Steven Pinker’s Thoughts on the Boycott

“Against Selective Demonization”

The current Israeli government does things that many of us deplore. But are their policies really so atrocious, so beyond the pale of acceptable behavior of nation-states, that they call for a unique symbolic statement that abrogates personal fairness and academic freedom? It helps to put the Israel-Palestine conflict in global and historical perspective—something that anthropologists, of all people, might be expected to do. The Center for Systemic Peace tries to quantify the human cost of armed conflict. Their data show that for all the world’s obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it has been responsible for a small proportion of the total human cost of war: approximately 22,000 deaths over six decades, coming in at 96th place among the armed conflicts, and at 14th place among ongoing conflicts. That does not mean that the violence is acceptable, but it does raise questions about invidious demonization. Why no boycotts against academics from China, India, Russia, or Pakistan, to take a few examples, which have also been embroiled in occupations and violent conflicts, and which, unlike Israel, face no existential threat or enemies with genocidal statements in their charters? In a world of repressive governments and ongoing conflicts, isn’t there something unsavory about singling the citizens of one of these countries for unique vilification and punishment?

-Steven Pinker, Harvard University

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