Chomsky and the campaign to boycott Israel
Deaglán de Bréadún
Covering the debate about a proposed boycott of Israel at the Labour Party conference in Mullingar at the weekend (click here) one got the distinct feeling that, if the pro-boycott people had been better organised, they would have got their motions through. The boycott campaign may be gaining some momentum even in the US, to judge from this TV report.
Since that’s from the Al Jazeera English network, it might be looked at askance by those who hold pro-Israeli views. But let’s go back to the Mullingar conference where the pro-boycott motions were “referred back” and a call for an inquiry into events at the turn of the year in Gaza was adopted instead. The debate was held first thing on Sunday morning – hardly a prime slot.
With some exceptions such as Ivana Bacik, those in favour of the boycott came across as half-hearted and/or disorganised, which is a strange frame of mind on an issue that arouses such deep and abiding passions.
Joanna Tuffy TD, a regular and eloquent commentator on this blog, opposes a boycott in principle. Michael D. Higgins, Labour’s Foreign Affairs Spokesman sees it as a question of tactics. He gave priority to the drive for an international war-crimes inquiry over the conflict in Gaza.
Senator Bacik supports the pre-boycott stance of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Proinsias De Rossa MEP spoke against a boycott but, interestingly, said he would never fly El Al, for example.
Three years ago, prominent left-wing academic Noam Chomsky came to Ireland and was greeted like a rock-star. It was standing-room only at the O’Reilly Hall in UCD and at an Amnesty International lecture in the RDS (Yours Truly chaired the UCD event, at the request of the organisers.)
But Michael D. Higgins noted at the weekend that Chomsky is opposed to an academic boycott. In an interview in 2004 he was opposed to any kind of sanctions along the lines used against South Africa in the apartheid era: “In fact, I’ve been strongly against it in the case of Israel. For a number of reasons. For one thing, even in the case of South Africa, I think sanctions are a very questionable tactic. In the case of South Africa, I think they were [ultimately] legitimate because it was clear that the large majority of the population of South Africa was in favor of it. Sanctions hurt the population. You don’t impose them unless the population is asking for them. That’s the moral issue. So, the first point in the case of Israel is that: Is the population asking for it? Well, obviously not“. (For full text of interview, click here.)
This did not come up during Chomsky’s Irish visit. I guess the issue wasn’t at the forefront of debate as it is now. I wonder if Chomsky came back, would he get the same welcome?
Incidentally, the reporter on the Al Jazeera clip is Josh Rushing, a former officer in the US Marines whom I met when he was a US military spokesman at the press centre of Centcom headquarters in Qatar in 2003, during the lead-up to the Iraq War. If you would like to read his story, click here.