Blogs > HNN > Response to Ben Gurion President Rivka Carmi's LA Times Oped about Neve Gordon

Sep 7, 2009 5:23 am

Response to Ben Gurion President Rivka Carmi's LA Times Oped about Neve Gordon

Ben Gurion University President Rivka Carmi's attack on her colleague Neve Gordon's recent LA Times oped serves to confirm the very arguments made by Gordon about the depths of most Israelis' blindness towards their country's actions, and history more broadly.

To begin with, Prof. Carmi's definition of academic freedom--that it is only related to areas of one's research and teaching and not "person opinion" is completely at odds with the principles of academic freedom as recognized in the West today, which allow for a much more robust engagement by scholars with contemporary political issues, even when their views radically challenge the dominant views in society. It is indeed frightening that the President of a major research university would be so ignorant of the accepted meaning of such a crucial concept to the health of education in Israel.

Second, Carmi criticizes Gordon's description of Israel as having an "apartheid" system, which he believes necessitates a boycott, and then moves right to her criticism of the proposed boycott without engaging at all the realities of Israel's decades long occupation--which Israelis themselves have long labeled apartheid. Indeed, the Hebrew term used to describe the so-called "separation wall", which critics label an "apartheid wall" is the same word used for apartheid.

Without addressing the realities that led Gordon, with clear displeasure, to call for a boycott of his country, Carmi's criticism has no context. Instead of an isolating boycott, Carmi would have Gordon "investing in activities that promote coexistence". But the very reason Gordon has moved to support a boycott is that decades of activities to "promote coexistence" have failed to move Israeli society substantially closer to be willing to make the painful sacrifices necessary to achieve a just and lasting peace with Palestinians. Put simply, it's much cheaper and less trouble to continue and even deepen the occupation than it would be to end it.

Only a radical change in the political, moral and economic calculus would get most Israelis, even those who ostensibly support peace, to force their government to uproot hundreds of thousands of settlers, allow Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, real economic independence, and address in some measure Israel's responsibility for creating the Palestinian refugee problem. Without these steps peace will never be more than an illusion.

President Carmi further claims that by calling for a boycott Gordon has prompted donors to threaten to stop funding the university. My university received similar threats from wealthy Jewish donors when I brought in several Israeli professors, including from Ben Gurion University, to discuss alternative solutions to the conflict. Our Chancellor rightly ignored them, as he should have. One cannot compromise academic freedom for donations, or the soul of the University will be for sale.

Indeed, whenever advocacy organizations threaten to withdraw or otherwise impede funding in order to silence opinions they don't agree with, the job of a good Administrator is always to explain that free speech is the price of a great university. And besides, no one seriously believes that Gordon's views represent those of the Administration. Yet all Carmi's attacks have achieved is to amplify rather than silence them.

Carmi's final argument is that "Gordon has forfeited his ability to work effectively within the academic setting, with his colleagues in Israel and around the world." This is manifestly untrue. In the days since the uproar of his Oped began, I have heard from numerous colleagues at Ben Gurion who have expressed solidarity with his right to speak and disgust with Carmi's response. While Carmi presents a university community united in disgust at his comments, the reality is that his views--and particularly his right to express them--are shared by a large number of colleagues, both at Ben Gurion and at other universities in Israel, where colleagues have started petitions criticizing Carmi's response.

Carmi concludes her opinion piece by extolling the work of Ben Gurion university, in particular its support for surrounding Bedouin communities and with Palestinian and Arab health professionals more broadly. This is no doubt true, but it entirely misses the point. The Zionist movement and then Israel have been "helping" the Bedouin and Arab communities for a century. But all the free clinics cannot make up for the systematic dispossession of Bedouins from their lands (or non-Bedouin Palestinians from theirs), in a process which mirrors our own treatment of native peoples as well as the treatment of Africans, Amerindians and Australians by white European settlers on their lands.

They too were brought modern medicine to soothe the pain of expropriation, marginalization, and dispossession, which continues to this day. What Carmi doesn't understand, but Gordon clearly does, is that Palestinians and Bedouin would gladly trade a few clinics and medical treatments for the right to live as free and equal human beings in the Land of Israel/Palestine with Israelis, not as subordinate natives who must accept whatever the government is willing to give them; and more important, what it takes away. In fact, political, social and economic equality would bring a much higher level of much needed services than the token cooperation between occupier and occupied.

Ultimately, Carmi's views, which so well represent those of the Israeli establishment, are neither "hopeful" nor "pragmatic." They reflect an unwillingness to deal with the realities of an occupation in which Israeli universities have institutionally been complicit for decades, and which a small but crucial group of Israeli scholars, activists and journalists have done a courageous job in exposing. The sad reality is that as Israel continues building new settlements and destroying more Palestinian homes with each new week, it will be Gordon's harsh prescription that will, in Carmi's words, "ultimately guide us, and Israel, to a brighter future."

