USACBI Newsletter: February 2015

USACBI Newsletter
Volume 1, number 1 (February 2015)Published by the US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
http://usacbi.org

USACBI Launches New Academic and Cultural Boycott Initiatives

In the wake of a flurry of recent successful boycott and divestment votes, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) announces four new initiatives.  At a weekend workshop in November 2014 in Los Angeles, USACBI organizers and supporters devised the following Calls for Action:

1)     “Faculty for Justice in Palestine.” Faculty at UC Davis, Kent State, University of Hawai‘i and Purdue University have launched new faculty, graduate student, and staff organizations dedicated to Palestine solidarity work and supporting SJP organizing.  Alternatively titled “Faculty for Justice in Palestine” or “Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine,” the groups have declared their solidarity with the founding principles of USACBI. These include a call for full equality and civil rights for Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel and those living under Israeli Occupation; an end to the Occupation and dismantling of the Apartheid Wall; and respect for United Nations resolution 194 affirming the “right of return” of Palestinians displaced from their homeland.   USACBI calls on faculty, graduate students, and staff at other universities within and beyond the US to follow the lead of these start-up solidarity formations to provide a structure for local organizing.

2)     “Get 5” initiative.  USACBI asks each of its 1,500 subscribers to its call for boycott to recruit 5 new endorsers.   Raising the number of endorsements constitutes an important way to increase the international pressure on Israel to cease its practices of apartheid, occupation, and ethnic cleansing. Please consider contacting five colleagues in any field, anywhere in the U.S. and ask them to endorse USACBI if they haven’t already done so. We find we have many supporters who simply haven’t taken the time to endorse USACBI formally, and it is important to build our movement at this historic juncture in the BDS movement! Here is the link to share:http://www.usacbi.org/about/

3)    USACBI Speakers Bureau.  USACBI is enlisting volunteers to speak at public events in support of academic and cultural boycott.  Please write to bill.mullen2@gmail.com if you would like to be listed in the Speakers Bureau.

 4)  USACBI Academic Defense Committee.  In response to growing attacks on pro-Palestinian scholars and academic and cultural boycott workers, USACBI has formed a national defense committee.  The committee will provide letters of support, information, and resources, and is part of a coalition of groups that can also provide legal advice and assistance to those facing attacks from employers, students or colleagues.

For more information on these initiatives; for a more complete report on the November USACBI Workshop; or if you have issues related to academic defense, contact Cynthia Franklin at cfranklister@gmail.com or Sunaina Maira at sunainamaira@gmail.com.

Endorsers increase over past year, including Junot Díaz, Chuck D, Naomi Klein, Boots Riley, and Cornel West.

2014 saw a huge increase in prominent endorsers by academics and artists, including Pulitzer-prize winner and recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award, Junot Díaz, who issued this statement:

“If there exists a moral arc to the universe then Palestine will eventually be free but that promised day will never arrive unless we, the justice-minded peoples of our world, fight to end the cruel blight of the Israeli occupation.  Our political, religious and economic leaders have always been awesome at leading our world into conflict, only we the people alone with little else but our courage and our solidarities and our invincible hope can lead our world into peace.”

USACBI wants to Decolonize Knowledge about Palestine

At its Fall 2014 meeting the organizing collective of USACBI discussed the importance of continued education about the question of Palestine in the US public sphere.  The academic and cultural boycott movement confronts not only the strong opposition of Israel and Zionist organizations, but also the weight of “commonsense” knowledge about Palestine in the US which too often represents Palestinians as perpetrators of violence and Israel as a passive and unwilling participants in an historic religious or ethnic conflict.  It remains unpopular in the US to name Israel as a settler colonial project.

While the academic boycott movement has gone a long way to puncture what the late Palestinian critic Edward Said called America’s “last taboo,” it remains the case that a Zionist interpretation of Israel/Palestine continues to dominate academic and public debate about the question of Palestine.  Within this interpretation, Israel is presented as the exemplar of Western enlightenment while Palestine and Palestinians—if they are allowed to exist at all—are represented as the opposite.

