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May 31, 2012 0

University of Texas Rightly Refuses to Give in to Anti-Israel Boycott Effort

A project by the Uni­ver­sity of Texas to pub­lish an anthol­ogy of sto­ries by Mid­dle East­ern women has been can­celed after many of the Arab authors threat­ened to with­draw their con­tri­bu­tions if they would be pub­lished along­side sto­ries by two Israeli female writ­ers. UT rightly refused to exclude the Israeli writers.

Sev­eral of the Arab con­trib­u­tors to the book, Mem­ory of a Promise: Short Sto­ries by Mid­dle East­ern Women, specif­i­cally cited the boy­cott, divest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paign as the rea­son for their deci­sion. They ini­tially requested that the project’s orga­nizer, the Cen­ter for Mid­dle East­ern Stud­ies, remove the sto­ries writ­ten by Israeli women. When the Cen­ter refused to do so, cit­ing a com­mit­ment to aca­d­e­mic free­dom and non-discrimination, many of the Arab authors threat­ened to with­draw their con­tri­bu­tions (“vir­tu­ally all,” accord­ing to an e-mail by the Center’s direc­tor, Kam­ran Scot Aghaie), that the Cen­ter was forced to kill the project completely.

The boy­cott effort was spear­headed by a Dubai-based Pales­tin­ian nov­el­ist named Huzama Habayeb. In an inter­view with the Gulf News, Habayeb declared that she is “so proud of hav­ing the book can­celled” and called it a form of “resis­tance” to the “Israeli occu­pa­tion of my home­land.” She had writ­ten a let­ter to other Arab con­trib­u­tors urg­ing them to join the boy­cott and refuse to share space with “writ­ers who reflect the voice of an obnox­ious occu­pier,” accord­ing to an op-ed she pub­lished in the Gulf News. In the op-ed, Habayeb describes Israel in bla­tantly hyper­bolic terms, accus­ing it of “‘geno­ci­dal’ prac­tices against Pales­tini­ans” and refer­ring to it as a “killer state.”

This inci­dent rep­re­sents a rad­i­cal and nefar­i­ous turn for sup­port­ers of the BDS cam­paign in that it is an out­right rejec­tion of the “Israeli.” Rea­son­able peo­ple may dis­agree about the effi­cacy and legit­i­macy of protests against Israeli gov­ern­ment offi­cials or a boy­cott of Israeli prod­ucts that are pro­duced in the set­tle­ments. This is way beyond that. The two Israeli women who had con­tributed to the book, Yehu­dit Hen­del and Orly Castel-Bloom, are both accom­plished authors who do not rep­re­sent Israeli pol­icy or the Israeli occu­pa­tion. Hen­del has won numer­ous prizes and acco­lades for her lit­er­ary prowess, includ­ing the Jerusalem Prize, The Bia­lik Prize and the Israel Prize for Life­time Achieve­ment. Refus­ing to share a pub­li­ca­tion with these illus­tri­ous women is extreme and extremely troubling.

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