The Academic Boycott of Israel

January 30, 2014

In the past few months, the movement to enact an academic boycott of Israeli institutions has garnered increasing support, and, as a result greater attention by mainstream and right-wing politicians and organizations. Within the United States, the movement is led by USACBI - the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. As their website explains, the movement supports the call by Palestinian Civil Society to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. http://www.usacbi.org/

I have been an active supporter and participant in BDS for the past several years. My decision to support BDS was a natural extension of my acknowledgement of the injustice of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and my growing knowledge and politicization regarding the history of Israel and Zionism. This was not a quick process for me - like most U.S. Jews, I grew up in a liberal but decidedly Zionist home and community. Zionism was so pervasive that we didn't even have to name it as such - we assumed that Israel was the answer to anti-Semitism and never questioned its right to exist or how its existence was formed through ethnic cleansing and an ongoing process of settler-colonialism. As I continued to develop a political consciousness, Zionism remained a blind-spot; I was, what a friend recently referred to - PEP, Progressive except for Palestine. I will save my story of how and why my views on Israel/Zionism changed for another entry.

When I learned of BDS, it seemed a natural and logical way to enact my feelings about the injustice of the ongoing occupation. Plus, honestly, it wasn't hard. There are a few major Israeli-owned products and companies that can be easily avoided for most U.S. consumers. And everytime I explained why I would never own a Sodastream or did not buy Sabra hummus, it was a great opportunity to spread the word about the movement. I'll admit that I was also always free to avoid the conversation if I wanted - I've certainly never had anyone ask me why I don't own a Sodastream or Teva sandals.

I have welcomed the ongoing debates within academic organizations like the American Studies Association because I support the visibility that they are bringing to USACBI and BDS and the conversations they are engendering. I attended several of the conversations held at the ASA Conference in Washington D.C. in November 2013 and appreciated being able to witness how scholars from a variety of personal and academic backgrounds related the boycott to their own ideas, research, and experiences. Scholars of history, Latina/o studies, Asian American studies and culture, Native American studies, middle eastern studies, disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, and trans studies expressed how they understood the current movement. This broad and diverse base of support reflects one of my own strongest reasons for supporting the boycott - the movement is fundamentally about one of solidarity with an occupied peoples.

Those who oppose the boycott - who make claims to the abuse of free speech, the denial of educational access and opportunity - also embolden my support of the boycott. The truth is that there is no equal access to education or free speech in Israel or the occupied territories today. In one of my courses, I often screen the film The Panama Deception about the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama to oust Manuel Noriega. At one point, a commentator explains: "You can't restore democracy to a place that never had democracy." Those who oppose the boycott under the guise of upholding these things that do not exist only support the status quo - and the status quo is apartheid.

Below I am posting several articles and links relevant to this discussion.

The ASA resolution: http://www.theasa.net/american_studies_association_resolution_on_academic_boycott_of_israel

The AAAS (Association of Asian American Studies) resolution:

http://www.aaastudies.org/content/images/files/aaas%204_20_13%20-%20conference%20resolution%20to%20support%20the%20boycott%20of%20israeli%20academic%20institutions.pdf

The NAISA (Native American and Indigenous Studies Association) resolution:

http://naisa.org/node/719

Angela Davis on why she supports boycotting Israel:

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/nora-barrows-friedman/angela-davis-support-bds-and-palestine-will-be-free

Joan Scott on why she changed her mind regarding the boycott:

http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/files/JAF/2013%20JAF/Scott.pdf

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