Academic Boycott of Israel

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Occupation Views: 1357

In early April 2002, moved by the massacres in Jenin and the wanton destruction of civilian infrastructure in West Bank cities by invading Israeli forces, two British academics, Hilary Rose and Steven Rose, circulated a call--posted at an academic boycott of Israel.

This campaign was directed mostly at European academics, and so when it reached me nearly two months later, in the first week of July, there were only six American academics among the signatories. I carefully read the boycott statement, which entailed non-cooperation with "official Israeli institutions, including universities," and decided to sign on to the list. I also forwarded the call to academics on my mailing list.

Most of the friends on my mailing list just ignored the call. Only two responded, and both were more than a bit troubled that I should support such a thing. One described this campaign as "destructive," another objected that this was an "attack" on academic freedom. And once my name was on the list of signatories, I promptly received two pieces of hate mail. One of the two, from India.

A few days later I came across a counter petition initiated by Leonid Ryzhik, a mathematics lecturer at University of Chicago. In an interview published in The Guardian, May 27, he said that the boycott campaign was "immoral, dangerous and misguided, and indirectly encourages the terrorist murderers in their deadly deeds." And this week, in The Nation, August 5-12, Martha Nussbaum, an eminent ethical philosopher, wrote that she felt "relaxed" to be in Israel, where she had gone to receive an honorary degree from the University of Haifa, "determined to affirm the worth of scholarly cooperation in the face of the ugly campaign."

Having declared my support for the academic boycott of Israel, I believe I must now explain why I can not view this campaign as "destructive," "ugly" or supportive of "terrorist murderers." On the contrary, I see this as a moral gesture, part of a growing campaign by international civil society to use its moral force to nudge Israelis, to awaken them to the ugly and destructive reality of their Occupation, which has now lasted for more than thirty-five years and shows no sign of ending any time soon. At last, the cumulative weight of Palestinian suffering has begun to break through the crust of Israeli protestations of innocence. Although tardy, world conscience is now preparing to engage Israeli intransigence.

Increasingly, the world outside United States understands that Israel is not a 'normal' country. The Zionist movement sought to establish an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine, a land inhabited almost entirely by Palestinian Arabs in 1900. Since no people yet has been known to commit collective suicide, this could only be accomplished by conquest and ethnic cleansing. This is how Israel emerged in 1948, through conquest and ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians.

Yet this was not enough. Although Israel now sat on 78 percent of historic Palestine, this fell short of Zionist goals. In 1967 this shortfall was corrected when Israel, after defeating Egypt, Syria and Jordan, occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Another, smaller campaign of ethnic cleansing was rolled into this second round of conquests.

Although the Security Council promptly passed a resolution, calling for Israeli withdrawal from the territories it had occupied in 1967, this never had any teeth. Impressed by Israeli rout of Arab nationalist forces, United States deepened its partnership with Israel and promptly rewarded Israel by doubling its military and economic assistance.

As a result, thirty-five years later, Israel still remains in 'Occupation' of West Bank and Gaza. In reality, this Occupation is merely a fiction, a farcical cover under which Israel buys time, time which it uses to insert armed Israeli settlers, to increase Israeli control and ownership of Palestinian lands, to push the Palestinians into ever shrinking enclaves, to escalate the violence against Palestinian resistance, and to deepen the misery of Palestinian lives till they can be forced to flee their homes.

The logic of the Occupation is brutal, and it should be transparent to all but the purblind. If Palestinian demography prevents annexation, and if Palestinians cannot be expelled in one fell swoop--as they had been in 1948--then the same results can still be achieved by forcing the Palestinians into Bantustans. If a million Palestinians can live in Gaza, a strip of 100 square miles, the two million in West Bank can be pushed into similar enclaves, freeing 90 percent of the West Bank for Jewish settlers. It is about time that we gave up the fiction of the Occupation, and describe this oppressive regime by its proper name. This is Aparthied: one country with two systems of laws, one for the colonizers and one for the colonized.

I have two objectives in rehearsing, though ever so briefly, this narrative of Palestinian dispossession. First, it is a narrative that has been denied repeatedly and falsified massively by Zionists. It therefore needs to be affirmed, simply and forcefully, again and again, in the expectation that world conscience will bear witness to the Zionist project of wiping out the Arab presence from Palestine to make room for Jewish settlers.

