USACBI Newsletter, July 2015

USACBI Newsletter
Volume 1, number 2 (July 2015)
Published by the US Campaign for Academic and Cultural

1.    Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of BDS call and the Creation of USACBI

Challenging the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctionsmovement is the most powerful force for Palestinian rights today that has galvanized communities around the world to join a grassroots struggle.  Linking Israel’s acts of colonial violence, displacement, and dispossession in 1948 and 1967 and its ongoing policies of warfare and enclosure to the continuing racist persecution of Palestinians by the apartheid state, the aims of BDS are:

•    Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;

•    Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;

•    Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

What led to the founding of this effort?  As noted on the BDS website,

For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation. Despite abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN, other international bodies, and preeminent human rights organisations, the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable and enforce compliance with basic principles of law. Israel’s crimes have continued with impunity.

In view of this continued failure, Palestinian civil society called for a global citizens’ response. On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s historic advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law.

In the course of the past decade, BDS has steadily and dramatically gained support from individuals and groups worldwide as an expression of solidarity with Palestine, and this support has been manifested in a range of boycott and divestment campaigns in response to the call from Palestinian civil society. While some may describe BDS as primarily an arsenal of strategies and tactics, it is also an important platform for grassroots groups–students, artists, scholars, trade union workers, members of religious organizations–to refuse complicity with a modern colonial regime that has exceptionalized itself in its unrelenting violence against the Palestinian people.

Perhaps the most difficult site in which to organize against Israel is of course the United States, a country that has a long, established tradition of unequivocal support for Israel, a country that annually gives Israel $3 billion in aid and more in terms of indirect financial and economic aid; and a country whose veto power grants Israel immunity in the UN and other world bodies.  And that is why the US Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel is so critical.

For this issue of our July 2015 newsletter, on the tenth anniversary of BDS, we asked two of the founding members of USACBI to share something of the history of that seminal moment.  We also asked a current member of the Organizing Collective to take stock of where we are today.

Sherna Berger Gluck writes, “In January 2009, following the horrendous Israeli assault on Gaza and the ensuing massacre –  which has now been overshadowed by the 2014 massacre – thirteen California scholars declared that enough was enough. Most of us had been engaged in the California Scholars for Academics Freedom network, but only a handful of those in the network were ready to take the next step and join the original fifteen endorsers who initiated USACBI. Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and co-founder of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, mocked us, scoffing “The danger is not these 15; the danger is if it (the USACBI) becomes 500” (New York Jewish Daily, February 4, 2009).

Well, we might have started with just the original fifteen founding members, but in just over 18 months USACBI reached that dangerous number of 500 endorsers from American academia, and today our ranks number over 1200. More than that, today numerous professional academic organizations have passed academic boycott resolutions and others are beginning to have substantial discussions. It is not just the academic and cultural boycott that has taken off, student divestment campaigns are mushrooming and grassroots boycott campaigns have been burgeoning and marking some successes. So even here, in the belly of the beast, ten years after the BDS call, advocates of justice for Palestinians are shaking things up.”

Another founding member, Magid Shihade, writes:

“We pushed to create USACBI with the conviction that the debates around Israel-Palestine in the US academy have only led to further normalization of the Israeli settler colonial state, and have directly or indirectly contributed to the further dispossession of the Palestinians. We also realized that without an organizing structure, all the disparate attempts by many concerned academics critical of Israel would not be effective in shifting the debate around the question of Palestine and opening a space that has been constricted by censorship in the academy. In a sense, USACBI was also an attempt to counter the already existing boycott of not only Palestinians in Palestine (by Israel), but also of Palestinians in the US–through the denial of academic jobs, silencing, blacklisting, and backlash against those who dare speak openly about Palestine-Israel.

I am happy to say that since the start of USACBI and as a result of that, the debate has witnessed major shifts, and I think academic boycott resolutions and the debates around the topic of boycott in different associations will only increase and expand.  We are at a point of no return, and it is only a matter of time before boycotting Israeli institutions will become a fact that will be hard to counter.”

USACBI: Where We are Today

The rapid expansion of the academic and cultural boycott movement is astonishing to many, and a cause of great consternation to opponents of BDS, but it is a movement that is long overdue in the US.  In the last two years, the academic boycott in particular has made national and international headlines due to USACBI-led campaigns to get US professional academic associations to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Following on the heels of the Association of Asian American Studies and American Studies Association boycott resolutions, a slew of national academic organizations have endorsed the call for academic boycott initiated by USACBI. Most recently, the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) endorsed a historic resolution in support of the academic boycott by a unanimous vote of its membership. The significance of these resolutions is that the boycott has become a node of academic activism in different fields that has brought together critical race studies, indigenous, antiwar, feminist, queer, and left scholars and become an important plank of movements challenging the neoliberal, militarized academy.

