12/20/2013 12:38 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Boycotting and Cooperating With Israel -- the ASA, EU and China

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks continue, though sluggishly and without dramatic breakthrough, which is still not in the offing, but at least with one important, though hardly noticeable, positive result: the signing some days ago in Washington of the tripartite Israel-Jordan-Palestinian Authority agreement about the laying of a joint water pipe from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Upon signing the agreement, the Palestinian water Minister Shaddad Atili declared that this was an indication that cooperation for the sake of attainment of joint goals could work.

This was an example of good will, of those who REALLY wish to see some progress, wherever one can be achieved.

The boycott of Israeli universities by the American Studies Association [ASA], just declared this week, is the making of those who are enemies of peace and reconciliation, of those who want to delegitimize one of the parties to the conflict, while claiming to work for a solution of that very conflict. A contradiction in terms, something that was explained by the president of this association, Curtis Marez. Undoubtedly this professor was deemed by his peers to be a good spokesperson for their decision, so he commented about it to the New York Times.

When asked if Israel was the right target for a boycott decision judging by what is happening in the countries surrounding her, the president said these unforgettable words (no, this is not a joke, this is a president of a distinguished American academic association), "We had to start somewhere"... Well, I have the distinct feeling (or maybe I am naïve), that even some of the strong proponents of this decision could not but feel embarrassed in view of this show of political and moral clarity... clearly one of the more ridiculous statements by a president of an academic society...

This decision was achieved with the votes of maybe 20 percent of the membership of the ASA, but it is still an irritant, and a reminder to many Israelis and those who support Israel in the US, which constitutes a formidable majority of American public opinion, that there still are some who under the guise of academic prestige act as agents of collective hatred. This decision will be overturned in due course, and will be thrown to the dust bin of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and thus will find its proper place.

Three out of the 100 best universities in the world are Israeli, the largest per capita in the world, so Israeli universities will "somehow" manage without the ASA, but peace, understanding, and goodwill will surely not emerge out of all that. These professors, though, do not really care about it. For them, what mattered was to "start somewhere," so they did.

The worldwide campaign of BDS against Israel may consider this latest outrage to be a victory, but when put in the grand scheme of things, this is just a minute tactical achievement for them, and not an actual damage to Israel.

Some time ago, Israel was accepted as the only non-European country to the prestigious and well-funded Horizon 2020 R&D project. In order to be accepted, the EU demanded from Israel to agree to the policy by which no grants will be given to projects in the Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line. The Netanyahu government did the right thing and agreed. No need to read too much into this agreement, as this same government is still firmly in support of the settlers. I suggest that it is more important to pay attention to the fact that the EU was eager to include Israel in this very significant academic-scientific endeavor, as this is a recognition of the achievements of Israel, achievements which could and should be used for the promotion of peace and understanding, unlike the boycott by these American professors who care really nothing about that.

For Israel, the EU stipulation about settlements was a grim but timely reminder, that when there are negotiations, it is no time to play up the settlements card by Issuing repeated statements about building projects, which at any rate will not materialize. Talking to Israel and cooperating with her, while maintaining the negative attitude towards the settlements, is not going to derail the delicate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but wholesale boycott of Israel may achieve exactly that -- at least this is the aim behind it. It will not happen also because Israel is not isolated, boycotts by some American professors notwithstanding.

Just the other day, the Foreign Minister of China, not exactly a marginal player In world politics, visited Israel. The Chinese minister could not be clearer when he stated that "there is no limit to the combination of Israeli genius and Chinese vibrancy." A statement of this kind in itself is very significant, but when coming on the heels of two very significant agreements of academic cooperation between Israeli and Chinese universities, whose financial value is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the boycott by the ASA really is placed in its proper context, as a manifestation of academic bigotry by those who need to know and understand better.