The Academic Boycott of Israel–Objections and Defense

by
Lawrence Davidson

Introductory Comments and a General Defense

Boycotts are historically common and popular forms of protest. Unlike sanctions, which are enforced by governments and sometimes destroy the lives of millions of ordinary people (as in the case of the 12-years of sanctions against Iraq, and the on-going Western sanctions against Hamas and the Gaza Strip), boycotts can be a grassroots means of protest against the policies of  governments. They can be undertaken by ordinary people to defend fellow human beings who are oppressed and designed in such a way as to cause as little damage as possible to the lives of innocent people. Boycotts have historically been undertaken at many levels: they have been carried out against companies or industries (for instance, the American California grape boycott of the 1970s); and against states (for instance the boycott of apartheid South Africa). Thus, from an historical point of view,  there is plenty of precedents for the tactic of boycott. And, as in the case of South Africa, public pressure through boycotts can eventually encourage governments and organizations such as the United Nations to take action against particularly oppressive regime.

Nonetheless, the boycott against Israel, and in particular that aspect of it directed against academic institutions, has drawn a great amount of criticism. Much of this has come from people who are partisans of Israel. But some of it has its origins among those who have genuine concerns that innocent Israelis are being unnecessarily hurt, or that the boycott is undermining valued principles such as academic freedom and the free flow of ideas.  It is to this latter group that the following arguments are addressed in the hope of taking up their concerns and, if not putting them to rest, at least putting them in a context that makes understandable the historical trade-offs inevitably involved in any struggle for justice.

First of all, the academic boycott of Israel is part of a broader boycott and divestment effort which involves economic, cultural and sports agendas.  The academic boycott specifically is based on several premises. One is that, to date, all but a very small number of Israeli academics remain quiescent in the face of the violent colonial war their government wages against the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories. As a group they have had nothing to say about Israeli violations of scores of United Nations resolutions and the transgression of international law in the form of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This includes not only human rights violations of a general nature, but also, specifically,  the systematic destruction of Palestinian education and academic freedoms. Nor, as a group, have they come to the defense of their few fellow Israeli academics who have been spoken of as traitors for publically criticizing Israeli policies against the Palestinians.

A second, and related premise, though one that is often unnoted, is the fact that educational institutions are principal agents for shaping the perceptions of whole generations. If, in the midst of extreme practices leading to oppression such as we have been witnessing in the Occupied Territories, these institutions lend their active or passive support to aggressive colonialist practices, then others may legitimately criticize them and, if the situation persists, boycott them.

Third, I would  point out that the boycott against Israel is whole heartedly supported by Palestinian civil society.  In 2003 and again in 2005 Palestinians teachers and a wide range of other professionals called for the boycott of Israel, including Israeli academia.  Today over 60 Palestinian federations and NGOs have signed on to this call. In every case these groups, as well, organizers of the boycott outside of Palestine, view this tactic as the best non-violent way by which non-Israelis the world over can express their concern for what is now the world’s longest post-Second World War occupation and one which presents us with very dangerous ethnic and racial issues. 

There has been a great hew and cry against the violent tactics of resistence to Israeli occupation evolved by the Palestinians. Though the first Intifada started with little more than rock throwing it was condemned in the West as a “dangerous escalation” of the Middle East crisis. It also brought the Palestinians no relief. The Second Intifada is certainly much more violent in its nature and has included the infamous tactic of suicide bombing. The organizers of the boycott condemn this tactic even while understanding that it is a product of despair and desperation that the occupation itself has created.  Many have asked themselves what people outside of Israel and the Occupied Territories can do to put non-violent pressure on Israel to end the occupation. The boycott is one of their answers.
 

Consideration of General Objections

Objections to the Academic Boycott of Israel have not been consistent. They have tended  to shift over time.  For instance, at the beginning of the boycott (circa 2002) there was the demand that academia, and particularly scientific fields, be kept out of politics. While as an ideal this may be an admirable, in reality the bulk of higher education and its academicians never escape politicsAs we found in the United States during the Vietnam War, various government agencies quickly recruited an array of academic departments and individuals, ranging from chemists to sociologists, to support their war effort. The intimidation and bribery directed at the rest of academia to remain quiet (and therefore passively supportive of government policy) was effective until the war itself became vastly unpopular. Israeli educational institutions have been similarly co-opted. Various academic departments, professors and administrators have developed for profit and non-profit links with the military, corporate, media and political institutions that support and sustain occupation.