As BDS organizing has spread like wildfire across the US academy, the academic boycott movement has significantly challenged the lockdown on open discussion of Palestine and Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid. This has been accompanied by an influx of new endorsers and organizers from a range of disciplines and fields. USACBI today has over 1200 academic endorsers and over 400 endorsements by cultural workers. Its Organizing Collective includes about 25 individuals—scholars, students, artists, and activists—from across the US who work in different fields. We now have organizers representing most regions of the US but there are still gaps to be filled and room to grow. If you are interested in working with us, either on the national or regional/local level, please get in touch.

The backlash against the academic boycott and BDS, that intensified with the victory in the American Studies Association as well as the successes of the divestment movement on campuses, has also galvanized faculty and students to work together in defense of BDS. This mobilization culminated powerfully in the national campaign in support of Dr. Steven Salaita, a member of our Organizing Collective, and an eloquent public proponent of the boycott. Salaita’s firing by the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign in fall 2014 sparked a vigorous effort in his defense, with several USACBI organizers in the lead, that included a boycott of UIUC for its unprecedented violations of academic freedom. Following this campaign, and building on the work done earlier in support of the ASA boycott, USACBI has formed an Academic Defense Committee that is working in coalition with other organizations, including the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Academic Advisory Council, Palestine Legal, the Open University Project, and members of the National Lawyers Guild. Our Committee has a special focus on supporting and defending scholars who face backlash due to support of the academic boycott and working with students and faculty alike to challenge repression of the BDS movement.

Our organizing in the U.S. is part of a global movement that includes similar academic boycott organizations in other countries. USACBI now has official liaisons with BRICUP (British Committee for Universities in Palestine) in the UK, AURDIP (Association of Academics for the Respect of International Law in Palestine) in France, and InCACBI (Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel). We also, of course, work closely with  PACBI (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel). We note that there are active academic boycott movements in South Africa as well as Australia and we look forward to partnering with campaigns in other countries as more and more academics around the world decide to end complicity with Israeli apartheid and colonial violence.

2.     Faculty for Justice in Palestine Reports

Last fall, at our first national workshop in Los Angeles, USACBI issued a call for academic and cultural boycott supporters on college campuses around the country to form Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP) groups, to develop a structure for organizing by faculty, graduate students, and staff to support SJP and BDS activism, especially the academic boycott; challenge academic repression of the Palestine question; and create a network of solidarity linking faculty and students. By now, we know of FJP chapters at UC Davis, the University of Hawai‘i, and Purdue.

In May 2015, FJP at UC Davis organized a workshop on “Palestine, Campus Repression, and Academic Precarity.” The event featured presentations by faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and community activists on the increasing precarity of academic labor and disciplining of faculty and students engaged in Palestine solidarity activism; the links between securitization, police violence, and surveillance in the US and Palestine-Israel; and the BDS movement on campus as well as the repression and backlash it faced since the divestment resolution was passed at Davis in January. Snehal Shingavi of UT Austin and Roberto Hernandez of San Diego State spoke at the workshop on the politics of solidarity, colonialism and border violence, and academic repression. Emma Rubin of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) shared a report on “The Business of Backlash: The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and Other Movements for Social Justice.” The event was cosponsored with SJP, the Davis Unit of UAW 2865, MEChA, Davis Stands with Ferguson, and IJAN, and provided a space for linking different movements on campus as well as collective strategizing and solidarity.

In November, 2014, the newly formed FJP chapter at the University of Hawai ‘i was one of the co-sponsors of a talk by Noura Erakat, entitled  “The Legal Anatomy of Israeli Settler-Colonialism.” This was followed by responses from Andre Perez and ‘Ilima Long, both PhD candidates in Political Science and members  of Movement for Aloha No ka ʻĀina (MANA), and a discussion about connections and differences that characterize settler colonialism and occupation in Palestine and Hawai’i.

We urge you to consider organizing workshops and events on your campus, and if you have events or updates to report from your FJP chapter, please contact us to let us know.

3.     Solidarity Between Students and Faculty: Protecting a Space for Justice,  a Report by Lena Ibrahim (Member of the USACBI Organizing Collective and Founder of Students for Justice in Palestine of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia)

My university is in the U.S. but not far away from my occupied homeland. Sometimes I feel as if the Israeli occupation follows me around. It is as haunting as it sounds but it is no joke. As a Palestinian American college student I understand the vital role universities across the US play in supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This is why organizing on campus to educate students, while also condemning the institutional relationship our universities have with the horrifying structures of Israeli apartheid, has become central to my identity as an American student. The Israeli occupation may follow me around but so too does my will to resist.

When I first began organizing on campuses with Students for Justice in Palestine a couple of years ago, the last place I thought to look for support was among professors and faculty. The harsh reality of Palestine work is that it is rarely easy to do and that you may have a lot to lose for doing it. This applies to both students and faculty.  As a Palestinian student, it was my impression that faculty members were inaccessible to our movement. I had encountered many professors who spoke only about Israel while working to silence our voices as Palestinian organizers on campus.

