June 19, 2007

Stupidity versus anti-Semitism.

In May this year a union of British college teachers voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions, in protest against their support of occupation. To be precise, this was only an initial vote that paved way for further debate on the subject in the union. It is not clear to me what form this potential boycott will take. On the one hand, they call for a halt to European collaboration with Israel. But then I can also call on India to stop playing cricket. These calls do not amount to anything. On the other hand, presumably this boycott will put a stop to all interactions between British colleges and Israeli academic institutions. Big deal.

This is funny. I agree that human beings (or institutions) are whole units, and that any assessment ought to consider them as such. When a brilliant scientist speaks nonsense on a general subject, my view of him is lowered just a bit, though my respect for his scientific skills is the same. However, it is quite foolish of me to insist that I will not work with another mathematician just because his views on world affairs differ from mine.

There is one subtle point here though. There do exist legitimate nonacademic reasons for refusing to work with someone. For instance, if a physicist (during the second world war) refused to work with another physicist working for Hitler, that would have been fine. Clearly the present situation with Israeli occupation is wholly different. It is surely stupid to suppose to that there is a systematic cooperation with Israeli government on the part of the universities. If anything, as far as I know, universities in Israel are the centers for vigorous anti-occupation debates.

Thus this whole episode caused some wholesome entertainment, and I naively suspected there was nothing else to be gained from it. But I was wrong! NYT's resident joker Tom Friedman chose his recent op-ed to accuse British college teachers of, you guessed it right, anti-Semitism. He comes up with watertight logic too. Here is a link to the article.

First, there are two Israeli Arabs who received Ph.D at Israel's premier university. So everything must be fine there. At the very least, situation is "so much more morally complex than the outside meddlers present it". Then there is the classic query: if you really want to help the Palestinians, why don't you do one of a number of useful things? If you are really worried about this kind of thing, why don't you also boycott Sudan? Syria? Don't tell me that there is nothing to boycott in Sudan or Syria. Finally, the clincher: don't you see that Israelis overwhelmingly want to end occupation because they elected Ehud Olmert, who will uproot settlers from the West Bank, just as his mentor Ariel Sharon did in Gaza? You tell me that he had two years and nothing happened. Ah, but that is not Israel's fault. It's only because "the Palestinians are in turmoil". Let them calm down and Israel will do the right thing.

It's all pretty obvious, isn't it? What part of this convincing argument do British college teachers not get? Having exhausted all other possibilities, we have no option but to conclude: they must be anti-Semitic. There isn't really any other explanantion. Well done, Mr Friedman!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]