Normally,  states do not support academic freedom or the free flow of ideas in cases that impact government policies, particularly when the government has committed itself to military action. Through various means of bribery and pressure they attempt to enforce only two alternatives, quiescence or active support. In times of stress, opposition comes to equal disloyalty and threatens academic funding and careers. The academy, then, is not a neutral arena on matters important to government.  As Lisa Taraki, who is a professor at Birzeit University on the West Bank has argued, the academy can easily become “a haven for many scholars either in the outright service of repressive states, or for those who have rewritten history in defense of colonial projects.”2

In the current context, there are numerous examples of the direct involvement of Israeli academia and academic related professions in promoting and sustaining the oppressive measures of the Israeli government.  In general terms, almost all Israeli academics find themselves actively or passively supporting the occupation by virtue of Israel’s policy of universal Jewish conscription. (This is a policy that does not democratize the Israeli army, so much as it militarizes Israeli civilian society). Thus, the majority of Israeli academics are military veterans and many will do reserve duty in the Territories.  If they wish to resist serving as part of the occupation forces they can do so by joining the Refusnik organizations.  Very few choose to do so.  More concretely, the Israeli government has turned to academia for occupation administrators (the first “civilian” administrator of the West Bank was Menahem Milson of Hebrew University) and it has used academic demographers, architects, communications experts, medical experts and others to make and carry out policy that sustains occupation.  Then there is  the active role taken by Bar-Ilan University in validating courses given by colleges now being established in illegal settlements                                   

The argument for isolating academia from politics was later augmented with the assertion that “in the end the best way to resolve issues is to pursue dialogue, not boycotts.”  However, one of the reasons the boycott has become necessary is precisely because “dialogue” on the Palestinian issue has been historically stifled.  For decades  Zionists had a near monopoly on the information flow in the West concerning the Palestinian situation. One can still see this in the fact that the vast majority of coverage in the press and on televison, particularly in the United States, gives mostly the Israeli side of the story.  To the extent that this is breaking down, those offering the Palestinian point of view are now consistently labeled anti-Semites and supporters of terrorism.  Indeed, the Zionists in the United States go so far as to threaten the careers of those who vocally challenge them.  Such a libelous approach hardly qualifies the Zionist leadership as defenders of academic freedom.  In truth, what they seek is to maintain a monopoly on the information flow about Israel and Palestine.  This is an environment that discourages dialogue and makes necessary other, more direct and effective tactics seeking justice for the Palestinians.3

Moreover, ‘intellectual exchanges’ have been going on between Israelis and the rest of the world since 1948 and with Zionists for longer than that. It has made not a bit of difference to the oppressive and colonialist policies of successive Israeli governments.  Given this history, even if the Zionists were now to engage in honest “dialogue,” it is unlikely to achieve anything in the future unless, simultaneously, other sorts of pressure are applied.

As noted, one of the earliest tactics to silence and discredit advocates of the boycott has been use of the red herring label of anti-Semitism.  We are told that the boycott of Israel, including the academic boycott, is inherently anti-Semitic ‘in effect if not in intent.’ This argument is based on a dishonest equating of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and conveniently ignores the mounting crescendo of Jewish voices against Zionist and Israeli colonialist practices.4  It also ignores the fact that not only was the boycott call started by Jewish scholars in the United Kingdom (Professors Hilary and Steven Rose), but also that many of the supporters of the boycott are Jewish, a few are even Israeli Jews. Indeed, as many non-Zionist Jews have argued, it is not the pursuit of  legitimate means of protest against violations of human rights by Israel that feeds anti-Semitic discourse.  Rather it is the current Israeli practices and the Zionist colonial project that does so.

