Israel: Time to boycott?

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As promised, we are publishing an article from James Caspell and Ziyaad Lunat at the London School of Economics. Whilst the following may not represent views of our respective institutions, it is important that we hear all voices and from all sides of the debate. Our Communications Secretary, Oleg Lisagor, has added important editorial comments at the end of the article, which I recommend you read.

Remember, as someone who is pretty much unique amongst current sabbaticals being a former serving member of the armed forces, I know conflict does to the human condition and mark my words, it is not for the faint hearted. Therefore, I am glad that we at the National Postgraduate Committee can provide an alternative platform for debate and discussion, and perhaps in doing so provide a productive and safe outlet for opposing points of view.



Crouch End

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Israel: Time to boycott?

James Caspell and Ziyaad Lunat

London School of Economics and Political Science

14 November 2007

"I´ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white policy officers prevented us from moving about." Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Last May, the University and College Union (UCU) Congress passed a motion for its branches to discuss supporting the growing international movement which advocates a boycott of collaboration with Israeli institutions in response to the military occupation of Palestine. The motion did not call for an immediate boycott, but for a debate. It did not advocate a specific political programme but it requested that academics examine the implications of their existing links with Israeli universities. None of the boycotters want to stop talking to Israeli academics but they ask UCU members to consider whether they should continue to conduct business as usual with Israeli institutions regardless of their actions in the Occupied Territories.

The supporters of the motion have since been targeted, intimidated and threatened with the aim of stifling any legitimate criticism of Israel. The UCU leadership has banned discussion of the Israeli academic boycott, citing `legal advice´, in an attempt to subvert the democratic vote of the union´s highest decision-making body. The elite Russell Group of universities have in turn sought to defend what they superficially label as "academic freedom" for Israeli academics, whilst ignoring that in this case it comes at the direct expense of Palestinians to live and study in peace. In Israel, such "freedoms" have been built and supported by the oppression of the Palestinian people through a 40-year military occupation.

Many observers across the world have compared the Israeli state to one of apartheid South Africa; Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Noam Chomsky have all condemned the brutal and institutionalised ethnic segregation of two peoples who share a history of attachment to the middle-east.

Under the Israeli regime, Palestinians have been driven from their land, had their houses bulldozed, have been denied access to water and arable land and live in a state of constant surveillance, interrogation and oppression, denied other basic rights such as education and medical treatment. Palestinian university life is marked by midnight arrests, raids on university premises, army brutality, classroom assassinations and curfews. Israel has constructed a web of nationality and residency laws designed for use by one section of the population against another, now reinforced with its apartheid wall. The parallels to South Africa´s former regime of racial segregation are undeniable.

John Dugard, a South African professor who is the UN´s special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories stated earlier this year: "Israel´s laws and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories certainly resemble aspects of apartheid. It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of settlers." Can academics partake in research, cooperate or receive funding from Israeli universities as if there is no occupation, no settlements, no wall and no apartheid? At what point academic cooperation turns into complicity for war crimes?

Israeli universities comprise an important institutional building block of apartheid - the fundamental cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is a catalogue of evidence showing that when Israeli academics do speak out against their state´s policies (which is rare), they are often persecuted and harassed by their state and media. Ilan Pappé is a typical example, and is now transferring to Exeter University in order to escape the concerted effort by the Zionist lobby to thwart his career. With close investigation it can be seen that Israeli academia is far from a bastion of freedom of expression.

According to Amnesty International, 650 Palestinians and 27 Israelis were killed in the conflict in 2006. When our governments continue to unconditionally support the state of Israel despite its onslaught against the Palestinians and blatant disregard to international law and human rights, boycotting becomes an enticing tactic. The academic boycott was effectively adopted in similar circumstances in the past. In 1965, 496 British academics from 34 universities published an open letter calling for an academic boycott of South Africa, in solidarity with 2 academics served with banning orders by the racist regime. After a long campaign, the boycott was adopted as policy by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in 1988, and remained so until the end of apartheid.

Israeli academia has remained compliant in the regime of ethnic segregation; no Israeli institution has ever publicly opposed their state´s military occupation or the deprivation of fundamental rights to the Palestinian people. The flow of advisors from academia to the government and vice-versa in Israel is remarkably above average. A great many ministers and all army strategists who plan the control network in the Occupied Territories come from Israeli academia - architects plan the settlements whilst the military derives its research into weapons and technology from its universities.

Some highlight the fact that many Palestinian universities have been founded under occupation. However, between 1973 and 1992, Birzeit University alone was closed on 15 occasions while a military order in 1982 intervened directly in university administration - to interfere with the cultural development of an occupied territory is a breach of the fourth Geneva Convention. In spite of billions of dollars of international aid over the decades, Israel has made no positive financial contribution to education in the occupied territories. Instead the Israeli state has forcibly closed Palestinian universities, shot and killed Palestinian students and lecturers, bombed a Palestinian school for the blind and consistently harasses students on their way through check points to school. A boycott of collaboration with Israeli institutions remains a proportionate yet powerful act in drawing attention to the fact that those involved in academia around the world will no longer tolerate the atrocities that are being committed by the Israeli state at the expense of the Palestinian people.

Ilan Pappé, a senior lecturer at Haifa Univeristy and outspoken critic of Israel supports the boycott of his state: "Outside pressure is effective in a country where people want to be regarded as part of the civilized world, but their government, with their explicit and implicit help, pursues policies which violate every known human and civil right."

Such a boycott against Israel is in no way anti-Semitic; it is supported by Jews and non-Jews and opposes racial prejudice of all kinds. Simply, the boycott is motivated by its opposition to the systematic discrimination that Palestinians have been forced to endure under Israeli occupation. It would give protection to those within Israel critical of the occupation and, equally as important, displays solidarity with the Palestinian people who have been denied their basic rights to life, liberty and access to education for far too long. The example of South Africa reminds us that boycotts exert international pressure in forcing those within an apartheid regime to take notice. It is the duty of all those committed to social justice to support such non-violent action and actively oppose racial segregation of any kind.

About Authors

Ziyaad Lunat is completing an MSc. in Global Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the current LSESU Mature and Part-Time Students Officer and a Student Governor. He is the Chair of the LSESU Palestine Society and an active member of the LSESU Green Party.

James Caspell is completing an MSc. in Political Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the former LSESU Postgraduate Students' Officer, a Student Governor and Member of LSE Council. He is a founder member and former Male Co-Chair of the LSESU Green Party.

Editors´ Comments

The views expressed in this article reflect those of the authors and the organisation affiliated to the NPC.

National Postgraduate Committee has a standing policy opposing an Academic Boycott. At the past Conference and Annual General Meeting Andre Oboler has been elected a Project Officer of the NPC with a specific remit to minimise the effects of boycott and to strengthen ties between postgraduate and academic communities of Palestine, Israel and the United Kingdom.

However in its role as a Charity with the purpose of advancing postgraduate education, NPC takes the view that open and constructive discussion on any topic related to postgraduayte education is beneficial to the community as a whole. The committee therefore sees it as its duty to provide a suitable platform for affiliates and individual students for expressing their views regardless of whether these conform to the view of majority of affiliates and standing policies of the NPC.