-boycott petitions that are currently circulating, particularly in France. I agree with some of the warnings that they express regarding the danger of confusing individuals and States, and punishing the ones instead of the others. But they rely on too many intentional or unintentional errors. I will mention only two of these, which seem to me anything but secondary:
1.It is not true to say that the call for a suspension of scientific relations is unprecedented (meaning: the motive is anti-Semitism, a permanent suggestion that I find unacceptable). No doubt the similar cases that are or could be invoked (South Africa, the Soviet Union) point to perilous and controversial comparisons. It can be discussed whether the Occupation of Palestine is as bad as the Apartheid (I think so). But formally speaking there are precedents.
2.It is not possible to claim that generally speaking the Israeli academics and research institutions support their Palestinian colleagues, thus suggesting either that by boycotting them (I already said that this was not the demand, as I understand it) the Palestinian Universities would be the first victims, or that the Israeli Peace Camp would be harmed instead of the warmongers. This is not serious. Unfortunately there is today only a (very precious) handful of isolated academics and intellectuals who really support the Palestinian cause (certainly not the Left as such), and they have neither institutional legitimacy nor effective power. It is the collective solidarity of their Israeli colleagues that the Palestinian academics badly miss. If you want to be convinced of that, you only have to ask them, they are well placed to testify.
Today I want only to add one remark to these statements that I made in Israel. Many of our colleagues have protested or expressed concern about what they say is a demand for boycotting the Israeli academics personally. If they are sincere (which I want to believe), they must now be consistent with what they call the need of concrete initiatives to enhance the dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian academics. The first condition of a dialogue is a minimum of equality between partners, and more fundamentally that there be partners at all. We now expect from those who sign anti-boycott appeals that they urgently contribute to initiatives supporting the Palestinian Universities in peril notwithstanding other ways to react to a situation that becomes everyday more dreadful.
January 10, 2003.
Before circulating this statement, I have shown it to Prof. Adi Ophir from Tel Aviv University (the main organizer of the Workshop to which I was invited), to be sure that my statement contained no objective mistake and have his point of view. In his reply, he made the following suggestion, that I find very much worth discussing : About the boycott: through your visit to Tel-Aviv and Ramallah and the reaction to both visits I have been convinced that a straightforward boycott is a stupid idea. There is a simple, just and much more effective way to make the same point: to ask any member of the academic community to accept invitations to Israel only if he or she is allowed to meet freely, publicly and privately, with Palestinian colleagues in Palestine, and visit the closed Palestinian universities. Joint projects that do not involve visits to Israel should be conditioned in a different way, for example, dedicating a certain percentage of the projects budget to rehabilitation of Palestinian academic institutions. My own reaction is: if such a position was massive, it would certainly embarrass the Israeli government, which clearly has a politics to eliminate the Palestinian Universities, witness the way in which they are targeted after every suicide bombing, as if they were per se harbouring terrorist activities.