Thursday, March 27, 2008

UCU Reconsidering Boycott

The National Executive Committee of the University and College Union has agreed to reconsider a boycott of Israel. This union tried this last year and was hit with an international, prolonged opposition. In the end it had to stop all talk of a boycott after it emerged that it might well be completely illegal to do so.

Of course, the question becomes why is it OK to consider boycotting the Olympic games in China but not Israeli academics. Well, there are a number of reasons but here is one that I haven't heard often.

The point of a boycott is to apply pressure for the person or organisation or country being boycotted to take some action. This is entirely predicated, then, on the assumption that the target of the boycott is in a position to take that action. In the case of the call to boycott Israel this is an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.

Now, it must be asked is this an action that Israel can perform unilaterally? Of course not. It cannot simply remove its troops and settlers and hand control back to Jordan and Egypt - they don't want that land. The only way to end the occupation is through a negotiated settlement resulting in the creation of a Palestinian state. By its very nature Israel cannot unilaterally make a negotiated settlement.

The obvious conclusion then is that a boycott serves no purpose. Israel is pressured to do something it cannot unilaterally do. The aims of the boycott might be toned down to be more reasonable. Perhaps a demand that Israel negotiate? But they already are doing that. Perhaps the boycott should be on both parties to force them to come to some settlement? But that could never happen and would not help.

So all that is left is a one sided boycott aimed at forcing Israel to take steps that it simply cannot take. When examined we see that the boycott is not a push towards peace or a hope for the future. It is punishment for the occupation that Israel now cannot end by itself.