Archive for September, 2010

Cut ties with Israel University, UJ told

Posted in International BDS Actions on September 28, 2010 by Marcy Newman

September 28 2010 at 07:14pm

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Tuesday added its voice to calls for the University of Johannesburg to cut ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University.

“… we call upon the University of Johannesburg to act in the interest of justice and terminate an agreement between itself and the Ben-Gurion University on the grounds of BGU’s direct and indirect support for the Israeli military and the occupation itself,” said Cosatu’s international relations secretary, Bongani Masuku, in a statement.

“We support the demand by workers and students, together with progressive academics of the University of Johannesburg to have any relationship with any Israeli institution terminated instantly.”

University of Johannesburg deputy vice chancellor, Adam Habib, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Unisa vice-chancellor Barney Pityana

and author Breyten Breytenbach joined academics this month in calling for co-operation between the two institutions to cease.

The Mail & Guardian reported that the ties between the two institutions dated back to the 1980s. The report said UJ’s senate was expected to hear recommendations on the future of the university’s ties with Ben-Gurion on Wednesday.

Israel National News online reported that the growing pressure on UJ could stop a research agreement between the institutions to collaborate on biotechnology and water purification.

Masuku welcomed the growing number of calls globally for Israel to end its “illegal occupation” of Palestine.

“Various universities and organisations, including companies all over the world, are now disinvesting in companies that have anything to do with propping up the apartheid regime in Israel.”

He likened the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to the situation faced by the Palestinian people.

“The UN declared apartheid a crime against humanity and called on humanity to fight against this barbaric political system wherever it appears and South Africans have a moral duty to lead this important struggle.”

At its national general council last week, the ANC reaffirmed its support for peace in the Middle East. Delegates also reportedly called for an examination of economic ties with Israel. – Sapa

Czech public figures call on Václav Havel: “Do not use your name to whitewash Israeli war crimes, human rights violations

Posted in International BDS Actions on September 28, 2010 by Marcy Newman

[ISM Czech Republic] – In response to news about Václav Havel’s support for an international campaign to fight so-called ’delegitimisation’ of Israel and to fight against the worldwide boycott movement against Israel initiated by the former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, ISM Czech Republic and Friends of Palestine Czech Republic issued an open letter signed by a dozen public, political and cultural figures.

Václav Havel, the first democratically elected president of the Czech Republic after the fall of the
Berlin Wall, former Czech dissident and political prisoner, is internationally renowned for his struggle
for freedom, democracy, freedom of speech and human rights, criticizing the abuse of power by the
powerful and writing as a dissident in support of the ‘power of the powerless’, as he entitled one
of his most influential essays of that time. He has received several prestigious awards, including a
nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Czech personalities and public figures such as Petr Uhl (journalist), Jan Kavan (former President of
the UN General Assembly), Milan Daniel (journalist), Milan Kozelka (performer and author), Milan
Kohout (performer and university lecturer) and others joined the appeal:

”The worldwide boycott movement (BDS), opposed by the former Spanish Prime Minister José
María Aznar and his initiative, came out of the unified call of Palestinian civil society and is in a direct
response to the failure of Israeli and world governments to honour their commitments to international

(…) Therefore, we appeal to you in the spirit of your humanism to stand on the side of human rights,
which we believe are indivisible and not to provide the prestige of your name to a regime which will
use it to justify its war crimes and to strengthen its system of apartheid. By supporting the Palestinian
civil society initiative, you will send out a message of hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in
this area and give a voice to a nation which has for several decades been completely silenced.”

You can add your name to the appeal to Václav Havel by signing the open letter here.

The full letter and its signatories follows:

Dear Mr. Havel,

As most citizens of the Czech Republic, we value your achievements in the field of upholding human
rights as well as your tireless fight against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by a foreign army and its
totalitarian and authoritarian regime.