 Finally, there was the short lived argument that the issues involved in the conflict between Israel and Palestine are very complex, and a boycott reduces them to overly simplistic dueling camps of good and evil.  This assertion could not be sustained in the light of UN resolutions and the widely documented Israeli violations of international law by Human Rights organizations.  These published findings suggest that the confiscation of land, the destruction of homes and businesses, the act of ethnic cleansing, all relentlessly pursued over the last 60 years, is not “complicated.”  Indeed, it is all horribly simple.  And, because more and more people have come to understand this, the argument based on complexity is now rarely heard.  

Let us now turn to serious issues concerning the objectives, scope and potential effectiveness of the boycott.
 

Consideration of Specific Objections

Argument 1: Futility. The academic boycott is ineffective, it cannot influence the policies of the Israeli government, and will only harden positions due to resentment over outside pressure.

If the first part of this argument were really true, the Zionist response to the boycott effort would not be so strenuous. The Israeli government would not be starting up high powered commissions to counter the boycott, in the U.S. Zionist organizations and spokespersons would not be extending time, energy and money, to label the academic boycott effort as the “hijacking of academic freedom,” and rushing to launch a number of anti-boycott petitions. The near hysterical outcry coming from Zionists indicates a high level of insecurity and fear.  Some Israelis have already acknowledged the potential of the boycott. Senior Israeli economist Yoram Gabai was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, 8 August 2002, as saying: "Faster than expected, we will find ourselves in the time warp of (white-dominated) Rhodesia in the 1970s and South Africa in the 1980s: enforced isolation from without and an isolationism from within....The enormous price of isolation will drag us into withdrawing from the [occupied] territories, either in the context of a peace treaty or without one as a unilateral act.”5  This is not mere speculation on his part.  The power of national isolation, including that of academic isolation, was recently attested to by Frederik de Klerk, the former President of South Africa who initiated the move away from apartheid and toward democracy.  “Suddenly the doors of the universities and libraries [of the world] were closed to our bright students, which stimulated and motivated advocates of change.”6

As Gabai’s prediction suggests, the academic boycott does not work in a vacuum. It is but one component in a broader boycott program that seeks to put pressure on all aspects of Israeli society.  Historically, such a broad approach can be most effective when directed toward democracies, a club to which Israel claims membership.  Here individuals can be encouraged to pressure their governments for changes in behavior. But even so, it takes sustained effort to alter public opinion.  In the case of Israel, this is because internally generated perceptions, much like white South Africa under apartheid, are so inbred that the ability of Israeli citizens to understand the consequences of their national policies on the Palestinians is limited.  As the self-defeating results of the last several Israeli elections point out, a majority of Israelis are literally stuck in a self-reinforcing and distorting information environment where positions cannot get any “harder.” As in the case of South Africa, external pressure is the only non-violent way to move the Israelis to a realization that something is terribly wrong with their outlook and behavior and that there is a need to change both leadership and direction. 

Even if one is skeptical of the ability of Israelis to break out of their perceptual straitjacket, an international boycott targeting all aspects of Israeli society has strong and beneficial symbolic value. Such a boycott raises international consciousness over inhumane and unjust behavior, lets ordinary citizens the world over know that there is a way they can get involved and do something to promote human rights and justice, and serves as a warning for other would be oppressors that it is not only other governments that they need to worry about. In the end, economic and cultural isolation has its own dynamic and, as Gabai fears, can wear away at the resolve of those Israeli elites that fancy themselves players on an international level.

Finally, the academic boycott has obviously been quite effective in generating  heated discussion in many venues (mainstream newspapers, television, student publications, internet discussion lists and blogs).  In this way the negative details of the Zionist enterprise have inevitably forced themselves onto the consciousness of many people, within and outside academia. Thus, even the Zionist efforts to discredit those who support the boycott, and de-legitimize the boycott as a strategy of protest, have unintentionally helped provide a superb forum for debating the facts about Palestine and the occupation. If the boycott achieves nothing more than this it will have achieved a great deal.
 

 Argument 2: Misguided  - The academic boycott targets the wrong people and hurts Palestinians as well as Israelis.  It harms collaborative efforts between Israeli and Palestinian universities.