Once this narrative is affirmed; once it becomes clear that the destruction of Palestinians was necessary--and always known to be necessary and accepted as necessary--for Israel to emerge as an exclusive Jewish state; once it is admitted that the dispossession of Palestinians has involved wars, ethnic cleansing, massacres, villages destroyed, cities besieged, homes demolished, children maimed and killed, prisoners tortured, ambulances bombed, journalists targeted, municipal records destroyed, and trees uprooted; once all this destructiveness--already accomplished, and more of it unfolding everyday--is recognized the protestations about the "destructiveness" or "ugliness" of an academic boycott of Israel become insupportable, indeed unconscionable.

Mr. Leonid Ryzhik, of the University of Chicago, argues that academic boycott "indirectly encourages the [Palestinian] terrorist murderers in their deadly deeds." Does he mean to say that this boycott "indirectly encourages" the Palestinian resistance; and anything that questions, delays or weakens the extension of the Zionist project to the West Bank and Gaza must be challenged, and neutralized? It must be affirmed in the face of such posturing that resistance is a right of the Palestinians, as it was of all colonized peoples who faced dispossession. Of necessity, dispossession is implemented by force--unless this project is aided by pathogens; and, it follows, that resistance to the colonizer must be violent.

The question is not, why do the Palestinians resist, or why do they resist by violent means? There is a different question before world conscience. Why have we for fifty years abandoned the Palestinians to fight their battles alone, beleaguered by a colonizer whom they cannot fight alone? Why have we allowed the Palestinians to be battered, exiled from their lands, herded into camps--in villages and towns that have been turned into concentration camps--exposed to the mercy of a colonizer who freely draws upon the finances, political support and military arsenal of the world's greatest power? In despair, marginalized, pauperized, facing extinction as a people, if the Palestinians now use the only defense they have--to weaponize their death--who is to blame?

And if now world conscience shows the first signs of acting on behalf of the Palestinians, we can hope that this will mitigate the Palestinian's deep despair. When the young Palestinians learn that academics the world over, that young people on campuses in Britain, France, Canada, and United States are stirring on their behalf, this will convince them that they are not alone; and once they are so convinced, they may be persuaded to renounce their acts of desperation. The academic boycott of Israel uses non-violent means, it leverages moral suasion, to reduce the violence of the colonizer as well as the colonized.

There are people who are shouting "Foul" at the academic boycott on the plea that this curtails the academic freedom of Israelis. I will readily admit that it does; this boycott is expected to work by shrinking some of the international avenues available to Israeli scientists for pursuing their work. Still it must be emphasized that this curtailment is temporary; it will end the moment Israel ends its Occupation. It is also limited in its scope. It only seeks to limit some of the advantages Israeli scientists derive from their interactions with the global scientific community. It does not threaten any fundamental academic freedoms.

This infringement of academic freedom--temporary and limited as it is--must be seen in a broader framework. I will readily concede that academic freedom is an important value, a value that all humane societies should cherish. But there are other values that we cherish, other values that may even be more important, more fundamental than the right to academic freedom. 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--their right to life, to their property, to their lands, to freedom of movement within their own country, to sovereign control over their destiny, and to equal treatment under the law. This can only be denied if we confess to a disproportion in the value we accord to Israeli and Palestinian rights.

One might, of course, argue that this boycott is wasted effort, since it can have no appreciable impact on Israeli society and policies. This is a question about the efficacy of the boycott. There can be little question that Israeli scientists value the esteem and cooperation of the world's scientific community as well as access to international funding. It can therefore be expected that if the boycott spreads, this can begin to reduce the effectiveness of Israeli scientists. Perhaps more important, it is unlikely that Israeli polity can ignore the message that the boycott sends to them: that Israeli violations of Palestinian rights are repugnant, and will not be allowed to stand.

