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Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions? No

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 19 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:125

Re: Prof Baum has still not provided independent evidence to justify his exoneration of the Israeli Med Assoc: does it exist?

Many responses to criticism of Israel are misleading and are
governed more by emotion than by reason. Someone with my background (I
came from a strongly Zionist Jewish family) can, I hope, understand that.
Only a fool tries to deny that humanity always has a history, and that the
present would not be the present without it. But the old truism asserts
its imperative: we are where we are.

One has to leave on one side how and why Israel came into existence
and deal with what we have now. A whole lot of people came from somewhere
else (for whatever reason) and displaced a whole lot of other people who'd
lived there for centuries. There were massacres and village clearances.
This very day there's an article in the Independent (Living off scraps:
The West Bank's bitter harvest, by Donald Macintyre ), and the present ongoing row over Israeli
doctors' alleged complicity in torture is another example to add to the
well documented Israeli perpetration of war crimes.

You can intellectualise and rationalise till the cows come home and
you can reframe statements to fit a pre-existing position, you can
distract attention from what legitimate - and serious - critics have to
say by imputing to them sinister motives, you can pick a few words they've
used and allege that because less honourable people have used the same
words the former are in the same camp as the latter. But no matter how
sophisticated your discussion (nor how crude some of the vulgar
alternatives) none of it washes away the stains.

Israel has committed crimes (as have other countries, but I'm talking
about Israel now). Israel has done these things (good and bad - most Jews
respond favourably to the invitation to feel proud at Pentium chips) in
the name of Jews, Jewry and often Judaism. The overwhelming majority of
diaspora Jews have (at least until very recently, though some studies from
the USA appear to cast doubt) supported, encouraged, praised, defended
what Israel has done - crimes, war crimes, racist anti-Palestinian
discrimination and all.

If we diaspora Jews spoke out clearly, loudly and often, against
these bad things and disassociated from them, say the way many of us
joined the protests at British involvement in the invasion of Iraq, if
that stance became the norm as much as its contraries now are, we would
not be hated, would we? There is said, in certain quarters, to be an
increase in antisemitism, but this isn't antisemitism, it's the expression
of a revulsion at a people's complicity in wrongdoing. And because a real
antisemite may say 'X', that's no reason to call someone else saying 'X'
antisemitic, when 'X' is not only true but is regularly said by many
Israelis themselves: witness the treatment meted out to Jimmy Carter.
(Many Israelis: self-critical, not ‘self-hating’.)

I still don't see what's wrong with the simple statement that people
who hate wrong things being done are going to hate other people who
support doing those wrong things. You come dispossess another people of
their land, humiliate, imprison, torture them, even as you steal more of
their land every day, and at the same time deny that you're doing any of
this and proclaim that those who say you are are telling lies, and expect
people not to hate you? You support all of this and then when people say
it's bad, you shout, Antisemite? Or else you write sophisticated, or
legalistic, or political dissertations to the same effect.

Whether or not a medical, or an academic, boycott of Israeli
institutions ever comes into being, the debate has certainly highlighted
most of the issues and focussed minds. I see a certain similarity in the
way some very religious people have responded (defensively) to the recent
attacks on religion from Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Grayling, Dennett et
al. And sometimes, as with Prof Baum, silence adds eloquently to the

Competing interests:
Signatory JfJfP; ICAHD UK.

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 September 2007
Brian Robinson
Independent psychiatrist
Milton Keynes MK5 6WB