The assertions that the academic boycott hurts Palestinians and harms collaborative efforts are dubious at best. While in the past there have been minor collaborations between Israeli and Palestinian academic institutions in the Occupied Territories, these have now all but ceased. This is due to inevitable estrangement and suspicion that has come along with the continuing colonization and military domination of the Occupied Territories. Also, Israeli policies forbid the travel of Israeli citizens into the Occupied Territories (except if they are going to and from colonies illegal under international law) and make it extremely onerous for Palestinians in those regions to enter Israel. If the Israelis claim that these policies have been made necessary by the Palestinian uprising, supporters of the boycott answer that the uprising has been made necessary and inevitable by the Israeli occupation and its brutal nature. Part of that brutal nature has been the employment of tactics designed to prevent Palestinian colleges and universities from functioning in any normal manner. These tactics include prolonged shut downs, military raids and travel restrictions that impede students and faculty from reaching campuses.

No organized protest or resistence to this consistent and prolonged attack on Palestinian academia has come from Israeli academic groups, colleges, or universities.  As the late Tanya Reinhart, who served for many years as a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University, and was one of the few Israeli academics to publically stand against Israeli occupation policies, has observed, “Never in its history did the senate of any Israeli university pass a resolution protesting the frequent closure of Palestinian universities, let alone voice protest over the devastation sowed there during the last uprising. It is not that a motion in that direction failed to gather a majority, there was no such motion anywhere in Israeli academia.”7 Even with the qualitative increase in the level of violence used by the Israeli army in the second intifada, Israeli academia continues to do practically nothing to pressure their government.8  There is something markedly hypocritical in the fact that many of those individuals and organizations (Israeli or otherwise) which have so vocally attacked the boycott, have not raised their voices against the destruction of Palestinian academia and society in general.9

The claim that the boycott “targets the wrong people” is a more complicated one and deserves close consideration. Almost all of the complaints registered against the boycott of Israel, academic or otherwise, put forth examples of humane, well intentioned, Israeli individuals (whose existence we certainly acknowledge) who are allegedly being punished unfairly by the boycott (see also discussion of the category of Academic Freedom below).  It is to be noted that the academic boycott’s main targets are Israel’s educational institutions and not individuals per se.  Nonetheless,  there are scholars attached to those institutions who now find it more difficult to place publishable material, particularly in European journals, there are Israeli doctors who now find it more difficult to receive research assistance from abroad, there are Israeli academics who have been asked to leave the boards of scholarly journals, etc. Taken as individual cases, there is no doubt that such situations result in frustration, inconvenience, the disruption of research agendas for a range of individuals, some of whom may not be active supporters of the occupation. Unfortunately this is unavoidable and, given the continuing complicity of Israeli academia in general with the occupation, necessary.  Shahid Alam has put forth this point accurately and succinctly: “I believe it is reasonable and moral to impose temporary and partial limits on the academic freedom of a few Israelis if this can help to restore the fundamental rights of millions of Palestinians.”10

When it comes to hurting the “wrong people,” the most notable cases are those relatively few heroic Israeli academics who have put their careers on the line to stand up against the injustice of their country’s colonial policies.  For example, there is Ilan Pappe. Pappe is a well published instructor who, until recently, was attached to Department of Political Science at Haifa University.  He is strong and vocal supporter of justice for the Palestinians and advocate for political reform in Israel.  Here is what Professor Pappe says about the need for a boycott of Israel: “It is a call from the inside to the outside to exert economic and cultural pressure on the Jewish state so as to bring home the message that there is a price tag attached to the continuation of the occupation.” The academic boycott makes sense to Pappe as “part of the overall campaign for external pressure.”  He continues, “Within such a call, it makes no sense for an activist like myself to call on sanctions or pressure on business, factories, cultural festivals, etc. while demanding immunity for my own peers and sphere of activity – academia.”11  Professor Pappe understands that he may also be hurt by such a boycott, but he recognizes that the sacrifice is necessary given the horrible situation we now find ourselves in.  

