Category Archives: Academic Boycott of Israel

Do Academic Boycotts Work? Noam Chomsky, Jackson Lears and Nada Elia debate how best to pressure Israel

IN JULY 2005, 173 PALESTINIAN NGOs came together and, invoking U.N. resolutions and the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, called for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.” So the movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) was launched.

Today, following the conflict in Gaza last summer and the continuing expansion of settlements on the West Bank, the debate has shifted from whether a boycott is needed to what kind. A boycott of companies such as SodaStream that benefit from the occupation of the West Bank? A prohibition against investing in any company in Israel or the Occupied Territories that is not involved in “peaceful pursuits;’ as is the policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? Or a boycott of Israeli academic institutions?

It is the proposal for an academic boycott that has drawn most of the press in the United States. In December 2013, the American Studies Association voted to join the academic boycott of Israel.

In These Times, discussed the merits of an academic boycott with three academics: Nada Elia, a diaspora Palestinian born in Baghdad and raised in Beirut, and professor of global and gender studies at Antioch University-Seattle; Jackson Lears, a professor of history at Rutgers University and the editor in chief of Raritan, A Quarterly Review; and Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT.

Nada, what are supporters of an academic boycott, as part of the BDS movement, hoping to accomplish?

NADA: We are engaging in an academic boycott to improve the daily circumstances of Palestinians whose rights are being violated. Israel is a settler-colonial state occupying Palestine. There is a system of extreme oppression, disenfranchisement and dispossession. If we agree that Israel violates the human rights of Palestinians, what can we do about it? The idea of BDS comes from its record of success in past situations of oppression and apartheid, like in South Africa.

JACKSON: I understand the need for the BDS movement and the frustration that Palestinians must feel in what major media still call the “peace process.” But boycotting ideas is different than boycotting products produced by settlers. Many Israelis who are horrified by the actions of their government are in universities. Israeli universities, for all of their complicity with the Israeli military industrial complex, remain a sheltering ground for people who are eager to promote the justice of the Palestinian cause. It would be a big mistake to increase their sense of beleaguerment.

NOAM: BDS is perfectly legitimate and has had considerable success. But is an academic boycott the right tactic? During the Vietnam War, the political science department at MIT was directly involved in developing counterinsurgency techniques. MIT was also the main academic center for resistance against the War. Would an academic boycott of MIT have been appropriate in the 1960s? I certainly didn’t think so. An academic boycott on Israel is one of the least effective tactics that one could think of. It shifts attention from the oppression of the Palestinians, and in particular our crucial role in it as Americans, to the question of academic freedom.

Nada, how would you respond to that?

NADA: The defense of academic freedom is a privileging of a freedom that Palestinians do not have. Palestinians do not have the right to go to conferences, the right to education. BDS is very much a tactic that educates people about the daily lives of Palestinians and that reinforces the fact that protecting the academic freedom of the few is basically protecting their privileges.

We are totally in conversation with Israeli academics who are endorsers of the academic boycott. We are boycotting complicit institutions. It’s not an individual boycott.

JACKSON: I’m not sure everyone who supports the academic boycott makes the same careful distinctions. The American Studies Association boycott has in fact prevented a Ph.D. student at the American Studies program at Tel-Aviv University, a Palestinian, an Arab citizen of Israel, from recruiting qualified outside readers to review his thesis.

Universities have always functioned to reproduce the existing social order, but, as Noam points out, they’ve also functioned somewhat paradoxically to shelter critics and dissidents against that social order. If we’re talking about educating Americans, members of the Israeli Left from Israeli universities ought to be encouraged to come here and not be made to feel that because of the actions of their government, they, too, are complicit.

NADA: The fact that it is impacting some people is not a critique of an academic boycott, it’s a statement of success. Academic boycotts have an impact, and they have to have teeth to be felt. The boycott of South Africa was felt by the South Africans. And yes, as Jackson said, some Israelis are outspoken about Israel’s violations. We embrace them. But the ones most qualified to educate people are the oppressed. It’s like saying a white person is the best qualified to speak about apartheid. No, the victims of apartheid are the best qualified.

NOAM: If one thinks an academic boycott is a relevant tactic, why not boycott American universities that are involved in the U.S. role in Israel? Nobody proposes that, and we have to ask why. The answer is because it will neither have a positive effect on policy, nor will it help educate and engage people in the United States to become more involved in a constructive way.

The issue with regard to Palestine is not just Israeli policy, it’s U.S. government policy. If there’s going to be a change in policy with regard to the Palestinians, the U.S. role is the one aspect of policy that we can hope to influence directly.

NADA: We cannot look to the U.S. government, except as an enabler of Israeli atrocities. When we know that, what are our alternatives if not something grassroots?

Noam and Jackson, if not an academic boycott, what tactics do you think would be more effective?