Given that one of the claims of the boycott movement is that the question of Palestine should be understood as a colonial question, one that requires decolonization in order to yield justice, USACBI recognizes the importance of creating educational resources to decolonize knowledge about Israel/Palestine.  To this end, USACBI will be working with Palestinian educators and with its distinguished Advisory Board to create an educational toolkit about the question of Palestine that centers Palestinian voices, knowledge, and experience.  It is USACBI’s hope that an educational toolkit can be used by a wide range of audiences interested in asking the “what, how and why” questions about the academic and cultural boycott.  Look for the tool-kit on the USACBI website in the coming year, which also will be distributed to Students for Justice in Palestine chapters.

Updates on Actions for the Academic Boycott

In terms of the academic boycott, 2014 was full of important actions that all demonstrate the increasing attention being paid to the academic boycott in in various fields, due to campaigns spearheaded by USACBI organizing collective members .  Gathered in December in Washington, DC, members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) voted against a resolution that would have closed off discussion of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  Prior to that, over one thousand members of the AAA had signed a statement to support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In one of the largest gatherings in the history of the association (so large that hotel staff had to remove a partition in the meeting room in order to accommodate 700 participants),  “The effort to shut down the boycott discussion backfired spectacularly: members present overwhelmingly voted down the [anti-boycott] measure, which mustered a mere 52 supporters. The atmosphere in the room was electric, as anthropologists from across the profession discussed the boycott and the ongoing violations of Palestinian academic freedom and human rights. Of the 24 members who spoke, three-quarters opposed the resolution, arguing that it was an attempt to shut down a crucial debate.”https://anthroboycott.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/our-liberation-will-not-be-complete-until-everyones-is-a-report-from-the-aaa2014-business-meeting/

Rosalind Petchesky, a member of the National Women’s Studies Association, reported on November 20, 2014, that: “This past week, at the annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a coalition of feminist Palestine solidarity activists—mainly Palestinian and Jewish—succeeded in urging almost the entire attending body of the conference—a hugely diverse group of around 2,300 faculty members and graduate students in Women & Gender Studies from around the country meeting in occupied Puerto Rico—to support a statement concerning injustices in occupied Palestine.”

At the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) in November, in Washington DC, members took an import step towards supporting academic boycott.  As Magid Shihade, a professor at Bir Zeit University and USACBI founding member, notes, “MESA has historically opposed even discussing the boycott as an association.”  Yet during its business meeting, 75 percent of those attending voted for a resolution that supports the rights of individuals, groups, and associations to boycott and be protected against any backlash.  MESA will create a year-long forum for all members to discuss the topic of boycott.  Shihade also reports that MESA intends to “open more space for Palestinians and for topics such as settler colonialism in Israel-Palestine.”  The Associated Press writes: “The organization resolved to remain an open forum for discussion of academic boycotts of Israel and deplored attempts to intimidate those taking part in such activities.”

The Modern Language Association (MLA), one of the largest academic organizations in the world with nearly 24,000 members in one hundred countries, has agreed to formally consider an academic boycott of Israel and academic boycotts in general.  The organization has announced that it will devote considerable time to discuss the specific case of the academic boycott of Israel, and academic boycotts in general, and the right to academic freedom and free speech.  This year’s Delegate Assembly meeting considered topics including, “Institutional and Individual Boycotts: How Can the MLA Approach This Issue?,” “What Is the Relation of Boycotts to Academic Freedom?,” and “How Should the MLA Respond to Problems with Faculty Governance and Retaliation against Public Speech?”  As USACBI organizer David Lloyd reports, straw polls during the discussion all indicated that the organization is growing more and more receptive to the idea of an academic boycott. The delegates in fact voted overwhelmingly that academic boycotts help, rather than harm, academic freedom.

