Hard though it may be to believe, the University and College Union (UCU) is trying once again to boycott Israeli academics. There are several reasons why it's hard to credit this, including the fact that in previous boycott attempts it's become obvious that a boycott would never have got the support of the membership, which is no doubt why the pro-boycotters so adamantly resisted a union ballot on the topic. There's also the fact that the union has spent thousands and thousands of pounds on these failed attempts, at a time when it urgently needs to devote its resources to normal union matters such as pay levels, redundancies, and questions of bullying and harassment. A substantial part of that cost has gone towards paying for legal advice about the legitimacy of a boycott, advice which said that a boycott was liable to breach UK anti-discrimination law. (This was enough to make the union drop the previous boycott proposal last September, although it now looks as if it's regretting this acknowledgement of its obligations under anti-discrimination law - on which point see Shalom Lappin here.) It's been glaringly obvious for quite some time that boycott proposals tear the union apart and risk exposing it to financial disaster. And still they do it, again and again.
What is it that drives them, in a world full of far greater horrors than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why is it that the National Executive Committee of the union can't be satisfied unless they've ostracized and demonized and punished Israel, alone among all the nations of the world? What is it that has led the union's General Secretary, and even more ostentatiously its President, to renege on the anti-boycott platform which they campaigned on and which got them elected?
It may be tempting to think that this is just straightforward racism, that the only explanation for this glaring exceptionalism with respect to Israel is that the union pro-boycotters have here a chance to revile and demonize Jews, an opportunity not provided by the other and more dreadful catastrophes which fill our daily news. No doubt the shadow of anti-Semitism does hang over the boycott proposals considered as an institutional practice, whatever the motives of individual boycotters. But when we examine the actual words and practices of the boycott supporters, something rather different may come to mind. In their perverted use of Nazi comparisons, in their determined silence about the war crimes and crimes against humanity which have been committed against Israelis, and in their obsessional demand that the union should pursue the boycott at the expense of its own efficacy, its cohesiveness, its financial solvency, and its respect for anti-discrimination law, then perhaps what we hear is not so much the whisper of the closet anti-Semite as the rustle of the dirty raincoat - the repetitive, harassing, creepy sound of the stalker.
Consider some of the pro-boycotters' claims in the light of what Wikipedia says about stalkers:
Stalkers will often denigrate their victims [see the repeated and lip-licking comparison of Israelis with Nazis] which reduces the victims to objects [see the false claim that the boycott is of universities not of individuals; see also the lightminded dismissal of academic freedom]. This allows stalkers to feel angry at victims [see claims about the sinister power of the 'Zionist lobby' which allegedly silences its adversaries; see also the charge that Israelis are colonialists and settlers, with no mention made of just what many of these people were fleeing from when they came to Israel] without experiencing empathy [see the total silence about the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Israelis, and the genocidal threats made by Israel's enemies], or they may feel that they are entitled to behave as they please toward the victims [see the claim that criticism of Israel can't be anti-Semitic; see also the kind of discrimination against individual Israeli academics and students shown by Andrew Wilkie and Mona Baker]. Viewing victims as "lesser," "weak" or otherwise seriously flawed [see the charge that Jewish nationalism is illegitimate, and that Zionism is racist] can support delusions that the victims need.. to be rescued [see Jacqueline Rose's purported psychoanalysis of Israel], or punished [see the boycott movement passim], by the stalkers. Stalkers may slander or defame the character of their victims [see claims that Israel is an 'apartheid state', and suggestions that it attempts to commit genocide against Palestinians] which may isolate the victims [see the stated aim of the boycott movement] and give the stalkers more control or a feeling of power.In its repetitive, heavy-breathing insistence that Israel represents so special an evil in the world that it is uniquely in need of punishment, the union pro-boycott group (which now includes its National Executive Committee) increasingly resembles the flushed and prurient stalker, with his inability to leave the object of his engrossing hostility alone, no matter what the damage to himself or others. Unfortunately attempts to reason with stalkers, and point out to them the facts of the matter, are notoriously ineffective - their paranoid ability to re-interpret the evidence to bring it closer to their heart's dark and punitive compulsions always outruns the best resources of rationality. Direct argument against the boycott will no doubt continue, not in the hope of convincing the boycotters, but for the sake of the generality of union members - the case for this bigoted proposal should not be allowed to go through by default. But other political and legal strategies will have to be considered for deployment against the collapse of liberal values, including common honesty, in the Executive of what was once a respectable professional union. (Eve Garrard)