NOAM: Tactics such as boycotting products from the Occupied Territories-and maybe going as far as the European Union directive to break all contacts with institutions involved in the Territories. Or a targeted boycott aimed at Ariel University, which is right in the middle of the West Bank. That’s a tactic that can help people understand what the issues are in the West Bank and be effective in policy terms.

NADA: Our role is to bring the focus back to the actual subject matter, which is the human rights of the Palestinians. At the same time, I would not say that an academic boycott as a concept is at fault. I would say it is the climate in the United States that has shifted toward a discussion of academic freedom because it is more comfortable to speak about academic freedom. Ariel University is a product of the Israeli government. Ariel is the fruit; we are looking at the tree. An academic boycott is simply part of BDS, and BDS keeps pointing the finger at Israel, not at the United States and not at Ariel. There would be no Ariel if it weren’t for Israeli policy.

NOAM: And U.S. policy. Therefore, we should design tactics that focus on Israeli and U.S. policies and don’t shift attention to something more comfortable and irrelevant. And there are plenty of choices that do not have that negative consequence.

JACKSON: We need to address tactics that will effectively challenge the default setting of American public discourse, which is uncritically pro-Israel. The American intelligensia, such as it is, is going to take Israeli professors and intellectuals seriously as critics of their own society. These critics of Israel policy inside Israel, like Michael Zakim, who teaches American history at Tel Aviv University, are willing to make a more powerful case than anyone in the U.S. government seems willing to make.

NOAM: The ones I know, at least, don’t regard the academic boycott as a sensible tactic. Unlike other BDS tactics, like boycotting products of settlements, such as SodaStream.

NADA: None of these are mutually exclusive with an academic boycott.

NOAM: Well, you can’t do everything, so you have to prioritize the things that are effective. In the case of South Africa, the educational and organizational groundwork was carried out extensively and successfully before targeted academic boycotts were implemented, and that’s crucial. That hasn’t been done here yet. We have a lot to do.

NADA: We have a lot to do, absolutely.

JACKSON: We can all agree on that.

March 2015

Do Academic Boycotts Work?;

Noam Chomsky, Jackson Lears and Nada Elia debate how best to pressure Israel



LENGTH: 1420 words

#BDS is tragedy turned into action. #Boycott #Israel

Scattered boycott efforts with no coordinated campaign efforts may not have the numbers needed to create a successful outcome.  On the one hand, it may make me feel good to displace Israeli apartheid cheese into the diaper aisle, confounding the store workers when they have to restock the item.  But on the other hand, joining in national and even international efforts for a boycott has big advantages.  One such international boycott effort is of Israeli “AHAVA” cosmetics made from stolen minerals in the Dead Sea.  AHAVA products are on sale at huge chains such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, ULTA Beauty Shops and Macy’s Dept. Stores as well as stores in Europe.  Boycott efforts have been in progress for years now.   The SODASTREAM boycott is another example, with highly publicized efforts in the press.  The BDS Movement states:

Trying to boycott the products of every single company that participates in Israeli apartheid is a daunting task that has a slim change of having a concrete impact.

It makes more sense to focus on optimal targets that are being targeted as part of national or international campaigns. Consumer boycotts are most effective when part of a broader campaign against a particular product or aiming to pressure a retailer to stop selling a particular Israeli product.

To join in campaigns that are focused, navigate through these websites:

AHAVA boycott

AHAVA boycott

In the UK, National Union of Teachers Pass Milestone Boycott of Israel Resolution


The British teachers’ union (National Union of Teachers – NUT) of over 300,000 members has shown strong support for the academic boycott of Israel.  NUT recently passed a BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) resolution (see  pp. 45-46), that not only condemns Israel’s violations of international law in the Naqab (Negev), but also condemns Israel’s discrimination against Palestinian students and teachers who are citizens of Israel.  Pictures of the conference can be seen at  .  The text:

PALESTINE MOTION 31 (East London) to move,

(Croydon) to second:

Conference welcomes the visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory by a delegation of Executive and non-Executive members in October 2013, and the strengthening of links between the National Union of Teachers and the General Union of Palestinian Teachers.

Conference notes the ongoing oppressive and unjust regime imposed by the state of Israel on the Palestinian people and is especially concerned at the impact on young people and their families.

Conference endorses the following demands and calls on the British Government to actively pursue these objectives:

1. The dismantling of the 700 Kilometre long Wall condemned by the International Court of Justice in July 2004;

2. The ending of all illegal settlements which now control 42.7% of the West Bank (UN figures);

3. The ending of all moves to cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank​ through a process of settlement expansion and the demolition of Palestinian homes;

4. The support for the UN call for the end of the blockade of Gaza;

5. The dismantling of the Israeli army’s 532 Checkpoints (UN figures);

6. The ending of the inhuman treatment of Palestinian Child Prisoners as documented by Defence for Children International/Palestine Section;

7. The rescinding of the Government’s Prawer Plan to destroy Bedouin villages inside Israel and forceably transfer the people out of their established villages; and

8. The right of the Palestinians inside Israel to develop a curriculum which preserves their heritage and ends discrimination in education.

