A British Union Reverses a Boycott

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

Yehudith Harel | Chronicle of Higher Education | 17 June 2005

Many Israeli academics and their supporters welcomed the reversal of the AUT boycott. However, we are Israeli human-rights activists who want to express our disappointment and to reaffirm our support for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. We do so because, in Israel, "academic freedom," the main argument raised against the boycott, is being used to legitimize racism of the worst kind. As Israeli Jews who graduated from Israeli universities, we witnessed how lamentably few voices were raised against the occupation and the colonization of Palestinian land. Attempts to issue official condemnations on behalf of Israeli universities of the Israeli army's closure of Palestinian universities during the first and second intifadas failed. Likewise, none of the few student and faculty actions of solidarity with besieged Palestinian colleagues was endorsed by officials at Israeli universities. The majority of academics have either been silent or actively justified the cruel oppression of millions of Palestinians. Those few who take a dissident stand may risk their academic careers. Some Israeli scholars speak of Palestinians as "a demographic threat" and call for their "transfer," a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. Others justify horrific crimes committed against them in the name of state-building. The depressing fact is that such voices are raised not by isolated individuals but represent a trend that has gained prevalence and legitimacy. In this way, academic freedom in Israel has been perverted into a tool to create space for racist ideas and promote state policies of oppression and violence. Despite today's rhetoric about "peace," many of us who live in Israel and visit the occupied territories recognize the truth: Israel is turning Gaza into the biggest prison enclosure in the world, while engaging in continued land theft in the West Bank. The silence and complicity of Israeli academics in the face of such sweeping human-rights violations lead to one logical conclusion: It has fallen to international civil society to take steps to render the occupation untenable. The Israeli human-rights community needs assistance -- which a boycott like the British union's could have provided. That is why we are so disappointed that, instead of holding Israel accountable for its brutal treatment of Palestinians and standing firm in the face of the barrage of partisan criticism, the AUT capitulated to the so-called pro-Israel lobby. A boycott is a classic nonviolent tool for social change: the Boston Tea Party, Gandhi's boycott of British textiles, the Montgomery bus boycott that started the American civil-rights movement, and the international boycott of South Africa that played a vital role in ending apartheid. An international boycott of their universities could be the shock it takes to wake Israeli academics up, and the first step toward mobilizing other parts of society. -- by Yehudith Harel, an Israeli organizational psychologist and one of the founders of Israeli-Palestinian Action Group for Peace; and an Israeli lawyer, a former officer in the Israeli army, who wishes to remain anonymous.