How to stop the Israeli occupation: An answer to Corey Robin

Corey Robin asked the following about the ASA’s recent pro-BDS resolution:

For the last month I’ve been responding to critiques and challenges of BDS. Now I have a question for its opponents and critics. What do you propose as an alternative strategy?

I am not sure I am entitled to answer since I have not written any critique of the ASA resolution, but I think you have to ask a prior question. If you are an American academic association and you want the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to end, what tactics are most likely to work? (No guarantees; history obviously shows coercion can work for a very long time.)

In others words, what is more effective, the ASA endorsing “a boycott of Israeli academic institutions” or the ASA doing something else? I pick something else.

If I were counseling the ASA, I would suggest the following:

1. You are, I imagine, mostly* residents of the United States. If that is the case, the best thing you can do is lobby the US government to change its policy toward Israel-Palestine. However limited, you have access to US halls of power that a Palestinian in Nablus does not. Change your own government. So pass a resolution condemning current US policy. Write. Call. Visit. Donate. Form a PAC. Organize. Vote.

2. Focus on the denial of academic freedom to Palestinian academics and universities. Work to break it down. Hold conferences and workshops with Palestinian professors. Engage in joint projects. Given the difficult travel policies they face, allocate funds to bring them for scholarly exchanges. I do not know what the MLA will ultimately do, but a draft text I saw went more in this direction. A related variant: formally support Israeli academics who oppose the occupation.

3. Publicize and support on-the-ground Palestinian efforts based on non-violent change. People should know about movements in Bil’in and Budrus and Nabi Salih and Sheik Jarrakh and the like.

Make that list the operative part of the resolution, and the ASA will still get a lot of pushback. But the ASA will also have a better chance of effecting meaningful change.

(For the sake of discussion, I set aside the Middlebury objection. That’s a prior issue the ASA has to address.)

* Please correct me if “mostly” is inaccurate.

Female Bloggers in IR

Taylor Marvin and Barbara Walter at Political Violence @ a Glance have started an important conversation on the paucity of female bloggers in international affairs. IMHO, the issue of blogs is just one example of many arenas in which gender may be an issue. In the last three years, I’ve been involved in speaker series, dinners with speakers, committees, faculty presentations, research grants, and conferences & workshops, and in every one, the nature or composition of the invitees or participants is a question.

Four thoughts in the hopes of continuing the conversation:

1. Gender is one of MANY characteristics that people want to see represented. Others include race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, level of seniority, academic/practitioner, nationality, type of academic institutional affiliation (R1 vs others; location inside US; US vs rest of world; north/south; public vs private), political views, discipline or field, and method. People will vary as to which ones are most important, and, obviously, every invitee is some combination.

2. Judging whether someone is paying attention to such issues solely based on outcome is limiting. You can ask people to speak, to serve, to blog etc. You can do your best to meet their needs and make the environment conducive. In short, to me the process matters too: was a serious, concerted effort made to get diverse and excellent participants? Across a range of situations, I followed (or, in some cases, observed others following) roughly the same process to try to get broad representation; if I look at the outcomes, it worked better in some cases than others.

3. If you want diverse bloggers, panels, speakers, members etc, you have to reach out and be pro-active about it. Who do you know that I don’t know? Who do YOU think would be good that is not in my network or on my radar? Who is up and coming? You have to be willing to take the time to gather prospective names, talk with people, and have some (or many!) people decline. That is time consuming and may conflict with other time pressures or resource demands.

And it is not just about having the knowledge of who does what. As one colleague pointed out to me, friendship matters when you are trying to get people to do things, especially if such things may be onerous and take them away from things they’d rather or must be doing. A cold call/email may be very different from a friend asking.

4. Marvin and Walter rightly point to a structural factor, the high percentage of tenured, male faculty in IR programs. But I want to kick the question backward: is that a reflection of   IR students in top PhD programs? Maybe the assessment has to start even before the hiring and tenure processes with the PhD admission process.