I believe there was and–despite the changes occurring–continues to be a climate in which US academics’ implied support for Palestine takes the form of silence. At least that was my perception as an undergraduate. Many professors who wanted to organize around Palestinian rights didn’t know how, or feared the backlash from Zionist students, faculty members, and donors.  This backlash can ruin life-long careers in academia, and it often includes lies and cruel deceptions about a professor’s moral and political views once outed as “pro-Palestine.”

Student organizers share many of these same concerns and realities. Palestine work on campus, like other social justice work, requires not only principled and radical politics but also a space to protect oneself and others while organizing. Palestine solidarity work is about building power and giving each other support to do the work we have always been threatened for doing. It is about eliminating the fear associated with Palestine work and encouraging those with conscious minds to join in.  Thus, what has become the foundation for our solidarity work, both on and outside of campus, is a space we create for ourselves, a space where we protect one another, a space to speak up about Palestine and one in which we can feel invincible while doing so.

I found that kind of space when I began participating in activism around Palestine at the national and local level.  My first encounter of organizing with professors beyond my home institution was at the 2013 American Studies Association conference in Washington, DC, when the ASA passed its  resolution supporting the academic boycott of Israel. Nothing about the way I organized as an SJP student was the same after that. It was then that I realized so clearly what BDS could mean for U.S. academia, and what it meant for students and professors to work together.  This connection between faculty and students, I discovered, was not only inspiring, but absolutely essential.

The ASA conference that year was something powerful, it was something felt by all of us there, some kind of unspeakable energy that could give us enough fuel for years to come.  I was present at the D.C. conference, discussing BDS and Palestine with professors I was meeting for the first time. Many shared their own stories with me, and nearly all of them had begun organizing around BDS and supporting student-led campaigns on campus. Some told me their initial learning about BDS came after an SJP sponsored event or workshop. I remember many things from that conference, but what I found so important was the new relationship I was forming with professors whom I had never imagined could be of so much help to our student work. I felt protected at that ASA conference, something I rarely felt while engaged in student organizing.

The following year I was able to present a paper at one of the many panels organized by USACBI at the 2014 American Studies Association conference in Los Angeles, California.  I presented a talk entitled “Students for Justice in Palestine: Awakening the U.S. Campus” to a room filled with ASA members who were not only intrigued to learn about our student work, but who were willing to give SJP students their wholehearted support. This was the lasting effect of the success of the ASA’s academic boycott resolution. A year later, we were realizing true relationships between SJP, the ASA and USACBI. I felt so supported at the ASA conference and in that space that USACBI created for me to speak as not only a student activist but also as a Palestinian. Students and academics can excel in these spaces of solidarity. Together, we can protect one another and accelerate our movement for justice from our own campuses to occupied Palestine.

4.    USACBI Pamphlet for Students

Building on the alliances between faculty and students outlined by Lena Ibrahim of the National Students for Justice in Palestine, above, USACBI has produced aninformational pamphlet to guide students who are interested in engaging in activism related to the academic boycott. Click here to download.

5.    Palestine Solidarity Activities at the 2015 American Studies Association Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada and at the 2016 Modern Language Association in Austin, TX.

As attested to in Lena Ibrahim’s reflection, one of the major efforts USACBI has engaged in is to organize panels and events at major academic events to spotlight the struggles for justice and create stimulating and informative discussions on this subject from a number of disciplinary angles.  Here are the panels and events we have helped to organize at the American Studies Association conference in October and the Modern Language Association in January.

i)     At the American Studies Association, Toronto, October 8-11, 2015

There are 13 sessions at the ASA annual meeting with the keyword “Palestine”:

These include “The Place of Palestinian Life Writing in American Studies”; “International Formations: The Horizons of Solidarity and Accountability”; “Blackness, Relations, and Liberal Ways of War”; “From Ferguson to Palestine and Beyond: Geographies of Political and Cultural Resistance”; and “The ASA Boycott Resolution Two Years Later: Looking Back, Moving Forward.”

See a full text of Palestine program listings here.

The American Studies Association Caucus on Academic and Community Activism will hold its organizing meeting at the ASA conference in Toronto, where USACBI and academic boycott activities will be discussed, at Sheraton Centre Pinnacle Room:   Contact Caucus co-chairs Malini Schueller <malini1117@gmail.com> or Sunaina Maira at <sunainamaira@gmail.com>if you have questions.

The Activism Caucus is also sponsoring a film screening at the ASA in Toronto of Dean Spade’s new documentary film, Pinkwashing Exposed, followed by a discussion with Spade.  Details will be forthcoming in the conference program.

