A message to BRICUP’s pre UCU Congress 2009 meting from Rachel Giora


Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to express my support of your actions toward helping the boycott
movement become engulfing and effective. By responding to the Palestinian call
to boycott Israel, you emerged as the pioneers of the boycott movement against
Israel and I hope you will be able to witness its impact on redressing injustices
and on changing the face of the world.

Thanks to you, the boycott movement against Israel is now gaining force.
Examples abound: Dock workers in South Africa refused to offload a ship
carrying Israeli goods; Western Australian members of the Maritime Union of
Australia have also called for a boycott of all Israeli vessels and all vessels
bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel ; a Turkish company refused to do
business with Israelis “with blood on their hands”; young individuals in France
cleared Israeli goods off a store”s shelve. The boycott movement is indeed biting.
Israeli goods are losing foreign markets: 21% of Israeli exporters report that
they are facing problems in selling Israeli goods because of an anti-Israel
boycott, mainly from the UK and Scandinavian countries.

That business is not as usual as can be gleaned from the EU decision to
freeze a planned upgrade of ties with Israel in order to pressure its government
to abide by the international commitments made towards the welfare of the
Palestinian people. “We expect a stop of all activities undermining our objective
of a two-state solution… citing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the
Palestinian territories … which is continuing on a daily basis.”.
Israel is also facing cultural isolation: Israel”s sports teams have met with
hostile protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Israeli money donated to help
fund the 2009 film festival in Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) was
returned to the Israeli Embassy.

The Academic boycott started in Britain by you and people like you is
perhaps the most solid form of cultural boycott to-date, resonating in universities
and academic institutions all over the world: Cardiff University divested from
Israel; CUPE-Ontario’s University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC)
encouraged members “to hold public forums to discuss an academic boycott of
Israeli academic institutions”; Quebec College Federation joined the BDS
campaign; Australian scholars called for a boycott of Israeli academic and
cultural institutions; US academics agitated for academic boycott of Israel.

But shouldn”t Israeli academic institutions be exempted, some wonder?
After all such institutions focus on academic research with no recourse to the
military or state politics. But in fact Israeli academia is no different from any
other Israeli institution and in many cases it plays an active if not a vital role in
supporting Israeli apartheid practices against the Palestinians. For example, “the
R&D [Research & Development] Directorate of the Israel Ministry of Defense is
currently funding 55 projects at TAU [Tel Aviv University]”; “Military R&D in
Israel would not exist without the universities. They carry out all the basic
scientific investigation, which is then developed either by defense industries or
the army”; “People are just not aware of how important university research is in
general and how much TAU contributes to Israel”s security in particular”; “In the
rough and tumble reality of the Middle East, Tel Aviv University is at the front
line of the critical work to maintain Israel”s military and technological edge.”
Israeli universities run special programs for the military. Just recently, the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem won the Defense Ministry Bidding to establish
the Military Medical Program. Tel Aviv University runs an Executive Master’s
Program in Diplomacy and Security at the social sciences faculty, to cite just a
few examples.

And in spite of the growing plight of their Palestinians colleagues,
universities” senates and heads have never spoken up against the Israeli
occupation of the Palestinian territory or against the oppression of the
Palestinians; nor have they protested the destructive damage inflicted on
Palestinian academic institutions by the Israeli military; nor have they shown any
concern for or solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues. And when given the
chance to protest “the policy of the Israeli government which is causing
restrictions of freedom of movement, study and instruction, and […] call upon
the government to allow students and lecturers free access to all the campuses
in the Territories, and to allow lecturers and students who hold foreign passports
to teach and study without being threatened with withdrawal of residence visas”,
only very few (407 out of over 5000) faculty have chosen to sign this petition. Is
“academic freedom” only the prerogative of the powerful?

These are only shreds of evidence testifying to the complicity of Israeli
academic institutions in the state’s apartheid policies against the Palestinians.
In light of Israel”s widely documented disregard for international laws
exercised in our area for so many years, culminating in two recent wars against
civilians in Lebanon and Gaza, it is left for us citizens of the world to attempt to
hold up a mirror to Israel”s real face in the hope that it will give it a chance to
choose justice and peace over occupation.

The growing numbers of Israelis who are now supporting cultural and
academic boycotts will rejoice in your achievements.
I wish you luck with your conference and actions.

In solidarity,
Rachel Giora
Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University

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