Awareness about the people invited to do academic things, both pleasant and burdensome, is helpful. But awareness alone only goes so far.


American Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Part of the Problem or Part of Solution?

I have an op-ed in Ha’aretz today in which I argue that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent appeal to them, American Jews are unlikely to push the Israeli government to make peace with the Palestinians. I give three major reasons for this:

“First, American Jews are not quite as ‘dovish’ as many people would like to believe (or as organizations like J Street like to claim). Although they are famously liberal on domestic issues, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American Jews are more conservative—they are ‘hawkish doves.’ Although a majority consistently supports a two-state solution to the conflict, most Americans Jews are very skeptical about the chances of achieving a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and they are also very suspicious of Arab intentions (in recent surveys of American Jewish opinion, sponsored by the AJC, roughly three-quarters of American Jews say they think that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel”). In this sense, American Jewish sentiment is very similar to that of Israeli Jews, most of whom want peace, but don’t trust the Palestinians to deliver it. 

There is also no strong American Jewish support for the establishment of a Palestinian state any time soon. In fact, in recent surveys, roughly half of American Jews oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, and this opposition has actually increased in the last few years (from 41 percent in 2009 to 55 percent in 2011). Even more American Jews are against a division of Jerusalem in any peace agreement with the Palestinians (in the 2011 survey, 59 percent were opposed to dividing Jerusalem). Given these views, American Jews can hardly be expected to push any Israeli government to make major concessions to the Palestinians for the sake of peace. 

Second, even if more American Jews really were ‘doves’ and strongly supported the establishment of a Palestinian state, many would still be reluctant to pressure Israel to allow this. It’s not that American Jews aren’t willing to criticize Israeli governments. On certain issues, especially those that directly affect them (most notably, the perennial issue of ‘who is a Jew’), American Jews have no qualms about openly criticizing Israeli governments and pressuring them to change their policies.  But when it comes to the life-and-death issues of Israeli national security and foreign policy, American Jews are, understandably, much more reluctant to speak out, let alone apply pressure. They know that it is not their lives on the line, or their children who are serving in the IDF. They recognize that they are not ones that must live with the very real risks that Israel will have to take to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Much as they want peace for Israel, most American Jews are reticent about telling Israelis what they must do to achieve it, especially when Israelis might disagree with them.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, American Jews simply have many other things on their mind.  While most care about Israel and want there to be peace, they are, at the end of the day, not all that bothered.  Only a minority of American Jews are deeply invested in Israel’s cause and heavily engaged with Israel. This minority is more politically conservative and rightwing when it comes to Israel than the majority of American Jews. Increasingly made up of Orthodox Jews, it is this highly engaged minority of American Jews who are the most easily mobilized on issues concerning Israel. During the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, it was this minority that opposed the peace process and made the loudest noise, while the majority of American Jews who supported the Oslo Accords were largely quiet. As long as most American Jews lack the burning desire and determination to energetically champion the peace process, they will not put any real pressure on American or Israeli leaders to advance it.”

Here’s the link to the full article:

Asking Questions at Academic Job Talks

Three reactions to the academic job talk debate sparked by Dan Nexon. (Nexon argued job talks are not useful for hiring.)

1. I agree with Dan Drezner that the Q&A can be very illuminating. For instance, how well does the candidate know the topic and previous scholarship? What questions have they anticipated? Are they open to alternate views or is it my-way-or-the-highway? I should also note it often lets me see how colleagues, some of whom may know a ton about the topic, are reacting. I may not get that by reading on my own.

2. I am not aware of scholarship that has assessed the correlation between the components of the job hiring process and the most common measures of faculty success, A) publications and B) tenure. That is crucial data that is probably next to impossible to collect for a host of reasons (e.g. privacy, liability, collegiality, diversion from more interesting questions, human dignity). But if someone who studies such matters can shed light, I for one would be interested.