At the same time, I refuse to be cowed by invocations about the 'sanctity' of academia. More than ever before, universities help to reproduce the power structures of their societies; they are a potent source of ideologies of imperialism, race and class exploitation. Israeli universities are no exception. Through their links with the military, the political parties, the media and the economy, they have helped to construct, sustain, and justify the Apartheid. I might have hesitated in adding my name to the boycott if I knew that Israeli academics had taken the lead in organizing rallies, in organizing sit-ins, and passing resolutions protesting the Occupation, or that they had refused to work on projects that serve the Occupation. To the contrary, Israeli academia, on the whole, has shown that it is a party to the Occupation.

The academic boycott offers one of the few handles available to international civil society for seeking to end the Occupation. Israel has pursued policies in the Occupied Territories that would have invited economic sanctions, and even military intervention, against another country. America's capitulation to the Israeli lobby has meant that Israel can wage war against a civilian population--using bombs, rockets, tank shells, and artillery fire--with impunity. Abandoned, isolated, beleaguered and unarmed, a few Palestinian men and women have responded to this massive force by weaponizing their own death, provoking still greater violence against themselves. But, paradoxically, this has also pushed world conscience into taking notice of the affront to humanity that is the Israeli Occupation. The academic boycott is one small step the detribalized world is now taking to stop this affront, a step that all men and women who have risen above tribalism should welcome.

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. His second book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations was published by Palgrave (2000). He may be reached at [email protected]. Copyright: M. Shahid Alam.

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Occupation
Views: 1357

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Older Comments:
just one word to describe it - brilliant,
also please please keep up this excellent work to uncover the REAL truth & more importantly - make people aware of it..

thank you for taking the time and effort the highlight this injustice in this part of the world your actions show a great courage to highlight these, especially when you are taking a nonconforming to the views of the world most countries- america and israel. i only wish the all the UN resolutions are enforced just as vigorously as ones as Iraq. The american government needs to understand that it has great reponsibility as the world most powerful nation and if it wants the respect from all the people of the world then it must act fairly and firmly against all nations that do not conform to UN resolutions. The fact it has failed to do so in Israel's case has caused it to lose the moral ground that it once so proudly stood upon under the banner of the World Police. i hope the american people will do everthing in their power to bring thier Govt to follow the principles of justice and fairness. Thats what America stands for and that is what it should do. It may lose the financial support of some lobbies but i it will win the hearts and minds of the people of the world, especially in the Arab world.

Dr. Alam's article is well written and thought provoking.
Contrary to popular Israeli belief that they are entitled to all of Palestine and present day Israel, since Muslims "got" 99% of the Ottoman Empire, in 1922 Jews consisted of less than 2% of the population of Tranjordan and Palestine.
The indigenous Arab population, Christian and Muslim made up over 70% of the poulation and owned 93% of the land.
The United Nations partitioning plan (Nov. 29, 1947) was a recommendation, not a binding law.
After bringing in Jews from Europe and Russia, Israel declared itself a Jewish State on May 15, 1948, the newcomers expelling 350,000 Christians and Muslims, and then 450,000 people more.
Despite this, the Palestinian leadership and Arab League has long since recognized Israel's right to exist within its pre-1967 borders.
However according to Israeli group Peace Now, Sharon has built 30 new Jewish settlements since the violence in March, adding to the existing 200,000.
Israel's and Clinton's "Peace Deal" that Arafat rejected did NOT consist of the mythical "90%" of the West Bank, it consisted of Palestinian cantons crisscrossed with settler only roads and checkpoints. (see Naom Chomsky's writings on this "Peace Deal.")
As for the unwavering American support, Israel admittied to bombing and American carrier in the 67 war in an attempt to frame Egypt and currently gives protection to J. Pollack, a US spy who stole military secrets from the US for Israel and then sold them to the Russians.

to be a (good?) scholar does not mean to be a truthful objective analyst, knowing the historical background and present realities. What about the openly proclaimed final goal of Arabs to destruct and destroy Israel, whatever the negotiations, agreements, actions, measures, concessions, etc. might be? This is a usual arab lie, distortion of the obvious facts and ugly emotional bullshit. The author tries to apply the civilized western notions to the people guided by absolutely diffrent moral code and pursade the entire world in Israel "atrocities". Israel must act harder and tougher with arab muslim criminals, because arabs understand only one argument-force. A piece of advise to the author-change the name.