It is for this reason that we were surprised by the news of your support of an initiative which stands
uncritically on the side of Israel, a state which, for over 60 years, has failed to respect international
law and UN resolutions, has illegally occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank (including East
Jerusalem) since 1967, and until today continues to violate the human rights of Palestinians.
The worldwide boycott movement (BDS), opposed by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria
Aznar and his initiative, came out of the unified call of the civil society and is in a direct response
to the failure of Israeli and world governments to honour their commitments to international law.

The boycott movement appeals to people of conscience around the world who feel it their duty not to
stay silent towards evil in the form of war crimes and human rights violations. As such it constitutes
a constructive effort by Palestinian civil society to achieve peace. It has become the only hope of a
nation that is forced to live under a brutal military occupation, in an ever-widening system of apartheid
or in the exile of refugee camps.

Over 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners remain in Israeli jails, unnoticed by the international
community, while Israel continues with the colonization of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the
confiscation of Palestinian land and the brutal suppression of any form of civil protests. It is time that
the international community meet its obligations towards Palestinian civil society and its legitimate fight
for justice.

When in the past the Palestinians resorted to violence, the whole world condemned their actions and
appealed to them to put down their weapons. Peaceful initiatives, however, have been marginalized
by the world’s political elites and media. Non-violent grassroots resistance has a long tradition in
Palestinian civil society and it has many forms – from regular demonstrations against the illegal
apartheid wall and Israeli colonies, strikes, through non-violent direct action (blocking bulldozers,
setting up protest tents, planting olive trees, etc.) to activities aimed at boycotting Israel and
companies that profit from the occupation.

Given the failure of other legal channels, the call for an international boycott, divestment and sanctions
until Israel complies with international law, proved the most effective and morally consistent form of
solidarity with the Palestinian people in their fight to end Israeli occupation, apartheid and constant
denial of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return.

As such, it was endorsed by a number of prominent figures and human rights defenders. In addition
to Archbishop Desmond Tutu is was joined by artists, writers and politicians around the world – from
Naomi Klein, Iain Banks, John Berger, Arundhati Roy or Henning Mankell to artists and musicians,
who refused to legitimize Israel’s behaviour by performing in Tel Aviv – The Pixies, Roger Waters, Gil
Scott-Heron, Carlos Santana or Elvis Costello.

Therefore, we appeal to you in the spirit of your humanism to stand on the side of human rights, which
we believe are indivisible, and not to provide the prestige of your name to a regime which will use it
to justify its war crimes and to strengthen the system of apartheid. By supporting the Palestinian civil
society initiative, you will send out a message of hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and give
a voice to a nation, which has, for several decades, been completely silenced. Endorsing the call of
the Palestinian civil society will contribute to the non-violent struggle against oppression and suffering,
and it can reduce violence stemming from the dire situation of millions of Palestinians. Do this for all
residents both of Israel and Palestine, who deserve to live their lives in justice, under the rule of law, in
peace and with dignity.

The open letter is supported by:

Petr Uhl, journalist
Jan Kavan, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former President of the UN General Assembly
Vladimír Laštůvka, the former head of the Foreign Committee of the Czech Parliament
Daniel Solis, analyst, candidate for the Senate
Miroslav Suja, candidate for the Senate
Vojtěch Filip, MP
Milan Daniel, journalist
Milan Kohout, performer and university lecturer
Milan Kozelka, author and performer
Zuzana Uhde, sociologist
Dr. Nidal Saleh, author and journalist
Daniel Veselý, translator and journalist

More info:


SA university must reconsider Israel ties – Haidar Eid

Posted in Apartheid, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, Why Boycott?!, Zionism on September 28, 2010 by Marcy Newman

As a graduate of the University of Johannesburg and a resident of Gaza, I find it distressing that the university has signed an agreement with Israel’s Ben Gurion University despite the policy of ethnic cleansing and the latest war crimes committed against the people of Gaza by the nation’s government.

