Academics should boycott Israel: Growing movement takes next step

A specific element of BDS, academic boycott, was recently ratified by the Association of Asian American Studies and enjoys overwhelming support among the membership of the American Studies Association, whose National Council voted on December 4th to affirm a resolution honoring the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.


By Steven Salaita

Edward Said was an eminent Palestinian scholar at Columbia University (Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)

Edward Said was an eminent Palestinian scholar at Columbia University (Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)

In recent years, we have seen greater recognition in the United States that religious acrimony and ancient blood feuds are not the source of the Israel-Palestine conflict, whose progenitor in fact is Jewish colonization. As this recognition grows, along with corresponding support for Palestinian human rights, unprecedented pressure bears on Israel’s defenders to maintain the once-dominant narratives of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian terror.These days, Israel is an extremely difficult state to defend.

It should be so. Israel continues to make a mockery of the “peace process” by constructing new settlements and insulting American leaders. It tolerates politicians who routinely make racist statements. And it continues to be in violation of at least 77 United Nations Resolutions andnumerous provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The latest challenge to these violations comes from the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement, which has attracted the attention of pro-Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government itself, thus validating the efficacy of the tactic. A specific element of BDS, academic boycott, was recently ratified by the Association of Asian American Studies and enjoys overwhelming support among the membership of the American Studies Association, whose National Council voted on December 4th to affirm a resolution honoring the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.

Although at first glance academic boycott seems vengeful and arbitrary, its mission is rigorous and ethical, perfectly concordant to comparable boycotts that earned widespread support in the United States (against apartheid South Africa, for instance, or Arizona when it refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day).

Academic boycott entails specific principles that are widely misunderstood or misrepresented. Boycott of Israel does not mean shunning everything or everybody Israeli, nor is it a radical commitment to national destruction. It is not an abrogation of academic freedom. It does not demand that we smash our laptops because they contain Israeli processors. One can boycott Israel and still care about oppression in other parts of the world.

Academic boycott, quite simply, is a rejection of complicity in the Israeli government’s brutalization of Palestinians, a form of nonviolent resistance at the nexus of the globe’s greatest confluence of geopolitical power. It asks individuals and institutions to refuse Israeli state funding, to decline invitations to visit Israeli institutions (either by avoiding those institutions or choosing to travel to the West Bank or Gaza instead), to cease hosting representatives of Israel directly or indirectly sponsored by the state, and to reject institutional partnerships with Israeli academe.

Stephen Hawking's wheelchair breaks Apartheid Wall 600 x 339

Stephen Hawking’s Boycott of Israel. (See article links below.)

Since its inception in 2005, BDS has profoundly altered the discourses and debates around the Israel-Palestine conflict in the United States.

* * *

The greatest worry around boycott is the possibility of restricted academic freedom. Such worry is unfounded, however. Academic boycott targets institutions and does not preclude collaboration with individuals. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is explicit that Israeli citizens are able to serve on editorial boards and as external referees, submit research to any forum of their choosing, and travel without restriction. Nor are editors or search committees to reject articles and applications based on citizenship. Disparate rules based on ethnicity are solely the domain of the Israeli state.

The boycott actually seeks to preserve academic freedom by challenging punitive campus cultures that punish critics of Israel. Boycott is likewise an expression of academic freedom because it enables individuals to decline participation in sites of injustice by inscribing this sort of dissent as a form of protected speech.

At a recent conference hosted by a large professional association, I attended a wonderful talk by a Palestinian citizen of Israel, whom I will call Kareem. Kareem was invited by the conference organizers to speak on a panel about academic boycott. Although fellow panelists explored the subject, Kareem merely discussed the various forms of entrenched discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian minority, which he had unearthed in state archives.

I have changed the scholar’s name for the same reason he declined to endorse boycott: because in Israel, where Kareem would return after the conference, any support of boycott is illegal, punishable by a fine and denial of benefits, and subjecting violators to civil lawsuits.

