Those on the right often tell us we should vote with our dollars rather than protest in the streets. If this is the case, what are we to make of the latest Israeli crackdown on its academic establishment:
A protest petition has been signed by 500 academics, including two former education ministers, following recent comments by Israel's education minister, Gideon Saar, that the government intends to take action against the boycott's supporters. A proposed bill introduced into the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – would outlaw boycotts and penalise their supporters. Individuals who initiated, encouraged or provided support or information for any boycott or divestment action would be made to pay damages to the companies affected. Foreign nationals involved in boycott activity would be banned from entering Israel for 10 years, and any "foreign state entity" engaged in such activity would be liable to pay damages.
Individuals would have to "pay damages to companies" because they simply advocate not doing business with those companies! That's an interesting interpretation of democracy.
Saar last week described the petition as hysterical and an attempt to silence contrary opinions. While the vast majority of the signatories do not support an academic boycott of Israel, they have joined forces over what they regard as the latest assault on freedom of expression in Israel. The petition states: "We have different and varied opinions about solving the difficult problems facing Israel, but there is one thing we are agreed on – freedom of expression and academic freedom are the very lifeblood of the academic system." Daniel Gutwein, a history professor at Haifa University who is one of the signatories, described the minister's intervention as an attempt "to make Israeli academia docile, frightened and silent".
Academia, as a collection of independent and often idealistic thinkers, is always a thorn in the side of any regime. Unlike the elites of the corporate world, most academics aren't compensated well enough to be enticed to sell their soul to the system. When academics can't be bought off or seduced with grants and lucrative contracts as consultants, governments resort to the threat of law suits or brute force.