When the Israelis did exactly this in Gaza last year, there was plenty of indignation to be heard in and around the academy, despite the fact that the Israeli military action took place during the middle of the summer:
The Saudi escalation over the last few days had drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as the United Nations. Saudi officials told residents of Saada on Friday to leave the area and declared the entire province a military zone.
In a statement on Saturday, Johannes van der Klaauw, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, said the threats against Saada had “put countless civilians at risk.”
“The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is a contravention of international humanitarian law,” he added.
Mr. Saleh’s residence in Sana sits in a densely populated area, and near large shopping malls. Several airstrikes hit his compound overnight and early Sunday, slightly injuring a grandson and a brother-in-law of Mr. Saleh’s and two other people, according to people close to the former president who asked not to be named to discuss what happened.
For some reason, when the Saudis do the same thing–bomb indiscriminately within a declared military zone–there’s less comment, at least from the academy (though note the comment of the United Nations, which contradicts the usual pro-Israeli propaganda that Israel is the only country singled out for criticism by the UN). The usual explanation for the scrutiny of Israeli military actions is that as Americans (or Europeans) we’re complicitous in what the Israelis do, given the degree of military and economic support we provide them. But exactly the same thing applies to the Saudis. The degree of support may differ, but the difference makes little difference.
It won’t be easy for the US to distance itself from the Saudis, given our addiction to their oil, and our delusion that their absolute-totalitarian monarchy guarantees regional stability. I doubt we’ll hear anything useful from the academic departments in this country and elsewhere that are funded by Saudi sources. But it’s time to contemplate the idea of some equivalent of Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions from Saudi Arabia, which deserves it more than Israel does. The idea seems to have been contemplated here and there, but not in any sustained way.
So far, the best idea I’ve heard comes from my father:
I won’t do hajj in Saudi Arabia until they turn Mecca and Medina over to a responsible private entity that knows how to engage in crowd control, like the Disney Corporation. I don’t intend to give the Saudi kings my money for any reason, much less in the name of God.
Postscript, May 16, 2015: Some interesting and relevant material I’ve encountered, since writing this post.
(1) “Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk” (New York Times, May 13):
Effectively, the Israelis are warning that in the event of another conflict with Hezbollah, many Lebanese civilians will probably be killed, and that it should not be considered Israel’s fault.
“The civilians are living in a military compound,” a senior Israeli military official said at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence matters.
The situation mirrors the one that the Saudis are confronting in Yemen (discussed in the original post).
(2) “Israeli Demolition Plan for Bedouin Village Sparks Outcry” (New York Times, May 14):
After years of legal battles, Israel’s Supreme Court last week cleared the way for the government to uproot the nearly 60-year-old Bedouin Arab village of Umm al-Hiran, a dusty hill of ramshackle dwellings without proper electricity or water hookups, and in its place build “Hiran,” a new community seemingly catering to Jews that is expected to feature a hotel and country club.
NB: Umm al Hiran is in Israel proper, not in the Occupied Territories.
At first glance, the Israeli action here seems similar to urban renewal elsewhere (see Matt Faherty’s description of urban renewal in Dharavi, Mumbai, or Martin Anderson’s account of the American version). But scholars like Oren Yiftachel and Maha Samman have argued that the Israeli version involves a systematic form of planning-based “ethnocracy.” Arguably, it resembles our own placement of Native Americans on reservations.
Actions like this, I take it, explain the hostility to Lockean-type conceptions of property on the part of Palestinian political theorists and activists I’ve met: if from an Israeli perspective the Bedouins are “wasting” their holdings, they lose their entitlement to them (cf. Locke’s Second Treatise, para. 31.7-15). Put another way, Bedouin property seems to be regarded as “blighted” in a way that justifies urban renewal with an offer of compensation (cf. Berman vs. Parker ). (Richard Epstein’s discussion of urban renewal is worth consulting in this context: Takings, pp. 178-80).
