Following on from my op-end piece (paywall) for The Australian on the anti-Israel boycott of the Sydney Festival I notice there are calls to boycott the boycotters (I also posted about the boycott here).
The front page (see image above) of this week’s Australian Jewish News has asked whether it is “Time to boycott boycotters?”. The article says that Walt Secord, the shadow arts minister for New South Wales, has called for the introduction of American style legislation against the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It also refers to the Australian Jewish Association, a conservative advocacy group, which favours anti-BDS legislation at a federal level.
Although I understand the temptation I am against retaliatory boycotts for similar reasons to why I oppose BDS boycotts in the first place. They are, first of all, attacks on freedom of expression. It is in the interests of society to have open debates on all such matters.
Descending to the level of boycotters also makes it impossible to take the moral high ground. Free cultural exchange between Israelis, Palestinians and everyone else should be encouraged rather than curtailed.
There are also more practical reasons to oppose such boycotts. Banning open expressions of opinion only drives bad ideas underground. They simply reappear in more covert guises. That in turn makes them more difficult to challange.
Essentially anti-BDS laws exacerbate an undignified drive of mutual cancellation between Israel’s supporters and anti-Israel activists. Under such circumstances it becomes difficult for the public to untangle what is going on. The issues around anti-Semitism in particular become clouded.
Providing public funding to pro-BDS campaigns is another matter. No political movement has a divine right to received money from the government. Nor should they be free from political criticism.
The drive to implement anti-BDS legislation is more advanced in America than elsewhere. The Jewish Virtual Library has itemised a long list of anti-BDS initiatives starting in Tennessee in 2015.
The anti-BDS law in Arkansas has proved particularly controversial. The Arkansas Times has filed suit against the anti-boycott law on the grounds that it violates the first and fourteenth amendments of the US constitution (the first focusing on freedom of speech and freedom of the press with the 14th focusing on due process). It is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is also among those opposing the law.
Anti-BDS laws should be opposed on both principled and practical grounds. They are an attack on freedom and they make it harder to clarify the issues around the scourge of anti-Semitism.