PACBI: The Academic Boycott on Campus: Breaking New Ground, Gaining Momentum

 The following statement was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) on February 3, 2012:

In an open letter dated October 21, 2011 [1], Palestinian students wrote to their counterparts across the world, “we hope you put BDS at the forefront of your campaigns and join together for Israeli Apartheid Week, the pinnacle of action across universities worldwide”. The 8th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) [2] constitutes a direct response to this call, at a crucial moment when youth are taking to the streets to combat dictatorships and an international economic crisis marked by record levels of youth unemployment. In our joint struggle for freedom, justice and equality in a framework of economic and social justice, we at the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) look forward to yet another inspiring IAW. We take this opportunity to salute the dynamism and creativity of a new generation of BDS advocates on campuses and to thank those who have supported our call for the cultural and academic boycott of Israel from the start.

In cooperation with our allies internationally, PACBI members will be supporting various IAW 2012 activities wherever possible. We see IAW, which has spread dramatically over the past years to include events in over 100 cities, as a clear sign of the growing momentum of the BDS movement globally and on university campuses specifically. Not only do IAW events educate about Israel”s multi-tiered system of colonialism, occupation and apartheid, they importantly help to build long term, strategic BDS campaigns on campuses, enhance cross-movement alliances, and broaden the appeal of BDS.

As the call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel was initiated by an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society in 2005 [3], across the geographic fragmentation imposed on our people, it is no surprise that a renewed activism among Palestinian youth is specifically targeting those who advocate and participate in normalization initiatives that undermine our collective struggle for self-determination. Such normalization initiatives posit an equal relationship between an indigenous population and a settler-colonial regime, attempting to understand the issue as a dispute and misunderstanding that can be resolved through dialogue, rather than an anti-colonial, anti-racist struggle for asserting internationally recognized rights. Palestinian civil society, by launching the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, importantly rejects normalization with the Israeli state and its complicit institutions and the whitewashing of its crimes against the entirety of the Palestinian people. To this end, Palestinian youth organizations across the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have started mobilizing for IAW2012, which is co-organized by Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish student activists in Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth and Jerusalem. Events are also being planned in Jordan and Lebanon connecting Palestinian refugee communities to the BDS campaign.

Internationally, we are heartened by the increased coordination and growth of Students for Justice in Palestine on campuses across the United States. Their national conference in October 2011 carefully studied how to implement BDS on campuses, and this year an unprecedented number of US universities will be holding IAW activities. Although an upcoming US national BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania has come under attack from the usual coterie of Israel lobby voices that continuously move to censor and silence any critical discussion on Palestinian basic rights and international law [4], the conference organizers are on track with their plans and the conference promises to be yet another milestone in coordination and implementation of BDS campaigns [5].

Across campuses in the UK and the rest of Europe, there is also a deepening of BDS activism, and once more IAW will take place on more campuses than ever before with a coordinated tour of youth speakers from Palestine. Importantly, there has been a direct response to the campaign waged by PACBI, PFUUPE, Stop the Wall, and the Palestinian Students” Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)  against the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which is “a multi-billion euro European Union research funding scheme that provides funds for universities and companies from different countries to work together on specific research projects.” [6] Students at King”s College (London), in close cooperation with the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), launched a petition against a joint FP7 research program between their university, the Natural History Museum and Ahava, an Israeli corporation involved in stealing Palestinian Dead Sea resources and operating inside illegal Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank. The students gathered signatures and lobbied for support from the UK National Union of Students, which in turn voted to support the campaign adding more pressure on the university.

An important boost to this campaign came in the form of a letter signed by prominent UK academics published in the Independent, a major UK newspaper, and picked up by leading international scientific journals [7]. This strategic combination of public events, petitions, continuous presence and education on campus, as well as coalition building among student groups and faculty, has made this campaign a model for other campuses across Europe to emulate. Also, in an unprecedented move, and due to the consistent efforts of BDS student activists, the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK is also taking up the campaign to challenge the presence of Eden Springs and Veolia on campuses. Both companies are complicit in violations of international law. Eden Springs bottles, markets and distributes water from territory illegally occupied by Israel and Veolia is helping to build and operate the Jerusalem Light Rail which links illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory with Israel.[8] [9]

In Canada, where the first IAW was organized, three campuses have active divestment campaigns putting pressure on their universities to divest from corporations active in supporting Israel”s occupation and ongoing violations of international law. These campaigns employ a variety of tactics and have consistently worked to build broad coalitions, including with unions and faculty on their campuses, as well as use creative actions to explain their targets.
These successes however do not go unchallenged; they encounter concerted and well-funded Zionist propaganda, smearing and bullying operations that cynically attempt to buy off students. A good example of this is the campaign by the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) to pay Israeli college students $2000 each to spread positive propaganda about Israel on social networking sites. [10] This can only indicate the sad state of affairs for Israel when students must be bribed into taking the time to spread whitewashing messages about its actions. In contrast, BDS student and faculty activists put in long hours of volunteer organizing out of their conviction of the justice of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality. Israel”s propaganda efforts on campuses also include the use of all-expenses paid trips to Israel that many student leaders (especially those elected to positions within student unions) are enticed with. Palestinian student and youth organizations recently condemned such a trip in an open letter to UK Labour party student officers who went on a tour of Israel [11]. Underlying such efforts to whitewash Israel”s crimes and violations of international law is often a nod towards “meeting with both sides” and “dialogue” to undercut BDS activism. However, as PACBI has consistently stated: “Dialogue,” “healing,” and “reconciliation” processes that do not aim to end injustice and oppression, regardless of the intentions behind them, serve to perpetuate oppressive co-existence at the cost of “co-resistance,” for they presume the possibility of coexistence before the realization of justice. [12]

Overall, it is clear that the academic and cultural boycott and the BDS movement more generally are breaking new ground and gaining momentum on campuses worldwide, despite all cynical attempts at silencing and censorship. Israeli Apartheid Week”s reach and the well-planned boycott and divestment campaigns being initiated daily are a testament to the courage and creativity of the Palestinian people and the international solidarity movement; they highlight the fact that despite the lack of decent budgets and a state apparatus, the dedicated work of activists can really make a difference. This was a key lesson learned from the South African anti-apartheid movement as well. Moral right coupled with strategic thinking and tactical wisdom can indeed overcome the might and endless resources of the oppressors. PACBI warmly welcomes these successes on campuses and once more salutes all those involved.


[5] Conference website at:

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