Out Loud

Opposing the ASA Boycott: A "Hopefully Flawed" Israel

24 December 2013 By Naomi Paiss

As more and more attention is being given to the American Studies Association decision to boycott Israel, I want to share with you NIF's approach to the issue.

We oppose the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. They see Israel as hopelessly flawed. We see Israel as, pardon the syntax, hopefully flawed. As an organization supporting thousands of Israelis on the ground working on the country's most difficult social problems, we're always aware that Israel is not a myth or a dream, but a real place with complicated issues.

We are also perhaps more aware than any other Israel organization of both the importance of Israeli democracy and the threats to its well-being, and of the passionate and caring Israelis dedicated to making it a more just and decent society.

These Israeli activists and their substantive work are important. They are one reason to believe in a just and democratic Israel, and they help give the lie to the vision of Israel as a hopeless pariah. Israel's progressive civil society does not, of course, exist to provide window-dressing to protect Israel from criticism and boycott. Their task (and ours) is to advance justice and defeat the ultra-nationalism and extremism that diminish Israel, even in the face of strong opposition.

We sent an email out to our supporters on Sunday that touched on this issue. The responses were interesting. Some criticized us for not taking a harder line on the ASA boycott. We certainly should have reiterated NIF's ironclad policy against funding organizations that participate in the global BDS movement. We have written before, and will again, that we think the BDS movement is at best misguided and at worst an attempt to eradicate Israel as the Jewish homeland.

We also heard from those who think that a progressive organization like NIF should not criticize radical organizations that seek to hold Israel accountable for the occupation and its abuses, or that we should at least continue to publicize why boycott sentiment is growing. (Even Ben Caspit, one of Israel's foremost political commentators and a centrist, wrote something similar today, understanding the boycott impetus while opposing it.)

And we heard from supporters who liked the email, knowing we oppose the ASA boycott and are still concerned about damage to Israel's status as a liberal democracy. Basically they, and we, agree with our International Council member Professor David Myers, head of the UCLA history department, who supports the boycotters' right to say what they like and disagrees profoundly with the substance of their argument.

So let's be clear. NIF opposes the ASA's decision and urges them to rescind it. We will always oppose efforts to shut down debate anywhere, not just for academics but for activists, community leaders, rabbis --- everyone. As a big-tent organization representing a spectrum of views on Israel's most difficult issues, we will continue to ask for support for front-line activists advancing human rights, social justice and religious tolerance.

NIF exists to support Israeli activists working to help Israel be a free and open society and to defeat the inequality, injustice, and extremism that diminish Israel. Thank you for being a partner in this struggle.

Sincerely,

Naomi Paiss
Vice President, Public Affairs

 

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About the Author

Naomi Paiss

Naomi Paiss

Naomi Paiss is the Vice President of Public Affairs at the New Israel Fund.

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