3. Given my first point, here’s a (wacky) suggestion, because I do agree with Nexon that there is a reticence to read anything especially if one is not on the search committee. What if the candidate distributed a paper in advance, spoke for only 10-15 minutes, and then took extended questions and comments for 45-60 minutes? That would give time to go deep, for each questioner to have some back and forth if desired.

Perhaps even crazier: I once saw an APSA panel (I am thinking it involved David Waldner and Allison Stanger among others) where the discussants went first and then the paper authors responded. What if a member of the department critiqued the paper for 15 minutes and then the author/job candidate responded? OK, I know, a little crazy and the internal departmental politics of the hiring process could muck it up. But I am enamored with the importance of questions and answers.

That said, if a department might have 10-15 job candidates in a season, asking people to read that many papers is not insignificant. The status quo may have staying power for a reason.

Why Netanyahu is bickering with the Obama Administration over Iran and Why Israel won’t attack Iran

I’ve been asked a lot lately about why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arguing with the Obama Administration over its policy towards Iran’s nuclear program and whether Israel is likely to carry out a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, so here’s my brief analysis:

The Netanyahu government believes that diplomatic negotiations and economic sanctions have failed to halt or slow down Iran’s nuclear program and that time is rapidly running out to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability, which it sees as an existential threat to Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is therefore losing patience with the Obama Administration’s diplomatic approach, which he never really thought would succeed in the first place.  Now he is trying to use the run-up to the US election to pressure President Obama to make an explicit commitment to take future military action against Iran if it crosses a certain “red line” (Netanyahu has not publicly specified what the “red line” should be, but Israel basically wants to prevent Iran from producing large amounts of highly enriched uranium in a location invulnerable to a military strike).  In doing so, Netanyahu wants to box Obama in if he is reelected by getting him to make a public promise that he will have to keep.  The Obama administration, on the other hand, is refusing to set a “red line” because it wants to keep all its options open and give more time for diplomacy and sanctions to work.  It is very reluctant to carry out a military attack against Iran and doesn’t want to be pressured by Israel into promising to do this.

The coming US presidential election means that the Obama Administration desperately wants to prevent Israel from striking Iran before November since such an attack would probably lead to a sharp spike in oil prices severely affecting the American economy and produce major turmoil in the Middle East and beyond, risking American lives.  These negative consequences of an Israeli strike could easily jeopardize Obama’s prospects to win re-election.  The Obama Administration is also well aware of the fact that most Americans currently oppose a US or Israeli military strike against Iran.  American public opinion is primarily concerned with the US economy, especially continued high unemployment, and the last thing Americans want right now is to get involved in another war in the Middle East.  The Obama Administration’s approach to Iran is basically in line with US public opinion, so it would be politically foolish to change this approach in the run-up to an election.

American opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike is probably the biggest factor preventing Israel from attacking Iran, but it is not the only one. Israeli public opinion is also opposed to a unilateral Israeli strike and so is most of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment.  Even Netanyahu’s own government ministers, particularly the members of his security cabinet—which is responsible for authorizing any Israeli military action—are divided on the wisdom of Israel attacking Iran against the wishes of the United States.  Thus, although it is certainly not out of the question that Israel will eventually choose to go-it-alone and carry out a unilateral strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities given Prime Minister Netanyahu’s expressed fears about Iran’s nuclear program, my assessment is that it is unlikely to happen because Netanyahu simply does not have the necessary domestic and international support for this.  Despite all his bombastic rhetoric, Netanyahu is ultimately very constrained in what he can do vis-à-vis Iran.  Indeed, that may well be why he has become so frustrated about the Obama Administration’s ‘wait-and-see’ policy on Iran and its refusal to support an Israeli military strike or pledge to take military action itself.

In sum, therefore, Netanyahu is trying to push Obama to commit to taking military action against Iran in the future, and Obama is pushing back against this.  So far, Obama appears to be winning this latest tug-of-war.