Like the AUT boycott decision that came before it (see the links at the end of this post), the vote yesterday at the Bournemouth conference of UCU disgraces a union representing British academics, and it will stain its reputation and moral standing so long as the decision is allowed to stand. Arguing for the boycott position yesterday, John Chalcraft wrote:
The movement for boycott is in no way anti-semitic. It includes Jews and non-Jews...Well, whether the policy of boycotting Israeli academics is anti-Semitic or not, the fact that the movement in favour of it includes some Jews is neither here nor there. This can't establish its 'clean' credentials, as will be quickly seen from the following simple thought experiment.
Imagine a policy that you're certain would be anti-Semitic: say, just for example, a law requiring all Jewish academics to wear insignia of identity when at their place of work. Now, suppose some Jews who support this law, for whatever reason. End of thought experiment.
The anti-Semitic or non-anti-Semitic character of any policy depends on its overall shape and effects and not on whether or not it has some Jewish supporters - even though, in the nature of things, most Jews will pass up the opportunity of supporting anti-Semitic policies. But most is just most; it isn't all.
Criticism of Israel need not be anti-Semitic, just as criticism of the US need not be anti-American. The criticism - as any criticism of any country - may simply be based on features of the country in question, or of the policies of its government, that deserve criticism, or that do so in the opinion of the critic. But a policy such as the academic boycott, targeting Israeli academics, and only Israeli academics, for treatment that damages their professional interests, needs the backing of a persuasive argument as to what makes Israel an especially bad case in a world with many other cases at least as bad and some of them much worse, if it is to escape the charge of being anti-Semitic in effect, aimed without justification at the universities and the academic staff of the Jewish state alone. As I've argued before, pressed repeatedly to come up with a reason for singling out Israel in this way, the boycotters fail repeatedly to provide one.
But for John Chalcraft it is no trouble at all. Watch and relish - for being a case of the magnificent ruses of the ideological mind.
Is it unfair to single Israel out? It is not clear that there are other heavily militarised, nuclear-armed, expansionist apartheid states with extensive illegal settlement, land seizure and wall-building activity.Leaving aside 'apartheid' here, it's only a wonder he didn't include 'beginning with the letter "I"'. This picks out Israel all right, since it is a list constructed to do precisely that. Chalcraft's 'It is not clear that' is, in the circumstances, repellently coy. The only thing he fails to explain is why this list is more morally (boycott-)compelling than alternative lists that would pick out the specificity of, say, China, or Sudan, or Zimbabwe, or Iran.