To recap: An Israeli citizen was invited to speak on a panel exploring boycott, but had to limit his speech because the fear of incrimination by Israel.

Who, then, is restricting academic freedom?

Palestinian Students' Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel  600 x 360

In terms of its ability to prevent recrimination, academic freedom is largely mythological. Dissentient speech can be contained by dominant standards of erudition and respectability. The economies of tenure and promotion coerce obeisance to those dominant standards. Academic reward systems are set up to punish deviation. Nothing is more deviant than criticizing Israel.

Dozens of scholars have suffered the wrath of orthodoxy due to their criticism of Israel, including Joseph Massad, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Terri Ginsburg, Tom Abowd, David Shorter, Ilan Pappe, Neve Gordon, Teddy Katz, William Robinson, David Klein, Mona Baker and Sami Al-Arian. Terrorists once torched the Columbia University office of eminent Palestinian scholar Edward Said.

In practice, there has never been academic freedom vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestine conflict, at least not for those who support Palestinian human rights, and not if we grant that an important element of academic freedom is the ability to carry on a career free of intimidation and harassment.

* * *

The other main objection to academic boycott (and to BDS generally) is that it “singles out” Israel. This objection not only lacks merit; it also performs the same singling out of Israel its adherents claim to abhor.

Of all the world’s settler colonial projects, Israel is uniquely protected from wholesale condemnation in the United States.

Operation Cast Lead  400 x 510

Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 22-day military assault on the Gaza Strip from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009 in which between 1,385 and 1,419 Palestinians were killed, a majority of them civilians. 3,540 housing units were completely destroyed, with another 2,870 sustaining severe damage.

The ultimate goal of academic boycott is to compel Israel to abide by the human rights conventions and international laws to which it is beholden, but one of its effects is to undermine Israel’s status as an exceptional democracy beyond the reproach of less enlightened nations.

The only people singling out Israel in this debate are those opposed to BDS.

* * *

Boycotts in themselves are not especially controversial among academic communities. In other words, BDS isn’t controversial. Criticism of Israel is controversial.

Even those who opposed boycott of South Africa or Arizona understood that white folks weren’t the victims of inequitable economies and legal systems.

What sets Palestine apart is the persistent notion that the colonizers, those with nuclear weapons and land and resources and legislative power and the full support of the United States, are the oppressed party, that they largely suffer the pain and indignity of the conflict, that BDS is furtively anti-Semitic, that Israel is a special case in history.

Remove this duplicitous reasoning and most rationalizations for rejecting boycott go away.

Here are the facts: No evidence has ever been presented that the Israeli government is interested in a viable solution to the conflict. Instead, Israel has persistently built illegal settlements, intensified its Judaization programs, shot and arrested children, appropriated land, destroyed olive groves, flaunted international law, tolerated pogroms against black immigrants, and passed overtly racist legislation, all of it with indisputable, institutional participation from Israeli universities.


Palestinian Bedouin men react amidst the rubble of a structure after it was razed by the Israeli army in the West Bank village of Zayem, near Jerusalem November 29, 2011. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI

More facts: The people of Palestine have been subject to a project of settler colonization for nearly 150 years, as long as the French occupied Algeria. Over a million Palestinians live in refugee camps throughout the Arab World, many in severe poverty. Palestinian citizens of Israel inhabit the lower level of a two-tiered legal system that limits their rights to employment, land ownership, education, mobility, free expression, political participation and public services. The Gaza Strip is destitute and overcrowded, victim of an Israeli campaign to strangulate its economy with the express purpose of making its residents starve and suffer. The West Bank is carved into hundreds of inaccessible geographies separated by segregated highways, settlements, checkpoints, military installations and concrete walls.


Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem

Despite these horrible realities, this antediluvian system of biological determinism, we’re told repeatedly by those opposed to BDS that the desires of the colonizer supersede the rights of the colonized.

