USACBI Newsletter, February 2016

USACBI Newsletter, February 2016

South Asian Studies Scholars’ Statement of Boycott of Academic Workshop at Hebrew University

Over the past month, Israeli military forces entered Palestinian universities, fired live ammunition, and tear gassed and injured students. At Palestine Technical University- Kadoorie University in Tulkarem in the West Bank, the Israeli military invaded the campus and injured nine Palestinian students. Israeli soldiers also entered Birzeit University on January 11 and closed the gates of this important center of Palestinian higher education. The soldiers went door to door in the dormitories, harassing the students before abducting Aseed al-Banna, a Student Senate member. The Syndicate of the Palestinian Universities Union has denounced these ongoing incursions and assaults on the right to education. Such is the context for Palestinian students and scholars, trying their best to work under Israeli occupation and under fire.

Furthermore, in fall 2015, many students and youth were killed, arrested, kidnapped, placed in administrative (indefinite) detention, and tortured by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and inside Israel were subjected to a brutal assault by Israel entailing extrajudicial assassinations by soldiers, lynchings by settlers, arson attacks that killed toddlers and families, and daily racist harassment. These are just the latest incidents of violence enacted by the Israeli state that wages wars without impunity and continues to encage and besiege Palestinians.

In the midst of all this, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is hosting a seminar on “The Indian Predicament: South Asia in WWII” in June 2016. [1]

We call on all historians of South Asia to boycott this workshop and all such academic interactions with Israeli universities that are complicit with occupation, warfare, and apartheid.

To attend the workshop at Hebrew University would be to cross the global picket line and violate the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions from Palestine (www.pacbi.org). The academic boycott is a powerful tool for scholars to express our principled opposition to occupation, apartheid, and colonization. While all Israeli universities are deeply complicit with the state’s colonial and racist policies (http://www.usacbi.org/reports-and-resources/), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is particularly noteworthy because:

  • Its Mount Scopus campus is built on Palestinian land illegally confiscated by Israel in 1968. Israel’s unilateral annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and the application of Israeli domestic law to it, are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and have been repeatedly denounced by the UN Security Council.
  • It maintains close ties to the Israeli military industry, which is accused of war crimes against Palestinian civilians; provides special privileges to Israeli soldiers and security personnel; and collaborates with the Israeli army in training officers and recruits.
  • It discriminates against Palestinians, including those who are citizens of Israel by in several areas, including not providing teaching services to the residents of Jerusalem in contrast to those provided to Jewish groups; and not offering any courses in Arabic.
  • It denies freedom of speech and protest to its few Palestinian students; see: http://www.aurdip.org/The-Hebrew-University-and-Hasbara.html?lang=fr

Furthermore, the academic boycott is an act of solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues who are denied academic freedom–it is a denunciation of their condition of un-freedom. Israel systematically denies Palestinian academics and students the right to education and the freedom of movement, for they are not able to freely travel for study, conferences, and research, within Palestine and across borders. Palestinian universities have been bombed; schools have been closed; scholars and students have been deported, arrested, and in some cases, killed. Israel also regularly prevents international scholars and students from doing research or studying in Palestine and regulates who can enter its borders to visit Palestinian academic institutions. Supporting the academic boycott is, thus, a call for academic freedom for all, and for an end to the encagement and the scholasticide to which our Palestinian colleagues are subjected across the partitioned Palestinian territories.

Finally, we note the irony in the workshop’s call for papers that mentions the decolonization of India at the end of WWII without acknowledging that India’s decolonization occurred as the settler colonial regime was established in Palestine in 1948, the year of the Nakba. There is certainly an interesting discussion to be had about “comprehension, memory, and judgment” of WWII and the role of nationalist struggle that would productively bring historians of South Asia to discuss these questions in Jerusalem.

But we cannot do so until the occupation of Palestine and blockade of Gaza ends, racial inequality inflicted on Palestinians in Israel is terminated, and the Apartheid Wall is dismantled.

