Linda Gordon backs the BDS Movement but not an academic boycott of Israel

Historians in the News
tags: Israel, AHA2015, BDS Movement



Linda Gordon is a professor of history and the humanities at New York University. 

Related Link  Linda Gordon at the AHA discussing the BDS Movement (video)

On January 4, the American Historical Association voted not to consider two resolutions critical of Israel’s interference with Palestinian academic freedom. Though boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) were not on the table at AHA, their specter loomed over the debate. I want to offer here the perspective of a scholar of social movements. I see BDS as a strategy for applying global pressure, especially economic pressure, in the hopes of changing Israeli policy, a strategy that I respect. Although BDS’s call for academic boycott is not the strategy I would choose, BDS as a whole has already had a positive impact. In fact, it is virtually the only nonviolent strategy that has had an impact thus far. Here are two arguments for supporting it—but also for making exceptions and trying something else as well, something that may be more productive for those of us in the United States.

To explain, I have to out myself. I can’t participate in a total cultural or educational boycott of Israel because of the “Hand in Hand” schools (Yad b’Yad in Hebrew). They are my brother’s life work. But my main attachment to them is not because he’s my brother, but because of what they are and what they do. Begun by Lee Gordon and Amin Khalaf in 1997, Hand in Hand consists of five bicultural, bilingual schools for Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Israeli kids, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Some 1,200 kids and over 3,000 adults are involved—parents, teachers, community activists. Every class is taught half in Hebrew, half in Arabic, and every child emerges fluent in both languages and, more important, dedicated to a future of co-existence with freedom and justice for both groups.

Through the Second Intifada and the ghastly Israeli assault on Gaza, these children and their parents have stood fast in their commitment to the Hand in Hand community and to mutual respect. True, Hand in Hand creates only small islands in an angry sea. As we used to say in the New Left, a new world must appear visible within the old or it can never happen. If you cannot imagine it, you cannot create it.

But I don’t feel in the least apologetic or hypocritical in my selective support for BDS. BDS supporters have produced many versions of what the boycott should and shouldn’t include, and many supporters believe that constructive relationships and projects should continue and even be initiated.

It is perfectly possible, as always in social movements, for individuals to contribute in ways that suit their situations. (“From each according to their ability” has long been a winning social-movement organizing principle.) What should be challenged, however, is attacking the BDS strategy as if it were insisting on some version of Stalinist party discipline, or treating the most outrageous pro-BDS statement as if it spoke for the whole. BDS is, after all, a global, decentralized social movement.

BDS is working because it does two things well....




comments powered by Disqus