Within a week, a Facebook group, “MLA Members for Justice in Palestine,” <https://www.facebook.com/groups/MLAM4JP/> enlisted over 600 members; a group of the same name was established on the MLA Commons website to organize for the boycott http://commons.mla.org/groups/mla-members-for-justice-in-palestine/, and a Twitter account, @MLAM4JP quickly got more than one hundred followers. Please consider joining these groups.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just named the American Studies Association to its “2014 Influence List,” commenting: “As national organizations go, the American Studies Association is fairly small. But its impact this year on political discourse has been outsized. By voting in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, its 18-member executive body provoked a bitter debate nationally and internationally, within higher education and beyond.”  As current ASA president Lisa Duggan, a professor at New York University, notes in that piece: “”We got into the mainstream press and triggered a number of conversations not visible before about Israel-Palestine. In that sense we had done what we wanted to do.” What the ASA has done, in endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement through its support for academic boycott, has been to launch a new and unprecedented national discussion on the issue of Israel-Palestine, one that promises only to gain volume in 2015. This year’s ASA was also notable for its number of panels that included a focus on Israel and Palestine (over 17), including one specifically focused on USACBI and the history of academic boycotts.

Report from the American Historical Association

Baby steps, not Boycott:
“Historians against the War” Initiatives at the American Historical Association*

Report by Sherna Berger Gluck**
Historians against the War (HAW) asserted its political conscience at the recent American Historical Association conference. HAW introduced two resolutions for consideration at the Business Meeting.

The members of the Palestine-Israel Working Group and the HAW Steering Committee were inspired by the Middle East Studies Association’s (MESA) resounding vote on the right of academics to support the boycott. Taking a different tack, however, they formulated two separate resolutions: Resolution on protecting the right to education in Palestine-Israel, and Resolution on academic freedom of U.S. citizens visiting Israel and Palestine.

Although the resolutions were not voted on at the Business Meeting of AHA , the way has been paved for ongoing discussion, and Vicki Ruiz, the new AHA president who attended the panel discussion organized about Palestine, committed to using half of her six presidential sessions to the question of Palestine.

HAW P-I Working Group members are now discussing our next steps, including organizing panels for the spring meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) as well as submitting resolutions .

* Although this report is based on the accounts of various HAW members, especially Van Gosse, who carried the two resolutions to the Business Meeting, the opinions expressed are mine alone.
**Gluck, a founding member of USACBI is a member of the HAW P-I Working Group.

UAW 2865’s Historic Vote for Divestment

On December 10th, 2014, UAW 2865, the University of California Student-Worker Union, approved the call for divestment.  The union issued thisstatement:

“UAW 2865, a labor union representing over 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors, and other student-workers at the University of California, has become the first major U.S. labor union to hold a membership vote responding to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli occupation and in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination. The vote passed, with 65% (almost 2/3) of voting members in support. Over 2100 members voted, a testament to union democracy.

The measure calls on

the University of California to divest from companies involved in Israeli occupation and apartheid;
the UAW International to divest from these same entities;
the US government to end military aid to Israel.
52 % of voting members also pledged not to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel” until such time as these universities take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid.

1136 members pledged to observe the academic boycott, a reflection of the ways student laborers are taking concrete actions to practice solidarity.

In July, the union’s Joint Council, comprised of 83 elected officers across nine UC campuses, published an open letter outlining support for the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) “against public institutions and corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid and occupation of Palestinians.” This open letter announced it would seek a membership vote on the matter in the coming academic year. The UAW 2865 Joint Council took these steps in response to a call for solidarity from all major Palestinian trade unions, including the Palestinian University Teachers’ Association, The Joint Council’s open letter was followed by four months of internal debate prior to the election and deep engagement by members statewide…

UAW 2865 joins several labor unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, UNITE New Zealand, CUPE in Canada, COSATU in South Africa and many dockworker unions around the world. It also joins growing grassroots voices in the US labor movement including rank and file members of the International Longshore Workers’ Union Local 10 that supported community pickets and successfully blocked Israeli ships from unloading goods this past summer, similar to their historic involvement in the anti-South African apartheid movement, and hundreds of labor organizers who signed onto the Labor for Palestine statement.

Within the UAW itself, Local 2865 follows the precedent of Arab-American auto workers in Detroit in 1973 who protested the union’s purchase of Israeli bonds financing the seizure of Palestinian lands. Just as black workers at Polaroid in the US launched a boycott of their company for helping make apartheid passbooks for South Africans, we support workers in other UAW-unionized industries in pressuring their employers to commit to socially responsible business practices so that the illegal occupation of Palestinians comes to an end.”

