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?