This is what an academic boycott looks like: Two new campaigns target conferences hosted by Israeli universities

 

Recent decisions by prestigious US academic organizations to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement have sparked long neglected public discussion of the limits of academic freedom in the West, the deleterious effects of occupation on Palestinians, including university students and faculty, and Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, not to mention African migrant workers, Jewish Arabs, political dissidents, and others.

Among the recent decisions are the American Studies Association’s (ASA) December 2013 “Resolution on Academic Boycott of Israel,”[1] which was joined by the Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s (NAISA) “Declaration of Support for the Boycott of Israeli Institutions” and followed the Association for Humanist Sociology’s (AHS) October 2013 “Vote to Support the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” and the Association of Asian American Studies’ (AAAS) April 2013 “Resolution to Support the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.” Even as the debate rages about these actions, under the radar of media coverage and backlash in response the ASA resolution, several active campaigns to implement precisely these kinds of academic boycott resolutions are well underway.

Two campaigns—a boycott of a Hebrew University Oral History Conference and aboycott of a Tel Aviv University Film/Media/Communication Studies Conference—need additional support from international scholars in any and all disciplines, to fulfill their potential to challenge Israeli policy.

Israeli government and public relations officials confirm that the academic boycott has altered the global political conversation about Palestine. According to The Jerusalem Post, Israeli MK Ayelet Shaked recently referred to the academic and cultural boycott campaign as “the greatest threat faced by the country.”[2] Israel’s attempt to forestall these developments are revealed by revelations that the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office has been funding “covert units” that pay students to engage in public diplomacy and promote Israel’s “pretty face” on social media, and by earlier reports that Israel advocacy groups have been targeting pro-Palestinian student groups in an effort to silence university-based criticism of Israeli policies.[3]

Such reaction has been instrumental in fomenting a backlash against the ASA, whose members have been asked to “urge university presidents, donors and government to denounce the ASA and sever ties with the organization.”[4] Yet the strength of the boycott position has prevailed. Although several universities have canceled their membership with ASA, the organization reports an overall surplus of new individual memberships plus several new institutional memberships.[5]

Academic boycott campaigns remind international scholars that Israeli occupation, including the discriminatory legal structures and international support enabling it, violates and often eviscerates the academic freedom of Palestinians. Haim Bresheeth and Sherna Berger Gluck strenuously argue for boycott’s primary disengagement mode, noting that since the establishment of Israel in 1948, with its illegal occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, “not once did Israeli faculty unions or the university senates call for reopening of Palestinian universities, or for the restitution of academic freedom in Palestine.”[6]Likewise documenting unequal Palestinian access to education and academic freedom, testimonials from Palestinian students and faculty demonstrate the direct complicity of Israeli universities in human rights and international law violations.

We encourage scholars across all disciplines to seek out new opportunities to endorse and actively participate in the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, for instance by declining to participate in conferences hosted by these institutions. In fact, you have an opportunity right now to join the two current internationally endorsed campaigns. We especially invite additional support from interdisciplinary humanities scholars, particularly in Oral History and Film/Media/Communication Studies.

Please join the campaign to boycott the June 2014 ‘International’ Oral History Conference being organized by The Oral History Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although the two international scholars scheduled to deliver keynote addresses at the conference have cancelled their talks, the campaign has a goal to reach and even exceed 500 signatures in order to dissuade other oral historians from participating. [For French and Spanish language versions, please visit: http://www.aurdip.org/Campaign-to-Boycott-the-Oral.html.]

Please join the campaign to boycott the June 2014 “10th International Tel Aviv Colloquium on Cinema and Television Studies: Cinematic Traces of Things to Come” conference sponsored by Tel Aviv University. [For a French language version, please visit: http://www.aurdip.org/Boycott-Israeli-Cinema-and-TV.html.]

1. Read the ASA National Council Statement and background on the ASA resolution here:http://www.theasa.net/from_the_editors/item/council_statement_on_the_academic_boycott_of_israel_resolution/
2. Shaked is chairwoman of the Bayit Yehudi party. Also see Electronic Intifada’s coverage of this story at: http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/boycott-greatest-threat-facing-israel-leaders-say
3. http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israels-pretty-face-how-national-union-israeli-students-does-governments;http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.541142;http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/letter-reveals-standwithus-bullying-socal-chinese-center-over-palestine
4. http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-lobby-launches-fierce-counterattack-against-american-studies-association
5. John Stephens, the executive director of the association, told Times Higher Education “that three universities have joined as institutional members since the boycott resolution was approved on 17 December. In terms of individual memberships, only four people have submitted letters of resignation, while 63 new members have joined the ASA.”http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/inside-higher-ed-israel-boycott-row-intensifies/2010213.article
6. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/20/on-the-fallacy-of-engaging-with-the-israeli-academy/

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