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Israel-boycotters are hypocrites

September 23, 2009 – 11:50 pm18 Comments
Another boycott campaign, 1930s Los Angeles. Source: Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles Community Relations Committee Collection, Urban Archives Center, University Library, California State University-Northridge *

Another boycott campaign, 1930s Los Angeles. Source: Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles Community Relations Committee Collection, Urban Archives Center, University Library, California State University-Northridge *

By Michael Danby

Antony Loewenstein and Jake Lynch (The Australian, Letters blog, 22 September) criticise Philip Mendes and Nick Dyrenfurth for their opposition to the campaign for “boycott, disinvestment and sanctions” directed at Israel. But they fail to address the central issue pointed out by Mendes and Dyrenfurth – the hypocritical and one-sided nature of this campaign.

Sudan has killed at least 400,000 civilians in its genocidal war in Darfur. Russia killed about 40,000 people in its two brutal wars against Chechnya. Millions of people are suffering under dictatorships in Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria and others. Protesters are being shot down in the streets in Tibet, East Turkistan and Iran.

Are Loewenstein and Lynch calling for academic, cultural or communications boycotts against these countries? No, they’re not. Only Israel is so uniquely evil that it merits such treatment. The Israel-Palestinian conflict, which over the past 20 years has caused approximately 8,000 deaths (a third of them Israelis), is apparently worse than Darfur and Chechnya, worse indeed than anything else in the world.

Loewenstein and Lynch’s attack on the Australian columnists do serve a useful purpose in drawing out their real purposes. Firstly the perversity of the Director of Sydney University’s “Peace” Institute, which backs boycotts of Israeli academics rather than enhancing peace between the parties, could now not be starker.

Loewenstein’s support for the elimination of Israel coded as support for a one state solution shows that he was trying to sucker the few hundred who signed his Independent Jewish Voices “two state declaration”. Either way no serious Australian policy maker takes seriously ideas of boycotting Israeli academics and universities.

Michael Danby MHR is Federal Member for Melbourne Ports

* The complete poster can be seen here.

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  • TheSadducee says:

    For me, the most potentially sinister part of the BDS is the academic focus.

    The point that worries me most is how the actual boycott will be enforced?

    A simple blanket boycott of all Israeli academics is not going to work because the reasonable and moderate voices (and even those sympathetic to the views of the BDS proponents) will be punished despite their views which would be manifestly unjust.

    So then, and here comes the sinister part for me – they will have to judge whose views are acceptable and whose are not. What criteria will be used? Will the BDS proponents require Israeli academics to issue public statements on where they stand?

    And what about academics that work with Israelis (eg. many Jewish Studies, Hebrew Studies, Ancient History etc) or express views concerning Israel – will they be called into question as well and boycotted if they don’t similarly meet up to unknown criteria?

    I think this will open up a Pandora’s box which will set back academic freedom and discourse in the long term, possibly irreparably as each ideological faction or movement takes action against their perceived opponents.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    For once, I largely find myself in agreement with Michael, and have posted a personal blog opinion on the AJDS website where I provide some detail from a progressive position. Sol Salbe has also written on this topic in the AJDS newsletter (and see http://www.ajds.org.au/node/73).

    However, in the interests of nuance, the evils of the rest of the world should not be used to detract from why the BDS campaign has got so much steam: anger and frustration at the continuing terrible situation of Palestinians and 40 years of Occupation. Michael Danby and others segue quickly out of that. We could argue that point here, but I’d like to raise a related issue (and this is an entirely personal, not organizational opinion).

    For Jewish opponents of the occupation, is a selective boyott a moral position to take: that is, not buying products produced in the occupied territories, because they are derived from stolen or disputed property and goods, labelled as “Made in Israel”?

    This is the position taken by GushShalom within Israel, and one that is defensible as quite separate to the ‘wild’ BDS campaign. they have held this position for at least a decade now.

    It is in a similar class to boycotts of certain Jewish meat firms and others that have been promoted by observant & reform Jews in the US for illegal and unethical acitivity. Or, in Boston, some orthodox real estate speculators were subjected to a herem in the 1960s. Some of the biggest boycott successes in the US were boycotts of California grapes. So moral campaigning against exploitation is not an unknown thing. I would not be surprised if such a position gained traction in progressive Jewish circles in the US. (see http://blogs.rj.org/reform/2008/09/hechsher-tzedek.html)

    Now, while you can disagree with a west bank boycott position on political grounds–that you don’t believe that there is an occupation etc–I think it is hard to argue that a boycott developed by Israelis is in the same class as the international BDS.