Israeli academic institutions are known to be complicit in Israel’s policy of colonization and apartheid. As such, an agreement with an academic institution goes against the words of Nelson Mandela, who said in 1997:

“It behoves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice … we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Every day, millions of Palestinians are denied the full right to education in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the refugee camps of the diaspora. Education is denied because of Israeli checkpoints, the siege of Gaza and the apartheid-like discrimination faced by Palestinian students in Israel.

Thousands of Palestinian students and lecturers are in Israeli dungeons often without trial or sentenced by military courts. All credible international human rights and humanitarian organizations have detailed how the Israeli military deliberately targets Palestinian students and schools including UN schools. The recent Goldstone report corroborates these facts.

Palestinians stood with South Africans during the struggle against South African apartheid. We ask you to join us in our struggle against Israeli apartheid. Almost all Palestinian academics and a small but significant number of Israeli academics understand why Israeli institutions must be boycotted in the face of an intransigent, racist and militarized Israeli regime.

It is unconscionable that UJ becomes complicit in Palestinian oppression. I have no doubt that the vast majority of the UJ community based on my experience there, believe in the values of social justice and if they were aware of the appalling
atrocities I have witnessed, would not hesitate to support the petition opposing links with Israeli institutions.

Palestinians are an oppressed people without a state. We increasingly rely on international law and solidarity for our very survival.

Israel with the fourth largest army in the world has violated international law and numerous global conventions. Israel’s latest barbarity is the illegal use of white phosphorus against civilians killing 1,400 people including hundreds of children.

International jurists, including South Africans such as John Dugard consider Israel to have committed war crimes. In a comprehensive and meticulous report, senior researchers from South Africa’s own Human Sciences Research Council consider Israel to be an apartheid state.

The decision of UJ’s management executive committee must be reversed. South Africans, amidst all people, must not be on the “wrong side of history.”

Professor Haidar Eid The author is an independent political commentator and professor in the Department of English Literature at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza.

SCORPIONS: “Wind of Change” for Justice or Apartheid?

Posted in Apartheid, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, Cultural Boycott, Zionism on September 28, 2010 by Marcy Newman

An Open Letter from PACBI

Dear Scorpions,

Occupied Ramallah, 28 September 2010 — The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has learned from various sources that you are scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv on October 4, 2010. Your performance in Israel was only recently announced on your official tour website. Prior to this, when we contacted your agents and lawyers to inquire about your performance we received ambiguous responses. Your now scheduled performance violates the appeal of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement [1] which urges people of conscience throughout the world to isolate Israel until it ends its colonial and apartheid oppression against the Palestinian people, as was done against the apartheid regime in South Africa. We urge you, as a band known for its commitment to support the “wind of change” and the falling of the Berlin Wall, not to perform in apartheid Israel that is building a far more cruel and illegal [2] wall on occupied Palestinian land.

We have also recently learned of previous concerts your group has performed in Israel [3] and the positions Klaus Meine took in the July 2006 war that Israel waged on Lebanon [4]. Your overall positions have made it imperative to call on you to take a morally consistent position in view of your past politics advocating justice and a dream for change. We are also addressing you to call your attention to the growing international movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. We are hoping that you will heed the Palestinian call, and adhere to the international picket line supported by Israeli activists [5] and many international groups and prominent individuals [6].

Not listing the Israel concert on your website as part of your tour may be a slip or a disingenuous tactic to hide from criticism for playing in Israel and to avoid the boycott movement. Regardless, now that the world knows you plan to entertain apartheid Israel, we ask you not to.

Origins of a Movement

Leading to the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) [7], and inspired by the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, PACBI, supported by key unions and cultural groups, issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004, appealing to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel [8] or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [9] and thus promote the continuation of injustice. This call is supported by devoted anti-racist activists around the world, from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to best-selling African-American author Alice Walker. As Bishop Tutu recently noted in a historic statement unequivocally supporting the Palestinian boycott campaign against Israel:

I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like we did when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, ‘Why are our memories so short?’ Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? … When we say ‘Never again!’ do we mean ‘Never again!’, or do we mean ‘Never again to us!’? [10]