Conference reaffirms its commitment to campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle for peace and justice and calls on the Executive to distribute the report of the 2013 delegation as widely as possible publicising it through the Teacher and all appropriate Union channels.

Conference instructs the Executive to:

i. Support TUC policy, to “boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall”;

ii. Pressure the UK Government to call on the Israeli Government to comply with international law and human rights treaties;

iii. Work to win the backing of Education International and the ETUC(E) for these policies and to seek to collaborate with like minded unions internationally;

iv. Convey these views to the Israeli Teachers Union;

v. Express our solidarity with the GUPT for its objectives for education and discuss with them ways to develop this solidarity;

vi. Call for an end to the discrimination against Palestinian students and teachers within Israel;

vii. Encourage divisions to make links with Palestinian teachers and schools including organising delegation exchanges;

viii. Encourage Associations, Schools and Divisions to publicise the report of the delegation to members; invite speakers to their meetings and encourage active membership participation in work on this issue;

ix. Organise a special meeting for Division representatives and International Solidarity Officers to present the report, explain Union policy, outlining ways to develop the work and incorporate regular updates in Divisional Secretaries briefings and school representatives training; and

x. Continue to campaign for the rights of Palestinian children including child prisoners and work to engage all members in this campaign encouraging individual membership of and affiliation to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and support for Action for Palestinian Children Prisoners.


31.1  (Buckinghamshire) to move,

​ ​(Kirklees) to second:

Conference instructs the Executive:

Add new point:

xi. Educate the membership through publications, divisions and international solidarity officers of the ‘Pinkwashing’ propaganda used by Israel to make their citizens and the wider world believe that they are progressive in respect of LGBT rights, while distracting attention away from the human rights abuses they have instigated by their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Academic Boycott of Israel

BDS: Hebrew U conference dealt two blows

  Written by Campaign to Boycott the Oral History Conference at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
 Hebrew University as seen from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan/Photo: WikimediaHebrew University as seen from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan/Photo: Wikimedia

We are pleased to announce that the planned June 2014 “International Oral History Conference” being organized by Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been rendered a double blow with the withdrawal of their two international keynote speakers: Alessandro Portelli (Italy) and Mary Marshall Clark (USA).  The university’s claim to be hosting the “first international oral history conference” was unfounded when they made it; it is even less true now.

We welcome the principled stand that Portelli and Clark have now taken, thereby denying Hebrew University the opportunity to use their names to cover up its deep complicity in violations of international law and human rights.

We continue to call on other international oral history practitioners and scholars from all disciplines to refuse to participate in a conference at an institution that is complicit in Israel’s flagrant and persistent infringement of Palestinian human and political rights.

The initial campaign launched four months ago by Palestinian, Israeli, North American and British oral historians — among other academics — has now been endorsed by almost 400 academics – one-third of whom are oral historians – from 27 countries in Europe, South Africa, Asia and Oceana, as well as North and South America.[1] We thank all those international scholars and professionals who, by adding their names to the public letter/boycott call, are endorsing the 2004 Call of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). This calls not only for the boycott of academic and cultural institutions involved in Israel’s system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid but also to “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions.

While all Israeli universities are deeply involved in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism, and apartheid, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is particularly noteworthy.[2]

The land on which some of its Mount Scopus campus buildings and facilities were expanded was acquired as a result of Israel’s 1968 illegal confiscation of 3345 dunums of Palestinian land, land which is deemed occupied territory under international law.

It maintains close ties to the Israeli military industry, which is accused of war crimes against Palestinian civilians; provides special privileges to Israeli soldiers and security personnel; and collaborates with the Israeli army in training officers and recruits.[3]

It discriminates against Palestinians, including those who are citizens of Israel bynot providing  teaching services to the residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas in contrast to those provided to Jewish groups; and not offering any courses in Arabic.

It denies freedom of speech and protest to its few Palestinian students as evidenced by the prohibition of a commemoration event during the 2008-2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip during which approximately 1,400 Palestinians were killed; at the same time, offering special consideration and benefits to students who participated in that invasion

The staff from the Hebrew University take part in the supervision and promotion committees of students and staff at Ariel University, which was established on confiscated Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank

It does not recognize degrees awarded by the Palestinian Al-Quds University in Jerusalem while those awarded by the Ariel University in an illegal colony are recognized.

