By Rob Harris
In April 2013 the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) became the first European trade union involved with education and academia to adopt a resolution calling on its members to “cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel”. The boycott includes any co-operative research programs with Israeli institutions, and also proscribes the exchange of students between the nations.
The resolution also calls on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), an umbrella organisation representing some 55 Irish trade unions of which the TUI is affiliated, to “step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the apartheid State of Israel boycotting Israeli academia until it ends the embargo of Gaza, withdraws from the West Bank, and abides by all anti-Israel UN resolutions.” The ICTU has officially boycotted Israel since 2009, and has already gone out of its way to demonise the Jewish State with extremely one-sided pro-boycott conferences.
The TUI motion also instructs the Union’s executive to institute an information programme to justify the boycott. To use their own Orwellian language, it will be “an awareness campaign amongst TUI members on the need for a full boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel”. It will likely invoke the dubious apartheid claims that led to the boycott in the first instance, in an attempt to reinforce the ideology behind the motion, and guarantee its continued support in the face of objections.
Assertions of the leading BDS advocates
According to the Jerusalem Post
The motion was raised by Jim Roche, a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology and member of the fringe groups Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) and Gaza Action, and seconded by the vice-president of the TUI Gerry Quinn. […]
David Landy, a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, member of the radical IPSC and founder of Academics for Palestine, called on other unions to follow suit. […]
He said it was “nonsense” that boycotts stifle academic principles.
“Undoubtedly apologists for Israeli apartheid will complain that such motions stifle academic freedom, but this is nonsense.”
So Mr. Landy haughtily deems it a “nonsense” that the boycott will discourage the free movement of academics and students, a valued principle within the academic world, and likewise it is a “nonsense” that it will discourage the free exchange of information and research? If his assertions are correct then why has he and his colleagues advocated a boycott that seeks to isolate Israeli academia and students?
“The Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel is an institutional boycott, not a boycott of individuals.”
Does Mr. Landy have no notion of the fact that academic institutions are composed of individuals both working and studying within them? When Israeli students attend schools from childhood, will they not almost inevitably be Israeli schools? What exactly does Mr. Landy and his IPSC colleagues foresee as happening when their motion proscribes the exchange of students with Israeli institutions? Clearly the real nonsense is the claim by boycott advocates that the process won’t harm individual Israeli students.
Israel and Arab-Palestinian education
Both Landy and Roche assert that Israel is somehow destroying the Palestinian education system, to the extent of even boycotting it:
“Ironically, those that will jump to complain about this motion will have no words of condemnation for the de facto boycott imposed on Palestinian education by Israel, nor for its continuing attacks on Palestinian education, students and educators,” Landy said.
Does such an assertion have any substantive basis in fact? Perhaps not, for literacy in the West Bank was at 88% before Israel administered the territory. It has now risen to 93%, comparing favourably with neighbouring Jordan.
Furthermore, university education was non-existent in the West Bank prior to Israel’s presence. Israel built six third level institutions to serve Arab-Palestinians. Several were temporarily closed during the Second Intifada as they were being used to advance the cause of conflict.
One example of third-level incitement is Al Najah University, which featured perhaps the most debased exhibit celebrating the death of Israeli civilians. It became a centre for Hamas’ al-Qassam brigade, and yielded numerous suicide bombers from amongst its student body.
Jim Roche and David Landy
Two chief advocates for the TUI boycott have become quite well known in Ireland for extremist views.
Jim Roche is a veteran of the flotillas that attempted to break the legal Israeli embargo on Gaza. He is a senior member of the jihadist-supporting Irish Anti-War Movement. His views echo that of the basest pro-Palestinian propaganda. He has openly perpetuated the long-disproven assertion that Arab-Palestinians in Gaza are starving, which was untrue even before Israel lifted all food import restrictions in June 2010.
Mr. Roche postulates fanciful notions, claiming Israel “has erased and continues to erase indigenous Palestinian architectural heritage from the physical landscape and collective consciousness….”, whilst ignoring the destruction to the holiest Jewish sites through the decades. He not only inverted the sequence of events leading to the Operation Pillar of Cloud conflict in 2012 but actually congratulated Hamas on showing ‘restraint’ while it was indiscriminately attacking Israeli civilians:
…what is remarkable about the current escalation, purely manufactured by Israel for internal electoral reasons, is the resilience and restraint shown by the Gazan people and its elected government.
I am very pleased that this motion was passed with such support by TUI members, especially coming the day after Israeli occupation forces shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank.
Would this happen to be the same teenagers who threw petrol bombs at an armed Israeli checkpoint in the darkness of night? Haaretz reported that they were carrying seven incendiary devices, despite describing them as “unarmed”!
David Landy is a figurehead of the Irish pro-Palestinian movement. It has been suggested that he has a rather problematic stance toward his own Jewish identity. Indeed Landy wrote a book on the very issue, entitled “Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights”, which taps into the increasingly vocal negation of Jewish identity in the Jewish quarter of the anti-Zionist movement. A review by Professor Philip Mendes, also featuring a similarly themed book, states that:
Both authors rightly suggest that their samples are involved in creating alternative communities of Jews who reject Israel. These communities give them a sense of belonging and mutual support that was denied to them in the mainstream Jewish community. This then begs the question of what if anything distinguishes their anti-Zionist beliefs from the views of anti-Zionists who aren’t Jewish…
Double standards, Irish style
Whether or not one thinks Israel is violating the rights of Arab-Palestinians, the singling out of this small nation above all others must surely seem an oddity to all but those who obsessively hate Israel.