    And by the way, Uri Avineri, the veteran leftist who has been behind this, is a strong opponent of the BDS campagin and has copped considerable flack for his position (see http://www.miftah.org/Display.cfm?DocId=20483&CategoryId=5).

    I’d be interested in intelligent discussion, including a response from Michael Danby, and if he is interested, Mark Dreyfus.

  • TheSadducee says:


    There are so many uncertains about the BDS which makes it so potentially dangerous and damaging.

    Would a limited and directed boycott actually end as that? What time frame would be considered reasonable (especially by those with the more extreme positions) before it was extended to a blanket boycott?

    And I note that you don’t really address the idea of the academic/intellectual/cultural boycott. How would this be implemented?

    Would you be comfortable with someone like Loewenstein making judgements or advising on what is acceptable to implement academic/intellectual/cultural boycott?

    Incidentally, once a targetted boycott is up and it effects academic/intellectual/cultural matters how can you ever be sure that there wont be an unnofficial boycott made under its auspices i.e. some participants extend it beyond its official goals and target people they disagree with?

    I agree that a targetted WB boycott could be effective however I also see the danger of such a thing being dragged beyond its original purpose and being abused to push more extreme positions.

    I’m not sure how this could be safely undertaken noting some of the extremists that are pushing much of the matter – do you have any suggestions?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I don’t have time today to answer everthing in detail

    * I am opposed to an academic boycott, even though many Israel academics are involved in the military industrial complex. To put it on the record, I have given classes in Israel, I studied at Hebrew U., and would like to have continuing relationships with academics in Israel. All the people I have worked with there, bar one or two, despise the occupation, but are despondent about change.

    * I also think a cultural boycott is bad, THOUGH, the connection between hasbarah campaigns (eg the Tel Aviv campaign) and some film festivals is something I don’t like at all. But I am not in favour of censorship of ideas either.

    * Bad Boy Lowenstein? He could hand in his resume like everyone else …My views about him are on the ajds website as well.(http://www.ajds.org.au/node/82)

    * Gush Shalom has a list of products from the Occupied territories, but it has to be vouched for accuracy (this by the way, is what Ahava products were targetted by Code Pink (look for their website).

    * As preventing hijacking of such a position, well, that is always a political risk on whatever one does and life is politics.

  • ariel says:

    If you’re going to boycott Israel, you’re the one missing out!
    Israel doesn’t need you as much as you need her…

    Click here and here to see how you’re putting your life at risk!

  • Michael Brull says:

    Danby’s fake tears over Darfur is the perfect illustration of Mamdani’s thesis about the Save Darfur coalition. Note also he condemns human rights abuses by countries that aren’t pro-western, or US puppets. What about Egypt, or Saudi Arabia (etc)? And what about Indonesia’s crimes in West Papua (or our crimes in Afghanistan)? The real hypocrite is Danby, if anyone actually believes that he pays lip service to human rights, in a Labor government that couldn’t care less about our own human rights violations (like the racist NT intervention, or his party cutting funding urgently needed to stop violence against women, for shelters for victims of domestic violence and so on)

  • Common Sense says:

    The only hypocrite is you Brull. If you had a skerrick of principle you wouldn’t be hanging around with the one-state solution, blanket-boycott supporting professional Israel bashing Loewenstein. Then again its pretty easy taking pot shots from the leafy surrounds of [Australian suburb name removed by editors to protect privacy] Grow up.

  • Chook says:

    Brull, and why don’t we hear from you about all the injustices occuring around the world. It’s much easier to attack Israel. Just like Loewenstein, by making Israel your target, your mates whose vile anti-Semitic comments appear on different blogs every day wont call you names, because you are one of them. But don’t be fooled they hate you too.

  • ra says:

    You know, Jake Lynch is right when he says the point of a boycott against Israel is to target “institutional ties, connecting us to the revenue streams of a strategic industry, that make us complicit in the brutal occupation.” So let’s face it: the calls for a cultural/academic boycott are useless. Israel will only listen when we start targetting the boycotts properly.

    For my part in the “boycott Israel campaign”, I’ve decided to stop purchasing Israeli tanks and heavy artillery and return the ones I’ve already got. This will come as a shock to those friends of mine who love to go on tank rides with me up Bambra Rd. Not to mention the difficulties I’m now going to have getting a parking spot outside Glick’s on Carlisle St on Friday afternoons.

  • ra says:

    But such is the price of conscience.

  • Common Sense says:

    “For my part in the “boycott Israel campaign”, I’ve decided to stop purchasing Israeli tanks and heavy artillery and return the ones I’ve already got. This will come as a shock to those friends of mine who love to go on tank rides with me up Bambra Rd. Not to mention the difficulties I’m now going to have getting a parking spot outside Glick’s on Carlisle St on Friday afternoons.”


