Last week was a mixed bag on the BDS front, with some good, some bad and some very, very ugly.
In the bad department, the National Womens’ Studies Association in the US joined the conga-line of Israel bashers by voting to endorse an academic boycott with an 88.4% majority. Disappointing, but not surprising.
But the true ugliness of the boycott movement was on display at a much more micro in the personal interaction between a powerful adult and a powerless child.
When Shachar Rabinovich was assigned to write a term paper for her Year 8 class, she chose a topic near-and-dear to her teenaged heart – horses. The Zihron Ya’akov resident, who studies at a regional school attended by Arab and Jewish students, did some online due diligence and found the name of a Cambridge University emeritus academic with relevant subject-matter expertise.
In her less-than-perfect English, the 13-year-old wrote to Dr. Marsha Levine, identifying herself as an Israeli middle school student and asking a series of questions about the different breeds of horse and their domestication by humans.
Shahar concluded her letter with an expression of respect:
“I know you are a very important person and I’ve read your article about horses (Domestication, Breed Diversification and Early History of the Horse) and I love horses very much and it will be an honor if you will answer my question.”
But did Dr Levine reciprocate this basic courtesy? Not so much:
“Dear Shachar Rabinovich
I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine.
I am a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. I support Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. You might be a child, but if you are old enough to write to me, you are old enough to learn about Israeli history and how it has impacted on the lives of Palestinian people.
Maybe your family has the same views as I do, but I doubt it. So, I suggest that you look at this link.
Dr. Marsha Levine”
Nasty. There’s no other word for it.
The outraged response of Shachar’s father aptly crystalised the repugnant essence of BDS as he denounced (translated from Hebrew):
“all the ‘blah, blah’ of these sanctimonious types (it would be more elegant if you clearly stated that you want us all to die). Unbelievably, this buffoon’s reply was written to a 13-year-old girl who, not only hasn’t killed anyone, but is actually quite a supporter of global peace and good will.”
But now for some good news, which came in the form of a Wall Street Journal article that made the novel argument that professional associations subscribing to BDS are acting illegally. The authors – noted professors of law Eugene Kontorovich and Steven Davidoff Solomon – make the case that under that under US corporations law organisations may only engage in activities explicitly authorised by their charters.
Wow! And upon reading this piece the first thought that popped into my head was ‘could we assert a similar legal principle down under?”
Now, I’m not a lawyer – and I don’t even play one on TV. But nonetheless my admittedly imperfect reading of the following section of the Corporations Act (2001) would appear to indicate not:
“125 Constitution may limit powers and set out objects
(1) If a company has a constitution, it may contain an express restriction on, or a prohibition of, the company’s exercise of any of its powers. The exercise of a power by the company is not invalid merely because it is contrary to an express restriction or prohibition in the company’s constitution.
(2) If a company has a constitution, it may set out the company’s objects. An act of the company is not invalid merely because it is contrary to or beyond any objects in the company’s constitution.”
I realise solicitors and barristers are scarce commodities in the Jewish community [tongue in cheek], but if there’s anyone out there who can provide guidance on this issue I’d be very interested to hear it. I’d be particularly appreciative if someone could bring me up to date on any case law precedents that might be applicable.
A delegation of ZFA leaders recently did a swing through parliament in Canberra where it met with 26 MPs and Senators ranging from Cabinet Ministers to humble backbenchers on both the Coalition and Labor sides of the House.
And as it happened, our time in Canberra coincided with a visit by Israel’s Chief Scientist Dr Avi Hasson, who gave a presentation to an overflow crowd of MPs/Senators and staff in the Main Committee room of Parliament.
Following on the tremendous success of the Australian trade mission led by Assistant Minister Wyatt Roy, there was great interest in Israel’s tremendous achievements as an innovation powerhouse.
So great an interest, in fact, that Hasson even scored a cameo appearance on a ABC 7:30 segment devoted to prospects for developing an Aussie culture of hi-tech innovation. In this segment, reporter Haden Cooper described Israel as:
“the nation Australia wants to emulate. Israel’s booming tech start-up sector reels in billions of dollars in investment every year … The Israeli influence in Canberra is evident. As the innovation statement was drafted, Australian politicians and public servants were flying back and forth studying the country’s success and Israel’s chief scientist was just wrapping up a visit here.”
High praise indeed – especially considering the source.
And that’s the way it is, 7 December 2015, the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that triggered America’s better-late-than-never entry into the Second World War.
And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is also the anniversary of a fight for liberty against a more ancient variety of totalitarian repression. Over 2,100 years ago the Hasmonean brothers led the Jewish people in rebellion against the antisemitic annihilationist regime of Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
We won that one too, so Happy Chanukah!
Ted Lapkin – Director of Public Affairs for the Zionist Federation of Australia