Reconsider Your Past Positions

Many in the boycott movement are fans of your music and grew up singing and dancing to your songs. The “Wind of Change,” in particular, gave us hope for a better world and future. For this reason it came as a disappointment to learn that you have taken part in cultural propaganda efforts aimed to re-brand Israel, hiding its colonial and apartheid reality [11]. Specifically, your reference to Germany’s past should not serve as a pretext for silence or apathy towards Israel’s crimes, nor should it be used to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The lessons of Germany’s past should teach us all to reject all forms of racism, racial hatred and discrimination, to support the oppressed in the world lest they suffer from further oppressions by those in power, not to support a state that institutionalizes racism against its “non-Jewish” citizens.

Addressing this taboo issue, long-time Israel lobbyist and current University of London academic Henry Siegman has recently written [12]:

A million and a half civilians have been forced to live in an open-air prison in inhuman conditions for over three years now, but unlike the Hitler years, they are not Jews but Palestinians. Their jailers, incredibly, are survivors of the Holocaust, or their descendants. Of course, the inmates of Gaza are not destined for gas chambers, as the Jews were, but they have been reduced to a debased and hopeless existence.

Fully 80% of Gaza’s population lives on the edge of malnutrition, depending on international charities for their daily nourishment. According to the UN and World Health authorities, Gaza’s children suffer from dramatically increased morbidity that will affect and shorten the lives of many of them. …

Particularly appalling is that this policy has been the source of amusement for some Israeli leaders, who according to Israeli press reports have jokingly described it as ‘putting Palestinians on a diet.’ That, too, is reminiscent of the Hitler years, when Jewish suffering amused the Nazis.

Given your positions, it is important that you understand why the BDS movement is calling on you to boycott performances in Israel and why your positions on peace and on Israel are misplaced. Peace, as you know, is not a word that can be thrown about lightly, nor can it be achieved if those in power refuse to recognize the rights of the oppressed.

Some of the violations your position is supporting are:

– Israel’s brutal and unlawful military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel fortifies its colonization of Palestinian lands by expanding the network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements.

– A growing system of Apartheid towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel, with laws and policies that deny Palestinian citizens the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people’s daily lives.

– Israel ethnic cleansing, in 1948, of more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form a Jewish state. Since then, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. It also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Negev. Today, there are more than 7 million refugees, still struggling for their right to return.

Boycott Israel

Israel has used artists, musicians and other cultural workers as part of a campaign to Brand Israel [13], a campaign that has been launched by the Israeli government and promoted by institutions throughout the country in order to whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and project a false image of normalcy. But after Israel’s war of aggression against Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead [14], predominantly civilians, and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [15], and after the flotilla massacre, many international artists have refused to conduct business as usual with a country that places itself above international standards. Elvis Costello [16], Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart [17], and the Pixies are but a few of the artists who have refused to perform in Israel in the past year.

As Holocaust survivor and co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Stephane Hessel wrote [18] after Israel’s deadly attack on the humanitarian relief Gaza-Bound Flotilla a few months ago:

The absence of meaningful action from governments to hold Israel accountable to international law leaves open one path for citizens of conscience: to take this responsibility upon themselves, as done against apartheid South Africa. Non-violent citizen-led initiatives, exemplified by the Flotilla and the various boycott and divestment campaigns around the world, present the most promising way to overcome the failure of world governments to stand up to Israel’s intransigence and lawless behavior.

The “Wind of Change” is upon us again. You can decide whether you wish to support “change” towards entrenching occupation and apartheid or change towards freedom, justice and upholding international law. If the latter, we hope you shall refuse to entertain Israeli apartheid!




[2] In July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion condemning Israel’s wall and colonial settlements built on occupied Palestinian land as illegal.

















Eight American Universities Say Yes to Apartheid – An Analysis

Posted in Apartheid, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, Why Boycott?!, Zionism on September 28, 2010 by Marcy Newman

Lawrence Davidson

A letter from Gaza appeared on the Web dated September 24, 2010. It was from a group of Gaza academics and students and sought to publicize the fact that eight American universities have recently signed agreements with various Israeli universities to offer U.S. students free semester long programs in Israel. Among the American universities participating in this venture are Harvard, Columbia and Michigan.

