Today, the British teacher’s union approved a call to boycott Israel. Some of the language of the resolution is as follows: “The text of the resolution noted ‘continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall and discriminatory educational practices,’ and it urged the association’s members to ‘consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.'”

I came home to read about this resolution in the newspaper a short while after finding a series of response emails from members of the American Studies Association about my own such resolution proposal for the ASA. This is the second time in the past couple of months that I have proposed to a body of academics that we, as a group, should join the Palestinian academic call to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions. What amazes me about the emails I have received is not the fact that people oppose it–it’s par for the course among American intellectuals–but that not one professor has engaged with the specific reasons and points on the boycott call. For those who are interested, here is the precise text of the call to boycott, which you can also find on Birzeit University’s website:

“We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:

1.Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;

2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;

3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;

4. Exclude from the above actions against Israeli institutions any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state’s colonial and racist policies;

5. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;

6. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.”

Almost every professor who has written about this issue has taken it to mean such a boycott would only entail shutting down academic discourse. But none of them seem to have read that there are other elements, including divestment, funding, and the fact taht those institutions and academics who do not support Israel’s apartheid policies would be excluded from such a boycott. Furthermore, in Lisa Taraki and Omar Barghouti’s well argued and smart article “The AUT Boycott: Freedom vs. Academic Freedom,” they explain this issue beautifully:

On May 26, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in Britain reversed its previous decision — taken on April 22 — to boycott Israeli universities. Intimidation and bullying aside, no tool was as persistently used, abused and bandied about as much as the claim that academic boycott infringes on academic freedom. Freedom to produce and exchange knowledge and idea was deemed sacrosanct regardless of the prevailing conditions. There are two key faults in this argument. It is inherently biased because it only regards as worthy the academic freedom of Israelis. The fact that Palestinians are denied basic rights as well as academic freedom due to Israel’s military occupation is lost on those parroting it. And its privileging of academic freedom as a super-value above all other freedoms is in principle antithetical to the very foundation of human rights. The right to live, and freedom from subjugation and colonial rule, to name a few, must be of more import than academic freedom. If the latter contributes in any way to suppression of the former, more fundamental rights, it must give way. By the same token, if the struggle to attain the former necessitates a level of restraint on the latter, then be it. It will be well worth it.

What was the turning point that made people around the world finally boycott and divest in South Africa? What will it take to get the tide to turn here? Why is it that a group of intellectuals and academics cannot even have a discussion about this subject?



13 thoughts on “Boycott

  1. The descion by The Brits as wellas The Canadian academics once again confirms that the US academia will once agian vote with their silence. Sigh….

  2. You are angry that ‘intellectuals and academics cannot even have a discussion’, and yet you want to cut off academic discussion with Israel. A bit hypocritical, perhaps?

  3. It is not hypocritical to ask intellectuals and academics to boycott Israeli academic institutions that are consciously and unconsciously supporting a system of apartheid and the colonization of the Palestinian people and their territories.

    The comforts, wealths, intellectual pursuits, and discussions of Israeli academics rest very much on the oppression and pain of the Palestinian people. Further, “Academic discusion with Israel” is a privilege that some Israeli academics and intellectuals who are fervent defenders of Israel’s colonial and racist practices abuse on a daily basis.

    Asking academic and intellectual communities in the US to simply recognize these facts is a politically responsible act.

    Marcy, did you hear about CUPE? Check this out:


  4. So, are American academics ‘unconciously’ supporting the war in Iraq? Are Chinese scientists responsible for their totalitarian regime? Are Russian universities to blame for the situation in Chechnya? If we work under this theory, the academic world will be shattered into a thousand pieces. Or are we only applying this to Israel?

  5. If one remains silent and says nothing of it’s countries dubious human rights abuses i.e. China, America, Russia, Chechnya and yes Israel then thier silence speaks volumes about endorsing what the prevailing power structure is doing.

  6. I don’t think that people should remain silent; Israel should, like any other country, be criticized when it deserves it. But this is the least constructive method of ‘criticism’ that I have ever seen. How is a boycott of Israeli academia going to help the Palestinians? Why not build strong programs with both Israeli and Palestinian universities in order to foster a joint Israeli-Palestinian academic sphere?

  7. In a way I am surprised that other countries aren’t boycotting the U.S. because of the Iraq war. However, as far as academics goes, the majority of U.S. academics almost certainly were opposed to the Iraq war. In addition, the U.S. is not seeking to colonize Iraq by sending settlers from Omaha to live there and displace the native population.

  8. But should a professor of mathematics, either from Israel or America, have to distance themselves from their government’s actions in order to give a presentation in their field. I certainly hope you’re not going McCarthy on me!

  9. Steven Weinberg, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin:

    “If the urge to boycott is irresistible, why not boycott academics in Sudan, where a government-supported militia rapes and murders blacks? Why not boycott academics in Saudi Arabia, where no Jew or Christian is allowed to become a citizen? Why not boycott academics in Iran, where courts throw Jews into jail on trumped-up espionage charges? For that matter, why not boycott academics in all countries that have adopted Islamic law (sharia), which discriminates against women and makes it a capital offence for Muslims to renounce Islam?

    Perhaps one could look beyond the issue of discrimination and boycott academics in North Korea, which has the most repressive government on Earth, or those in Gaza and the West Bank, where a government of terrorists has just been elected…

    It is never a good idea for academics to boycott colleagues in other countries on political grounds. During the Cold War, American and Soviet scientists were careful to keep intellectual communication open; this not only served the cause of science, but promoted personal relationships that led to initiatives in arms control. In a similar spirit, when I ran the Jerusalem Winter School of Theoretical Physics we did what we could to recruit Arab students from Muslim countries whose governments discriminated against Jews. We never dreamt of boycotting them.”

  10. What is really insiduous about the details of the boycott is that it targets individual academics and purports to “allow” them to avoid boycott if they publicly distance themselves from their country and government.
    Imagine if Palestinian academics were forced by the US to disclaim Hamas and Fatah before they were allowed to visit.
    Picture American academics being forced to sign an oath of allegiance and fealty to the US before they were allowed to represent their country in their chosen field.
    What is really stunning to me is that an academic who has had the priveledge to be able to travel the world and work abroad and the freedom to agree or disagree with her own country as she sees fit, without repercussions, is more than willing to refuse those rights to other individuals dependant on their county of origin.

    I am proudly left wing and liberal, but this is where the left moves so far over that it becomes indistinguishable from the right and starts becoming that which it hates. What has always signified the worst in the right, to me, is their excessive need to contol the private lives of others. Guess you just joined them.

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