The call to boycott the “international” oral history conference at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is part of the growing international tide to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian human rights and international law. From Capetown to Catalunya, Sydney to San Paolo and London to Lahore, faculty and students are challenging their institutions to honor the Palestinian call for a non-violent response to Israeli apartheid and colonialism.  Even in the US, as Alex Lubin has noted, what Edward Said dubbed “America’s last taboo” was broken, as senior scholars and youthful students vigorously debated an academic boycott resolution at the American Studies Association conference – the outcome of which is still being determined.[4]

We call on oral historians and related professionals and activists around the world to follow now in the footsteps of Alesssandro Portelli and Mary Marshall Clark by refusing to be a party to sanitizing the reputation of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and to covering up its close association with Israeli occupation and settler-colonialism.

To sign on to the public letter/boycott call, email:

The Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel: Unsettling Exceptionalisms

Syracuse University Press recently published a book by Dr. Magid Shihade entitled: “Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict among Palestinians in Israel - See more at:
Syracuse University Press recently published a book by Dr. Magid Shihade entitled: “Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict among Palestinians in Israel – See more at:

The US Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel: Unsettling Exceptionalisms

By Sunaina Maira and Magid Shihade on July 16, 2012 0 Comments

On July 1, 2011, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), sent a letter to several scholars at US universities, inviting them to join a historic delegation to Palestine. The letter began:
We invite you to join a delegation that the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) is planning for a trip to Palestine in winter 2012. As you know, solidarity work on the question of Palestine has a long and rich history among academics and cultural workers in the U.S. Our campaign responded to the Palestinian call for academic and cultural boycott during the brutal assaults on Gaza in 2009 and has been trying to garner support from scholars and cultural workers in the U.S.. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has been growing rapidly, as the discourse on Palestine shifts in the mainstream public sphere and colleges begin to call for divestment for Israel.
We believe the call to stand on the boycott picket line with Palestinians is a crucial part of our work as academics and activists working for social justice, and against occupation, apartheid, incarceration, warfare, and colonization. As the brutality against the indigenous population of occupied Palestine continues unabated, our mobilization around the boycott becomes even more urgent. In addition to the list of endorsers we have been able to gather (now exceeding 500), we have been a part of several campaigns in the U.S., both related to the academic and cultural boycott, BDS in general, and solidarity campaigns with other communities and movements (see our website for reports and newsletter).
The delegation was one of the most visible campaigns organized by USACBI, which was launched in response to the call for solidarity from Palestinian scholars, intellectuals, and activists. The Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was established in 2004, but it took five years and the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, including the destruction of Palestinian schools and universities, for US scholars to officially call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. There had been several attempts to mobilize around academic boycott during the preceding years, but the massive and well-orchestrated campaigns of censorship and intimidation of those who dared to criticize the Israeli state made the heavy silence around the Palestine question a difficult one to rupture, including for academics. Scholars who challenged Israeli policies and propaganda lost tenure, in some cases, or had to fight to defend themselves against attacks and defamation, often by off-campus groups. The red herring of allegations of anti-Semitism was unleashed indiscriminately so that many scholars, and also artists, simply censored themselves.
This climate began to shift slowly after the horrific violence–including chemical weapons such as white phosphorus–that rained down on hundreds of thousands Palestinians trapped in the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip in winter 2008-09. Operation Cast Lead was one of many wars, and many massacres, that the Israeli settler colonial regime had inflicted in plain sight on its Palestinian subjects, but this 21st century settler colonialism and apartheid was finally becoming more difficult to evade in the U.S., even within the academic portals of the state that funded and legitimized Israel’s military occupation, wars, and racist policies. The Freedom Flotilla that attempted to break the siege of Gaza and Israel’s murder of international aid activists on board the Mavi Marmara in 2009 further fueled global outrage, including among U.S. scholars, about Israel’s exceptional impunity. A small group of scholars who belonged to a network called California Scholars for Academic Freedom began a conversation about organizing an academic and cultural boycott campaign in early 2009, which expanded to include other academics across the nation. The campaign began with a call to academics and cultural workers to endorse the principles of PACBI and to implement an academic and cultural boycott until Israel complied with:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Yet, despite Israel’s brutal assaults and violations of international human rights law, launching USACBI was not an easy task. In addition to the usual trump card of anti-Semitism that was hurled at the boycott movement, organizers were met with resistance from scholars who thought that it was not the “right moment” to talk about boycott (when is the right time to challenge apartheid and settler colonialism? how many people must be slaughtered or subjected to living death? Among other questions one could ask). Some detractors acknowledged, implicitly, the difficulty of challenging the dominant consensus in the U.S. academy, even as it was slowly crumbling, and it is very likely many were afraid to publicly support the boycott for fear of reprisals and backlash. Other academics argued that it was more “strategic” to focus on divestment, given that such campaigns had already emerged on U.S. campuses, and had been successful at colleges such as Hampshire.