In the end, the anti-boycott focus on individuals just creates a red-herring that deflects attention away from the larger, and more important, issue. As Pappe indicates, individual Israelis (and their academic institutions) simply cannot abstract themselves from that larger issue. Israel is their country. Olmert, Sharon, Natanyahu, Barak, Begin, Shamir, etc. were and are their Prime Ministers. The only Prime Minister to take tentative steps in the direction of a just peace, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated. Clearly, the Occupation is their collective sin.  Those, on the outside who support the boycott, understand present day Israel for what it really is – a society that has institutionalized discriminatory policies, created de facto first, second, and third class citizenship categories and has, for forty years now, maintained policies of occupation and colonization that have systematically destroyed Palestinian society. As a consequence, Israeli academic, cultural and sports institutions (and their employees) will now themselves become relatively more isolated. If they find this uncomfortable, there is always an escape route: pay heed to Professors Pappe,  Rinehart and others who point to the horror Israel is causing others and act to change the situation.
 

Argument 3: Academic Freedom - The boycott violates the principle of academic freedom and as such is unacceptable.

The boycott’s impingement on the academic freedom of Israeli scholars has been repeatedly condemned.  It has been called “contemptible,” “ hypocritical,” and “an unacceptable breakdown in the norms of intellectual freedom” (these terms have not been applied by these same critics to the destruction of Palestinian academic freedom).  For simplicity sake, let us work from the statement of Dena S. Davis, a law professor at Cleveland State University, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on April 18, 2003. Davis writes that “Academic boycotts undermine the basic premise of intellectual life that ideas make a difference, and the corollary that intellectual exchanges across cultures can open minds.”12 Unfortunately, there is nothing necessary about the assumption that the “difference” ideas make results in a more humane world or more humane outlooks. Thus, it is not only positive ideas that can make a difference.  As noted above, Israeli Zionists (be they academics or politicians, cultural leaders, businessmen, etc.),  have been interacting with the world outside of Israel since 1948. This sharing of ideas with the outside has made no positive difference in the evolution of Zionist oppression against both Palestinians inside and outside of Israel proper. However, it may very well have made a negative difference and prolonged and deepened Israeli injustice in this regard. Free communication on the part of Zionists has allowed them to build solid support within the American population and its politicians based on racist stereotyping of Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular, as well as the correspondingly gross over-idealization of the Zionist movement and its results. Thus, historically, unimpaired ‘intellectual life’ and ‘exchanges across cultures’ have not only failed to lead to the humanization of Zionism or its policies but have led to the corruption of the political establishment in Washington, D.C.13

This makes problematic the claim that academic freedom somehow operates in a vacuum and, in and of itself, always leads to the good, or the betterment of the world.  Nonetheless,  supporters of the boycott agree that its opposite, the obstruction of the “free flow of ideas” ought to be undertaken only in extreme circumstances.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the situation successive Israeli governments have brought about. Keeping to the realm of academia, proof of the severity of the situation (and the hypocrisy of anti-boycott critics in their failure to face up to it) can be found in the condition of academic life in the Occupied Territories.14 Here, Israel’s illegal occupation has destroyed intellectual life for the Palestinians.  The practice of “exchanging visits” and “talking to each other,” such as it has been over the last 40 years, on the part of Israeli academics have not produced the courage or insight to stand up and protest this destruction. If Israeli academics are truly interested in academic freedom as a valuable principle they should be claiming for the Palestinians the same rights of academic freedom they claim for themselves.  Their pointed failure to do so makes them subject to the general boycott of Israel that is now evolving as a consequence of Israeli policies.

Not taking Israelis policies into consideration is one of the more obvious weak links in the hew and cry over the boycott coming from a wide range of well placed Israelis and Europeans, ranging from politicians to university presidents.15  Like the vast majority of Israeli academics,  none of them has ever raised their voices over the destruction of Palestinian academic freedom at the hands of the Israeli occupation.  Only when it is Israeli academics who are under threat of boycott do these academic knights mount their horses and take up their shields.  As Margaret Pappano of Queens University in Ontario has observed, “you cannot let decades of gross injustices to one side pass and then suddenly leap to the defense of the other side without implicating yourself in a political position.”16  Those who now want to make an issue over academic freedom for Israelis have got to explain where they have been for the past forty years of attacks on Palestinian education in the Occupied Territories.
 

Argument 4: Inconsistency - The boycott adherents unfairly single out Israel while ignoring all other military occupations in places such as Tibet, Chechnya, etc.

