Nat Hentoff

I dearly wish I were a member of this British journalists' union, so that I could immediately resign. England's National Union of Journalists is proposing a boycott of Israeli goods to protest Israel's "occupation" of the Palestinians. Anywhere in the world, journalists become untrustworthy advocates if they lose their credibility. The British reporters have done exactly that.

These British journalists also forget that throughout the world, their peers continually fight often against dangerous odds for a free press. The National Union of Journalist fails to mention that nowhere in the Middle East or many other places is there a freer press than in Israel, which continually criticizes the government and exposes its deceits and incompetence while also giving voice to supporters of Palestinian rights.

This righteous rush to boycott Israel has infected hordes of previously independent minds not only among British journalists, but also among those at the University and College Union, the largest academic union in the United Kingdom. Sue Blackwell, an activist UCU member, is quoted in the June 2 Financial Times responding to critics of the boycott:

"This is the typical response of the Israeli lobby, which will do anything to avoid debating the real issue the 40-year occupation of Palestine."

A boycott is a debate? How do you debate those with whom you cut off relations?

There are British students of these politically correct academics who are not impressed by the posturing of their teachers who rail against "the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation of (Palestinian land.)" Declares the national Union of Students, in reaction:

"(A) boycott undermines the Israeli academics who support Palestinian rights and hinders the building of bridges between Israelis and Palestinians." If any of the members of this clear-eyed students' union are in the classes conducted by the boycotting professors and lecturers, I hope their grades will not be affected by their libertarian heresy.

The University and College Union, meanwhile, is encouraging all its members to "consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions."

I find it peculiar not necessarily anti-Semitic that these acutely sensitive moralists are boycotting only Israel. Their indignation does not include academics in Gen. Omar al-Bashir's Sudan, Russia, or those still loyal to Zimbabwe's "liberator," Robert Mugabe.

And consider the perils of bravely independent academics in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Burma, among other governments intent on controlling their citizens' minds. Iran is another country where academics who speak too freely may no longer be literally free, as well as tortured.

Also with regard to Iran, I assume that members of the British University and College Union are concerned with students' academic freedom. And as the May 31 Jerusalem Post suggests, these eager purifiers of Israeli universities might reach out to the "the brave Iranian students who just three weeks ago were brutally attacked as they sought to hold elections for their pro-democratic organizations."

Israeli students, including the Palestinians among them, are not muzzled, let along clubbed, when they express differences with the Israel government's policies.

But in England, the boycott fever mounts. There are British doctors and architects mulling boycotts of their counterparts in Israel; and The New York Sun's exemplary journalist, Benny Avni, reports (June 1-3) that "the largest British labor union, the 1.5 million member UNISON, has threatened to launch a drive to boycott Israel. None of the unions has called for similar boycotts against Sudan, Burma, Russia, China or other human rights violators."

If this mighty union enacts a boycott, none of its pension funds could be invested in Israel and its members would be prohibited from buying Israeli goods. Possibly if UNISON has members in British stores who recognize erring fellow workers buying anything Israeli, maybe they'll dutifully report and blacklist these betrayers of lockstep labor solidarity.

During this rising zeal of British boycotters to demonstrate their moral superiority to Israeli academics, labor union members, doctors and architects, I expect the democratically elected Palestinian leaders of Hamas will applaud their support but will continue to absolutely oppose the very existence of the state of Israel. So what effect are these boycotts supposed to have except to make these compassionate human-rights inspectors feel good about themselves?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of many books, including "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance" (Seven Stories Press, 2004).