Will Boycotting Israel and Its Companies Advance Talks?
By Nadin Rayya | February 28, 2013 12:54 AM EST
Oxford University is set to vote on whether to boycott Israel and all its goods and services, a message clearly intended to encourage a breakthrough in the Jewish state's talks with Palestine.
Some commentators have said the move is as inconsequential as the "Guild of Sandwich Makers voting against petroleum extraction". However the vote is actually far more important than that.
In fact, the vote addresses a number of questions which have international resonance. For example, is it permissible to entirely boycott a state which is recognised internationally? What exactly is covered by this blanket boycott? And how will such a boycott affect the Palestinians under Israeli occupation?
Furthermore, the controversial vote comes less than a week after George Galloway declared, during a debate at the very same student union, that he "does not debate with Israelis".
After asking the speaker, student Eylon Aslan-Levy, whether he was Israeli, Galloway stormed out of the room when his respondent replied in the affirmative, claiming he had not been informed that the speaker was from Israel.
"Should I let you know if your opponent is a vegetarian in case you have a policy of not debating with vegetarians?" asked Mahmood Naji, the organiser of this debate at OUSU, in an open letter to Galloway.
Let us be clear here. To refuse to listen to a speaker based on his nationality is in no way acceptable, as this contradicts the ideal of free speech and, more importantly in this case, the need to listen to both sides of the debate.
If a Palestinian had stood on that podium and been shunned on the basis of nationality, there would undoubtedly be a reaction to this blatant act of dismissal.
Nonetheless, Galloway's stunt does not come as a surprise.
He has become infamous for his rhetoric and shocking remarks, as was demonstrated when he compared the rape allegation against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to bad "sexual etiquette." He has also been hugely controversial and vocal on Islam-related matters, whether on the Iraq war or on Muslim rights.
The proposed boycott of Israel by OUSU is expected to be rejected. This is hardly a surprise, as OUSU is voting on whether to become a part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel which, in itself, is a rather controversial movement.
By applying pressure on Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions, BDS calls for the end of the Israeli occupation, a recognition of Arab-Israeli rights as equal citizens and the return of refugees to their homes under UN Resolution 194.
"The basic logic of BDS is the logic of pressure, not diplomacy, persuasion, or dialogue," claims Lisa Taraki.
BDS promotes the idea that academics and artists should abstain from dealing with Israeli cultural and academic institutions.
Yet it is highly ironic that the founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Omar Barghouti, has in fact studied at Tel Aviv University.
In an interview with Taraki, Mark Levine questions this boycott of Israeli academic institutions by drawing attention to the fact that such a boycott would make it impossible to undertake research utilising Israeli archives. He adds that it would severely hamper a student "who needs to come to Israel to develop her or his Hebrew in order to better understand the dynamics of the occupation and can only afford to do this through various programmes... that involved affiliation with Israeli universities".
BDS should focus on a more specific form of boycott for maximum impact.
One can boycott goods that are produced in the settlements of the West Bank for example, or abstain from cooperation with specific firms like Caterpillar who use their earth movers to destroy Palestinian homes, but a line must be drawn when it comes to a boycott of academia and knowledge.
If OUSU votes yes to boycotting Israel then it can be used to stymie viable Israeli/Palestinian dialogue in the future.
Rather than boycotting dialogue and knowledge, boycott products and corporations that deal with Israel instead.
Nadin Rayya is a journalist at IBTimes UK and holds a degree in politics and international studies and a masters in media communications.
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