Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Writer Amitav Ghosh, explaining why he is not boycotting a literary award associated with Israel's Tel Aviv University.
I would like to state clearly that I do not believe in embargoes and boycotts where they concern matters of culture and learning. On the contrary I believe very strongly that it is important to defend the notion that institutions of culture and learning must, in principle, be regarded as autonomous of the state. Or else every writer in America and Britain, and everyone who teaches in a British or American university, would necessarily be implicated in the Iraq war, and by extension, in Israel’s actions in Gaza and Palestine. Similarly every Indian writer and academic would also be complicit in the actions of the Indian government in areas of conflict. And if we don’t defend this principle how will we defend the rights of dissent of those who are employed in universities – especially, for instance, in times of war, when reasons of state can be cited to create an explicit complicity?
I do not see how it is possible to make the case that Israel is so different, so exceptional, that it requires the severing of connections with even the more liberal, more critically-minded members of that society. Is it really possible to argue that there is in that country such a unique and excessive malevolence that it contaminates every aspect of civil society, including private foundations and universities? Let me remind you of something that Sari Nusseibeh once said:
"If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we've had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals... If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach."

I have always felt that exceptionalism has been a major problem for the rest of the world in relation to both the US as well as Israel. How then can I now take an exceptionalist position myself?

Mr. Ghosh also objects to the boycott on tactical grounds, linking to this Gush Shalom piece. See also Margaret Atwood's response to the same request (she also is not boycotting).

H/T: Norm Geras.

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