In the midst of the anxiety over academic boycott threat against Israel, I published an opinion piece that criticized the manner in which Israel's public relations spin diverted attention from the essence (that is, the occupation) to issues of secondary importance (that is, the boycott.)
Spokespersons for Israeli academia were screaming out that "the boycott is immoral" or that "the boycott is illegal" – as if the occupation is moral and legal. At the time, I wrote that the question of whether the boycott is the appropriate response (I was of two minds on this question) is a secondary issue, and more importantly, the boycott turned attention to the main issue, the occupation, while condemning it and its supporters.
And so, now that the British lecturers' union has decided to call off the boycott for internal legal and procedural reasons, which have nothing to do with the matter at hand, I wish to reemphasize the unfounded nature of the Israeli spin. It's not the calling off of the boycott threat that is important here. Rather, it's the continuation of the occupation that matters.
Regardless of whether there is a boycott or not, there is no room here for the joy expressed by the education minister and top education officials. What are they so happy with? The fact that universities in the territories are unable to function?
Or maybe it is the fact that, on the other hand, we are seeing an Israeli academic institute being increasingly established in the central occupation town of Ariel (while facing weak protest alongside support for its infrastructure and continued existence)? Are they pleased over the fact that universities in Israel can continue to teach, with no interruption, democratic and enlightened traditions as if a few kilometers away a regime of oppression and expulsion has not been in place for 40 years now?
Questions no longer up for discussionThe education minister in the government of Israel should not be overjoyed as a result of the boycott's annulment. She should be more concerned. Under the threat of boycott, at least we saw questions being raised for discussion.
These question include the following: Do the universities somehow serve the occupation and in so doing take part in violating international law, and whether they are part of an overall state apparatus headed by the Defense Ministry and army, and followed by the Yesha Council and "hilltop youths" in the West Bank, who are all dedicated to the maintenance of the occupation, or whether Israel is home to academic freedom and institutional distinction that allows for a critical discussion of the occupation and oppression.
However, now that the boycott threat has been lifted, we don't even have to ask those questions. We can continue as usual. The education minister should be more concerned about the absence of a boycott threat than about its removal. The boycott does not hurt Israel – it's the ongoing occupation that is bad for us.
The writer is a sociology professor at Ben-Gurion University