As I sit here in Israel and read about the boycott by the American Studies Association of Israeli academic institutions because of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, I wonder if they are referring to the same country in which I currently live.
There are a million Arabs living in Israel, who like all full citizens of this country, have free health care and education. They are allowed to vote, run for public office, criticize the government, and seek higher education. Indeed, one of the many ironies of the BDS movement is that it was begun by Arabs who were educated at Israeli universities. And the New York Times article which reported on the American Studies Association’s decision quotes one its members as justifying the decision because of “Israel’s blatant and systematic denial of academic freedom to Palestinians.” Yet the photo accompanying the article shows three students on the campus of the world-renowned Technion University in Haifa, sitting comfortably at a picnic table, all wearing the hijab favoured by Muslim women.
On a more mundane level, when I go to the Shuk HaCarmel, Tel Aviv’s large outdoor market, I buy my fruits and vegetables from Musa, an Israeli Arab. In Yaffo at Abu Hassan’s where I wait in line for their famous humus, or at Abulafia’s where I buy my pita, I don’t hear or see anyone making reference to the fact that these are well established Arab enterprises. Certainly no one is boycotting their very prosperous businesses.
On a trip to the Negev, I meet Ali, an Arab tour guide. “Israel is my country and I’m a big patriot,” he tells me. Naturally I find what he is telling me suspect, because it’s not a point of view that is widely known. And then he tells me why. He has six adult children, all of whom are graduates of Israeli universities. Two are teachers, one is a dentist, two are engineers, and one is a nurse. All received subsidies from the Israeli government so that they could complete their education. “Tell me,” he says to me. “In what Arab country could my children have accomplished this, especially my three daughters? In Egypt? In Iraq? In Saudi Arabia? I thank God that we are in Israel,” he says, looking upwards to the heavens.
So what is this boycott really about, I ask myself? Is it really about the Israelis’ treatment of the Palestinians? No one talks about how the Lebanese treat the 500,000 Palestinians in their midst, who are truly marginalized and have been living in squalid refugee camps since 1948. No one mentions the Palestinians in Jordan. Although comprising 70% of the population, Jordanian Palestinians are not the ruling power and were in fact ruthlessly suppressed by the Jordanian army, which in 1970-71 killed an estimated 5,000 of them and expelled the PLO from the country. But Israel is a different story. Israel is a Jewish country, and that alone makes it a fair target for the rest of the world.
The singling out of Israeli academics is no different from the UN constantly targeting Israel alone for alleged crimes against humanity, without breathing a word against the inhumane cruelty of China, Iraq, and Pakistan towards its own citizens, to name just a few. It’s no different from the Nazi boycott of Jewish academics and shopkeepers. It’s no different from the boycott and eventual expulsion of Jews in Arab countries from 1948 onwards. Sadly, history both old and new is replete with many such examples.
It is obvious that Israel today is a dynamic, progressive, achievement-oriented country that leads the world in various areas of human endeavour – despite enduring frequent wars and the constant threat of annihilation. There is hardly a country anywhere that has not benefitted from Israeli innovations that have become commonplace, such as solar heating, desalination, water conservation, and irrigation.
So for future, in the name of moral consistency, those who choose to boycott Israel should not avail themselves of any Israeli inventions that make life easier and better for all of us. They should throw away their cell phones, the existence of which would not have been possible without Israeli inventions. When the Israeli company Vaxil Bio Therapeutics releases its cancer vaccine which may be effective against 90% of cancers, the boycotters should avoid it. When the Technion University comes up with more drought-resistant plants that could revolutionize crop yields around the world and go a long way towards reducing global hunger, the boycotters should choose not to use them. When researchers at Tel Aviv University release the drug they are working on which could significantly reduce the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease, the boycotters should pretend it doesn’t exist.
And perhaps Israel, which is in the driver’s seat when it comes to these extraordinarily worthwhile innovations, should not make them available to those who seek its demise. I believe there are many Palestinians living in Israel today who would support such a strategy.