Successful Student Divestment Initiatives at UC Davis, Stanford, and Northwestern

The University of California-Davis student government voted on January 29 to divest from Israel.  Davis is the seventh UC campus to divest.  Within days of the vote, the University of California Student Association, representing students all of the students in the UC system, voted 9-1 to divest.

Stanford and Northwestern University student governments also voted to divest this month, soon after the UC Davis vote.

http://dailynorthwestern.com/2015/02/19/campus/after-debate-associated-student-government-senate-narrowly-passes-nudivest-resolution-bds-divestment-northwestern/

http://www.soopalestine.org/updates/stanford-student-senate-votes-to-divest-from-occupation-of-palestine

The tidal wave of BDS resolutions evidences the strength of this movement on campuses and in academic associations across the US, underscoring that this is a movement that has galvanized student and faculty organizing, generated new coalitions or strengthened existing ones, and provided an important language of dissent to policies of warfare, displacement, and annihilation, here and in Israel-Palestine.

Statement: Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors wholeheartedly endorses #StanfordDivest
2/10/2015One month ago, I stood in the Biblical city of Nazareth with a delegation of Black and brown freedom fighters from Ferguson, Florida and across the US. We sang in the spirit of Ella Baker, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

I visited Palestine in solidarity with a people living under occupation, siege and dehumanization. I remember learning about the level of violence and militarization when I was younger, but I knew that I needed to visit Palestine in order to be present and bear witness to the role the United States has played in the murder and genocide of a people. No studying could prepare me for the level of violence and trauma that exists inside Palestine.

I saw that there are two different systems in occupied Palestine–two completely different systems. Folks are unable to go to parts of their own country. Folks are barred from living in their own country. TheBlack Lives Matter movement can benefit greatly by learning about struggles outside of the U.S., but particularly the Palestinian struggle.

It is in this context that I offer my wholehearted support to students at Stanford University as you vote to divest from multinational corporations that profit from the Occupation of Palestine. This is incredibly important work not only for the liberation of Palestinians, but towards justice for oppressed people around the world who have suffered similar histories of dispossession, discrimination, and dehumanization.

Divestment is an action that everyday people of conscience around the world can take to show that we have not abandoned Palestinians, and that cannot ignore their condition regardless of how much the global power structures that represent us have. It as a tactic that we can use – and have used throughout history – as people committed to struggling against injustice. Today Stanford has the opportunity to shift away from an oppressive status quo and I urge you to follow through with your historical imperative.

While I understand that the Stanford resolution takes no stance on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, I would like to express my support for it. My fellow delegates to Palestine and I made a commitment during our trip to supporting the to end systemic human rights abuses against Palestinians through BDS. Our endorsement followed two weeks after Dream Defenders unanimously voted to participate in this grassroots movement. BDS is an oppressed people’s call for support and we have a moral obligation to respond in our own specific ways.

While I have always been international in my focus for liberation, recent trips have shown me how to put struggle across national borders into practice. This year alone, I have had the opportunity to take Black Lives Matter abroad to Palestine, to the United Kingdom, and to Ireland. A week ago, I participated in an action to shutdown the headquarters of G4S, a company targeted by your divestment resolution for its violations against Palestinians and communities of color in the US. After shutting down the lobby, we occupied the street in front and made connections between law enforcement and private security in the UK, Ferguson and Palestine.

The necessary connections we draw between people under struggle do not negate the specific histories of those communities. We understand the specificities of our struggles but we also understand that oppression is oppression.

Divestment is not a declaration that Palestinian lives matter more than Israeli ones; it is an affirmation that Palestinian lives matter. Period. In order to have any peace with justice, we have to address the needs of the most marginalized by our societies. For some, confronting the role of their communities in this marginalization may be uncomfortable–it may even be completely at odds with the narratives they grew up with. But this discomfort cannot impede the freedom of another people.

Palestinians have lived behind physical and invisible walls for too long. In 2015, it is time for those walls to come down and it is time for the occupation to end.

Stanford, Divest.

Yours in Power,

Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac
Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter
Executive Director, Dignity and Power Now

http://www.soopalestine.org/updates/black-lives-matter-co-founder-patrisse-cullors-wholeheartedly-endorses-stanforddivest

Published by the US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
http://usacbi.org

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