(NB: for those who cry double standards, or might ask why I single Israel out here, the answer is I don't. I would support the boycott of any institutions in the US given our occupation of Iraq that support this, whether it's programs geared to military or security personnel or think tanks that support them. I would also support boycotting institutions in other countries (eg, China, India) that are part of the machinery of systematic oppression and/or occupation of other peoples.)

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More Comments:

wm arenstein - 10/16/2009

For a bit of balance, see who this LeVine really is. Go here:

Elliott Aron Green - 9/9/2009

Prof LeVine,
Now, Neve Gordon was calling for a boycott of Israel including academic institutions. The usual grounds for such calls are several: killing civilians in the January Gaza War [Operation Cast Lead], "occupation," "apartheid," etc etc.

Well, the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan kill civilians regularly in the course of the wars there. Official US and UK spokesmen tell us that these deaths are inevitable in warfare, etc., which is probably true. All the same, Gordon and others want to boycott Israel. But why aren't you Mr LeVine, and the others calling for boycotting the US and UK and their allies, including institutions like the Univ of California, Cambridge, LSE, Oxford, Exeter, Durham, etc.??? Now, the US, UK, France, and USSR occupied Germany and Japan after WW2 and US troops are still in Japan, while UK, US and French troops are still in Germany [as far as I know] 64 years after the end of the war and almost nobody complains. Who complained in 1945 that the four powers were occupying Germany, Japan, and Austria [up to 1954]???? Occupation in that case was legal, right and proper and was accepted that way by leftist opinion.

Moreover, there is a dispute as to whether Judea-Samaria is "occupied" by Israel or whether that area [also called "West Bank"] really belongs to Israel based on ancient historical rights recognized by the League of Nations in 1922 following the San Remo Conference of 1920. Don't forget that Poland and USSR annexed huge areas of Germany and Finland and Japan after WW2, areas that had never been Polish [Silesia, Pomerania, East Prussia] or Russian [Sakhalin island]. So even if Israel were "occupying" Judea-Samaria, which is a very widespread conventional lie, then international practice and law [the Helsinki accord of 1975] recognize and accept annexation of territories of aggressor nations, which the Arab states and the palestinian Arabs were to the Jews in Israel in 1947-48 and 1967.

As to "apartheid," it is a lie to apply that term to Israel. I live in Jerusalem and I rub shoulders with Arabs all the time in all sorts of situations, buses, restaurants, shopping malls, clothing stores, etc. They are not segregated the way Blacks were in South Africa or in the American South, for that matter, under the jimcrow system. Rather, Saudi Arabia for one practices a kind of apartheid against non-Muslims. Recall that traditionally non-Muslims were not allowed in Arabia. Jews and other ahl al-kitab were expelled from there about 1000 years ago. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority forbid Jews to live in their territories by law. That is apartheid, but jimmy carter, who is on the payroll of Arab kings and emirs, does not want to admit it. Maybe he wants to forget his own family's role in practicing jimcrow. So the whole claim of Israel "apartheid" is turning reality upside down.

So what are the grounds for boycotting Israel that don't exist more truly for the US, UK and Arab states??

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 9/7/2009

i do not smear israel. i tell the truth. sorry if you can't accept the reality. i suppose all the israeli jews who say the same thing, who support gordon, are also no better than self-appointed judges...

moreover, i have criticized arabs and muslims and everyone else innumerable times, on this blog and elsewhere, so sorry, that angle of attack won't work here.

David Zohar - 9/7/2009

I completely agree with N. Friedman
and am getting fed up with the obscene
pontifications of self-appointed judges who will never lose an opportunity to smear Israel.
But Arabs apparently can do no wrong.

Does anyone remember 9/11? I have news for you. The Israelis did not do it. Arabs did. Have you already forgotten?

D. Zohar
Jerusalem, Israel

N. Friedman - 9/6/2009

If you read Professor Grobman's article or read our own Omar, you would know that what you write reverses reality.

The fact is that Arabs, in overwhelming numbers, reject the right of Jews to form a state without regard to the behavior of that state. Israel could be angels - which they are not - or devils - which they are not - or something between - which they, like the rest of humanity, are. Arabs would still reject Jewish sovereignty as wrong. Rather, they, by overwhelming numbers, think that only their rule is legitimate.

Stop being an apologist for Arab nationalism, as if their nationalism is good while Jewish nationalism is not. One look at the Arab regions ought to confirm that the Arabs do not have their own house in order, with conflict all around and racism and Antisemitism the norm, and, as such, their nationalism in Palestine would be no better - and, almost certainly far, far worse - than anything the Israelis have come up with thus far.