Campaign calls for boycott of Israel

Four UCD professors in support, overall reaction mixed

Written by MIKE DORSEY
Published March 4, 2009

Nearly 200 faculty members across the country have signed on in support of an academic boycott of Israel.

The United States Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCACBI) was founded in response to a call from the Palestinian Civil Society to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement against Israel.

“The reason we propose a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is that they are state universities that generally support the Israeli government’s policies,” said Sunaina Maira, UC Davis associate professor of Asian American studies who signed the boycott. “It is very simple, we cannot continue to remain silent.”

The charge from the Palestinian Civil Society is for a “call to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”

Four of the 193 advocates come from UC Davis and two – Maira, and Magid Shihade, a research associate in the history department – were involved in the founding of the campaign. Amanda Lashaw, a lecturer in the education department and Stefano Varese, a professor of Native American studies, also signed the boycott.

“Given that this is a nonviolent, peaceful way to put pressure on Israel and draw attention to the atrocities that have been committed there – I believe this is what has motivated the approximately 200 academics in the United States,” Maira said.

Many in the U.S. have talked about a boycott for years, Maira said, but it took recent violence to lead people to reconsider – specifically, the attacks in Gaza, which began in December and continued for three weeks.

“They were unable to leave or flee and were basically bombed in their homes and schools,” Maira said. “Three UN schools and a university in Gaza were bombed, and the Israeli army used white phosphorous, which burns bodies to the skin.”

Organizers say the key to the boycott is fighting violence with nonviolence. It’s not about cutting the cord and refusing to make contact with Israel academically, Maira said.

“The call we’ve issued is for an institutional – not individual – boycott,” she said. “We’re not opposed to individual professors, scholars, and artists – we’re opposed to illegal occupation and racial discrimination and apartheid-style segregation.”

UC Davis Summer Abroad will be sending students to Israel for a four-week program this summer – a unique experience and relationship they’d like to continue, said Eric Schroeder, faculty director of UC Davis Summer Abroad. The program, taught by UC Davis professor of political science Ze’ev Maoz, looks at both sides of the Israel/Arab conflict, and the Palestinian issue in particular.

“We feel like our students are going to come home better educated about what’s going on and maybe more able to make a difference in arguing for a policy that seems fair to both sides,” Schroeder said.

Maoz is an Israeli, but is renowned for his lack of bias to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and has numerous contacts on both sides, Schroeder said. He believes that USCACBI’s recommendations for boycott would contradict their stated objectives.

“What boycott and divestment would cause – and the recent Israeli elections amply demonstrated this point – is just weaken even further the peace camp in Israel … and ultimately result in greater abuses of human rights and further oppression of the Palestinians,” Maoz said.

Maira said opponents who argue that international civil society pressure will push Israel further to the right are suggesting that the only response in the face of a bully is inaction.

“This cannot be justified morally, for it means that one cannot ever resist oppressive regimes, and it flies in the face of the logic of sanctions that the U.S. has itself used in several cases to apply pressure,” she said.

Maoz’s main issue with the boycott though, is its “hypocrisy.”

“Before talking about academic and cultural boycott of Israel due to its human rights violations these people need to divest from and culturally and academically boycott the United States and the United Kingdom who have occupied two countries – Afghanistan and Iraq – overthrown their regimes and continue to occupy these countries, imprisoned thousands of people without indicting them or putting them to trial and denying these people for years basic human rights,” Maoz said.

Maira said this argument is a common one – but that there is clear opposition to U.S. wars here, compared to the silence and “organized censorship” of the critique of Israel.

“Academics who support the boycott of Israel also oppose U.S. wars and occupation but we are well aware that we are funding the Israeli occupation with U.S. taxpayer money,” she said. “Since we are not citizens of Israel, what we can do as educators of conscience here is to take a moral stance that sends a message of principled opposition to massacres of students, children, women and human beings that is backed by our government.”

Participants are to refrain from collaborating on joint projects with Israeli institutions. The USCACBI also encourages universities to institute funding for Palestinian students, many of who cannot study due to segregation and have to leave the country to attend college, Maira said.

“The reason why we do this [boycott] is because the Israeli academy has always been complicit with the state’s policy – there has never been a significant movement there among academics in opposition,” Maira said.

More information in favor of the boycott can be found at MIKE DORSEY can be reached at campus [at]

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