I think ur article about the academic boycott of israel is absolutely brilliant. I am a british muslim and I feel very strongly about the abuse and torture the palestinians have been subjected to. When I read articles like this, it brings hope to me and I believe it brings hope to all the muslims in the world who feel the pain the palestinians are feeling. I hope one day that students around the world stand up for the rights of the palestinians and force their governments to take actions against the zionists rather then funding them. I thought that the attacks on the world trade centre may have opened the eyes of the American and European community about the situation in the middle east, but instead the Americans have used 9/11 as a pretext for an attack on Iraq! and worse of all the public opinion in America seems to suggest that they are in favour of this attack. I cannot understand how people can sit on their hands and allow their elected governments to carry out such atrocities around the world. People who's governments aid organisations such as the zionist entity should realise that they are responsible for what actions their elected governments take, because after all they were the ones who elected them. If Americans allow their government to fund Ariel Sharons party of murderers and allow its government to pick and choose the leaders in the Arab world just so that they can satisfty their own interests such as oil, then they too have to realise that attacks such as 9/11 will continue to be aimed against America and its people.

I hope you the best.

Salam aluaikum.

An excelent paper. I wish the Israelis could revisit their treatment by Hitlor and see that they are giving the Palestinians similar treatment. God will never forgive an opressor.

well i strongly support the international movement to isolate Israel and like many other people feel that Israel has to shamed into treating the Palestinians with more human dignity.
It is a racist and apartheid state and zionism is evil and must be destroyed before it destroys the world.

dont be disingenuous....

The Ottoman Empire was carved up in the last century...Muslims got 99%, Christians shared in Lebanon (see where that got them), and Jews got less than 1%. All these people were citizens of the Ottoman Empire.

Islam is humiliated by Jewish and Christian success and the loss of lands they consider Ummah, which seems to be anywhere a muslim spit.

The only difference between Israel and all the other countries created by the Europeans in the ME, is religion of the majority.

Imagine, Jews being a minority in Islamic countries, dhimmi to the vulgar, arrogant primitive brutality of the arabs.
Not any more.

What I want to see is Jewish academics refusing to teach Muslims.

And I want to see Muslims being treated in the west, they way Muslims treat minorities in their homelands.

Christians and Jews under the "protection" of Islam.

God bless you and all of those boycotting (and resisting/fighting) the zionist occupation of Palestine. May God make humanity victorious over the cowards and give Americans more sense to see where their billions are going....killing, cleansing, bombing, destroying our brave people in Occupied PALESTINE. Bless you all and keep it up

i 100% back any action against this disgusting nazi loving zionist state. As a nEnglish conver to islam, i know how beautiful the palestinian people are and i take my hat off to the suicide bombers for trying to win freedom. We should not support action against Saddam but should be bombing Sharon. Israel has more UN resolutions than any other country put together. ...

Excellent article. Brother Shahid is absolutely right. It is blatantly apparent that Israeli academia condone the occupation; Had they not acquiesced and accepted its precepts, it could not be maintained.

The academic boycott can be an essential weapon, and can only succeed IF it can become a collective, global effort, as brother Shahid has envisioned.

This is perhaps the one feasible thing that, if done by international society, would coerce Israel to end its brutal, cruel occupation of Palestinian lands, and to give fundamental freedoms and rights to the people it has sordidly subjugated, dispossessed, and dehumanized for so long.

The Palestinian struggle is not just a Palestinian or Arab struggle. It is the just, noble struggle of ALL Muslims and indeed all humane and conscious people throughout the world.

Similarly, the fight for self-determination and basic human rights in Kashmir, Chechnya, etc., is the fight of all Muslims and all people.

Wherever blameless and innocent people are being wantonly oppressed and persecuted - whether they are Muslims or not Muslims - it is the duty of Islam and Muslims to help them, and to free them from the fetters of tyrants. The Prophet, may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him, said, "Help the oppressed, whether they are of you or not of you."

So one of the chief reasons Islam was sent was to liberate all oppressed peoples.

Inshallah, with diligent and strenous effort, this academic boycott can burgeon and thus have its clout and impact considerably increased.

As salam u aliakum
- Sohaib