Numerous Irish academic institutions have strong links with regimes that possess dubious human rights records. Moreover, one would think this issue would be a source of even mild concern to those supposedly interested in human rights because these links have grown ever stronger, such as with Russia, and particularly China, the developments of which have been well publicised. Consequently, the obsession over a few rather tenuous academic links with Israel is outlandish, to say the least.
As musician and academic Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh noted, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm in a letter to the Irish Times
There seems to have been no discussion of the extensive academic ties that Trinity College, Dublin Institute of Technology and University College, Dublin all have with Russia and China, despite the former country’s illegal occupation of parts of the sovereign state of Georgia… This is all the more surprising given that it was the Dublin Colleges Branch of the TUI that sponsored the anti-Israel motion.
Neither were any corresponding demands placed by members of the TUI onto the opposing Arab-Palestinian side. It should be recalled that the Arab-Palestinian education system & academia has been used to incite extreme hatred and violence throughout the Palestinian populace for decades, thereby dealing a death-blow to any chance of a peace process, thanks to a permanently radicalised populace. It would seem that even an education system using children in endeavours to exterminate another state, going as far as to institute militaristic camps is not worthy of censure!
On prejudice and discrimination
The notion that the TUI boycott is an assault on Israel, rather than an attempt to weaken any sense of a perceived occupation, is well founded. The boycott extends to all Israeli institutions, rather than merely those involved with the West Bank or Samaria and Judea. The organisation Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine, which unites both Israeli and Palestinian workers and attempts to foster dialogue, noted the indiscriminate nature of the TUI boycott resolution:
The resolution does not specifically call for a boycott of Israeli academics or students who are, for example, based in the occupied territories. The boycott covers all Israelis, even those students and academics who oppose the occupation and who support self-determination for the Palestinians.
Similarly, one wonders what is to be achieved by including a cultural aspect to the boycott. Proponents argue that any manifestation of Israeli culture “whitewashes the occupation”. However, it can easily be inferred that behind such senseless words an uglier truth lies. These individuals are afraid that we will see Israeli people as human beings rather than as bloodthirsty monsters so often portrayed on the news.
Interestingly, British academic unions considering a similar boycott received legal advice that it might be in breach of European Union anti-discrimination laws. BDS was found to be illegal by the French Supreme Court, and the European Court of Human Rights upheld this ruling. However, it is unclear whether the TUI will be challenged on their boycott.
Some implications for Ireland
It should not be thought that the arguments of BDS advocates were overwhelmingly superior simply because the TUI vote was unanimously in favour of a boycott. Rather it is a somewhat unexpected conclusion that there would be little if any dissent to the boycott motion because pro-Palestinianism is by far the pre-dominant paradigm in Ireland when it comes to any discussion on this Middle Eastern conflict. Moreover, there appears to have been no speakers voicing opposing anti-boycott views at the TUI conference. Sadly the voices of a fanatical well-funded terrorist-applauding element have undue influence on the debate in Ireland in the absence of any substantive defence of Israel by opposing sides.
The boycott could have profoundly divisive implications. It may lead to TUI members singling out Israeli exchange students, and refuse to assist them as has occurred in other boycott scenarios. In 2009 a lecturer at NUI Maynooth mounted an unofficial boycott of Israel which was discovered when his refusal to assist an Israeli student was reported in the media. It may even cause industrial unrest if an employee of the TUI is disciplined for refusing to work with Israeli students or institutions since no Irish colleges appear to endorse a boycott.
The boycott also comes at a time when recession-hit Ireland has been increasingly looking to Israel due to its economic model, which is weathering the economic downturn.
Israel’s record when it comes to academic achievement can be justifiably described as outstanding. It ranks as the second best educated nation in the world according to the OECD, and one of the more remarkable aspects of those going along with the agitators of such a boycott is the inability to conceive of the way in which Israel substantively contributes to world academia, and scientific innovation, where it is known for its strides in health care.
Education is a key element in any nation’s economic recovery, and whilst Ireland can no doubt exploit opportunities with other nations, Israel still stands out in a number of key respects. It has the largest per capita number of third level and PhD graduates in the world. It is a world leader in science and high technology as evidenced by its remarkable showing on the NASDAQ which is almost comparable in scale to that of the entire EU, whilst it also gained substantive inward investment from multinationals. These are the very areas of industry in which Ireland seeks to advance, and to position itself.
The BDS movement seeks to isolate Israel economically, academically and culturally, in a quest to bring a remarkable nation to its knees. Whether or not such an action is deemed offensive from a moral perspective, simply from a position of self-interest, boycotting Israel’s education and academia is likely to make Ireland the worse off if it takes hold and spreads to other Irish academic unions in the long run.
Rob Harris contributes articles to several websites on contentious political issues (not to be confused with the popular English novelist (1957-) of the same name). He blogs at eirael.blogspot.com. He lives in Ireland. For all the exclusive blog entries by Rob Harris, go here.