In solidarity with Palestinians

From the archive (legacy material)

John Chalcraft | The Guardian | 30 May 2007

An international, non-violent movement supporting divestment, sanctions and boycott of Israel is gathering strength. While progress has been made in Northern Ireland and South Africa, Israel continues to settle and occupy Palestinian land in defiance of international law.
The question for British academics is whether they should join this international movement, and refuse to do business as usual with Israeli academic institutions. At stake is not the boycott of individual Israelis, nor their subjection to some political test, but the withdrawal of institutional collaboration with Israeli universities. The boycott implies the refusal to participate in conferences or research sponsored by Israeli authorities or universities; withdrawal from institutional level cooperation; opposition to the award of grants by the EU to Israeli institutions, and refusal to serve as referees for publications based at Israeli universities.
Academics are unlikely to be persuaded by the erroneous claim that Palestinians themselves are against the boycott. In fact, the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees and many other organisations have endorsed the call for boycott in general, and the specific motion before the University and College Union in particular.
Also feeble is the notion that Israeli universities have been trenchant critics of Israeli violations and supporters of Palestinian rights. In fact, no Israeli academic institution has ever taken a public stand against the military occupation of East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, now in its 40th year. Indeed, the courageous few Israeli scholars who have dared to challenge conventional Zionist narratives have been hounded and harrassed. The reality is that the Israeli academy has long provided intellectual, linguistic, logistical, technical, scientific and human support for an ongoing military occupation in direct, long term violation of international law. In particular, Israeli universities have never seriously opposed the infrastructural degradation of Palestinian education at all levels, the destruction by Israel of educational buildings and equipment, the killing and injuring of students and others, or the checkpoints, border controls, land seizure, and the illegal separation wall which place significant obstacles on academic and educational activity.
Academics sincerely wrestling with their conscience will not be impressed by opponents who resort to calling them anti-semitic. The movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions includes Jews and non-Jews, stands against racist prejudice of all kinds, and refuses the determinist and anti-semitic notion that all Jews by nature must be linked to Zionism and its atrocities. The movement’s charge is simple.
Israel is a state founded on discrimination. Israel privileges Zionist-Jews, and subordinates and dispossesses Palestinians and Arabs. The latest phase of this discrimination has been compared by many – former US President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond among them – to the South African system of apartheid.
More challenging is the argument that the boycott is counter-productive because dialogue and scientific collaboration are more effective than a divisive boycott. The example of South Africa tells otherwise. The international boycott movement had a tremendous impact in breaking down apartheid by raising consciousness and disrupting international business as usual. Crucially, Israel now, like South Africa then, considers itself part of, and has multiple ties to the west. This means that unlike in Iran, say, the boycott cannot plausibly be viewed simply as western imperialism. When western civil society says enough is enough, Israelis, not to mention western governments, will take notice.
Is it unfair to single Israel out? It is not clear that there are other heavily militarised, nuclear-armed, expansionist apartheid states with extensive illegal settlement, land seizure and wall-building activity. There are certainly other violators of international law, and the case for boycotting each must be made on its merits. That does not weaken the case for a nonviolent, international movement regarding Israel. To say that it does is simply special pleading.
As for academic freedom, it should be remembered that the situation has long involved the denial of Palestinians’ academic freedom. The point of the boycott, which will certainly involve forms of institutional disruption, is to end this vicious discrimination and the massive and structural violation of academic freedom involved. The boycott, moreover, will encourage and give protection to Israeli academics critical of academic complicity and occupation, and stands in solidarity with Palestinians whose freedoms have long been repressed.