USACBI response to AAUP statement on academic boycott

David Lloyd, of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s Organizing Committee, authored the following response to the statement of the American Association of University Professors ( issued on May 10:

aaupThe AAUP’s statement is nothing new and is as incoherent on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel as it has proven to be since 2006 when it succumbed to outside pressure and withdrew support for an AAUP conference on academic boycott at the Rockefeller Conference Center in Bellagio, effectively engaging in censorship. In the first place the statement is factually misleading. The academic boycott is not merely being “advocated by some pro-Palestinian groups”, nor did Stephen Hawking make his decision based on the call of “pro-Palestinain groups”. He did so, according to his own statement, in response to the appeal of Palestinian scholars, just as USACBI has responded to the call of over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations who have endorsed the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. What the AAUP seeks to disguise by its framing of the issue is that the academic boycott has never been the work of some small pressure groups in the US, but represents a global movement that is seeking a non-violent means to end the systematic dispossession of and discrimination against the Palestinian people. In this respect, it does resemble the boycott movement against South Africa’s apartheid regime, which the AAUP did support, with the difference that whereas that movement did call for individual boycotts of South African scholars, cultural workers, and sports persons, PACBI’s call is specifically and exclusively institutional.

The AAUP’s statement furthermore falsely implies that the boycott is directed at the opinions or beliefs of Israeli and other academics. It is not. It is directed at the ongoing practices of the Israeli state and of its institutions. Part of Israel’s systematic dispossession of and discrimination against the Palestinians includes restrictions on freedom of movement that grossly violate academic freedom, interfere with the access of students and faculty to their institutions, prevent scholars from taking up fellowships abroad or attending conferences; school closures whose duration prevents a regular academic life from being pursued; the deliberate destruction of academic and educational institutions; and the establishment of a network of discriminatory regulations that prevent Palestinians in Israel from having equal access to higher education there. That is merely a partial list of violations of academic freedom that are so pervasive as to amount to what some scholars have named “scholasticide” and which form part of a larger system that can only be understood as aimed at preventing the reproduction and survival of Palestinian intellectual life and culture. Israeli institutions of higher education not only have remained silent on these issues; they participate daily in shaping the infrastructure of occupation within which this discriminatory system operates and, by their own maintenance of discriminatory regimes, further that system.

Academic freedom is indeed a universal right. But the AAUP’s position makes an exception for Palestinians, suggesting that, so long as Israel and its supporters maintain a loud and prominent voice that demonizes all criticism of and practical opposition to that state’s policies, Palestinian rights, and the means that Palestinians have overwhelmingly advocated to defend and secure them, can be safely disregarded. This flies in the face of the long recognized notion that parties responsible for the persistent and ongoing breach of universally recognized norms of conduct should face the sanction of their peers.

In effect, AAUP’s position on academic boycott succeeds in making nonsense of any claim that an organization of academics could have any practical impact on issues that concern us most closely, namely the protection of rights to academic freedom. Individual expressions of distaste for governmental policies that are, it should be added, policies that are protected and abetted by successive US administrations and even more so by the US Congress, may be honorable but are surely ineffective unless they are articulated within the context of an organized social movement. Only a powerful and moral civil society movement can challenge the blockade on change that occurs when governments collude in the denial of rights. In the 1980s the name of that collusion was “constructive engagement” with apartheid and it took the international divestment movement to break it. That necessarily involved not merely the boycott of oranges from the Cape, but a more powerful and effective sports and cultural boycott. The academic boycott of Israel is the equivalent of that sports and cultural boycott, In the present time, US academics can and should exercise their legitimate influence by organizing and subscribing to the institutional academic boycott of Israel: it is not only morally imperative; it is consistent with the fundamental principle that academic freedom is a universal right. Or, in the language of other unions, “an injury to one is an injury to all.” To refuse to engage is to suggest that, for whatever reasons, Palestinian scholars do not belong in the community of scholarship nor, by extension, in the full community of human beings.

The latter is not a position worthy of the AAUP.

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