Academic Boycott on Israel Flexes Its Muscles

WRMEA, August 2010, Pages 44-45

Southern California Chronicle
Academic Boycott on Israel Flexes Its Muscles
By Pat and Samir Twair

WERE IT not for the eagle eyes of Nur Marsalha, a professor of religion and politics in England, perusing the program for the biennial conference of the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS), Israel might have won a small victory in its efforts to legitimize its military occupation of the West Bank.

The May 27-30 conference at the Doubletree Inn in Santa Monica featured 66 panels, but Marsalha questioned the institutional affiliation of one particular participant: Ronen Cohen, who stated he was from Ariel University in Samaria, Israel.

Not only is Ariel University situated in Israel’s fourth largest illegal West Bank settlement, but it originally was a satellite campus of Bar Ilan University–until Israel’s Minister of Defense Ehud Barak rushed through its accreditation, without evaluating its academic qualifications.

As a result, a total of 120 academics registered their objections in a letter to ISIS arguing that the Ariel settlement is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power cannot populate a territory it occupies.

ISIS claimed that it was being victimized by the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. In response, ISIS member Vida Samiian, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State University, explained: “We tried to present a resolution allowing the general membership to vote on the matter. ISIS leadership blocked this.”

While ISIS did remove “Samaria” as the site of the Ariel institution, it blocked Internet access to Cohen’s paper, titled “The Hojjatiyeh: The Real Bringers of the Islamic Revolution of Iran.” Meanwhile, the chair and three other participants on the “Shi’ism, Clerics and Movements of Revolution and Reform” panel dropped out, leaving Cohen as the sole remaining member.

Finally, days before the conference, three new participants and a chair were announced–too late to review their abstracts for the session renamed “Dialogues and Contentions.”

Incredibly, one of the new panelists was Judea Pearl, a UCLA computer science professor and father of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by extremists in Pakistan. The title of his paper, “Carving a Dialogue between Muslims and Jews,” was a misleading one for Pearl, who vociferously rants about Islamist violence. He is the polar opposite of Cindy and Craig Corrie, who have responded to Israel’s killing of their daughter Rachel with a message of reconciliation.

On the second day of the conference, when Cohen was scheduled to speak, about 20 concerned academics and activists handed fliers to people arriving at the Doubletree Inn. Many stood behind a cardboard apartheid wall and held signs stating that ISIS approves of apartheid.

[(L-r) Steve Gilula, president of Fox Searchlight; “My Name Is Khan” director Karan Johar; and MPAC”s Noor Khan. (Staff Photo S. Twair)] (L-r) Steve Gilula, president of Fox Searchlight; “My Name Is Khan” director Karan Johar; and MPAC”s Noor Khan. (Staff Photo S. Twair)

“We don’t object to an Israeli participating in the conference,” stated economics professor Sasan Faymazman during the informational May 28 picket. But “why did ISIS include a paper from a settler institution? Why did ISIS block the membership from reading Cohen’s abstract which deals with a so-called nuclear Iran and its ‘threat to the Middle East or maybe to the world?'”

The picketing was a success, as Iranian-American photographers and reporters left the conference to interview dissenting scholars. Dr. Ahmad Karimi, a past ISIS president, confronted the picketers and voiced his objections to their accusations that ISIS supported apartheid. Agreeing that military occupation is wrong, he stated that the controversy will be reviewed at the Middle East Studies Association convention in November.

The incident gives notice to Israel that no trick to gain cultural or academic legitimacy is too small for Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) activists to uncover and expose. For more information, visit <>.

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