Academic and cultural boycott is one prong of the larger BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement, so clearly all tactics and methods can be used simultaneously. Boycott is a tactic that, in essence, acknowledges that all else has failed to stop the targeted state’s violence and violations of human rights and international law, and that international pressure and withdrawal of support from an oppressive regime is the only tool left. Other critics of the boycott asked: why not China [or X repressive regime]? Apart from the fact that there is regular criticism of China’s human rights violations in the US academy and media, and no US scholar has been attacked for criticizing China, let alone denied tenure, the answer is simple: the US does not send billions of dollars of aid and technologies of death to China to aid in colonial and racist policies–nor does it lends its complete diplomatic, economic, and military support to any state other than Israel.
Then, of course, there was the argument about academic boycott as somehow curtailing academic freedom (an argument also used by the AAUP in officially opposing the academic boycott, in the case of Israel). The question USACBI asked in response was: Whose academic freedom? When Palestinian scholars and students face restrictions on movement that block their access to higher education; racial segregation that curtails their mobility and travel for research, conferences, and education abroad; and military violence, illegal detention, and torture, as do all other Palestinians, can there then be “academic freedom” in Palestine-Israel? USACBI insists that it is the academic freedom and the right to education of Palestinian subjects that needs to be foregrounded, but also their right to live a livable life, their right to freedom and the inalienable rights accorded to all humanity. It must be noted here, too, that USACBI, like PACBI, is an institutional boycott and not boycott of individuals, so it does not oppose the freedom of individual scholars to travel to Israel, do research, or engage in conversation or collaboration with Israeli scholars. But the rationale for a boycott of collaboration with and sponsorship from Israeli academic institutions is that these institutions have consistently supported the Israeli state through providing research for its occupation and military apparatus and through general agreement with its policies of displacement and annihilation of Palestinians. Those (few) Israeli scholars who oppose this collusion and these policies, in fact, support the boycott and some have even left Israel. Of course, no such counter-arguments are made when discussing the boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Thus, it is Israel that continues to be treated as an exceptional case–boycotting Israel is taking a stand against the exceptionalism of Israel in the U.S. academy and public sphere.
In this context, many U.S. (and Israeli) scholars have understood that the academy is a key site of contestation over the legitimacy of the Israeli state as a presumably democratic member of the Western family of nations. In fact, as the BDS movement expanded, Zionist think tanks described the boycott as a “strategic threat” to Israel, while others claimed that the academic boycott would only be an “existential” threat if it was endorsed by 500 endorsers. Well, 500 academics eventually signed on in support of USACBI by the spring of 2011, and as the tide of public opinion about Israel-Palestine has begun to shift in the US, so has it slowly shifted in the academy–though not without vicious reprisals by pro-Israel scholars and groups.
Yet, beyond the issue of numbers of signatories to USACBI, it was apparent that there needed to be a shift in the politics of solidarity within the US academy. USACBI had been founded against the grain of censorship and silencing, but many of its endorsers and supporters still struggled with campaigns of defamation and harassment that were relentless, tiring, and diversionary–all intended effects. In 2011, Kēhaulani Kauanui, an indigenous studies scholar and member of USACBI’s Advisory Board, suggested organizing a delegation of scholars to Palestine to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinian scholars and cultural workers, and to bring back a greater knowledge of the struggles in Palestine still missing within the U.S. academy and in the cultural arena. USACBI decided that this would be an important project, politically and also intellectually, that would hopefully help to push further the shift in conversation about Palestine-Israel that was unfolding in U.S. universities, and in particular, to highlight the role of scholars working on issues of colonialism, imperialism, racial statecraft, labor, and feminism.
We were particularly interested in bringing scholars of color and indigenous academics to Palestine, and in fostering a circuit of conversation and collaboration linking these academics and fields to scholars and universities in Palestine. In fact, the USACBI delegation was preceded and followed by a delegation of feminist and indigenous scholars and one comprised of queer scholars, respectively; there is a new paradigm that has emerged that focuses on the colonial and racist nature of the Israeli regime and the need for anticolonial, antiracist, and queer solidarity, specifically. The delegation was thus designed to contribute to a paradigmatic shift that has been taking place in approaches to Israel-Palestine (euphemistically described as a “conflict”), framing it as a problem of settler colonialism and Western, racist modernity.
In response to our invitation to visit Palestine in January 2012, nearly all of the scholars we contacted immediately agreed. A few had to cancel later due to personal reasons, but we were quite stunned by the unwavering commitment of these scholars to the project and the willingness to invest time, energy, and resources to take this trip to Palestine, all for the first time. The delegation was primarily coordinated by Sunaina Maira of USACBI, Rana Barakat and Lisa Taraki of PACBI, and Magid Shihade at Birzeit University in Palestine. The goal of the delegation was not to engage in political tourism to observe the occupation, or “occu-tourism” as it is derisively described, but to meet as many Palestinians as possible engaged in various forms of political and intellectual work and to see different sites of the settler colonial regime and the mechanism of control it inflicts on the native population.
