Towards the end of last term and throughout the winter holidays, a certain group has made their views clear regarding the referendum proposing to boycott Israeli goods on campus. The consensus among them can be situated within three categorical generalisations: Firstly, the supposed anti-Semitism implied by the boycott; the threat such actions entail to individual freedom; and finally to rerun the referendum, as they feel the first one was not ‘democratic’ enough. Of course, they have many other positions, but at least from my perspective, these are the three fundamental points which kept returning in their discourse. I shall look at each of these points concisely:
The threat of Anti-Semitism:
If we are to create Israel as the ground for Jewish identity, whether it is political or historical, then any criticism of Israel inadvertently becomes anti-Semitic. Hence, in following this logic, from Marx onwards to Freud, and Chomsky to Shlomo Sand, and even Norman Finkelstein are all anti- Semites par excellence, as they have all at some point or another challenged the Zionist ‘truth’ of Jewish origin and identity. All of them have strongly put forward the idea of historical identity as an invention of social mechanisms and political interests.
Without getting too deep into the age-old argument – “Whether Israel is the homeland of Jews/Christians/Muslims?”- I would rather pick my bone with the idea of homeland. If a state, whether it is Israel, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan claims their land to be of a certain religio-ethnic identity, they are already creating a ground for discrimination. The difference between discrimination and genocide is minimal. Discrimination is genocide through other means. If one is to judge Israel’s conduct in Gaza, the preceding point comes alive at every word. When Gaza is not being bombed it is barricaded; when missiles are not destroying homes, the water supply is being cut off; when schools are not being blown up, students are detained at check posts. Those who still see such acts as Israel’s right to protect itself, and excuse them in the name of one past or another, are in no position to act as moral or ethical indicators.
Though the anti-boycott group has time and again condemned Israel’s actions, at the same time they have also maintained that any strict measures against Israel, or any civil protests on campus, shall be deemed anti-Semitic. Condemnation is not a political tool but a moral one. Empty condemnation will not change anything; change is a faculty of active involvement. It is this vicious cycle which maintains the status-quo at its purest. The point is to fearlessly take a position: if Israel remains what it is without budging – an apartheid and Zionist state, the boycott is only the beginning of active protest, rather than an end in itself. I support the boycott as it is a political statement not against Jews, but against Israel. It is too much of a dream to believe, that a boycott of one student union, of a middling UK university, will make the military complex of Israel shudder and change its policies. But, we need to begin somewhere; the boycott represents a yardstick which shows, students who have nothing to do with the situation directly are prepared to act against outright injustices. Therefore, when we are told “Don’t boycott! Build Bridges!” our reaction should be, we will, but only after we can make sure they are not blown up the next day.
The threat to individual freedom:
To anyone who followed The Badger during the last term, one point is made abundantly clear: Avocado is the fruit of choice of the anti-boycott lobby. One is almost speechless, when one reads in the same article; how the referendum is first and foremost racist, anti-Semitic and totalitarian, and few lines later how it would prevent the student population from enjoying the juicy goodness of the Israeli Avocados. I do not think this is accidental, or anyone individual’s carelessness, but has strict conformity with the general politics of the group. If you are not convinced by their serious politics, which consists of labelling anyone and everyone who does not agree with them as one sort of anti-social or another (cynically of course), then they can quickly remind you how your right to Avocado is being hampered with.
If individual freedom is really the freedom to be a free consumer then of course this boycott is hampering your rights. But on the other hand, if you are one of those anti-socials, who believe that in the name freedom too much ‘unfreedom’ is being sold then this boycott is your right. You might go without Avocados, but at least you will know something is being done, however minimal or frugal it might be in its scope.
The individual cannot be free if the society in which he or she lives in is oppressive. From Plato onwards to Hobbes and even the Third Way philosophers maintain this. Hence to follow this logic to its uncomfortable end; can anyone be free in our ‘global-village’ when the globalisation structures itself by monopolizing freedom? Would a free flow of Avocados make this situation any better? I am aware of my simplistic logic, but can we really be free if the very basis of our freedom is structured by incorporation of anonymous, unseen ‘unfreedom’? I think not. If we are all united under the umbrella of ‘lack of freedom’ then the boycott is a truly liberating act: a conscious break from the position of the complacent spectator. In boycotting Israeli goods, we boycott everything oppressive about Israel.
An undemocratic referendum
The general arguments used in labelling the referendum as undemocratic, are usually based on erroneous claims which cannot be verified under any categories. For instance, one point which was continuously repeated was that how the pro-referendum groups had emotionally blackmailed, hence coerced the students into voting yes. The students were not free in their choice but rather bullied into their decisions. Firstly, it was a referendum and yes people took sides and advertised their positions. As far as I know, no one complained of coercion or bullying apart from those who were on the opposing spectrum. More interestingly, why did the student body feel this supposed atmosphere of bullying and force? Were they voting at gun point? Or were their loved ones kidnapped so they would fear for their lives? As far as I know none of such extremities took place. I think, what the group really means by emotional blackmail is the sympathetic positions students took, after being informed about the reality of the situation.
As far as I can see, even if the referendum is rerun, these complaints can repeat themselves. Different lobbies, according to their respective positions would campaign to win. Students will be approached and asked and informed about the situation. Is the situation really ‘undemocratic’ or just democracy was not favourable to the anti referendum group? As far as I can see their reaction seems to be displaced frustration on some level.
Without trying to be self-congratulatory, it must be said that the referendum and its implementation are productive events. Productive not only in Israel-Palestine situation, but it can work as starting point for other political and social projects. Instead of repeating ourselves in our actions, we can focus on other burning issues at hand. This referendum, if followed to its full capacity, can serve as a point of unity not only for Sussex students but students at large. There are contradictions and antagonistic contradictions. Contradictions are difference of opinions or positions, which can be discussed and agreed upon, while antagonistic contradictions are differences which cannot be discussed, they contradict for the sake of contradiction.