  • Jake Lynch says:

    I picture apologists for Israel’s serial breaches of international law, like Michael Danby, huddling together in an overheated room somewhere, getting terribly excited when they feel they’ve hit upon a particularly convincing argument, and sallying forth into the real world, certain it’s going to prove persuasive, only to stumble over the one obvious point they forgot.

    I’ll let him down gently, then. He may be amazed to learn that, when I was going around, persuading people to boycott South Africa in the 1980s, I was not wholly oblivious to the human rights abuses being endured by the people of Iraq, El Salvador and many others.

    In the words of Naomi Klein, boycott is not a dogma: it’s a tactic. The reason for trying it on Israel is that it might work, which is why Danby and his ilk are getting so uptight about it.

    Israel presently enjoys impunity for its crimes, which incentivises repetition. End the impunity through BDS and it becomes clear that carrying on the brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory is not in Israel’s interests. That would be a first.

  • frosh says:

    Jake Lynch,

    Since you have admitted that your boycott is one of expediency, rather than principle, I have a couple of questions for you.

    1) What evidence do you have that an academic boycott will lead to a peaceful resolution in Middle East? It seems the onus is on the boycotter to demonstrate this, given that there is an admission that boycott is driven by expedient motives.

    2) Exactly how expedient are you? If an Israeli university were to develop a vaccine to Malaria, would you recommend that people in Malaria infested parts of the world boycott this vaccine? If an Israeli university were to develop a revolutionary cure for cancer that eclipsed all existing treatments, would you recommend friends and family members boycott it? How would you justify your decision?

  • Unlike some other people here, I have no problem with boycotting Israel. I don’t think that such a decision is hypocritical solely by virtue of the fact that there are other countries with human rights abuses that trump those of the Zionist state. As Jake rightly pointed out, I don’t think anybody was so concerned about the situation in Iraq while they were boycotting South Africa, and I don’t see why they should have been.

    That said, the academic boycott of Israel is despicable hypocrisy at its very lowest. If you want to boycott Israel, go without something that you don’t want. The first things to get boycotted are always the arts and academia. This is because the average boycotter is too lazy to appreciate foreign films and to stupid to engage with ideas.

    There is a long list of Israeli-made products that you can let yourself go without; I advise you to find it and follow it. Stay out of the universities, and let those of us who know how to learn do so.

  • TheSadducee says:


    I’m not sure but I think Lynch was suggesting that he wasn’t oblivious to human rights abuses in Iraq etc while boycotting S Africa which indicates that he was concerned.

    Anyway, to respond to your point about why they should have been concerned – simply because if you have a respect for human rights it should be applied to all people, not selectively. If you are going to take a moral/ethical stand then you need to apply it fairly and equitably.

    Human rights activism shouldn’t be like a candy store – people picking their personal favourites and ignoring the ones they don’t like. Nor should the argument of not being able to address all issues be used – what criteria is used (which is moral/ethicial) to then determine who gets priority?

    Israel wouldn’t fit any reasonable criteria alone which merits it solely being boycotted – their crimes are not the most egregious, they are not the only democracy committing crimes nor is an argument of economic effect/priority sustainable.

    That being said, I would suggest you consider Lynch’s suggestion that “it might work” in the case of Israel. What criteria is being used to judge why it might work in the case of Israel and not in other cases?

    You see Lynch talk about immunity for crimes leading to repetition etc. But you don’t see him talk about real practical immunity for international crimes eg. held by those who have veto power in the UNSC.

    I haven’t seen him propose an academic boycott of say the US, the UK (his own country incidentally), France, Russia or China despite these countries all committing crimes that far outweight those of Israel. Why?

    I suspect that such a proposal would never be made because academics know the repercussions of such a step – they would suffer significant retaliation which would impact on their career and damage (possibly irreparably) their credibility.

    This to me is where the hypocrisy is truly realised.

  • Chook says:

    Is it only me, because every time I post a comment on Loewenstein’s web page having a bit of a go at the poor old persecuted dear, it disappears. Come on Loewenstein fair go mate, what ever happened to the free speech you constantly bang on about.

  • frosh says:


    My understanding is that it is NOT only you. This is a typical complaint about that particular website.

    While it is admittedly impossible for us to verify to what degree censorship takes place on other websites, rest assured that we at Galus do not have such a policy.

  • frosh says:

    Jake Lynch,

    I was hoping that by now you would have attempted to answer the question I put to you a couple of days ago.

    The questions seem to be quite essential to your position.

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