During the six days the delegation spent in Palestine, they met with activists working on the ground such as Jamal Jum’a from Stop the Wall, Sam Bahour from The Right to Entry, Zacharia Odeh from the Jerusalem Civic Coalition, Anan Quzmar from The Right to Education campaign at Birzeit, and Fajr Harb and other young activists working to challenge Israeli limitations on Palestinians’ lives through direct action, such as the Freedom Riders’ campaign. This was a short trip but the scholars were able to travel to Ramallah, Birzeit, East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, al-Khalil (Hebron), and Haifa, as well as refugee camps such as A’ida in Bethlehem. They participated in two seminars with Palestinian scholars, one a public event in Ramallah organized by Muwatin (The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy) and the other in Haifa by Mada Al-Carmel, both research institutions run by Palestinian academics. The delegation also met scholars and administrators at Birzeit University, including the president of Birzeit University, Khalil Hindi; these proved to be important conversations where the participants learned about one another’s research and political work and discussed their experiences as academics working under different conditions.
For example, the meeting at Mada al-Carmel with Palestinian academics, who are citizens of the state of Israel, raised several crucial issues about the academic boycott, some of which also reflect the mood among Palestinians in the West Bank about the utility of this tactic. Some scholars in Haifa suggested a more radical (we would say more accurate) framework for the boycott, emphasizing the need to use the paradigm of settler colonialism and to frame all resistance in relation to the origins of the Israeli settler colonial state in 1948, not just the occupation beginning in 1967. This framework is implicit in the three principles of PACBI and the BDS movement, mentioned above, but scholars in “1948 Palestine” have insisted on the need to foreground settler colonialism and the apartheid nature of the state in discussions of the Palestine question, while the boycott has been framed around rights enshrined in international law. It is not widely known that Palestinians in Israel have suffered a long history of “invisible” occupation, walls, and checkpoints, and also of exclusion from fellow Palestinians as well as from Arab societies given the restrictions on travel posed by their Israeli citizenship. This liminal position, deliberately created by the Israeli settler colonial regime, has meant that they no longer have the economic, academic, cultural, and political ties with Arab societies, for example, with Lebanon and Syria, that they enjoyed prior to 1948. Since the creation of the state that was built on the destruction of their own society, they have lived with the paradox of being “present absentees” in the eyes (and according to the policies) of the state as well as the larger Palestinian and Arab national movement. The meeting in Haifa ended with the hope that the boycott movement would move toward a framework that takes into account the historical structure of the Israeli settler colonial state as embedded in Zionist ideology and practices in Palestine since the early years of the 20th century, and contribute to the growing conversation between Palestinian scholars and academics elsewhere working on settler colonialisms.
The delegation had a glimpse into the everyday difficulties that Palestinians confront, such as restrictions on freedom of movement, enclosure, and interrogation as they traveled through Israeli checkpoints at Qalandia and Bethlehem and saw what it means to live encaged by the Wall. They also met with Palestinians who have suffered from Israeli house demolitions and settler violence and aggression in neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in Jerusalem. In Haifa, they talked to Palestinians who are Israeli citizens but do not have full citizenship, and live with the daily paradox of being citizens of a state that was built on the destruction of their own society, and continue to be treated with contempt and racism by the Israeli establishment, facing multiple forms of discrimination, repression, and exclusion.
The reflections of individual delegation members in their own essays in this volume will shed much more light on their encounters with Palestine and Palestinians, but there are two points we would like to highlight here. One of the themes that emerged from conversations with scholars and local Palestinians was the common experiences of colonialism, imperialism, and racism linking lives and struggles in the U.S. and Israeli regimes. Another was that for some members of the delegation, conditions in Palestine seemed much worse than what they had imagined, and worse than what had occurred under South Africa’s apartheid regime. It is important not to dwell on comparing suffering and parsing its classification, but the delegation was able to see that the Palestine issue is not about deprivation or even poverty as such, but about a modern, racist system of control that is bent on choking the lives of people simply because they are Palestinian–and non-Jews. The presence of Palestinians and natives disturbs the settler colonial structure within the territories colonized in 1948 as well as in 1967. In brief, Palestinian life unsettles the settlers.
Our hope is that scholars from the U.S., and elsewhere, who work in different fields and are engaged in various progressive political movements will continue to travel to Palestine. The issue is not just of witnessing and travel per se but of generating and expanding a political and intellectual space in the U.S. academy and highlighting the racist and dangerous realities of the latest settler colonial technologies in Palestine as implemented by Zionists and Jewish Israelis. These racial and colonial technologies continue to be supported by states in different parts of the West, as well as in the global South, and at this moment they receive  greatest support and legitimation by an older, Western settler colony and empire–the United States. Like many states in the West, the U.S. sees Israel, as does the Israeli establishment, as a Western front in the “non-modern East.” Regimes of racial supremacy have had many victims since the rise of Western colonial modernity, of whom Palestinian natives are just some of the most recent. It is in Palestine that this convergence and collusion of colonial and imperial forces is currently situated. And so it is in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle that one can hope for a growing coalition of resistance so that a different future is possible, not only for Palestinians but for every victim of Western racist modernity, and for those who pay its price even at the center of the declining western Empire–the United States.
USACBI wishes to thank the many individuals and organizations who supported the delegation in various ways and made this trip possible, especially Muwatin (The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy), for their generous financial support; Zacharia Odeh of the Jerusalem Civic Coalition for arranging travel to Jerusalem and around the West Bank; Morgan Cooper of The Palestinian Writing Workshop for her generous support and able assistance; Dany at the Royal Court Suites Hotel; and the restaurants  (La Vie, Sangria, and Azure) in Ramallah who provided delectable meals.
Top image: Courtesy of the Palestine Poster Project. Artist: Yousef Katalo (2009).