Reading Palestine at Beit Zatoun Cultural Centre, Toronto, October 9, 7-10 pm:

Haymarket Books is sponsoring a reading of authors from new books on Palestine, all of whom are part of USACBI’s Organizing Collective!  Remi Kanazi will read from his book, Before the Next Bomb Drops; Steven Salaita will read from his new memoir, Uncivil Rights: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom; and contributors to the new anthology, Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities, edited by Bill Mullen and Ashlew Dawson, will share their work at Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham Street, Toronto:http://beitzatoun.org/events/

ii)     Panels at the Modern Language Association conference,  Austin, TX, Jan. 7-10, 2016

What It Means for MLA Members to Support the Academic Boycott of Israel

This panel is comprised of participants who have expertise in both the history and politics of the academic boycott, and also with the guidelines for the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). They will provide answers to common challenges and discuss questions that are ethical and practical about what it would mean for the MLA as an organization, and for individual MLA members, to endorse the international movement to boycott Israeli universities.  Panelists are: Gina Dent, Cynthia Franklin, Alex Lubin, Rima Najjar Merriman, Bill V. Mullen, Malini Schueller.

Special Session on “Salaita, Academic Freedom, and the Question of Palestine: Where Do We Go From Here?”

Speakers will reflect on the significance of the University of Illinois’s decision to rescind the offer of a tenured appointment in the American Indian Studies Program to Steven Salaita in 2014 and the implications of the decision for discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict in US universities and the public sphere more generally. Chair: Steven Salaita. Panelists: Robert Warrior, Matthew Abraham, Bill V. Mullen.

Palestinian Literature: Conditions of Possibility, Conditions of Justice

Addressing this year’s presidential theme—Literature and Its Publics—this panel makes a critical contribution to the growing interest in Arabic literature and cultures, extending our sense of our “public” to that region of the world and its specific cultures, histories, and literatures, but also to the means by which we perceive it.  We focus on a particular set of issues—reading, translation, and human rights in a humanities tradition.  The specific concerns we share include the ways Palestinian literature is available, or not available to us—what allows or enables its appearance in the “public” of the world, and what obscures, censors, distorts it?  Chair: David Palumbo-Liu.  Panelists: Fady Joudah, Mary Layoun, Anton Shammas, Nirvana Tanoukhi.

Boycott Literature

This roundtable was initially motivated by the important debate among US scholarly associations produced by the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel.  It focuses on an especially public form of literature: boycott literature, a corpus of varied texts produced across of range of contexts, exploring the conference theme, “literature and its publics,” by enlarging the frame of boycott politics. Roundtable includes discussion of boycott literature in Irish, Indian, Chicano, South African cultural history.  Chair: Sheila Contreras. Panelists: Susan Cannon Harris, S. Shankar, Marcial Gonzalez, Ebony Coletu, Dina Al-Kassim.  Respondent: Salah Hassan.

Comparative State Racisms

Given the interest of some MLA members in a Boycott resolution that will exert pressure on the racist state practices of Israel, this panel, organized by the Comparative Approaches to Culture and Society Discussion Group, is designed to put the academic boycott of Israel in a longer historical and geographical framework. The papers will take a comparative approach to state racism, attending to the way in which different historically and geographically situated practices of state racism shine light on contemporary Israeli and US practices, and more generally on the thesis that various forms of state racism have seen an unfortunate resurgence in the present.  Chair: Christopher Breu. Panelists: Cynthia Franklin, Zahi Zalloua, and Christian P. Haines.

6. The Cultural Boycott Continues to Gain Ground

As in the UK, where over 1000 artists have pledged to support the call from Palestinian artists and cultural workers for a cultural boycott of Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights, so too in the US, such support for the boycott among artists and cultural workers is growing.

In May 7, 2015, Lauryn Hill cancelled her scheduled performance outside of Tel Aviv, with over 11,000 people signing a petition urging her do so.

On February 10, 2015, Patrisse Cullors gave a ringing endorsement of the BDS campaign. Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and Executive Director of Dignity and Power Now, participated in a delegation to Palestine with other Black and brown freedom fighters from Ferguson, Florida, and across the US. In her statement in support of the #StanfordDivest initiative, she reflected on the insights she gleaned on this delegation: “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.”

These recent statements and victories by leading figures are but a few that register the groundswell of support for BDS and solidarity with Palestine—a shift that owes in large part to 10 years of grassroots organizing, and one that the millions of dollars being poured into the “war on BDS” can neither overturn nor silence.

7.    Help us move ahead!

USACBI is currently undertaking a fundraising campaign to help with a number of critical initiatives, including re-design and update of the USACBI website, raising funds for meetings, and producing literature on the USACBI campaign.

We welcome small or large contributions.  Donations can be made at the USACBI homepage by choosing the “Donate” link: http://www.usacbi.org/

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

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