PACBI: The Challenge for 2011: Start implementing the academic boycott of Israel

If 2010 witnessed an exceptional growth of the global BDS movement, especially in the cultural and consumer products fields, one of the main challenges facing the movement in 2011 will be to start putting into effect concrete boycott measures against Israeli universities and to further spread the artists” boycott of Israel.

With world renowned artists, bands and writers refusing to perform, exhibit or speak in Israel, cultural boycott took off in 2010, especially following Israel”s bloody attack on the Freedom Flotilla. Alice Walker, Mike Leigh, Iain Banks, Meg Ryan, Henning Mankell, the Pixies, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Faithless, and Massive Attack are among many celebrated names in the art world that have stayed away from Israel in protest over its violations of Palestinian rights, heeding the Palestinian call for cultural boycott. In 2011, efforts need to be intensified to convince even more artists and writers to respect the boycott and to treat Tel Aviv as Sun City was treated during the South African apartheid era.

Emphasizing the importance of the other side of the coin, the academic boycott remains a top priority in the BDS movement. PACBI and its partners around the world hope in 2011 to start seeing concrete boycott decisions against Israeli universities being passed and enforced. Only thus can the entrenched, well documented complicity of the Israeli academy be seriously challenged.

Academic and cultural boycott (ACBI) campaigns against Israel have by now spread to the UK, USA, Canada, France, Italy, Norway, Spain, Belgium, South Africa, the Netherlands, India, Australia, Pakistan, and beyond. A European Platform for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (EPACBI) has been launched, promising to amplify the impact of the existing national campaigns in Europe. The British University and College Union (UCU) has reiterated its support for the logic of boycotts in dealing with Israel”s intransigence and criminality.

In South Africa, the University of Johannesburg has accused Ben Gurion University of discrimination and complicity in Israel”s occupation, threatening to sever academic links unless the latter ends its violations of human rights, among other conditions, before the first of April, 2011. If this threat materializes, as is widely expected by observers in South Africa, this will be the first actual boycott of an Israeli university implemented by any university outside the Arab and Muslim worlds. PACBI looks forward to seeing this pioneering and very telling South African effort inspire similar campaigns in various countries.

The central role that universities play in Israel”s system of colonial oppression and apartheid and PACBI’s focus on isolating them as a result are now far more understood and supported globally. So long as it continues to partner with the state in planning, implementing, and whitewashing war crimes and international law violations, the Israeli academy cannot expect to be exempted from the growing boycott.

Since PACBI launched its call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel in July 2004, many Israeli academics and Israel apologists around the world have attacked the academic boycott, in particular, as “anathema to academic freedom” and, as a result, have categorically rejected it. Without rehearsing here the many compelling arguments that PACBI and many of its supporters around the world have put forth, effectively refuting this misleading claim, it is sufficient to say that recent developments in Israel largely vindicate the logic and principles of the boycott campaign. The highly publicized Israeli boycott of the Ariel cultural center and all other Israeli academic and cultural institutions that are built on occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law proves beyond doubt that the principled opposition to the tactic of boycotting academic or cultural institutions has proven untenable and has consequently been abandoned.

Many of the leading Israeli academics, intellectuals, theater artists and others who now support the boycott of the academic and cultural institutions built in Israel”s illegal colonies are effectively making a U-turn on their earlier, dogmatic positions against the boycott. They have now adopted it as a perfectly legitimate tactic to counter international law infringements when the target – Israel”s colonial settlements — fits well in their political agenda. While PACBI – along with its partners — welcomed this fresh support for the academic and cultural boycott from within Israel, it challenged those who have signed on to this highly selective boycott to demonstrate moral and legal consistency through endorsing the boycott against all Israeli universities due to their violation of international law and basic human rights.

In this regard, PACBI hopes that the example set by the academics in the Israeli BDS group, Boycott from Within (BfW), who work at Israeli universities but still take a courageous and principled stance in support of the boycott, will inspire others to join the ranks of the spreading boycott. Ending Israel”s system of colonial and racist oppression is not only good for the Palestinians; it is liberating to all those who seek justice for the Palestinians and sustainable peace based on it.


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