View the full list of signatories: http://www.usacbi.org/2016/02/south-asian-studies-scholars-statement-of-boycott-of-academic-workshop-at-hebrew-university/

Letter in support of Professor Jasbir Puar regarding right-wing attacks on her recent talk at Vassar College

Professor Jasbir Puar, a member of the Advisory Board of USACBI, has come under an intense right-wing smear campaign perpetrated first by an attack blog, and then by the Wall Street Journal. The Organizing Collective of USACBI and individual scholar signatories sent the letter below to the President of Vassar College and also of Rutgers University, where Professor Puar teaches, in defense of Puar and in objection to the attempts to silence Puar and other critical scholarly voices on Palestine. 

In addition, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Academic Advisory Council has drafted and circulated a sign-on letter for faculty and academics, in support of Professor Puar. Please read and sign on here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1aJBcvnhQ0ZiFarqDmlBlEx-RzbmGtiiA7doPp-40yxI/viewform?c=0&w=1

We write as advocates for academic freedom and global justice to urge you to take a firm stand against a campaign of intimidation and harassment of Professor Jasbir Puar that has followed her lecture at Vassar College on February 3, 2016. We believe it is a university’s responsibility to denounce smear campaigns, and to defend the right of scholars to present their research.

Professor Puar is a scholar of national and international repute.  She has authored a major book from a prestigious University press; authored numerous articles in leading academic journals and collections; and won several major awards and fellowships.   Many of these have been groundbreaking in their analysis of U.S. imperialism, critical race and queer studies,  settler-colonialism, Israel and Palestine.  No doubt these credentials were among the reasons she was invited to your campus to speak.

The attacks against Professor Puar were instigated by right-wing blogger William Jacobson, who is infamous for his virulent attempts to discredit scholars who work in the fields of ethnic and middle east studies: http://legalinsurrection.com/2016/02/vassar-faculty-sponsored-anti-israel-event-erupts-in-controversy/

Now, representatives of an explicitly pro-Israel group are contributing to this smear against Puar and against Vassar itself. In an op-ed to theWall Street Journal,  the authors cite Jacobson’s libelous smear at length,  reproducing even its sexist misappellation of Professor Puar as “Ms.,” a clear attempt to discredit Professor Puar by eliding her considerable professional credentials: http://www.wsj.com/articles/majoring-in-anti-semitism-at-vassar-1455751940

These attacks are a reminder that Universities have frequently been pressured by advocates for Israel to cancel lectures and events, block speakers and restrict funding or even fire faculty who criticize Israeli state policies.  The intent to protect the state of Israel and its policies of occupation and apartheid from any public criticism are nearly always couched in libelous claims of ‘anti-semitism’ while defending its racist policies.  This is precisely the case with the attacks on Professor Puar.  We note that her attackers have produced no evidence other than outraged assertion to contest the facts that she presented in her public lecture, all of which have been amply documented in the peer-reviewed, published version of the lecture:  http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol14no1_2015/puar_maim.pdf

As the national civil rights group Jewish Voice for Peace has noted, academic freedom depends upon open dialogue about Israel and Palestine.  JVP’s Academic Advisory Council states, “At a time when such freedoms are coming under increasingly well-funded and organized attack from putatively “pro-Israel” organizations, the defense of robust speech on campus about Palestine and Israel, including speech critical of Israel, affirms the core values and freedoms at the heart of higher education’s mission.

As advocates for academic freedom, racial justice, and liberation, we urge you to take a firm stand against this campaign of intimidation and harassment of Professor Puar. We believe it is a university’s responsibility to denounce smear campaigns, and to defend the right of scholars to present their research. Furthermore, it is our experience that only a robust and forthright repudiation by university administrations of such attacks on academic freedom will put an end to spurious campaigns of this kind and protect faculty and students from further efforts at vilification and intimidation.

