If you’re willing to support a boycott of US academic conferences over Trump’s ban, why not BDS?

Over 6,000 academics across the world have announced that they will boycott any academic conference held in the US until Trump’s travel ban—on refugees, and on men and women from seven Muslim-majority countries—is lifted. This has drawn widespread and mostly positive attention in the media. Even the more critical responses have been self-questioning and exploratory rather than hostile and negative.

This is all to the good and as it should be.

It should also answer what I always found to be one of the stranger critique of BDS: namely, people ask me and other supporters of BDS, if you think Israel is so bad, why don’t you support a boycott of the US? As if proponents of BDS like myself would suddenly, in the face of an academic boycott of the US, get worked up into a self-righteous defensive lather on behalf of American academe.

But let me push the comparison a little further because I see that a lot of people who support this type of boycott of US academic conferences over the Trump refugee/Muslim ban drawing a line against the wider academic boycott of Israel. (Truth be told, most of these folks wouldn’t even support a more limited type of boycott, in the case of Israel, of the sort that Trump’s ban has provoked.)

What these folks on social media say is this: This type of boycott of US academic conferences is more contingent and small-scale. It’s not a boycott of US academia tout court or of the US as a whole. And the reason it’s more limited is that it recognizes that the action that provoked this limited boycott—Trump’s refugee/Muslim ban—is itself a contingent feature of the American polity, specific to one presidency. It is not a feature of the American whole. It acknowledges that the majority of the people voted against Trump and that the ban might one day, perhaps even soon, be overturned.

But doesn’t that argument provide the very reasons for why we should undertake a more comprehensive academic boycott of the State of Israel?

Since its founding, Israel has had a ban on the return of Palestinian refugees—initially, some six to seven hundred thousand; now, in the millions—to the State of Israel. The older among these refugees are not seeking admission to a new home; they are seeking a return to their original home. That is not a contingent feature of the State of Israel, peculiar to one bad hombre like Netanyahu, opposed by the great majority. That is a permanent feature of the State of Israel, constitutive of its founding and identity as a Jewish state, enforced by politicians and state officials across the political spectrum for nearly seven decades now.

Wouldn’t the simplest rules of proportionality suggest that if you support a boycott of conferences held in the US—or don’t think it’s a bad thing—because of the Trump travel ban that a far more comprehensive academic boycott of the State of Israel is warranted? Or at least should be considered a legitimate topic of rational debate?


  1. stevelaudig February 5, 2017 at 12:37 pm | #

    This is a bit off your main topic but does address a much overlooked point. Hawaii is not part of the United States. Accept that for the time being. So one can “boycott academic conferences” in the US yet still attend conferences in Hawaii. Are the Americans in Hawaii? Sure, just like the guy who stole your car, has your car.. But the thief doesn’t have title to the car. He has the car but not “the right” to the car. Here’s a link that is the single best resource on the “US occupied Hawaii” issue. There are lots of IL connections to the Palestinian issues. http://www.hawaiiankingdom.org/
    Cheers and Aloha.

  2. xenon2 February 5, 2017 at 12:37 pm | #

    Just to see that it’s not just Netanyahu, but all of Israeli society, watch this video by David Sheen. Each part is about 7 minuets, watch one a day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdJIAmLGwbs

    As far as ‘the Muslim ban’ is concerned, I note that it contains only the 6 countries the US has bombed,
    plus Iran, which congress would like to bomb. It omits Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt, the only countries that
    have actually tried to harm Americans on US soil.

    I presume this is not the voice of Trump, but of someone else.

  3. Sparky Blix (@sparkyblix) February 5, 2017 at 12:46 pm | #

    The irony in all of this is that Trump is explicitly contemptuous of the academy. His “America First,” alt-fact rhetoric would easily accommodate an international boycott of US academic conferences. Not so with the Israeli government’s right wing.

  4. Rich Puchalsky February 5, 2017 at 1:10 pm | #

    It’s all partisanship. People think it’s OK to boycott the US because it’s against Trump. Same way that the center-left has suddenly discovered that they are against aggressive war, assassination, torture, surveillance, interference in other countries’ elections (!) etc. but for the CIA now that Trump is in office.

    • Donald February 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm | #

      What Rich P said. Arguably the worst thing Trump has done so far ( though I am sure this won’t remain true) is continue Obama’s policy of supporting the Saudi war in Yemen. The majority of Americans probably don’t know about this so they can’t be blamed much or at all, but that’s because the liberal pundits so outraged by Trump have barely said a word about it.

  5. xenon2 February 5, 2017 at 3:20 pm | #

    @Rich Puchalsky I wonder where they’ve been, all these years?

    I spoke to a teacher who had been to the Women’s March,
    who didn’t know Duncan, DeVos and Cory Booker all were
    in favor of charter schools.

  6. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant February 7, 2017 at 11:56 am | #


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