Princeton Students COME OUT for Palestinians on Campus!!

Over 40 students, from Princeton University, NJ, are breaking the stigma, by “coming out” for Palestine. This term, usually applied to the GLBT community, also applies to solidarity with Palestine, because people often attempt to hide their solidarity, as it is not widely accepted (yet) in the USA and on campuses. From the video:
“We are over 40 Princeton University students participating in a public expression of solidarity with Palestine. For more, visit”
The decision this May by the esteemed Professor Stephen Hawking to support the academic boycott of Israel, boosts student efforts in to support Palestinians. For more see

Hawking’s support for boycott – a ‘quantum leap’

FRIDAY, 10 MAY 2013

Author:  John Hilley

A momentous boost for Palestinians and the pro-Palestine movement in the decision of renowned professor of physics/cosmology Stephen Hawking to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel.

While actual justice for occupied and besieged Palestinians may still seem many political ‘light years’ away, this declaration from such a notable and respected figure represents a kind of ‘quantum leap’ in thepopular projection of the Palestinian cause.

As confirmed by Cambridge University, Hawking has acted in specific support of the academic boycott movement:

“I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

Israel and its supporters have reacted with dark hostility, some of the criticism disgusting and vitriolic.

Besides serving to expose such virulence, Hawking’s decision and reaction to it has all been to the good in stimulating the boycott and raising awareness of the actual arguments.

In a concise article, Ben White lists five key reasons for approving Hawking’s action and supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) agenda at large.

In short:

5. It serves to counter ‘Brand Israel’, the state-cultural effort to whitewash apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
4. It helps expose the hypocrisy of those like Shimon Peres, a war criminal masquerading as a dove.
3. It shows that boycott is perfectly consistent with, not against, dialogue, serving to open up discussion of the occupation rather than engage in protective/excusing words.
2. Rather than allow impunity, it offers a tactical means of making Israel accountable for its crimes.
1. Above all, it recognises that Palestinian civil society is itself asking for BDS.

Ali Abunimah, a key advocate for BDS echoes all these points, rejecting, in particular, the spurious claim that it diminishes ‘dialogue’ and the ‘peace process’:

“One of the most deceptive aspects of the so-called peace process is the pretence that Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides, equally at fault, equally responsible – thus erasing from view the brutal reality that Palestinians are an occupied, colonised people, dispossessed at the hands of one of the most powerful militaries on earth. For more than two decades, under the cover of this fiction, Palestinians have engaged in internationally-sponsored “peace talks” and other forms of dialogue, only to watch as Israel has continued to occupy, steal and settle their land, and to kill and maim thousands of people with impunity.”

For Abunimah, Hawking’s laudable decision is no less than “a turning point” in international support for a public boycott. Phyllis Bennis has described the independent evaluation of this greatest living scientist as “huge” in its significance, particularly as Hawking was asked as the keynote speaker at the Peres conference, an event of key importance in promoting and branding Israel.

And there’s little doubt that Israel is deeply concerned about such a prestigious figure taking such an open position. Suddenly, someone who has been revered for his brilliance to science and human understanding is now pilloried for his rational arguments and humanitarian actions.

Faced with such notable stances and the confidence it offers others to follow – the upcomingunder-21 UEFA championships in Israel providing another key test for the regime, as dissenting players join other public and cultural figures – Israel’s advocates are engaged in a gathering damage limitation exercise.

Uneasy about denouncing someone of Hawking’s stature, some have sought to belittle such ‘signatures’ and, just as deceptively, criticise the ‘selectivity’ of given causes.