Please act in the interests of academic freedom and scholarly integrity by bringing to a halt attempts on your campus to discredit, defame or otherwise impugn the reputation of a major international scholar.  To fail to do so is to contribute to the erosion of universities as sites that foster critical thinking and that enable rather than suppress opposition to repression, discrimination, and structural violence.

We hope that you will defend not only Professor Puar, but also academic freedom and the honor of your College in doing so.

Signatories and web link: http://www.usacbi.org/2016/02/letter-in-support-of-professor-jasbir-puar-regarding-right-wing-attacks-on-her-recent-talk-at-vassar-college/

Welcome back, Steven Salaita!  USACBI is pleased to announce that Dr. Steven Salaita, who stepped down from our Organizing Collective during his litigation with the University of Illinois, is once again on board. This recent OpEd by Salaita sums up the pressure university administrators place on students to engage in “dialogue” with Zionist organizations: “It’s a neat rhetorical strategy,” Salaita writes. “The party holding the vast majority of power can position themselves as an eager moppet who merely wants to talk even though they support a settler-colonial regime with nuclear weapons, while the party pursuing justice – against the predilections of administrators, billionaires and politicians – immediately becomes obstinate for vague reasons of culture or religion.”
USACBI is also thrilled to announce that Chandni Desai, of the University of Toronto, has joined our Organizing Collective, and sports writer David Zirin (http://www.edgeofsports.com) and New York University Profesor Andrew Ross have also joined our Advisory Board.

Academic associations may join the academic boycott of Israel without losing their status as 501(c)(3) organizations

Attorney Rima Kapitan, a member of  the USACBI Organizing Collective who speaks nationally about academic freedom, explains here that, as the academic boycott effort continues to attract adherents, opponents have opened several legal battlefronts, “ranging from empty threats to actual lawsuits and legislation.”  Kapitan writes:

Among these struggles are the battles of individual professors and student groups for political freedom on campus, legislation aimed at discouraging or punishing the boycott of Israel, and claims that the academic boycott constitutes discrimination based on national origin (see e.g.http://palestinelegal.org/resources/ for more information).

As new academic associations join the boycott and several others gear up for debates about similar proposals, some members are concerned that joining the academic boycott could violate either their organizations’ charters or the prohibition of political activity for 501(c)(3) organizations.

Academic associations should critically examine claims that any political activity would cause an organization to lose its tax-exempt status. As one can discover through five minutes of research on the website of the Internal Revenue Service, the prohibition of “political” activity in the 501(c)(3) context relates to partisan political acts such as participation in the political campaign of a candidate for public office.[1] Similarly, a non-profit organization may not focus “a substantial part of its activities” on legislative lobbying. Id.

Non-profit organizations must also operate exclusively for one of the approved 501(c)(3) purposes, such as religious, charitable or educational purposes. Id. Exclusivity is not interpreted in an overly rigid manner, however; courts ask whether the organization “engagesprimarily in activities which accomplish one or more of such exempt purposes specified in section 501(c)(3).”[2] Qualifying as an “educational” organization does not entail removing oneself completely from the political realm; no such requirement is imposed in practice, nor would such complete separation be possible. Academic associations should oppose any attempt to create an artificial wall between the political and educational realm, as to do so would create default reinforcement of the political status quo.


[1] See IRS publication on Section 501(c)(3) Organizations,https://www.irs.gov/publications/p557/ch03.html#d0e3840

[2] IHC Health Plans, Inc. v. C.I.R., 325 F.3d 1188, 1194 (10th Cir. 2003) (emphasis added).

USACBI has an Academic Defense Committee that is part of a national Campus Coalition for Defense of Palestine. To learn more, please see:http://www.usacbi.org/academic-defense/ Click here for a template letter to defend faculty and students under attack for supporting Palestinian rights.

 Academic Boycott News and Updates

Academic Boycott is indeed making giant strides nationally. The NWSA (National Women’s Studies Association), and AAA (American Anthropology Association) have both voted to endorse ACBI;  and the MLA (Modern Language Association) debated BDS at its annual convention..

