Boycott & Divestment Efforts Proliferate on Campus: The U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel

The U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) is an academic boycott campaign started in 2009 by 13 professors in California. USACBI describes itself as responding to the call of the international Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and is mimicking that group’s efforts to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Formed shortly after Israel’s military actions in Gaza, USACBI has reportedly attracted the support of more than 230 academics. Organizers claim that Israel’s actions in Gaza made the formation of the group possible. Sherna Berger Gluck, an organizer with USACBI and professor emeritus of women’s studies and history at California State University, Long Beach, has stated, “There were repeated efforts to initiate the boycott, but it was not taking off. This last Gaza incursion pushed people over the edge.”

USACBI, which calls on American colleges and universities to refrain from associating with Israeli universities, has been reaching out to social networking sites to garner more support and advertise its message. In addition to its Web site, USACBI has created Facebook and MySpace group profiles and has started a Google group to foster discussions about next steps for the campaign.

The group has organized one event in support of its cause thus far, a demonstration outside a performance of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company at UCLA on February 28, 2009. Demonstrators at the protest held signs that read, “400 Children in Gaza Will Not Dance: Israel Killed Them,” “Apartheid is not a Jewish Value” and “Starving Children of Gaza is Not a Jewish Value.”

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a world-renowned figure in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, has been named an honorary member of USACBI’s advisory board. Tutu has in the past likened Palestinian oppression to South African apartheid and charged that Israel employs practices that “even apartheid South Africa had not…for example collective punishment.” USACBI announced the formation of its advisory board, which includes several well-established anti-Israel academics and activists from the United States and abroad, on March 30.

Official members of the group’s advisory board include Ilan Pappe, an anti-Zionist historian at the University of Exeter in the UK and author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine; Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia, who has accused the U.S. and Israel of advancing “global terrorism;” and James Petras, a retired professor of sociology at Binghamton University and the author of numerous books and articles that promote anti-Israel and anti-Semitic narratives.

Petras frequently accuses the “Israel lobby” of exerting complete control over the U.S. government and shaping its foreign policy. He has blamed the current economic crisis on the “Zionist” control over the U.S. government and world events, and has argued that pro-Israel Americans have launched a massive crusade to push the U.S. into a war with Iran. Petras’ conspiracy theories also include the anti-Semitic accusation that the American Jewish community is “controlling the communications media” and is “bloodthirsty” in its appetite for war. He has stated that [U.S.] presidents are at the disposal of “Jewish power” and maintained that Jews represent “the greatest threat to world peace and humanity.”

Members of USACBI’s organizing committee include Jess Ghannam, an Al-Awda activist and president of the San Francisco chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) who is a professor at University of California, San Francisco, and David Lloyd, a professor at University of Southern California, who appears to be USACBI’s spokesperson. Lloyd has spoken to various media outlets in the months following the group’s formation. In one interview he said, “In the end, what we’re aiming at is a full boycott of Israel, both academic and economic.”

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