Monday, January 6, 2014

Wolf interview

Prof. Diane Wolf

I posed the same questions I asked of Sunaina Maira to other faculty at UC Davis, including Diane Wolf. Ms. Wolf is a professor of sociology and the director of the Jewish Studies Program at UCD. What follows is a complete transcript of her response to my inquiry.

Wolf: Thank you for your questions which are very thorough and thoughtful. This is clearly a very complicated issue.  

I think that the ASA and the Association of Asian American Studies which was the first scholarly organization to vote on this have chosen the wrong institution to boycott and in that sense, they have mis-fired. Clearly there are other countries whose human rights abuses are worse than Israel's and there are no protests about or boycotts of these other countries.   One argument in response to this challenge has been that the US gives Israel more foreign aid than other countries, and, therefore,  we are implicated in these behaviors and human rights abuses.  While I agree somewhat with this argumentation, at the same time, I am also struck by the single-mindedness of this movement when protesting Israel's behavior. For example, why were there no protests on campus and around the country against Syria's mass murders of civilians this past year?  Why weren't petitions circulated demanding that the Syrian government cease its murderous behavior?  The silence around this most recent disaster was and continues to be eerie, indeed.  At the same time, this is not to say that what Israel is doing in the Occupied Territories is acceptable. It is not.  

I am very much against a boycott of Israeli academics and of Israeli universities. It is crucial for Americans to be exposed to Israeli academics so that they understand there exists a multiplicity of voices in Israel.  The Jewish Studies Program at UC Davis has sponsored several visiting Israeli professors who taught UCDavis students and gave talks at the university and in the community and we hope to continue doing so.  We will not observe a boycott.    Israeli universities are an important site within Israel where progressive discussion can take place.    American academics are inflicting symbolic violence on their own by boycotting Israeli academia; instead they should be showing solidarity with their colleagues.  This boycott then, I believe, is an error.  A boycott of universities will not be felt or noticed by most Israelis.

Some colleagues predict that this academic boycott will pick up steam and sweep through other disciplinary organizations, e.g. the MLA; the idea is that many more will follow. Much as I believe it is an error to boycott universities if one is aiming at the government, some politicians in Israel ARE noticing.  Since many European countries have already instituted boycotts and bans, the addition of some US academic organizations has made at least one Minister in Netanyahu's cabinet notice these votes and suggest that these boycotts  will quickly catch on and lead to boycotting Israeli goods more broadly.   Minister Livni encouraged her colleagues to take their heads out of the sand in order to understand that such boycotts will hurt Israel economically.   Thus, while I do not condone academic boycotts, it is possible that a broader movement of US academic organizations boycotting Israeli universities could catalyze broader protests which are then taken seriously by the Israeli government.  

Abbas does not favor this boycott because it does not focus specifically on the occupation.

I do not believe that UC Davis should withdraw from the ASA because of this boycott; Chancellor Katehi has already issued a statement protesting this attack on academic freedom and the way it singles out Israel. Our American Studies Program has some superb and fascinating faculty whose work is important. It would be silly to react to the ASA as a whole due to this one vote by what turns out to have been less than 1,000 of its members.

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