Last year, in November, the business meetings of two major associations voted overwhelmingly to endorse the call of Palestine civil society to engage in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions until such times as they—and the state with which they are so deeply intertwined—respect the internationally recognized human rights of Palestinians.  Those associations, the American Anthropological Association and the National Women’s Studies Association, voted to endorse the boycott by 86% and 88% respectively.  While AAA has yet to send its vote to the membership at large, those numbers are, as they say, major, exceeding by far even the American Studies Association’s vote in December 2013.”

USACBI Organizing Collective member David Lloyd wrote this essay about the MLA, in which he concluded: “Literary scholars … are ceasing to be intimidated or confused by the monotonous reiteration of misrepresentations and half-truths, slurs and invective, that have been the unchanging mantras of Israel’s supporters.  Some 250 members of the MLA have already signed an Open Letter in support of the boycott resolution, despite the well-known risks of doing so publicly.  What was once a minority concern is rapidly becoming a moral axiom in the Modern Language Association as it did in American Studies and among the anthropologists.  Persuading the members of a largely conservative professional association, which largely functions as younger academics’ gateway into scholarly careers, to vote for the boycott resolution remains an uphill struggle.  But in the corridors of the convention center and the lobbies of hotels, it was apparent that support for the boycott as a means to seek justice and redress continues to grow, just as it does—to Israel’s increasing consternation—throughout the United States.”

Birzeit University condemns Israeli military attack on campus


In the predawn hours of Monday, January 11, 2016, the Israeli army raided the campus of Birzeit University in Ramallah and confiscated and damaged university equipment.  The University issued a statement which read in part:

“This is neither new nor unprecedented given the ongoing colonial aggression against the people and institutions of Palestine. Birzeit University condemns this attack and the direct violation of the sanctity of the university campus. This is a belligerent military attack on the university and our right to education and all the principles involved in the freedom of education.”

Palestine Right to Education Tour Coming to the US

​In 2014, National Students for Justice in Palestine partnered with Birzeit University’s Right to Education (R2E) campaign to host and organize the first-ever Right to Education tour in the United States. Ten students from Birzeit University visited college campuses in the fall to speak about life and education under occupation. The tour began with a stop in St. Louis for an orientation and meetings with local community organizers.

This year’s tour will be during the first two weeks of April, and students will speak on the impact of colonialism on education in Palestine. R2E wants to expose new audiences directly to Palestinian students and the larger issues they face, and to highlight Israel’s systematic obstruction of Palestinian education. Additionally, the R2E Tour aims to:

1) create linkages between the student movement in the US and Palestine

2) build long-term, institutional relationships between our universities

3) to exchange information between Palestinians and US social movements (e.g. indigenous, migrant and black struggles)

If your SJP chapter or organization is interested in hosting the Right to Education Tour, please visit NSJP’s website and be sure to fill out the interest form before February 29th!

Group funding and donations to the R2E campaign are appreciated and will go a long way in facilitating the travels of the students. It would be useful for local chapters to also assist with the students’ meals and travel between campuses.

National SJP is organizing a fundraiser to support this tour. Please share widely: https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/2016-palestinian-right-to-education-us-tour–3/

Organizing Updates from Faculty for Justice in Palestine

 Report from the University of Hawai‘i chapter of Faculty for Justice in Palestine (UH-FJP)

