More Debates on Academic Boycotts

Martha Nussbaum, Mohammed Abed, and Murray Hausknecht continue the discussion in the wake of Nussbaum’s original piece, over at Dissent. Abed:

First, the analogy between Israel-Palestine and the cases Nussbaum discusses is weak. Although Nussbaum’s strategies may work well in other contexts, they are unlikely to have an impact on the situation in Israel-Palestine…Second, I will show that boycotts are not “blunt instruments” that target institutions and all their members. Boycotts can be structured so as to censure and isolate institutions while preserving the academic freedom of individuals—whatever their political views.


So far as I can see, then, Abed’s proposal amounts to a boycott only in the sense that it asks foreign academics not to give lectures or hold conferences inside Israel. At the APA, he proposed that those invited to such conferences should ask that they be relocated to a Palestinian venue. I think that this is often a good idea, but not always. A conference on social justice could usefully be relocated, and all involved would be likely to profit from the experience of meeting in East Jerusalem or on the West Bank. By contrast, a lecture I plan to give at Hebrew University this December, in memory of a scholar who dedicated his career to rabbinical education, could not plausibly be relocated, since rabbinical education is not a topic on which Palestinian academics focus; to lecture on that topic on the West Bank would be utterly bizarre.