Israeli writer boycott: who wins?

Submitted by Matthew on 13 June, 2012 - 7:06

The latest “success” of the boycott-Israel campaign has resulted not in pressure on the Israeli government, but in the silencing of women’s voices from the Middle East.

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas Austin had been planning to publish a collection of women’s writing as a tribute to a late faculty member. But, according to US website Inside Higher Ed, Huzama Habayeb, a Palestinian contributor based in Abu Dhabi, objected to the inclusion of two pieces by Israeli writers and convinced 13 of the original 29 writers involved to withdraw from the project.

The editors of the volume, not prepared to exclude the Israelis or to go ahead with a collection now unrepresentative of Middle East writing, took the decision to cancel publication.

Habayeb described the cancellation as a “victory in the struggle”. But Kamran Scot Aghaie, co-ordinator of the publication, said it was wrong to assume that Israeli writers shared their government’s opinion. Many US academics opposed the activities of their own government in the Middle East. Aghaie, an Iranian-American, suggested that the equivalent would be to hold him accountable for the actions of the Iranian government in executing gay men.

The scrapping of this book puts no serious pressure on the Israeli government to end its oppression of Palestinians. The economic pressure is minuscule and falls in any case on the United States. And the people whose work will now not be circulated are — in twenty-seven out of twenty-nine cases — not even Israelis, but women from elsewhere in the Middle East!

It is a peculiarly perverse consequence of boycott-Israel campaigning that its supporters should think it a “victory” to force the cancellation of a book bringing together women’s writing across ethnic and national boundaries.

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