In November, 2014, UH-FJP launched its first event, and co-sponsored three days of talks with Noura Erakat. Since then, graduate students in the group have initiated a UH-SJP to work in tandem with the UH-FJP, which also now includes undergraduates. Our student and faculty groups have formed a reading group that meets every two weeks, and we have held film screenings followed by discussions. UH-FJS participated, in November 2015, in Remi Kanazi’s visit to the University of Hawai‘i—we sponsored an evening event during which he discussed with us his work on cultural boycott, and his participation in the Organizing Collective of USACBI. We began this semester by co-sponsoring two events with Hatim Kanaaneh—a talk about life in Palestine, and an evening where he read from and discussed his book, Chief Complaint. In February, UH-FJP together with UH-SJP is sponsoring a talk by Ann Wright, “The Gaza Freedom Flotillas: Sailboats, Lawsuits, and the Struggle for Justice in Palestine.” Both groups are committed to PACBI’s three planks, and we are laying groundwork for a divestment initiative. Our joint facebook page can be found here:https://www.facebook.com/UH-Students-and-Faculty-for-Justice-in-Palestine-166680137002886/?fref=ts

Report from Faculty for Justice in Palestine-Davis:
FJP-Davis, which has expanded since it was founded in September 2014, organized Thirsting for Justice, an un-Thanksgiving event on November 30 focused on the devastating impact of settler colonialism in Palestine and in North America and celebrating indigenous struggles for survival. Co-sponsored with the Native American Student Union and SJP, the event featured a Palestinian hydrologist as well as Native American and activist graduate students from FJP and JVP who discussed the theft of water and destruction of agriculture as key elements of settler regimes in California India land and in Palestine. The event, which had a standing-room only audience and drew students as well as community members from around the region, included Palestinian food and provided an alternative to the settler holiday. It galvanized important conversations among Palestine solidarity, environmental justice, and indigenous rights activists, important for a university heavily focused on agriculture and built on indigenous land.  A follow-up event, Thirsting for Justice II, will be held in February and sponsored by SJP-Davis as part of its post-divestment organizing.

New Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine Formed at UMass Boston

Recently, a diverse group of almost 30 faculty and staff of various ranks and positions at the University of Massachusetts Boston voted to create a campus chapter of Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine (FSJP).

This move comes as a natural culmination of a steady stream of Palestine solidarity work at the faculty level, particularly following the American Studies Association’s (ASA) December 2013 vote to uphold the academic boycott of Israel.  When the university’s Chancellor issued a public statementsaying that, “as an institution,” UMass Boston opposed the academic boycott, faculty and staff protested.  A letter signed by 60 faculty and staff disputed his construal of academic boycott as inimical to academic freedom and requested recognition of their support for the ASA decision for academic boycott.

In an unprecedented move unique among colleges and university administrators across the country, the Chancellor not only allowed faculty and staff to post their own statement of support on the university website, but he also convened a public, university-wide forum on academic boycott hosted by the Provost.  Proving the claim that raising political issues is what allows for discussion and the free exchange of ideas (rather than shutting down debate by declaring criticism of Israel or academic boycott taboo subjects), UMass Boston became the only university in the country to fully engage the issue of academic boycott of Israel among students, faculty, and staff, with the full endorsement of and institutional support from university administrators.

In the wake of this heartening success, faculty continued to discuss campus organizing around Palestine and academic boycott.  Among other activities, faculty held a forum on “Scholar/Activism and Israel/Palestine” and hosted Prof. Steven Salaita for a lecture on academic freedom, race and racism, and the politics of the colonial university.

Then, this past fall, it was agreed that, in order to sustain this work long-term, interested faculty and staff would constitute themselves as a formal group dedicated to Palestine solidarity, education, and awareness on campus, furthering BDS on campus, and supporting Students for Justice in Palestine.  The newly-formed FSJP looks forward to developing long-term goals around BDS and academic boycott on its own campus as well as continuing its regular work of education, outreach, and campus organizing.

Faculty for Justice in Palestine Purdue:

The FJP chapter at Purdue now has five active members.  This semester, FJP will co-sponsor with Purdue Students for Justice in Palestine a lecture by Palestinian journalist and author Laila El-Haddad.  This is the first formal collaboration between Purdue SJP and Purdue FJP.  The two groups are also working to hold an Indiana-wide workshop this Spring hosting three new SJP chapters in Indianapolis. On April 1-3, the SJP chapter at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis will host the Midwest SJP meeting.    FJP plans to be a co-sponsor of that event.

