A Boycott by Any Other Name

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Just mention the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and, as readers of Muzzlewatch well know, certain folks who declare themselves Israel’s greatest supporters try to shut down the discussion. And nothing makes them more apoplectic than the piece of BDS that is sticky even for many who embrace the tactic generally: the academic and cultural boycott. To impede the free exchange of ideas among scholars and artists, the argument goes, violates a core value.

So how will Israel’s self-appointed defenders respond to a recent threat by some Israeli scientists to remove themselves from international scientific bodies, scholarly journals and conferences, and even opportunities for research grants? No, not a new lab-coat brigade joining the BDS campaign. These scientists propose withdrawing from $106 million of potential funding in the name of defending their state against European “scorn for Israel.” They mean to punish the European Union by refusing to cooperate with them.

So advocates Eli Pollak, Professor in the Chemical Physics Department at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in a recent article in Israel Hayom. He was responding to an announcement from the European Commission in July: that it would no longer fund any Israeli entity based in or connected to the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Professor Pollak is calling on Israel’s scientific community to retaliate. As he sees it, taking part in European scientific programs and exchanges is to “lend a hand to Christian Europe” as it discriminates against Jews in the occupied territories and violates “the fundamental principle of equality between its citizens” (by whom, of course, he means only Jews).

And so, in order to hold fast to this core value Israel should refuse to cooperate. Never mind the consequences for Israeli scientists who will not be receiving funding; Europe will suffer more, says Prof. Pollak, because as “Europe knows. . . Israel leads the world in science.”

The proposal has sparked heated debate in Israel. The government’s science minister rejects it, but the Economy Minster Naftali Bennett, would go even further than Pollak’s proposal: He urges Israel to end all cooperation with the EU.

A case, as Max Blumenthal tweeted out, of “auto BDS”.