There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding about the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions). As John Berger explained a while back, BDS is not a principle but a strategy; it is not against Israel but against Israeli policy; when the policy changes BDS will end.
BDS is also not about a particular solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather the demand that Israel abide by international law and UN resolutions. It is accordingly something that you can support if you are for a two state solution or a one state solution. You can even support it as a Zionist. It arises from the realization, following years of experience, that the Occupation will not end unless Israelis understand that it has a price.
In a sense, the fact that a boycott is required is a sign of weakness following the polarization and marginalization of the left in Israel. On the one hand, we have more or less used all the other weapons we have in the arsenal of non-violent resistance and the situation on the ground is only getting worse. On the other hand, we are witnessing the development of a proto-fascist mindset in Israel. I am, for example, extremely anxious about the extent that the space for public debate in Israel is shrinking.
One of the ways of silencing any dissent is the through the demand for loyalty, so that a slogans you hear a lot now is “no citizenship without loyalty.” This slogan reflects the inversion of the republican idea that the state should be loyal to the citizen and is accountable for inequities and injustices. It is a manifestation of the complete reversal of the republican relationship between state and loyalty and the adoption, instead, of a logic similar to the one that informed Mussolini’s Italy. It is – as Gramsci once said – part of the morbid symptoms of our times.
One of the expressions of these symptoms is the increasingly violent attitude towards any kind of dissent within Israel. I have received more death threats following my criticism of the flotilla fiasco than ever before. When I walk on campus people ask in jest if I am wearing a bullet proof vest. Such jokes have a menacing undertone. Therefore it is not all that surprising that only three professors in Israel openly support a boycott; many others are in the closet because supporting BDS is not considered to be a legitimate form of critique and people who back it are in danger of being punished.
And yet, there is also a sense that the pro-government proponents have gone too far. They are not only targeting people on the far left, but practically everyone who is even slightly critical of government policies. A couple of months ago a high school principle who objected to military officers coming in to speak to his pupils, was all but crucified. Clearly the outrage of so many Israeli academics against the assault on academic freedom has little to do with the boycott, but is rather against the attempt to silence any kind of critique. There is an ever-growing sense that public discourse in Israel is dramatically shrinking. Thus, the provost of Haifa University, who courageously criticized the Minister of Education and the assault on academic freedom, is by no means a left-winger but is simply outraged at the current developments. He would never otherwise support my stance on the boycott.
Neve Gordon can be reached through his website www.israelsoccupation.info.