The Gaza academics and students expressed shock at this turn of events. And so they might given the fact that they are sitting in an outdoor prison of Israeli making and have seen their educational institutions both starved of resources by an Israeli blockade and literally bombed to rubble by Israeli warplanes. The situation in Gaza is but the worst of a bad situation for all Palestinians, including those in the West Bank and Israel proper. When it comes to education in all of these locales apartheid policies are in place to interfere with Palestinian students and teachers and minimize the educational experience. Actually, this is part of an unspoken strategy of cultural genocide. Such policies are directly or indirectly supported by the Israeli academic institutions to which the participating American universities now want to send their students.

How can these U.S. universities do this? This is certainly a legitimate question in an age when discrimination and racism are, supposedly, no longer socially or politically acceptable. After all Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, etc. are institutions of higher learning housed in a country that prides itself on broad civil rights laws and all of them adhere to social equity rules. Yet here they are climbing into academic bed, so to speak, with a state that practices apartheid against its non-Jewish minority and is attempting to ethnically cleanse the indigenous population of the Occupied Territories.

Well, there are any number of scenarios that might lead them to this sort of hellish arrangement and here I offer only one possibility. It assumes an “Adolf Eichmann context.”

1. The realm of the bureaucrat

The people in control of American universities (and perhaps all universities) are mostly bureaucrats. Some of them are trained in the specialty field of higher education administration, some are professors who have crossed over to an administrative career line, and some are just folks hired from the general population pool to run sub-departments such as public relations and accounting. They are all trained to pay lip service to various sorts of mission statements and assessment markers, however their lives are really very insular and their goals narrow and short term. For instance, even at the highest level, say the office of the university president, there are usually but a few major goals, and the main one in this case is to raise money.

Somewhere in the organizational chart is an office of overseas programs (or some similar title). It is usually a small operation with a director and a secretary. Their job is to set up exchange programs. What they are looking for are programs at overseas schools that are roughly similar in quality to the courses their own institution offers. That way the credits can be legitimately transferred back home and stand in for some of their student’s degree requirements. The people who are arranging these exchanges usually know little or nothing of the social or political situation in the overseas institution’s country. And, they are not likely to educate themselves on these subjects beyond some assurance that the place is relatively safe for the students that will be participating in the exchange. It may be hard for those of us who are so focused on Israeli apartheid to accept this, but for most of the folks in these little offices, Israel has about the same cachet as the Czech Republic or maybe Ireland. There is a lot of ignorance at his level.

2. What else is going on?

Of course, that is not the end of the story. There are other folks out there, most of whom are indirectly associated with the university in question. These people know that there is a war going on against apartheid Israel, and they are not on our side. They want to counter the increasingly effective process of “chipping away at Israel’s legitimacy.” They also have deep pockets and lots of influence. These folks may be big donors to these universities and some of them may well sit on the institution’s board of governors/regents.

When the president or his representative goes out to raise money these donors have what appears to be innocuous conditions for their gifts. So they say to president x or y, “sure we will give you half a million dollars for that new sports complex you so covet, but in return we want you to create this exchange program with Hebrew and Haifa U.” The president thinks that this is little enough to ask for such a generous gift, and his friend on the board of governors/regents seconds the motion. A telephone call is made to the director of overseas programs who is given a contact name and number at the Israeli embassy to get things rolling. And that is how it happens.

3. What comes next?

Soon enough this arrangement becomes public. You have to figure if they know about it in Gaza, they know about in Cambridge, Ann Arbor and upper Manhattan. Given the times there will probably be some sort of public protest, but the ensuing struggle will not be easy for the following reasons:

a. The university position will almost certainly be that to shun Israel is a violation of academic freedom, free inquiry, and the essential non-political status of learning. This sort of argument is age old. The U.S. universities were making it when they were asked to divest from apartheid South Africa and stop research funded by the “Defense” Department during the Vietnam war. One can never lay this argument to rest in any final way because it represents a cherished, if somewhat unreal, ideal.

