Editors’ Note

in Israel Studies Review
Author:
Oded Haklai
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Adia Mendelsohn-Maoz
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The current issue features a special section dedicated to the study of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. One would be hard-pressed to identify issues that currently stir more passionate contestation and stronger emotions in academic circles than the BDS campaign in the groves of academe. Views on this issue vary considerably and have been keenly articulated in multiple and diverse outlets. Some view BDS as a legitimate, nonviolent campaign in support of the Palestinians; some find it threatening to academic freedom; and some identify the singling out of Israel as an expression of antisemitism.

The current issue features a special section dedicated to the study of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. One would be hard-pressed to identify issues that currently stir more passionate contestation and stronger emotions in academic circles than the BDS campaign in the groves of academe. Views on this issue vary considerably and have been keenly articulated in multiple and diverse outlets. Some view BDS as a legitimate, nonviolent campaign in support of the Palestinians; some find it threatening to academic freedom; and some identify the singling out of Israel as an expression of antisemitism.

The BDS controversy has not eluded the Association for Israel Studies (AIS). Following the endorsement of the BDS call to boycott Israeli universities by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the AIS General Assembly voted in June to approve a resolution adopted by the AIS Board to end its formal status as an affiliated organization of MESA until such time that MESA revokes its boycott resolution. Irrespective of the position one takes on the subject or the merit of the MESA and AIS resolutions, it is difficult to dispute that BDS has become an important phenomenon that preoccupies scholars. As such, it warrants scholarly attention.

This special section differentiates itself from previous conversations in that it seeks to avoid spilling into the realm of advocacy. Notwithstanding a handful of important exceptions, debates within the scholarly community have tended to revolve around arguments in support of and opposition to BDS, as well as questions of political efficacy and strategic utility. In contrast, this special section aims to treat BDS as a subject of scholarly inquiry, utilizing social science analytical tools. Ultimately, if we are to understand BDS, not as advocates but as scholars, we need to use the analytical tools at our disposal and treat BDS as we would any other case that falls into the same class of phenomena.

What is the relevant category of analysis? All four articles agree that BDS falls into the category of transnational activism. Each article, however, uses a different theoretical lens to explain a different facet, including BDS mobilization, Israeli counter-mobilization, and third-party actors, such as the Jewish Diaspora and non-Palestinian BDS sympathizers. Earlier iterations of three of the articles in this special section were presented in an organized panel at the 2021 AIS Annual Conference, virtually hosted by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. We thank Nathaniel Shils for organizing the panel. Additional articles were then sought out. We are grateful to Ronnie Olesker for her contribution to the editorial work involved in the transition from ‘panel’ to ‘special section.’ We are also enormously indebted to the anonymous reviewers who agreed to read and provide useful feedback, sometimes over multiple rounds of reviews.

The article by Ronnie Olesker combines a state-centric approach with international relations theory to elucidate what she aptly labels the ‘securitization dilemma.’ Olesker examines the unintended consequences of framing BDS as an antisemitic security threat on relations with Diaspora Jews. According to Olesker, incorporating antisemitism into the metanarrative has unintentionally positioned US Jews inside the threatened community. And yet, divisions among US Jews over anti-BDS measures has resulted in discord rather than unity, thus potentially weakening the unified stance favorable to Israel desired by Israeli policy-makers.

Ian Lustick and Nathaniel Shils point to the reciprocal and mutually transformative relationship between Israeli and BDS patterns of mobilization. They argue that the mobilization of both sides can be explained using a rationalist learning process model alongside internal political competition. Identifying three phases with distinct mobilization patterns, they observe how each side has learned and adapted to changing political circumstances, including learning from their adversary. Concomitantly, internal competition within each community has also shaped the trajectory of political behavior and mobilization patterns in different periods.

Naama Lutz uses tools from social movement theory to explain BDS mobilization patterns. Her article develops the concept of ‘fluidity’ in reference to the ability of the movement to adapt to different political opportunity structures in different contexts under variable circumstances. The movement's capacity to modify tactics and strategies depending on opportunities and constraints presents a challenge to the Israeli government that, according to Lutz, resembles a game of Whac-A-Mole.

Finally, David Zarnett's article takes a comparative perspective, asking why an equivalent to BDS has not emerged in the West for comparable causes, for example, the Kurds in Turkey. Zarnett argues that at least part of the explanation lies in the existence, or lack thereof, of a robust diaspora. The argument is pitched in generalizable terms: the obvious inclination of any ethnic group is to mobilize diasporic ethnic kin. Absent a strong diaspora, activists are incentivized to recruit non-diaspora activists, framing their struggle in terms that resonate with their target audience. In the Palestinian case, Zarnett observes, the overwhelming majority of BDS activists in North America are non-Palestinian.

Taken together, the articles in this special section demonstrate the significance of multiple actors, including the state (Israel), local activists (Palestinians), international activists and audiences (mainly in the ‘West’), diasporas, and international organizations. They further show the abundance of empirical questions that can be asked, as well as the diverse theoretical approaches available to scholars interested in this phenomenon. Theories of diaspora, social movements, transnationalism, security studies, and state capacity are just several of the options available to scholars.

Alongside the special section, this issue includes two general research articles that focus on cultural and historical phenomena. Einat Lachover and Inbal Ben-Asher Gitler focus on gender national construction in the context of Israeli stamps. As stamps can be perceived as an agent of national commemoration, Lachover and Ben-Asher Gitler follow the choices of images of women on stamps throughout the course of Israel's history (1948–2022). What is the volume of personal commemoration of women on stamps in comparison to the commemoration of men? Who were the women that had been chosen (and who were not chosen) and what values do they bring? Analyzing thirty-one stamps and using archival materials to understand the role of women in Israeli historiography, Lachover and Ben-Asher Gitler follow Israeli feminist studies to reveal the ways women are constructed in the national memory.

Reuven Gafni goes back to the pre-state period to check the role of The Sephardi Rabban Yochanan Ben-Zakai Synagogue in Jerusalem in creating a new cultural-social and ideological alternative. Synagogues hold communal significance both in ancient and in modern times; their social role exceeds far more than their religious or liturgical role. Gafni traces the place of Rabban Yochanan Ben-Zakai Synagogue within the historical changes: the synagogue reference to the Ottoman and British authorities and later its adoption of the Jewish national framework; the confrontation between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities in the city and the ways the Sephardi strived to build its own uniqueness and civic identity.

Finally, in addition to book reviews, this issue includes a film review. Avi Nesher's Image of Victory (2021) brings to the fore not only the historiographic struggle around the battle of Nitzanim in 1948 but also questions the role of memory, representation, and art within historical and political contexts.

We hope you enjoy the read!

—Oded Haklai and Adia Mendelsohn-Maoz

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