Why does Israel get singled out for boycotts?

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For all the divisiveness’ surrounding the state of Israel, it’s impossible to deny the country’s power to unify. What other nation of the world can bring together the far right and left in a fight for a common cause? Indeed, just this past week, those occupying both poles of the political spectrum were uniformly applauding the American Studies Association’s (ASA) decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Unfortunately for the ASA, the global praise heaped upon them was quickly interrupted by commentators who pointed out that Israel was unfairly being held to a double standard. As the New Republic’s Michael Kazin noted:

Chinese universities are also “a party” to the policies of their government, which has forcibly relocated many Tibetans from their homes and demonizes their religion — and fires professors who criticize the rule of the Communist Party. Russian universities promote and enforce the Putin government’s vile laws against gays and lesbians. But scholars of American history and culture routinely speak at academic institutions in both countries and invite their counterparts to visit theirs.

Expecting this double standard charge, leftist academic and reliable Israel critic Corey Robin immediately published a response to Kazin. He finds the whole double standard charge to be “puzzling” since “campaigns against injustice” inevitably single out specific targets while ignoring others. Moreover, these campaigns don’t necessarily target the worst transgressors.

In other words, Robin is admitting that Israel is being singled out, but that it’s ok since this is how “campaigns against injustice” work. He never does, however, bother to explain how these campaigns select their targets for singling out, or for that matter how Israel always ends up being the lucky recipient of these international boycotts. Is it just Israel’s random misfortune that the left’s wheel of evil pariah states deserving of academic boycotts keeps landing on Israel?

While it is understandable that well-intentioned academics can’t fight all injustices at the same time, when choosing a country for singling out, it may be best for them to avoid picking the country populated by a people who have had the misfortune of being singled out throughout history. If for nothing else, it’s very poor optics to simply shrug and say “one has to start somewhere,” as the president of the ASA did.

Over at The American Conservative, Scott McConnell puts a little more effort into explaining why Israel gets singled out. According to McConnell, “America, because of  ‘special relationship’ with Israel, has a particular obligation to stand up against the injustices Israel is responsible for.” And while we should be appreciative that McConnell at least bothered to put forth an actual explanation for the double standard, his response falls short on several counts.

For one, it completely ignores the fact that the movement to boycott Israeli academics originated in Europe, which has no “special relationship” with Israel. I doubt European academics would be willing to concede that they have ulterior motives for singling out Israel.

Second, if academics want to stand up to injustices of a country with a “special” relationship with the U.S., they need look no further than Saudi Arabia. Yet, Saudi Arabia goes virtually ignored by academics, despite the country having just about the worst human rights record on the planet.

Not to mention, as several commentators have pointed out, that most of these American academics who support boycotting Israel also believe the United States is guilty of serious war crimes and international human rights violations. If Israel is deserving of being singled out because of its “special relationship” with the U.S. then surely the U.S. itself is worthy of the same distinction.

This isn’t to say that academics need to ignore Israel entirely, but including some other countries from the region in their boycott would go a long way in demonstrating that they are indeed well intentioned. For instance, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have atrocious records on gay rights, women’s rights and religious freedom. Why not include their academics in the boycott?

Ultimately, it’s a little difficult to understand why these organizations even bother applying pressure to Israel. After all, as anyone in the far left or right will tell you, it’s only a matter of time before these efforts are crushed by a certain foreign lobby that has complete control over U.S. policy.