JDL fails to shut down criticism of Israel in Toronto

On 12 January, USACBI Organizing Collective member Nada Elia was invited to speak, along with Noura Erakat, scholar, human rights attorney and activist, at the University of Toronto.  Elia wrote the following account of the event, in which she asks, “Why is the BDS movement viewed as such a threat that it now constitutes the new battlefront in Israel’s war on Palestinian rights?”  She concludes with, “The success of this event, then, is dual: the speakers shared their knowledge and analysis; most importantly, the community felt empowered by the realisation that the JDL cannot silence criticism of Israel at the University of Toronto, with its proud history of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

See Elia’s commentary, How Israel failed to silence BDS in Canada: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/how-israel-failed-silence-bds-canada-2002543968

#CancelPinkwashing at the Creating Change Conference a resounding success!

Hundreds of activists, shut down a Pinkwashing event at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago:   As Haneen Maikey, director of Al Qaws, noted:  Following and supporting the amazing group of activists who led #cancelpinkwashing at#cc16, was an inspiring experience. Charged terms like “change” and ‘solidarity” took different meaning this time. What was astonishing to me, is the diversity of voices, groups, and collectives that chose to be part of this action, and publicly opposes colonialism and the Task Force complicity with it. This diverse groups included: Queers, trans, POCs, black collectives, established organizations, alongside BDS, students, feminist, Jewish, Muslim, Arab and Palestinian groups. Zionists – with the lead of A Wider Bridge – continue framing their false narrative of victimization and injustice, BUT the fact that more than 55 diverse collectives actively refused to accept it, should say it all.

Dean Spade, one of the organizers, reports: http://www.deanspade.net/2016/01/15/creating-change-pinkwashing-ice-pinkwashing-israel/

Olympics Without Apartheid

A year from the start of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), leading the global BDS movement against Israel, and social movements in Brazil launched the ‘Olympics without Apartheid’ campaign.

Olympics Without Apartheid!
http://bdsmovement.net/2015/join-us-olympics-without-apartheid-1323

Campaign Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWS2AyYbqOI

Cultural news and Books by USACBI OC members and allies:

Boycott National Committee (BNC) member and poet Rafeef Ziadah has a new CD out!  This long awaited album features the popular poems We Teach Life and Shades of Anger. It includes a powerful selection of Rafeef’s spoken word in her signature performance style with original music compositions from Phil Monsour.

USACBI OC member Leila Abdelrazaq’s graphic novel, Baddawi, is also recently in print: https://baddawicomic.wordpress.com

Angela Y Davis connects the dots between systemic injustice and institutionalized racism in the US and Israel in her latest book,   Freedom is a Constant Struggle:  Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.

Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities (edited by USACBI Organizing Collective member Bill Mullen and Ashley Dawson) focuses on the complicity of Israeli universities in maintaining the occupation of Palestine, and on the repression of academic and political freedom for Palestinians. Against Apartheid powerfully explains why scholars and students throughout the world should refuse to do business with Israeli institutions. This rich collection of essays is a handbook for scholars and activists

Departures: 

Actor Alan Rickman died in January 2016 after losing a battle with cancer.  Rickman was the director and co-producer of the play My Name is Rachel Corrie.  Rachel’s father, Craig Corrie, wrotethis tribute.

Israeli Apartheid Week:

Israeli Apartheid Week is coming up soon, USACBI Organizing Collective members are available to speak on your campus, check out our Speakers Bureau: http://www.usacbi.org/speakers-bureau/

Labor Movement Updates

The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed a case brought by a Mossad-linked Israeli group against a US trade union over its support for Palestinian rights.
In August 2015, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America – known as UE –voted to back the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel.

In October, Shurat HaDin filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, the statutory body that enforces US trade union laws, to try to force UE to abandon its decision.

The complaint alleged that UE’s resolution violated the prohibition in US labor law against secondary boycotts. (Jan 21, 2016)

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