Monday, December 15, 2014

The Scholars Who Would Like to Ban Disagreement

Nothing will come of this ludicrous idea, but it worth noting and thinking through. Here is a group of intellectuals who wish to apply this test to one single country on the face of the earth, Israel, a democracy– but think themselves are in the “middle” and are “protective” of Israel. As the saying goes, with friends like these….

Gershon Shafir, the professor
who proposed the concept
of 'personal sanctions.'
Elliott Abrams..
Pressure Points..
14 December '14..

Here’s a thought: when American scholars disagree with foreign officials, they should join together to try and ban those officials from entering the United States or any country in the European Union. Moreover, they should seek a freeze on any assets those officials may have–a bank account in the United States, for example.

Of course, those scholars would likely start with Iranian officials–right? They would seek to bar entry to Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers complicit in murder, torture, and terrorism, and responsible for the lack of free speech or academic freedom in Iran. They would seek to bar officials from China who crush the Tibetans, and the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang, and who run the gigantic system of Chinese prisons. They would try to act against officials of the Assad regime in Syria, of course, barring any of them from coming to the United States or Western Europe. They would certainly want to move against the Russian officials responsible for the invasion of the Ukraine. They would seek out repressive regimes all around the world, and apply their new approach. Right?

Wrong, of course. This new idea is to be applied only to Israel. Here’s part of the account in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz:

A nascent group of well-known academics is calling on the U.S. government and European Union to impose personal sanctions on four prominent Israelis “who lead efforts to insure permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and to annex all or parts of it unilaterally in violation of international law….” “We chose four Israeli leaders and public figures to start with because they stand out by working to make the occupation permanent and irreversible,” said Gershon Shafir, a professor of sociology at University of California San Diego, who came up with the concept. These four “were particularly dismissive of Secretary of State Kerry’s peace-making efforts….The call’s 20 signatories include several well-known academics from UCLA to Boston College and Columbia University, including renowned political theorist Michael Walzer, professor emeritus of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. All the signatories to SIP’s call are Zionists, Walzer said in an interview, and are deeply opposed to academic boycotts.

They are opposed to academic boycotts, but surely we can all agree that those who commit the crime of being dismissive of the Kerry efforts must be barred from setting foot in America. Who could disagree with that?

This embarrassing episode is yet another that brings to mind Orwell’s comment about some ideas being so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. Three of the four Israeli individuals in question are members of the Knesset, duly elected in a democracy. So the brilliant idea of these intellectuals is to ban from the United States democratically elected parliamentarians with whom they don’t agree. Or with whom they really, really don’t agree, seriously, a lot!

How international relations could be conducted if this principle of “personal sanctions” were to be implemented widely is not of great interest to these scholars. The point apparently is that they are right, certainly right, obviously entirely correct, in their political views, so people who think they are wrong can’t be allowed to travel. The “Kerry test” is an interesting one, and applied more broadly would mean that those who are dismissive of any American secretary of state cannot be allowed into our country. Presumably the French would bar those who are dismissive of M. Fabius, the Germans would not allow in people dismissive of Herr Steinmeier, and so on. Perhaps no EU country would allow in people dismissive of the efforts of EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. But so many people have over time been dismissive of one or another High Representative that this might interfere with tourism, and perhaps we should not go this far.

In any event these scholars do not dream of applying their new rules to any other country on the face of the earth but Israel.

The scholars defend themselves from criticism. They are moderates, you see:

The…call for personal sanctions very specifically opposes wide boycott efforts and its backers are not worried about being lumped together with the BDS proponents who are widely regarded as working toward Israel’s destruction. It is “utterly different than anathematizing an entire category of persons like the academic boycott efforts,” Gitlin said. “In this case there is a proper target, people whose activity is toxic and we think they need to be named.” “This would provide a way of mobilizing votes against blanket boycotts but equally against the attempts to make the occupation irreversible,” Shafir said. “It would allow us to find a place in the middle and remain distinguished from but remain part of the ongoing dialogue in a productive way that is protective of Israel’s ties with the U.S., the world and liberal intellectuals.”

They have a place in the middle, you see. “Liberal intellectuals” from Israel can travel, and this group of scholars will protect Israel’s connection to liberal intellectuals around the world. Elected officials who do not share their liberal views (and actually may not even be liberal intellectuals at all!) have no such right to travel.

Nothing will come of this ludicrous idea, but it worth noting and thinking through. Here is a group of intellectuals who wish to apply this test to one single country on the face of the earth, Israel, a democracy– but think themselves are in the “middle” and are “protective” of Israel.

As the saying goes, with friends like these….


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