Ben White and the Guardian promoting BDS again

Ben White

On September 11th, the Guardian’s Science section published an article by Dr Steve Caplan – associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center – addressing the counter-productivity of boycotts against Israeli academics. 

The next day, and – rather bizarrely – in a sub-section entitled “controversies in science”, the Guardian published a riposte to Dr Caplan’s article by Ben White entitled “Why a boycott of Israeli academics is fully justified”. 

One would not, of course, have expected anything else, from either White himself or from the Guardian which, a decade ago – at the height of the second Intifada – was the first newspaper to publish a letter openly calling for academic boycott of Israel. 

Much of White’s ‘argument’ seems to concentrate upon the claim that Israeli academics do not do enough, in his view, to protest ‘the occupation’. My fellow tax-payers footing the bill for the salaries of Israeli academics hired to teach and research are probably quite relieved to hear that the majority of them are concentrating on doing their jobs rather than outsourcing their skills to a campaign of delegitimisation. 

Towards the end of his polemic, White turns to promoting PACBI – co-founded by Qatar-born, Egypt-raised, US-educated Tel Aviv University doctoral student Omar Barghouti. 

“Finally, it is revealing that Caplan also omits to mention that it is occupied and colonised Palestinians who are asking for a boycott as one tactic in a campaign for basic rights.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was launched in 2004, and helped to start the BDS campaign the year after. PACBI urges a boycott to be applied in ways such as refraining from “collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions”. It is nothing to do with, as Caplan incorrectly claims, “excluding someone because of his or her government’s views”.”

Of course White does not tell his readers how many Palestinians the unelected PACBI represents with its call for boycott, because he cannot – but one somehow doubts that the 80,000 Palestinians from Areas A & B (and their dependents) who already work in Israel, or any of those hoping to secure one of the 5,000 new work permits just announced, could be counted among its supporters. 

Additionally, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (and their loved ones) treated every year in Israeli hospitals, along with the thousands of Palestinian doctors who attend conferences and/or intern in Israel might not be enthusiastic about the idea of Israeli academics from the medical world being cut off from their peers around the globe. 

And of course ordinary Palestinians have long voted with their feet on the boycott issue by shopping and working at Israeli businesses such as the Rami Levy supermarket chain: recently the target of angry statements from the BDS crowd. 

“Owner Rami Levy admits that there is a lot of ideology involved in the supermarket. “We have three stores in Judea and Samaria,” he said, “and Palestinians and Jews work together in them. If I can contribute to Jews and Arabs being able to live here together, all the better.” “

Co-existence in the Rami Levy supermarket in Shaar Binyamin (Photo: Atta Awisat)

Ben White and PACBI are among the fossilised minority who oppose co-existence and normalization in the Middle East. In fact, in 2010 PACBI produced a document rejecting any kind of normalization with Israelis, which it defines as follows:

““participating in any project, initiative or activity whether locally or internationally, that is designed to bring together-whether directly or indirectly- Palestinian and/or Arab youth with Israelis (whether individuals or institutions) and is not explicitly designed to resist or expose the occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression inflicted upon the Palestinian people.”” 

PACBI’s outright rejection of bridge-building between Israelis and Palestinians is of course not surprising when one considers that its BDS campaign is merely a tactic used to try to achieve a bigger goal

“PACBI leads the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, but of course its real aim is not merely to persuade musicians to refuse to appear in Tel Aviv or to encourage people not to buy Israeli goods.  The bottom line of all the PACBI rhetoric is that with its uncompromising demand for the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees to places west of the ‘green line’, it aspires to eliminate Israel as the Jewish state in precisely the same manner as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad do.  Members of PACBI, including the suited academics at Birzeit, may not be building bombs, firing rockets or strapping on suicide belts, but their ultimate aims are identical to those who do.”

But not only is the Ben White/PACBI –driven BDS campaign of incitement detrimental to the hope of peace in the Middle East; it is also counterproductive to the current intense campaign by the British government to inject some vitality into its country’s flailing, recession-hit economy by seeking joint R&D projects with Israeli universities and companies. 

Speaking at Bar Ilan University in January of this year, FCO Minister Alistair Burt said:

“We need Israel’s acumen and intelligence; its ability to work at the highest intellectual and technological level to help the world solve its problems, from the economy to climate and environmental change – and its readiness to use its gifts in higher education and intellectual property to help the world progress. Everyone knows that Israeli R&D is world-beating. Israeli inventions are helping to drive the global economy. (…)

One key development in 2011 was the start of a partnership between Britain and Israel in tech.    We believe it is a partnership that could help both sides – the amazing quality of Israeli R&D can help British growth..”

The Minister also urged Israeli students to consider studying in the UK, and of course such students do have the potential to provide valuable income to cash-strapped British universities. But with Ben White-endorsed initiatives such as the upcoming UK Student Palestine Conference being far from infrequent events in British institutions of higher education, and Israeli students currently being courted intensely by many other countries too, it is obvious that in this field too, Ben White and the BDS campaigners are doing little to help Britain’s image. 

That self-focused extremists such as Ben White and PACBI care almost as little for the UK economy as they do for the Palestinian people should come as no surprise. That the Guardian continues to provide a willing platform to such unrepresentative fringe voices indicates that it too is part of the problem called BDS which seeks to stall co-operation, collaboration and peaceful co-existence – not only in the Middle East. 

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