Educators of Conscience Call for an Academic Boycott of Israel

February 13, 2009 · No Comments

by J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D.

On Monday, February 2, 2009, scholar Benny Morris gave a lecture, “The First Arab-Israeli War,” at Wesleyan University, which was sponsored by the Jewish and Israeli Studies Certificate Program. As a New Historian who supports Zionist ideology, Morris is one of Israel”s most distinguished historians. He became well known after accessing and analyzing Israeli military documents and discovering that they ran counter to the Zionist propaganda that asserted Palestinians left their homeland voluntarily; instead, they had been systematically expelled from their homeland in 1948. Some would say he was even sympathetic with Palestinians for a number of years. However, since 2000, he has become an apologist for the right in Israel by trying to justify the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians and even suggested in an interview in Ha”aretz that the state of Israel did not go far enough. To justify this point, he referred to the United States: “Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians. There are cases in which the overall, final good justifies harsh and cruel acts that are committed in the course of history.” This contemporary colonial position in support of ethnic cleansing is morally bankrupt, and as repugnant as advocating the merits of modern day slavery.

At his recent lecture at Wesleyan, less than a dozen or so protesters showed up to picket the event. The demonstration was organized by The Middle East Crisis Committee–a Conn.-based activist group that organized in 1982 in New Haven, Conn., during Israel”s invasion of Lebanon. No Wesleyan students joined the protest, and no other Wesleyan professor stood with the group, although the next day, The Wesleyan Argus reported that a few people in the audience challenged with Morris, and those who attended were said to be “both Orthodox Jews and members of student pro-Palestinian liberation groups.”

While the call to boycott Israeli academics and institutions has not yet taken root on U.S. campuses in any widespread way, there is a new development across the country that deserves urgent attention. Last month, educators of conscience launched the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. Several brave scholars–Rabab Abdulhadi, Nada Elia, Manzar Foroohar, Jess Ghannam, Sherna Berger Gluck, Sondra Hale, David Klein, Dennis Kortheuer, David Lloyd, Sunaina Maira, Marcy Newman, Edie Pistolesi, and Magid Shihade–initiated the effort and comprise the Organizing Committee. The Advisory Board includes: Bill Fletcher, Glen Ford, Mark Gonzales, Edward S. Herman, Robin D. G. Kelley, James Petras, and me. Specifically, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel comes in response to international calls by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and by more than 500 Israeli citizens to foreign embassies in Tel Aviv to stand up and challenge Israel”s unlawful assault on the people and institutions of Gaza.

Israel”s latest assault on Gaza has killed at least 1,300 Palestinians, one third of them children, and injured 5,300 or more–the vast majority of whom are civilians who endured incessant bombardment that amounts to collective punishment and blatant war crimes. After three weeks of renewed attacks since Israel launched air strikes on December 27, 2008 against the 1.5 million Palestinians, Israel unilaterally declared a cease-fire and withdrew from Gaza. It has been a tenuous cease-fire given that Israel continues to assert its political right to attack Gaza if Hamas continues firing rockets across the border, and has done so since the withdrawal, even though under international law, Palestinians have the right to engage in armed resistance because they are illegally occupied. In the U.S. media, Hamas is represented as the aggressor with little or no acknowledgment that it was Israel that broke the cease fire on November 4, 2008; while the world”s attention was focused on the U.S. presidential elections Israel launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men to provoke a response that would create a pretext for further invasion.

Israel has also consistently targeted educational institutions of all kinds. Since December 27, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, the Ministry of Education, the American International School, at least 10 United Nations Reliefs and Work Agency schools, and numerous other educational facilities. Israeli”s actions against the Palestinians have been fully supported by the US government through military aid and diplomatic oversight. Because of this, we in the United States have a particular moral obligation to speak out in protest of Israel”s compounded aggression as it fortifies an apartheid regime of settler colonialism in the occupied territories. We must ask why there are economic sanctions against the occupied rather than the occupier.

Educators of conscience who support the U.S. Campaign urge our colleagues, nationally, regionally, and internationally, to stand up against Israel”s ongoing scholasticide and to support the non-violent call for academic boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions. The mission of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel is clear: (1) Refraining from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions that do not vocally oppose Israeli state policies against Palestine; (2) Advocating a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions; (3) Promoting divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions; (4) Working toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations; and (5) Supporting Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

The U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel draws on the same strategy that created the global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa: Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS). BDS is an effective way to put non-violent external pressure on Israel. In the form of an academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel, educators of conscience can help bring an end to the ongoing massacres of civilians and the occupation of Gaza and Palestine as part of a comprehensive boycott, including divestment, political sanctions, and the immediate halt to all military aid, sales and deliveries to Israel.

This boycott should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people”s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by: 1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

Although the U.S. Campaign specifically addresses institutions and not individuals, hopefully we”ll see a louder moral outcry on the next campus where Benny Morris and any other Zionist may be invited to lecture.

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D. is an associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University. She is the producer and host of a public affairs radio program, “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond,” on WESU, Middletown, CT, which is syndicated throughout 13 states along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and archived online: Her first book, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity, is newly released from Duke University Press. She is on the Advisory Board for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.

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