So you point out for the one thousandth time that there is an inherent contradiction when you take this position relative to Israeli universities just because they do not promote these academic ideals. They are destroyers of free thought and free inquiry as far as Palestinian rights (and particularly the right of education) are concerned. And so if the ideal of a non-political status for learning exists anywhere in the real world, it ain’t in Israel. The whole Zionist academic setup has been criticized by international as well as Israeli human rights organizations for these anti-educational activities. And finally, you try to tell the university decision makers that there is precedent for universities taking a stand against apartheid practices. At this point you notice that they have, figuratively, clicked on their I-pods and are no longer listening.

b. Next you go to the professors of the institution and try to explain the same thing. That is when you come to the stomach wrenching realization that most of them do not care. Most academics are as specialized as the bureaucrats, and live their lives in just as insular a world. They know a lot about their sub-field and very little beyond it. They are dedicated to their families and their local communities and are, on the whole, decent people, but they are not interested, nor are they going to hit the street, for oppressed people far away. This is particularly true when their local news sources have been systematically libeling those people for sixty plus years. They too will hide behind the idea of academic freedom.

It should be noted that this is not quite the same thing as Julien Benda’s “treason of the intellectuals.” There is very little spouting of national chauvinism or the racism of Islamophobia (except for the Zionists professors among them). No, it is just co-option into the system. It is just natural localism–I really just want to live my life and work in my lab or library cubicle, etc. I am reluctant to get too annoyed at my fellow academics for this attitude, because theirs is the immemorial stance of all ordinary folks everywhere.

c. So that leaves the students, and here there is a much better chance to gather a crowd and take a stand. There is always a socially conscious group among the youth who are willing to fight for a good cause and risk defying the powers that be. This is because they have yet to become ensconced in the system, bogged down with career, family, mortgage and the like. In other words, some of them have not yet shrunk into an insular world of very local interests and goals. And those are the people who will protest, if anyone will, at the ivy towers of Harvard, Columbia, Michigan and the five other schools which have willed their own corruption.

4. What are the odds of victory?
Whether anyone will listen to the protesters depends on how many there are, how loud they protest and how far they are willing to go with it. Are they willing to go into the dormitories and spread the word? Are they willing to picket not only the ordinary centers of power on campus, but also the admissions office when prospective students come to visit, or demonstrate on home-coming day and at all the football games? Are they willing to hunt for donors who might say they will not give if their institution partners with Israel? Are they willing to occupy the president’s office and thereby risk arrest? Are they willing to keep all of this up for weeks on end? It might take all of these sorts of activities to even have a chance at winning this contest.

And even so the odds are not good. Essentially, you have to create such a cost to the institution in trouble and bad publicity that it outweighs that donor’s half a million dollars and/or the anger of the fellow on the board/regents. If in the end you do not win, you have to understand that it is not wholly a defeat. After all, you have certainly raised consciousness. In other words, you have set the stage for the next battle and made that one a little easier to win. So you have to have the energy to fight again and again. It is a scenario wherein youth is a definite plus.

There is another way in which the mounting a serious protest at any of these schools must constitute a victory. And that is the fact that such a protest will demonstrate to the academics and students in Gaza and the rest of Palestine that the world has not abandoned them, that they have allies and their struggle is now a worldwide one. In the short run, that might be the most important victory of all.

In Conclusion

Here is quote from the American academic Richard Hofstadter, “A university’s essential character is that of being a center of free inquiry and criticism–a thing not to be sacrificed for anything else.” If this so (and all the leaders of the institutions involved in these exchanges will undoubtedly agree) then why are these eight universities sending their students off to Israeli schools that cooperate with state policies that deny just these sacrosanct pursuits to persecuted Palestinians? Why are they sending their students to a country that seeks to silence, at all levels of society, any free inquiry and criticism of its racist and oppressive national ideology? Why are they cooperating with institutions that have state dictated policies (for instance, admissions policies) that would be illegal in the United States? Do they condone such behaviors? If they go through with these exchange programs the answer is, for all intents and purposes, yes, they do. Essentially, they now lend themselves to the destruction of the very educational virtues they claim to cherish.