For example, writing at the Guardian, Jewish Chronicle comment editor Jennifer Lipman argues:

“It’s disingenuous, investing one signature with the weight of an entire political approach, and implying that because of a person’s notoriety, their pronouncements are gospel instead of what they are – the views of someone no more or less informed. Many causes need glitter to get a hearing. The Rohingya Muslims, for example: their plight rarely makes the front page. George Clooney brought Darfur to the world’s attention. You can say plenty about Gaza, but you cannot claim it is ignored by the mainstream media.”

But who is claiming such ‘investment’ as “gospel”? What’s “disingenuous” about a person, any person, giving their name to a just cause, one that they’ve thought conscientiously about? And precisely where are we seeing all these people like Clooney standing up for Palestine or any other issue/cause/state not approved of by the West? If they do, they’re at risk of political-cultural ostracism and career decline.

Patronisingly, Lipman asserts that the issue is too complex for ‘easy avoidance’ of the ‘facts’:

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extraordinarily complex. It requires activists with a vested interest to focus on the facts, to aim for more than point-scoring, and consider the real questions – how to end the cycle of violence, for one, and how to educate people on both sides as to why two states is the answer – not which celebrity agrees with them.”

Whose ‘facts’, one wonders? These will, no doubt, be those ‘all-important’ Israeli ‘facts on the ground’ – the settlements, the wall and all other aspects of the occupation and siege – that we’re asked to recognise.

And why the ‘educational imperative’ that a two state solution is the only answer?  Or is Lipman afraid that even the ‘average observer’ is able to see the other much fairer, but more troubling, option for Israel: one state built on equal democratic rights for all citizens, all people?

Nor can Lipman avoid the familiar ‘dialogue’ trope:

“What the Middle East desperately needs is dialogue, which is why I believe a boycott cannot offer a constructive approach. The discussion could well benefit from meaningful interventions from intellectuals like Hawking, but these must go beyond headline-grabbing.”

Thus, advocates for Palestine are merely “headline grabbing” in applauding Hawking’s position. Deductively, Hawking, as another clear and willing advocate, must also be engaged in such “headline grabbing” rather than considered thought on what Lipman and others would have us believe is a ‘complex’ matter.

Perhaps she thinks even someone with the mind to grapple quarks and black holes is somehow unable to grasp the relatively simple equation that Israel’s occupation is illegal, that its apartheid policies are indefensible and that its refusal of justice is deserving of the civil-humanitarian responses given by Hawking.

A further pro-Israel argument suggests that other injustices deserve the boycott treatment before Israel. In a fine rebuttal of Israeli academic and Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger, Israeli writer writer Noam Sheifaz rejects the claim:

“The notion according to which the horrors in Syria or Darfur make ending the occupation a less worthy cause represents the worst kind of moral relativism, especially when it’s being voiced by members of the occupying society.”

Sheifaz also neatly answers anti-boycott liberals ‘opposing’ the occupation and the posturing appeals of ‘neutral’ academic institutions:

“Yet the thing that made Prof. Strenger jump is not “any action” but rather something very specific – the academic boycott. Personally, I think that his text mostly portrays a self-perception of innocence. Israel, according to Strenger, doesn’t deserve to be boycotted and the “liberal academics” – like himself – specifically, don’t deserve it because they “oppose the occupation.” At this point in time, I think it’s impossible to make such distinctions. The occupation – which will celebrate 46 years next month – is obviously an Israeli project, to which all elements of society contribute and from which almost all benefit. The high-tech industry’s connection to the military has been widely discussed, the profit Israeli companies make exploiting West Bank resources is documented and the captive market for Israeli goods in the West Bank and Gaza is known. Strenger’s own university cooperates with the army in various programs, and thus contributes its own share to the national project.”

Some other ‘left’ opposition to Hawking’s decision is based on a crude misrepresentation of the BDS movement itself, citing its ‘driving one state’ view and ‘goal’ of destroying Israel. As should be patently clear, this, as Abunimah shows, is part of the same pernicious Zionist myth:

First, the facts. The 2005 Palestinian BDS call makes absolutely no mention of one state or two. It is not a call for a political “solution.” It is a rights-based call with three clear demands of Israel:

(1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
(2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
(3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

Second, any informed person would know that the vast majority of organizations represented on the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) – the movement’s steering group and collective leadership – explicitly support a two-state solution.

Plainly, BDS is not a ‘solution-based’ organisation, simply an inclusive vehicle for opposing the occupation and a means of garnering broad support for it through a particular strategy.

In all these regards, Hawking’s decision to boycott is of vital worth, both in its moral integrity and in its logical reasoning. It’s a sign of Israel’s deepening concern that its proponents have little in response but lame, fabricated and misleading arguments.

For Hawking, BDS and anyone else concerned about realising an end to Israel’s brutal occupation and oppression, the point is not just to keep talking, but to keep talking about the core issue of injustice and how we transcend the artificial call of ‘dialogue’.