How do those who claim that boycott supporters are ‘picking’ on Israel know that they also ignore the behavior of the Chinese in Tibet, Russians in Chechnya, Americans in Iraq, and so on?  Boycott supporters are generally not one issue people and many of us do support well intentioned efforts to isolate other oppressive regimes beyond that of Israel.  However, for a good number of those who support this boycott the struggle against Israeli occupation is a high priority.  There are a number of reasons for this.

First, many of us, Jews, Muslims, Christians, or non-denominational Americans, Europeans, and others, feel a special affinity for Israeli/Palestine. We all have emotional, cultural, or religious ties to the Holy Land, even the non-religious among us. What the Zionists refuse to acknowledge is that the place their mythology makes special for them, is also special to a lot of other folks based on other interpretations of the same myth and other forms of oral and written tradition as well.

Second, one can argue that just because other nations behave badly does not let the Israelis off the hook. After all, the Israelis now have the dubious distinction of running the longest post-WWII occupation in the world. There is no reason why boycott supporters should not start with the problem that has persisted longest and then work backwards.

Third, and most importantly, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis can be seen as more politically important for citizens of the Western nations than other contemporary crises and examples of oppression. This is because Zionist influence spreads far beyond Israel’s area of dominion, and now negatively influences the formulation of Middle East foreign policy in the West. In other words, unlike the Chinese, Russians, and other oppressive regimes, the Israelis and their supporters directly influence (in what we feel is a corrupting way) the policy makers of our own countries. Thus their actions have import beyond the Occupied Territories and potentially affect the lives of ordinary citizens of most Western nations.  This particularly obvious in the case of United States where for the last sixty years the American treasury has been utilized as a bottomless well of “charity” for the Zionist state.  In the United States Zionist lobbies are extremely powerful with both political parties, Congress and the media.  George W. Bush’s his neo-conservative advisers actually see Israel and its illegal, aggressive behavior as a model for their own policies.17
 

Argument 5: Giving Comfort to Terrorists  – The boycott of Israel ignores the (alleged) facts that (A) the Israeli army is in the Occupied Territories as an act of self-defense against suicide bombers and other terrorists and (B) boycott efforts only encourage and lend comfort to these terrorists.

(A) It is highly questionable whether the Israeli army is in the Occupied Territories to protect Israel from terrorists.  Much more likely is the proposition that the IDF is in the Occupied Territories to protect Israel’s colonial settlers who, in turn,  are in the Occupied Territories to possess  “Judea,” “Samaria.” To this end, the IDF is also in the Occupied Territories to prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state.  It is these acts of possession and prevention which produce Palestinian resistence in all its forms.

It should be obvious to anyone not ideologically blinded or misled by a self-censoring Western press that forty years of land confiscation, destruction of crops, houses, and other Palestinian property, the destruction of Palestinian civil society to a point that now approaches cultural genocide, the construction of illegal colonies, and the importation of 100,000s of illegal settlers are not “acts of self-defense.”  On the other hand, one can reasonably define resistence to these actions on the part of the Palestinians (the major part of which has been relatively non-violent but unreported) as in fact acts of self-defense. The international community through the actions of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and the testimony of respected world leaders,  has made it quite clear that Israeli occupation constitutes an on-going case of severe injustice. To cite but one example, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who certainly knows injustice when he sees it, recently declared, “I have been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”  He goes on to condemn the general dispossession of the Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.18  And then Jimmy Carter’s latest book on the Middle East has demonstrated that what stands in the way of peace is Israeli apartheid. 

(B) The charge that boycott efforts encourage or lend comfort to terrorists is entirely ad hoc. How do those who make these claims know that they are true? In fact, it is quite possible that, as Shahid Alam has suggested, the boycott, functioning as a manifestation of “world conscience,” can “mitigate the Palestinian’s deep despair”and hopefully lead to a reduction of violence of both the “colonizer and the colonized.”19  In any case, it bears repeating that the boycott represents a non-violent alternative route to oppose a regime which many people outside of Israel see as itself terrorist.
 