They rarely say it outright, but it’s the primary assumption underlying the mistaken argument that boycott harms innocent Israelis.

By this logic, the black boycott of Montgomery’s bus system would have been unjustified because it might have harmed the drivers.

The most innocuous-sounding but insidious of these colonial apologetics assails us about the need for dialogue, not rejectionism. Yet boycott hasn’t emerged from ahistorical circumstances. It has arisen from a need for action as a result of failures of dialogue over multiple decades, a dialogue monopolized by Zionist voices.

Anyway, boycott constitutes a form of dialogue, one in which the Palestinian people finally participate. Their contribution to this new dialogue is the announcement that they will never tolerate dispossession and will never accept their fate as expendable in the Zionist narrative.

* * *

My maternal grandmother lost her home in Ein Karem, outside of Jerusalem, in 1948. She has never been compensated. Her loss has never been acknowledged by Israel. She refuses to visit an artsy, upper-class, Jewish suburb of Jerusalem that was once a Palestinian village — her ancestral home. She has neither forgotten nor forgiven. I haven’t forgotten, either. I am perfectly willing to forgive, but only in the presence of justice. Oppressors aren’t allowed to ask for forgiveness if they refuse to relinquish any of their ill-gotten power. They will not, they have shown repeatedly, relinquish that power voluntarily.

I practice BDS because it’s the only power I have in the face of the tremendous military and economic might of Israel and its American sponsor. It is a largely symbolic power, a nonviolent act of simple defiance, void of guns and platforms and legislation, but if enough people participate, it has the potential to topple a colonial empire, one that yearns for the acceptance and affirmation of the same people it dismisses and displaces, and one that hasn’t yet learned that friendship is based not on force but on respect earned through introspection and compassion.

I will teach my son the history of Palestine. He will teach it to his children. Our stories will outlast Zionism.

Israel doesn’t want to be boycotted? Fine. Then Israel needs to practice true democracy. That is all BDS asks of it. It is by no standard an unreasonable demand.

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4 Responses to "Academics should boycott Israel: Growing movement takes next step"

  1. RabidRabbi  December 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Education and Institutes are Key to better Life …..

    Right now on CNN they are debating IF By Any Chance USA Education Sucks AND they Mention that the Beijing University is 2.5 years ahead of MIT … And then theyre cracking jokes about Chinese Accent …. Now the Expression ” Blowing Your OWN Trumpet ” means Praising one’s self by self …. Not that some Observer Praised YOU BUT The Whole West Under Zio-Occupation Normally and Usually just Praise Their High n Mighty Education without ever comparing with Other …. Since for Zio-Occupation Dimwits are preferred because theyre not smart enough to challenge the Illegal Occupation so the ” West ” Everywhere was Dumbed down while putting them on an addiction of Blowing Their Own Trumpet to make them feel goog and superior … IF USA for the Past 50 Years has been in the Middle rankings of School Ratings BUT Still Pompously declare themselves as up to Notch then there can be NO Greater Poison ….

    Most Countries IF NOT ALL could use revision of Syllabus n Teaching methods …. A Dire Need to get rid of Yoke of SHEEPDOM …. Don’t YOU Think that CNN jokingly Accepting Chinese Intellect is a genuine well earned Praise … Any sensible Fair people out there ?

  2. RabidRabbi  December 13, 2013 at 4:36 am

    These ” Chosen Idiot Scums ” have managed to expose their Hideous Parasitic Cheating Sides …. Yet these feign Innocence and Angel like Qualities Whereas Most VICTIMs of Tribal Parasiticnes Actually understand that This Tribe is A Hugest Bucket of Filthy Lying Shit pieces …