Israel, South Africa, Academic Boycotts

Posted in International BDS Actions on September 27, 2010 by Marcy Newman

September 27, 2010

The Faculty Senate at the University of Johannesburg will vote this week on whether to end an academic relationship between the South African university and one in Israel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The vote has set off an intense debate among South African academics and intellectuals, with Archbishop Desmund Tutu last week urging the faculty at Johannesburg to cut their ties to Ben-Gurion. “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,” Tutu wrote in Times Live.

For Israeli academics and many others who oppose academic boycotts, a vote to sever ties to Ben-Gurion could mark a major defeat. Not only would there be a concrete example of institutional support for an academic boycott, but there would be added symbolism to the move coming from South Africa. Boycott backers have repeatedly compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the apartheid regime in South Africa’s treatment of its black majority — a comparison that has been fiercely opposed by Israel’s supporters (and by some critics of Israel as well).

“Where in the experience of higher education is the cutting off of ties to an educational institution appropriate?” asked Ilan Troen an emeritus professor at Ben-Gurion who helped promote its ties in South Africa and who is now director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, at Brandeis University. “To those who stand for free speech and academic freedom, to ostracize a university community is an absurdity.”

Troen added that the research projects between the universities take advantage of Ben-Gurion’s strengths in biology and water management in arid zones (the Negev of the university’s name is a desert) to help African farmers who live and work in arid regions. “This research they are trying to cut off helps real people,” he said. “Why in the name of heaven would you attack research that helps your own people?”

The debate in Johannesburg is over the university’s agreement for academic exchanges and joint research projects with Ben-Gurion on topics that don’t pertain directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — biotechnology and water purification. When the agreement was announced last year, some faculty members at Johannesburg protested immediately and university leaders appointed a special committee, which will report to the Senate this week, at which point a vote is expected.

Faculty leaders say that they believe that the university will follow the advice of the vote — although university administrators have not confirmed that. (History is very much at play here. Some of the collaborative research extends projects that started before the fall of apartheid with Rand Afrikaans University, which became part of the University of Johannesburg. Critics of the research say it should be viewed as an extension of apartheid-era research, while defenders of the project say that it was work being done, even before the fall of apartheid, to help black farmers, and should be judged on its scientific merit and social contributions.)

A petition backing the call to end ties to Ben-Gurion rejects the idea that research collaboration with an Israeli university can be seen as “purely scientific co-operation,” and says that “as academics we acknowledge that all of our scholarly work takes place within larger social contexts — particularly in institutions committed to social transformation.”

Supporters of cutting ties to Ben-Gurion have released the names of 200 prominent South African academics (from many universities) backing such a move and have offered several reasons for their stance. Some of the arguments relate to Israel’s treatment of Palestinian students. “The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has had disastrous effects on access to education for Palestinians. Palestinian students face immobilization, poverty, gendered violence, harassment and humiliation as a result of Israeli policy,” says a webpage produced by faculty leaders. Further, it notes that Palestinians are not represented in their share of the Israeli population either among students or faculty members at Israeli universities.

Other criticisms relate to policies of Ben-Gurion University, which is accused of “links to the Israeli military” because it has scholarships for students who served in combat units and has systems in place to provide special support to students who are called up for reserve duty. (Such measures aren’t that different from what other Israeli universities do, given that in a country with compulsory military service and reserve duty, students with military obligations are fairly common.)

Further, those calling for Johannesburg to cut ties to Ben-Gurion charge the Israeli university with “criminalizing dissent” in not sufficiently backing academics such as Neve Gordon, an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. The critics charge that Ben-Gurion is clearly an agent of the Israeli government because Rivka Carmi, the president, has described the university as a “proudly Zionist institution.”

