Working for Social Injustice?
PACBI – Dec. 12, 2011
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is deeply disturbed by the decision of the International Society for Justice Research (ISJR) to hold its 14th Biennial Conference at the College of Management Academic Studies (COMAS) in Israel in September 2012. We urge the ISJR to relocate this conference to another country that does not embody injustice through maintaining a regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, as Israel does. We also appeal to all members of ISJR to refrain from participating in the conference if it is convened in Israel.
As scholars, you are acutely aware that Israel has flouted international law for several decades. Since the hegemonic world powers are actively complicit in enabling and perpetuating Israel”s colonial and oppressive policies, we believe that the only avenue open to achieving justice and upholding international law is sustained work on the part of Palestinian and international civil society to put pressure on Israel and its complicit institutions to end this oppression.
In 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, PACBI issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of institutions involved in Israel”s occupation and apartheid . We wish, in our letter to you, to stress the importance of this Palestinian call, and underscore the rationale for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, of which PACBI is a main member.
The 2004 Palestinian call appealed to the international academic community to, among other things, “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions“ . Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality . The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights and international law standards as other nations. It is asking the international academic community to heed the boycott call, as it did in the struggle against South African apartheid, until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid.” 
Your decision to hold a conference in Israel will violate the Palestinian call for boycott by specifically contravening clause 1 of the “PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel,” in which it calls for a boycott of:
Academic events (such as conferences, symposia, workshops, book and museum exhibits) convened or co-sponsored by Israeli institutions. All academic events, whether held in Israel or abroad, and convened or co-sponsored by Israeli academic institutions or their departments and institutes, deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds. These boycottable activities include panels and other activities sponsored or organized by Israeli academic bodies or associations at international conferences outside Israel. Importantly, they also include the convening in Israel of meetings of international bodies and associations. [6, emphasis added]
In light of this, convening a conference held at a complicit Israeli institution would constitute a rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organizations that comprise thePalestinian BDS movement.
You must be aware of how disingenuous and ironic it is to hold a conference in Israel on social justice while ignoring the demands and voices of people seeking freedom, equality and justice. This is even more pronounced due to the fact that your host institution, COMAS, is not only indirectly complicit in Israel”s violation of international law and human rights, as some Israeli institutions, but is directly so.
The College has a program of “security studies” whose students have, according to the college”s website, a distinct option of involvement in the Israeli security agencies . Furthermore, COMAS has a “Research and Development Institute for Intelligent Robotic Systems,” which, according to its own testimony, “has set itself the goal of creating robot-powered applications particularly for the military and security forces” . By participating in conferences at such an institution, your Society lends its legitimacy to COMAS, allowing it to conduct business as usual and, worse, whitewash the crimes of the Israeli state by making the state appear like a center of learning and bastion of liberalism and academic freedom. This, of course, is in addition to the primary concern that you would be ignoring the call of an overwhelming majority of Palestinians who face oppression and injustice on a daily basis.
The Israeli academy is not only deeply implicated in providing the ideological rationale and “scientific” basis for Israel”s colonial policies, but, as you can see in the case of COMAS, is also a full partner in maintaining the military and security infrastructure of a state that is practicing forms of colonialism, occupation and apartheid.
Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination
Perhaps you are not familiar enough with Israel”s practices, widely acknowledged as violations of international law. If this is the case, then we hope you will reconsider your planned event after thinking through some of Israel”s trespasses. Your conference would function as a whitewash of these practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual. Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians” basic human rights in some of the following ways:
- Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation. Israel restricts Palestinians” freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on occupied Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans. The International Court of Justice in its historic 2004 advisory opinion concluded that Israel”s wall and colonies built on occupied Palestinian land are illegal .
- Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel’s borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people’s daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.
- Since 1948, when Zionist militias and later Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Israel also continues to expel Palestinian communities from their lands in Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.
- In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also books from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world”s largest open-air prison .
Could you possibly hold a conference in such a state with a clear conscience?
The Necessary and Important Consideration of Academic Freedom
The UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights defines academic freedom to include:
the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction. The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with itobligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds. [11, emphasis added]
Keeping in mind the validity of this definition, we are keenly aware of the importance of the academic freedom of the individual, but also recognize that such freedoms should not extend automatically to institutions. Judith Butler has called on us to question
the classically liberal conception of academic freedom with a view that grasps the political realities at stake, and see that our struggles for academic freedom must work in concert with the opposition to state violence, ideological surveillance, and the systematic devastation of everyday life. 
It is incumbent on academics to develop such a nuanced understanding of academic freedom if we are to call for social justice and work alongside the oppressed in their struggles.
The Israeli academy is not the bastion of dissent and liberalism it is purported to be by those who seek to defend Israel, and, in doing so, attempt to delegitimize the call for academic boycott. The vast majority of the Israeli academic community is oblivious to the oppression of the Palestinian people–both inside Israel and in the occupied territory–and has never fought to oppose the practices and policies of their state. In fact, they duly serve in the reserve forces of the occupation army and as such are either perpetrators of or silent witnesses to the daily brutality of the occupation. They also do not hesitate to partner in their academic research with the security-military establishment that is the chief architect and executor of the occupation and other forms of oppression of the Palestinian people. A petition drafted by four Israeli academics merely calling on the Israeli government “to allow [Palestinian] students and lecturers free access to all the campuses in the [occupied] Territories, and to allow lecturers and students who hold foreign passports to teach and study without being threatened with withdrawal of residence visas,” was endorsed by only 407 out of 9,000 Israeli academics – less than 5% of those who were invited to sign it .
This is without mentioning academic collusion in the various institutional structures of oppression, such as support of the military (as in the case of COMAS), building universities on dispossessed Palestinian land, or practicing forms of discrimination against Palestinian students. All this and more, make Israeli academia deeply complicit in the practices and sustenance of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
We, therefore, call upon members of the ISJR to press for the conference venue to be changed. In the event that this demand is not met, we urge a widespread boycott of this conference. No self-respecting professional body, and especially not one that professes to speak about social justice, should wish to ally itself with a regime of apartheid!
 In its most recent session in Cape Town, South Africa, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that, “Israel”s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid,”
 UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999, http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.
 Judith Butler. “Israel/Palestine and the Paradoxes of Academic Freedom.” in: Radical Philosophy. Vol 135. pp. 8-17, January/February 2006. http://www.egs.edu/