Well, hooray - after years of quietly needling Professor Norm, he responds - to a tweet shorterising his thoughts on a proposed academic boycott of Israel to "Fuck yeah, I'd have played Sun City with Queen".
It was a fairly snotty thing to say, but I couldn't resist the mental image of the Professor in a headband and spangly cloak, wielding one of those guitar-keyboards, charging onstage with Freddie Mercury - "Hello Sun City! This one's called Fat Bottomed Girls!" - and still find the concept hilarious. That said, it was a piss-poor attempt at shorterising a complex issue, and Professor Geras deserves a response.
Norm has made and continues to make a case against academic boycotts, some of his arguments being stronger than others. Me, I think the strongest case against a boycott is that it won't work and will in fact make the situation worse. As I've said elsewhere, I respond very badly to press articles bitching about Scotland/Barnett formula/West Lothian question, even if they're well-argued and entirely factual, so I can guess how a boycott will turn out in practice. In this regard, the Professor and I are on the same page.
Where we part company is this kind of thing: "...even against apartheid South Africa there was not, in this country in the 1980s, the kind of demented obsession about an academic boycott that there is in certain leftist quarters today when it comes to Israel. The Rodent might like to think about why that is".
Here's my take on why that is - it's because you have a lot of people who want to do something about a horrible situation. This is something, they think, ergo let's do that. I don't think I'm being uncharitable to Norm if I note that he himself is a great thinker-upper of somethings to do in horrible situations, those somethings often being highly dubious and counterproductive themselves.
Further, it's clear that the issue attracts a lot of people on both sides who like to see the world in very black and white terms, and find shades of grey confusing and annoying. I think that in many ways, stuff like Israel/Palestine has become a replacement for domestic politics, since the UK's national discourse has largely devolved into a glorified piss-fight over who can empty the public's bins most cheaply. Again, I have to observe that Norm himself is not entirely bulletproof against that type of criticism.
Let's just tackle this head on, though. The Prof is talking about a combination of
a) the racism, man, which he identifies by the neat trick of whapping the words "in effect" onto the end of sentences. As in, "I do not believe you are racist, but I believe that your actions are racist in effect". See also, singling out.
b) the moral relativism and reflexive anti-westernism of the bruschetta-munching blah blah blah who pay lip service to human rights while only criticising the actions of chunter cough mumble and refuse to protest the much worse crimes of wheeze splutter chuckle and will you condemn an ever-increasing number of atrocities sequentially until everyone starts banging their heads off the walls and forgets what they were talking about.
I cheerfully note that these criticisms are correct for a small number of fruitcakes who regularly show up in comments here and elsewhere. Nonetheless, I have to remind Mr. Geras that boycott calls may be related in part to Israel's official state policy of imprisoning and deliberately immiserating 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children while quietly and intentionally hoovering up as much land as possible and repeatedly launching ultraviolent, lunatic bombing campaigns on heavily populated urban areas, all of which is done with 100% total impunity thanks to unblinking American support.
While I realise that this doesn't come close to summarising the situation - after all, I fully understand why Israelis are very, very hawkish on defence, given the lunacy and depravity of many of their enemies - I throw it out there as a possible motivation for a wrong-headed policy, sought by reasonable and small-d decent human beings.
Or, you know, stormtroopers. Take your pick.