Academics Must Take a Leading Role

From the archive (legacy material)

Mona Baker | Oxford Student | 1 June 2006

The recent vote by NATFHE in support of a boycott of Israeli institutions is the latest in a series of similar international decisions that signal the determination of civil society to put an end to one of the most brutal and racist colonial enterprises in recent history. Only a few days earlier, an overwhelming majority of delegates of the Ontario division of Canada’s largest union, representing more than 200,000 workers, voted to support the boycott campaign. And last November, the United States Green Party became the first political party to publicly endorse a statement calling for a comprehensive strategy of boycott and divestment to pressure the government of Israel to end its abuse of human rights in Palestine.
All this followed the 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice on the illegality of Israel’s Apartheid Wall – a ruling reminiscent of the advisory opinion by the same International Court of Justice in 1971 denouncing South Africa’s occupation of Namibia, which triggered what became the world’s largest and most concerted campaign of sanctions directed against the apartheid regime.
The campaign to boycott Israeli institutions, goods and services struggles against a ruthless occupation that kills children by the hundreds, demolishes houses complete with their occupants, builds enormous walls that separate families and prevent farmers from reaching their lands, patients from reaching hospitals, and students from reaching schools and universities.
One consequence of the brutality of Israeli occupation is the purposeful silencing of Palestinian academic freedom through the systematic destruction of Palestinian educational institutions.
By voting in support of boycott, academic bodies like NATFHE can signal to Israel and its supporters that academic freedom is indivisible, and that British academics, who were at the forefront of the anti-apartheid campaign in the seventies and eighties, have not lost their moral compass and are not prepared to do business as usual with a regime that deliberately sets out to destroy the lives of their Palestinian colleagues.
Our colleagues in Palestine have unequivocally called on the international community to endorse the boycott campaign; the latest statement by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) applauds NATFHE’s courageous decision and describes it as ‘leading the way in moral responsibility’.
Those who campaigned to boycott South Africa in the past, like those who are campaigning to put an end to Israeli brutality today, came under enormous pressure: they were harrassed, intimidated, discredited, individually and collectively, as were all academics who participated in the campaign; as are all academics who participate in the current campaign. They were told that South African blacks were violent, terrorists, disruptive elements of society that had to be kept under control. They were told that academic freedom (of white South Africans, naturally) was to be protected at all costs. And – most disingenuously – that the boycott was counterproductive because it would disrupt opportunities for dialogue. The fact that dialogue had then failed to put an end to South African apartheid practices, as it has clearly failed today to end Israeli brutality after several decades of diplomatic and other initiatives, seems to escape supporters of the status quo.
The logic of boycott eventually won the day in the South African campaign. This weekend’s decision by NATFHE suggests that it will once again prove compelling.