Earlier in the year, as reported in this column and elsewhere, Britain's National Union of Journalists was roundly criticized for proposing a boycott of Israeli goods. On July 10, the Guardian newspaper, reported that this union's executive council had announced it was abandoning the boycott measure.
"The boycott motion was highly controversial," the newspaper reported, "and was attacked by critics including the Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, and Times columnist Michael Gove."
Rather than being chastened by the response, the United Kingdom's Israel-bashers chose to extend their campaign to boycott Israeli academics, which dates back to at least 2002. That, too, has never gained traction, despite periodic motions at meetings, letters to the editor and columns, frequently in the same Guardian newspaper, including a letter by Derek Summerfield and 125 others this past April 21.
On July 21, the British Medical Journal published a "feature" with the title "Head to Head. Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions?"
What followed were columns by Tom Hickey, chair of the University and Colleges Union (pro), and Michael Baum, professor emeritus of surgery at the University College of London (con).
Journal editor Fiona Godlee noted that her publication had run a similar "head to head" on whether Muslims should have faith-based health services.
Reiterating that their policy was opposed to the boycott proposal, Godlee observed: "The question of whether there should be a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is currently under serious consideration in the United Kingdom." She deftly bypassed whether her publication was contributing to that state of affairs.
Health services in the United Kingdom are run by the government. Whether a particular segment of Britain's population should be uniquely treated needs little justification for consideration in a British medical journal.
An academic boycott of the world's only Jewish state is quite a different matter. The goal of the boycott's proponents is to forcibly change the policy of a sovereign nation, located more than 2,000 miles from the British Isles.
Votes Provide Insight
The only obvious similarity is that both topics are contentious and potentially offensive to minority groups.
In this case, the Journal went a portentous step further, inviting readers to "vote."
The initial totals were more than 90 percent opposed to the boycott. As the days went on, and partisans on both sides presumably mobilized, boycott supporters gained strength. Before closing the poll, some 28,178 votes were cast. Of those, 23 percent were for a boycott and 77 percent against. At least one person was identified who voted "yes" over 1,000 times. On the flip side, Journal pollsters identified a "no" voter who cast a more modest 142 negative votes.
While denying bigotry, Hickey wrote: "In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a society whose dominant self-image is one of a bastion of civilisation in a sea of medieval reaction. And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish Diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard."
What else can it be but anti-Semitism when Israel is singled out, from among all of the nations of the world? Hickey acknowledged have that other countries have policies that "are barbaric and inhuman, such as China, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Zimbabwe."
Understandably, critics condemned the Journal for giving the boycott additional and undeserved momentum — a boycott the publication claims to oppose. At the same time, it's clear that like the ill-fated journalist union proposal, Journal readers reject boycotting Israel's academics. Most important, the boycott's proponents are now on record that they oppose Israel, uniquely among all the states of the world, because they hold Jews to a different standard.
The boycott's underlying bigotry is unmasked for anyone who wants to see.
This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia