Palumbo-Liu, David. “Not so Much Anti-Boycott as Pro-Israel.” symploke 23.1-2 (2015): 425-57. [Review essay of Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, eds. The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (Chicago: MLA Members for Scholars Rights, 2015)].
Nelson-Brahm’s attack on the boycott stems largely from their characterization of it as anti-Semitic and anti-academic freedom. They feel that the boycott is therefore excessive, especially in the light of what they claim is a much better situation in Israel-Palestine than we imagine, one which must be preserved. They feel that the cost of a boycott includes disrupting a delicate and meaningful relation between Israeli and American academics. But most important is their belief that the boycott aims for the destruction of the State of Israel, and that, above all, warrants a condemnation of the boycott.
Conversely, I will argue, first, that the anti-Semitic charge is weak, even by the authors’ own standards; second, that their advocacy of academic freedom is inconsistent and serves mostly as a pretext to fend off criticism of Israel; third, that their claims regarding the situation of academics in Israel and the Occupied Territories is contradicted by the facts of the present day. I argue that their implacable defense of Israel as a Jewish supremacist state is at the heart of this volume, and that the issues of the boycott’s supposed anti-Semitism and denial of academic freedom are at best ancillary.
The absolute commitment of these authors to the preservation of that specific vision of a Jewish state accounts for their inability to see beyond that aim. They are profoundly unconcerned with precisely what the academic boycott of Israel seeks to help achieve—equal rights for Palestinians. Not only are they unconcerned with those rights, so long as they feel that those rights might lead to the “destruction” of the state of Israel, they are emphatically opposed to them.