Conclusion

Israeli goals in the occupied territories have always aimed at possession and absorption of these lands.  Israeli behavior, colonialist and oppressive, follows from this fact. One can verify this for oneself by going to any of the human rights organizations that document Israeli policy in the territories, including Israeli organizations, and simply trace the actions of the occupier from 1967 onward.  With the advent of the Sharon government and its successors the scale of destruction and brutality has risen to new and shocking levels.  As Ilan Pappe has observed, under the leadership of Israel’s most recent Prime Ministers the occupation has become “a horror story of abuse and callousness ....The trend is for worse to come, with a sense of an Israeli government that feels it has a ‘green light’ from the United States to do whatever it wishes in the occupied territories.”

These Israeli leaders have been put into power by an overwhelming majority of Israelis.  For instance, in the election of February 2001 Ariel Sharon received 62% of ballots cast. In the January 2003 election the Israeli public reconfirmed their allegiance to radical right wing parties, by once more putting these forces in command of the government. After Sharon’s unexpected death the Israeli citizenry chose as their leaders the close associates of Sharon.  What this electoral history indicates is that the majority of Israelis are either unwilling or unable to understand the real origins of their own insecurity and the nature of the occupation.

It is under these circumstances that outside pressure becomes the only viable way of encouraging change in Israel. Under normal circumstances one would look to the government of the United States, Israel’s ally and patron, to apply the necessary pressure. However, we all know that American leaders are operating under the same delusions as those of Israel as to the nature of and reasons for the occupation. For instance, the prospect of changing the perceptions of the U.S. Congress on this issue is even less likely than dislodging the expansionists form power in Jerusalem.

This leaves us with the strategy of a grassroots, international movement to boycott Israel at all possible levels: economic, cultural, and academic. Those of us who support this effort are proud of our stand and convinced of its just nature and necessity. And, as this detailed article attests, we are willing to defend it against all who would question its validity or the motives of its participants.   
 

Notes


5. “Israelis Feel The Boycott Sting: Creeping Sense of Isolation as Culture, Economy takes hits”

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi_bin/article.cgi?file=chronile/archive/2002/08/06/mn33709.dtl

6. Ha’aretz supplement in English, 16 May 2003 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/shart.jhtml?itemno=293793

7. Z net, 4 February 2003 http://www.Zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=2961&sectionID=22

8. Making reference to the boycott, Tim Shallice, professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, London observed, “Are mainstream [academic and] science organizations in Israel sponsoring fact-finding commissions over Jenin?  Are they publishing detailed analyses of what has been happening over the last 18 months in the Occupied Territories? Are they making clear the long-term dangers of colonist policies?  If the answer to these questions is Yes, then I am wrong to sign [on].”  Http://www.pjpo.org/letter_Shallice.html

9. “No one has of course mention anything about Palestinian freedom of inquiry and the sanctity of the Palestinian academy in this raging debate.  What I have to say about this is particularly relevant to Israeli academics, since the vast majority of them have been carrying on their business as usual for the past 35 years oblivious to what is happening to their Palestinian counterparts, not to mention to the Palestinian nation as a whole.” Lisa Taraki, Lecturer at Birzeit University in the West Bank.  Http://www.pjpo.org/letter_taraki.html

11. Ilan Pappe, “Arguments in Favor of the Boycott,” http://www.solidarite-palestine.org/rdp-int-030131-html

12. Chronicle of Higher Education, 18 April 2003, p. B13

13. It is to be noted that those few very brave Israelis, both academic and non-academic, who have taken a stand against such policies have not done so because they had access to foreign academics or foreigners per se.

15. A partial list of university presidents who have recently raised their voices against the boycott includes Gilles Patry, University in Ottawa; Amy Guttman, University of Pennsylvania; John Casteen, University of Virginia; Lee Bollinger, Columbia University; Karen Hitchcock, Queens University in Ontario; Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, University of California at Berkeley; Principle Heather Munroe-Blum, McGill University in Montreal; and David Skorton, Cornell University.

16. “The Ivory Tower Behind the Apartheid Wall,” posted at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article7124.shtml

17. This position is convincingly argued by Melani McAlister in her book Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East 1945-2000 (University of California Press, 2001).  See also Michael Lind, “The Weird Men Behind George Bush” (New Statesman, 7 April 2003)

18. The Guardian, 29 April 2003