    Now let us Please Join Hands n Hearts to Sing Hymns in the Praises of OUR little Shitty Apartheid State called Israhell . HAIL SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN … Hail the Incestious Pretender Thieves From Khazaria . … … Hail The Kosher Tel Aviv Mafia …. Rabbi’s Recommend Raping Kids coz “It’s Harmless ” …. ALL Hail the Paedophilic Incestious Khazar Pigs …. Not to Forget the Organ selling Theif Rabbis … ALL Hail Synagogue Of Satan …. TRUTH is Anti-Semitic … … these Satanists are Anti-Human Pigs … … Never Trust These Pigs OR you will lose All, like so many humans already completely Destroyed by these Paedophilic Satanic Pigs …. Deport the Disease Now. …….. its time again already … … … Send ALL Isreal Firsters to Israel after They did Penance for Their Anti-Human Crimes for The Tel Aviv Kosher MAFIA … … … …

  3. Alwyn Scott Turner  December 10, 2013 at 8:39 pm


    American students are beginning to realize that the Jewish owned Israeli controlled mass media – and the major Jewish owned giant Internet corporations – are engaged in espionage to censor and ban all information that would enlighten American students to the fact that a ‘State of War’ exists by Israel against the USA – because 9/11 was an Israeli false flag on the United States. – assisted by a secret network of Sayan Jews.

    ‘Affirmative Action’ was created by the Israeli Jews to control academic faculties – who are appointed by Jewish nepotism into high educational positions – just as the treasonous AIPAC appoints political candidates as members to the US Government.
    It has been an ongoing Zionist conspiracy to infiltrate and appoint Sayan Jews into the faculty of academic institutions to control the educational ‘agenda’ and prevent American students from being truthfully informed concerning the Jewish Israeli conspiracy that has overthrown the United States Government.

    The obvious fear of Israeli and the Sayan Jews – is that American students will become informed by patriotic faculty members – that the real ‘enemy within’ – those Sayan Jews that pretend to be loyal to American – but are in fact are ‘enemy combatants’ – consequently, patriotic student protests will erupt on American campuses against the Jewish appointed ‘US’ Congress – like those that ended the Viet Nam war.

    Israeli Jews have for decades used ‘Affirmative Action’ to boycott loyal American teachers by appointing only Sayan Jews to high positions in Academia.
    It is now time for American academic institutions to examine the national loyalty of all their faculties – and Sayan Jews that assist Israel and are complicit to High Treason – should be identified as ‘enemy combatants’ – by the Provost Marshal General Tribunal.
    A ‘State of War’ exists by Israel against the USA – because 9/11 was an Israeli false flag attack on the USA – assisted by a network of Sayan Jews.

    The Zionist infiltration of Academia is part of the Israeli Jewish conspiracy to use Sayan Jews as ‘helpers’ by indoctrinating young American students with misinformation and ‘brainwashing’them with an ‘agenda’ that would prevent student uprising against Israel and protect the Sayan Jews guilty of Treason.

    What is happening now…is the American People are awaking to the fact a ‘State of War’ exists by Israel against the USA – because of 9/11 – Fukushima – the JFK assassination and many other ‘Acts of War’ by Israel – assisted by a network of Sayan Jews. There is a patriotic revolution rising in America against traitors that collaborate with the Jewish Zionist ‘enemy within’ and the rebellion against the Jewish ‘takeover’ of America includes activist students and loyal Americans in Academia.

    The recent exposure of the truth on the Internet is leading patriotic students to find alliance with the Palestinian People – who also suffer under the ‘Jewish Yoke’ of tyranny and injustice.

    • RabidRabbi  December 13, 2013 at 5:00 am

      The Whole Complete 3 ZioPigs Capable of admitting Complicity in 9-11 Attack have been Preserved in Fort Knox ….. The Rest Still ” Sitting on the Fence ” till Mossad serves Perks for Lying Lipservice to White wash Crimes of the Kosher Mafia …… All Tribal Pretenders Lie and make up Stories 24/7 Habitually and Dutifully ….. TRUTH is Anti-Semitic ….

      Like McCain Sings :=: Nuke , Nuke , Nuke , Nuke Israel NOW !

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