Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two Additional Reasons for the Academic Boycott of Israel

Meet Fidaa Abed and Ahmed Ma'ari. Abed was headed to the University of California at San Diego for a graduate degree in computer science. Ahmed is a high school student. Both won Fullbrights to study in the US. Both had their Fullbrights cancelled, then reinstated, then US visas issued, then revoked.

Now, let me get this straight. At first they weren't a security threat; they were just kept in Gaza because of Israel's stranglehold on that territory. It's called "collective punishment" – if we hurt the Gazans enough, they will rise up and throw out Hamas. Gee, that's a smart strategy. Certainly has worked.

Then, it turns out that they were a security threat, or so Israel claimed. But the US didn't consider them a security threat, saying that the evidence provided by Israel was flimsy, so they were issued student visas. Then, when Mr. Ma'ari was at Dulles airport he found out that the visa had been revoked – at least for the time being. It seems that "new information" had been provided by Israel which made the Americans think twice. So now they are investigating the "new information."

What's a better explanation for the reversal of fortune? That Mr. Abed and Mr. Ma'ari are the victims of a face-saving ploy that Israel was desparate to pull off, and that America has agreed to, for the moment. You know the drill – the US decides to let some of the Fullbright students in (to make Condi happy), and decide to keep some of that out (to make Israel happy). That resolves the diplomatic mini-crisis. On the backs of the Palestinians.

I have always held academic freedom to be important, and as I have written before,I am not a fan of academic boycotts. Academic freedom is very important to me. But it's a two-way street. If Israel continues to curtail the academic freedom of Palestinian students and faculty, especially in Gaza, why should Israeli academic institutions complain that the academic boycott undermines their academic freedom? Is the academic freedom of Israelis dearer than that of Palestinians?

Apparently so, for Haaretz reports that

Gisha, an Israeli organization aimed at protecting Palestinian freedom of movement, says the problems the Palestinian students faced are not out of the ordinary.

"In addition to the particular students who did not receive visas for technical reasons or unexplained security reasons, there are hundreds of students in the Gaza Strip who were accepted by universities abroad and have valid visas," said Gisha executive director Sari Bashi. But, she added, "Israel issues a comprehensive ban on students from Gaza going abroad, as part of its policy of collective punishment toward Gaza residents, thereby impinging on the right to education of hundreds of talented young people who want to study, develop and create a better future in our region."

Some 1,100 university students wanted to leave Gaza to study abroad last September, of whom 480 went to Egypt and from there traveled elsewhere, according to Gisha. However, Israel has not operated such trips from Gaza to Egypt since January.

That Haaretz article, by the way , was written by Barak Ravid, whose job at Haaretz includes providing a shofar for unnamed government officials who are ticked off by even mild US pressure on Israel. After years of Israel telling American Jews to shut up and just send cash, they are now trying to say that to the Americans.


Anonymous said...

Hello all , I am the teacher of Ahmed Ma'ari . I want to add that Ahmed is only 14 years old , one of the best students at a program called ACCESS sponsored by the AmidEast , the State Department , he went through so many exams and interviews to gain this scholarship , he is a mere boy . he has nothing to do with politics or Hamas . He just dreamed to be a good , distinguished student. PLZ. what threat does this 14 – year-old student have for the security of the USA or Israel.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but wouldn't an academic boycott of Israel be trying to make a good out of two wrongs?

Richard said...

I read that article too & found it strange. The headline made it appear that it would answer the question of what was the security concern the caused the U.S. to revoke the students' visas. But if you read the article all it describes is the supposedly incompetent & unprofessional conduct of U.S. diplomats who went to bat for the students & refused to allow Jordan or Israel to bar them from exiting for the U.S.

I think yr surmise may be right & that the U.S. was bowing to Israeli pressure & allowing Israel to save face. I wonder though whether the U.S. will ever allow the students to take up their Fulbrights.

For all Haaretz's fine pts (& it has many), the NY Times it ain't.

Anonymous said...

I'm against the boycott because

A) It would hurt innocent people

B) It won't work, because any attempt at imposing a boycott would elicit widespread cries of "antisemitism."

Actually, B is more important, because the harm in part A would be temporary. But you'd never get a boycott instituted in the first place without some sort of revolution in the way people in the US understand the conflict. We had Thomas Friedman some months back saying that it was "anti-semitic" to advocate such a thing, this in a newspaper which has supported the blockade on Gaza as a way to overthrow Hamas.

So I would only use the proposed boycott of Israel the way you do in this post--as an easily understood way of demonstrating the enormous hypocrisy of the mainstream American attitude towards the conflict.

Now if you actually convinced people of this, to the point where mainstream newspapers and politicians had to admit it, then we could have a serious debate over how to reach a just solution. One could then discuss whether a boycott would be the way to go.


Jerry Haber said...


Please contact me at with more information about Ahmed. You are very lucky to be the teacher of such a boy. If I can be of help, please let me know. I will see what I can do.


Jerry Haber said...

I am not sure why Haaretz is serving as a spokesperson for unnamed Israeli officials who are crying about American pressure.

But more importantly, Richard, we have to follow this story. It may be that Israel wants to turn scientists into terrorists -- I have speculated that before -- but I think that gives the government officials to much credit for thinking. No, this is just bureaucratic evil, the same sort of evil that makes it difficult for Palestinian Americans to stay with their families on the West Bank, etc. It is the faceless, nameless evil of the institution.

And all for the Molekh of "security".

Jerry Haber said...

Donald, as you may know, I posted my thoughts on the Academic Boycott here

and here

You see that we are somewhat in agreement.

Anonymous said...


I'd read those posts, but had forgotten I'd done so. The ideas apparently lodged in my subconscious, though, so that I came here and repeated them back to you.


Anonymous said...

"...480 went to Egypt and from there traveled elsewhere, according to Gisha. However, Israel has not operated such trips from Gaza to Egypt since January."

Why do those trips from Gaza to Egypt require Israeli intermediacy? Why can't these students cross directly from Gaza into Egypt, and from Egypt travel abroad?

Jerry Haber said...

All border crossings of the Palestinians are controlled by Israel since 1967; Oslo reaffirmed this as a temporary measure, but as they say in Hebrew, there is nothing more permanent than temporary.

The borders have been closed in Gaza almost hermetically (remember when the Palestinian women breached the fence) since the Hamas takeover last summer

From wikipedia:

Rafah Crossing

The Rafah Border Crossing lies on an international border between Egypt and Gaza that was first recognized after the conclusion of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty and 1982 Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. Managed by the Israel Airports Authority until it was evacuated on 11 September 2005 as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, and it subsequently became the mission of the European Union Border Assistance Mission Rafah (EUBAM) to monitor the crossing.

Opened on 25 November 2005 and operating nearly daily until 25 June 2006 [17], it has since been closed by Egyptian authorities 86% of the time due to security reasons[17]. The export of goods does not take place at this crossing[17] and in June 2007, the crossing was closed entirely after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.