(3) “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities” (New York Times, May 10): a much discussed piece on tensions arising from the successes of BDS on American college campuses. Here are the letters responding to it. Here’s the Public Editor’s discussion. A broader view of the divestment issue. Divestment is voted down at Princeton.
(4) The controversy over Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s Justice Minister-designate, and apparently, a fan of Ayn Rand: Criticism from Ha’aretz. A profile from The New York Times. Electronic Intifada, with a translation of her incendiary Facebook post (later taken down). I don’t know Hebrew, and can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation; its accuracy has been disputed (by Shaked). [Just to clarify: she didn’t write the post; she re-posted it, with evident approval of its claims.]
(5) Back to the Saudis: The Saudis are unhappy that we aren’t willing to go to war with Iran to defend their kingdom. Meanwhile, the Pakistanis, while assuring the Saudis of their support in principle, have voted not to send troops to defend them against the Houthis. Meanwhile, the Saudis inform us that they expect better of Pakistan. Frankly, I hadn’t expected so much. The (imperfect) text of the Pakistani resolution. For once, I’m proud of Pakistan.
Postscript, May 30, 2015: It turns out that there is a boycott against the United Arab Emirates–or more precisely, against the Guggenheim in the UAE–led by an organization called the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition. This boycott doesn’t seem much different in goal or rationale from the academic-cultural boycotts of Israel that are so bitterly condemned as evidence of anti-Semitism. It certainly contradicts the claim that Israel is unique in being “singled out” for boycott.
I just happened to read about this boycott in an Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times, and haven’t had the chance to study it. I’m curious as to whether the author of the the Op-Ed can be construed as supporting or calling for a boycott himself. He doesn’t quite come out explicitly in favor of the Gulf Labor Artist boycott, but he certainly supports its aims. He also seems informally to be censuring NYU, the Guggenheim, and the Louvre; does that amount to a call for a boycott until they change their policies? I’m not sure.
The question is relevant in virtue of the stance taken by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which holds–puzzlingly, in my view–that there is a fundamental difference in kind between the sort of censure that the AAUP makes of institutions that fail to satisfy its strictures on academic freedom, and boycotts of the sort recommended by BDS and (I take it) the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition.
Martha Nussbaum has (to my mind unconvincingly) tried to flesh out the argument in a 2007 article in Dissent, “Against Academic Boycotts.” “Censure,” she claims (by contrast with boycotts), “does nothing to diminish the academic freedom or access of individuals: professors teaching at censured universities are actually helped in their attempt to secure their rights, and in the case of government-directed censure, academics and citizens generally are not affected at all.”
Contrary to Nussbaum, I don’t see how either censure or boycotts violate anyone’s freedom. In claiming that boycotts violate freedom, she seems to be presupposing a rather idiosyncratic conception of freedom; I’d be curious to know which one she has in mind, who has defended it, and where. Both censure and boycotts can diminish access, depending on the (highly contingent) consequences that arise from them.
Again, contrary to Nussbaum, if censure damages an institution’s reputation (which seems to be its purpose), the damage might affect enrollments, which might in turn affect whether or not the institution stays open. Having your institution closed certainly affects an individual’s “access” to the job that they had there.
Once again, contrary to Nussbaum, professors teaching at censured universities are not helped in securing their rights if they think that the censure was unjustified and if the censure damages the reputation of the institution. In that case, rights aside, they’ve been dealt with unjustly and/or harmed.
Finally, in the case of government-directed censure, the censure takes place in the name of every citizen. Some citizens may reject the basis of censure, and are certainly affected by a government that wrongheadedly directs censure in their name. So the case of government-directed censure turns on the justifiedness of the censure. When Narendra Modi was barred from entering the U.S., it seems obvious that the people who invited him here to speak were affected by the ban: they couldn’t hear him speak (at least in person). Likewise in the case of Tariq Ramadan: Notre Dame invited him to teach, but its expectations were adversely affected by his not being allowed into the country. I regarded (and regard) the Modi ban as justified and the Ramadan ban as unjustified, but in both cases, it seems obvious that citizens were affected by them.
In any case, I hope to blog on this and related issues sometime this summer.