2011 was a year of hope and revolution. At the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), we began the year with a message of solidarity with the people behind the revolutions in the region. By mid-year, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee (BNC) expressed a similar sentiment of solidarity with movements around the world that seized on this revolutionary moment.1
As 2012 begins, we wish to reaffirm our strong support for and solidarity with the progressive revolutionary voices of the world valiantly putting their life at risk for our collective freedom, justice and dignity, especially in the face of counterrevolutionary forces, often from within.
Looking ahead to 2012, we must first look back at the academic and cultural boycott accomplishments of the BDS movement during the past year. We had set ourselves a goal to more rigorously pursue and implement academic boycotts, and the year did not disappoint!
BDS activists began the year strong with the University of Johannesburg’s historic decision to cut its institutional ties with Ben Gurion University 2. In our response to this decision we expressed our support and affirmed a triumph for the logic of academic boycott against Israel’s complicit academy, as consistently reflected in the positions of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) as well as PACBI and its partners worldwide, including in South Africa. It is, indeed, a significant step in the direction of holding Israeli institutions accountable for their collusion in maintaining the state’s occupation, colonization and apartheid regime against the Palestinian people. 3
Late in the year, BNC members PACBI, PFUUPE, Stop the Wall, and the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI), launched a new campaign against the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which is â€œa multi-billion euro European Union research funding scheme that provides funds for universities and companies from different countries to work together on specific research projects.â€ 4 Our partners in Europe, the European Platform for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (EPACBI), are also gearing up to work on this strategic campaign. FP7 was identified as a prime target because the program allows Israeli military companies and complicit academic institutions to participate on an equal footing with other EU member states. This campaign identifies a clear, egregious target in order to mobilize academics and institutions in Europe to do their part in ending Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.
In addition to this campaign and the victory in South Africa, student movements in Europe and the United States continue to expand and become more vocal and active on college campuses. In September, Students for Justice in Palestine organized a national conference in which they reasserted their support for BDS as a key tactic on college campuses in the US. We regularly communicate with new groups around the world wanting to start their own campus initiatives. The new year will begin on a positive note with a US national BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania, and PACBI promises to appeal to more academics to put pressure on institutional links between their universities or academic organizations and Israel. We look to our partners to identify such links, as was the case in a recent appeal to the International Society for Justice Research to locate its conference outside Israel 5.
On the cultural scene, Alice Walker, Mike Leigh, Iain Banks, Meg Ryan, Henning Mankell, the Pixies, Elvis Costello, the late Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Faithless, and Massive Attack are among the many who have continued to stay away from apartheid Israel. In 2011, among the notable additions to this list were Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp, MF Doom, Jello Biafra, and most recently Joker. Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters’s public endorsement of cultural boycott and BDS in general 6 was a significant addition to actual supporters of the boycott, as opposed to cancelations, and was welcomed by BDS activists around the world.
The year was not all without challenges. In an ironic twist, the Israeli government proved the effectiveness of the BDS movement by passing an anti-BDS law in July of last year that effectively criminalizes any call for the boycott of Israel made by Israelis. While the BDS movement promises to overcome any legal battles waged against it, this law restricts the freedom of speech and movement of Israeli BDS activists.
Moreover, we faced those who did not heed our appeal for freedom, justice and equality, and tried to circumvent the call for boycott under various guises, such as â€œnot understanding the conflictâ€ or viewing art as â€œabove politics,â€ while simultaneously allowing their art to be used politically to whitewash Israeli violations of international law and human rights. We responded to these artists and cultural workers with the hope that they will listen to our moral reasoning in the future 7. We also struggled with those who do not understand the nefarious impacts of normalization and the way it operates, and continued to appeal to them by explaining the nuances of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, and the mechanisms by which these oppressions control us 8.
At PACBI, we continue, with our international partners in Europe, South Africa, South Asia, the US, Canada, Australia and Latin America, to push the movement forward despite all obstacles. We continue to educate on the values of resistance with every campaign we launch and appeal we write, whether they go answered or not. The struggle for self-determination is a slow and steady process that demands patience, commitment, and sustained and ethical resistance. We believe that BDS offers people around the world the tools to join or effectively stand in solidarity with this resistance.
With this in mind, and looking forward to 2012, we call on activists to intensify all aspects of BDS, but to especially focus, whenever possible, on academic boycott. Specifically, we call on faculty and student activists to pressure their academic organizations to end collaboration with complicit Israeli academic institutions or organizations, and not to organize or participate in conferences in Israel. Furthermore, we appeal to academics not to publish in Israeli academic journals and to withdraw from editorial boards of international journals based at Israeli universities. We also urge academics and students to oppose study-abroad programs that place students from the US and Europe at Israeli universities. The ongoing campaign by California State University (CSU) faculty and students against the renewal of the CSU-Israel study abroad scheme is an inspiration 9.
In short, we call on BDS activists around the world to mobilize over the implementation of the academic boycott guidelines 10, and for those in Europe to rally against Israeli collaboration under FP7. As Archbishop Desmond tutu wrote in support of the University of Johannesburg’s boycott of Ben Gurion University:
Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. 11
It is time to take a stand to end all forms of complicity with Israeli academic and cultural institutions; they are key partners in the Israeli regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.