Gordon, a political scientist, has been the subject of much debate in Israel and the United States because of his statements about Israeli policy. Many academics have criticized Carmi and others for their unwillingness to defend Gordon’s academic freedom in a forceful way, but many right-wingers in Israel have criticized Carmi for not firing Gordon. In fact, some of Carmi’s statements about the university being Zionist have come in response to critics who have accused the political science department of being disloyal to Israel.

Troen, who stressed that he was speaking as an individual scholar and not as a spokesman for Ben-Gurion, said that critics of Israel have distorted the university’s record. He said that its ties to South Africa are strong, noting that the university awarded an honorary doctorate to Nelson Mandela in 1997. And he said that to characterize Ben-Gurion as an institution that is part of an apartheid culture is “a mendacious allegation,” noting that half of the children born in the university hospital are Bedouins, and that the university has long educated Arab students and employed Arab faculty members.

He noted that for all of the criticism of the university for not defending Gordon, the controversial political scientist never lost his position, and he is part of a university with just about every imaginable position on the Middle East. “I have taught in Israel, Britain and the United States — and Israeli universities are among the freest in the world,” he said. “The range of opinion is extraordinary. I have colleagues [at Ben-Gurion] who wish the State of Israel would disintegrate and I have colleagues who support the settlements.”

To accuse the university of being an arm of the military in Israel, he said, is to apply a standard that the University of Johannesburg faculty does not apply anywhere else. “It’s like attacking MIT for getting money from the same government that is fighting a war in Afghanistan,” he said. He would never assume that all MIT faculty members support that war, or that all of MIT’s research funds are related to that war, but Johannesburg faculty are applying such a standard to Ben-Gurion, he said.

Troen said that he takes the possibility of a vote against continuing ties with Ben-Gurion seriously. Much of the movement to boycott Israel’s universities has come from British faculty unions, who have faced legal challenges to their activities and whose efforts have not been backed by the universities as institutions. If Johannesburg ends ties to Ben-Gurion, Troen said, “it would be extraordinary. It would be attacking a university as part of a program for the delegitimization of the Jewish state.”

The university issued this statement about the vote at Johannesburg: “Those opposed to this collaboration accuse BGU of abusing academic freedom, abusing human rights and being an accomplice to an apartheid government system. All these accusations are totally false. Ben Gurion University has been a leader in its humanitarian activities, supporting minority groups within Israel such as the Bedouin community of the Negev. Our adherence to freedom of speech has been demonstrated in the fact that no steps were taken against a professor who openly called for a boycott of the state of Israel and its educational and cultural institutions. BGU constantly works to help the population in third world countries in field such as medical treatment, agriculture in arid zones, water treatment and management and many other fields. It is ironic that Ben Gurion University is asked to defend itself against such absurd accusations which are motivated by extreme anti Israel attitudes.”

— Scott Jaschik


Posted in Apartheid, International BDS Actions, Why Boycott?!, Zionism on September 26, 2010 by Marcy Newman

By Professor Ran Greenstein
Sunday Independent – South Africa – [26_09_2010]

Can one live a normal life in an abnormal society? The anti-apartheid movement believed that you could not, and must not. It set out to disrupt the comfortable lives of white South Africans, to force them to understand that change was necessary. One tactic chosen in this regard was boycotts and sanctions. Other campaigns against oppressive regimes have used similar tactics, selecting targets in order to maximize strategic advantage. The closer the target was to the core identity of oppressive groups, the more likely it was to be effective. Thus, it made sense to boycott South African cricket and rugby teams to disrupt the sense of normality of sports-mad white South Africans. This tactic would not work in, say, Burma or Sudan, whose oppressive elites have limited interest in sports. Using the same logic, it made sense to boycott Chilean wine and Argentinian football, when both countries were under military dictatorships, but not the other way around.

When we consider the campaign against the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians, a careful choice of targets must guide action. While Israeli Jews are not the only ones who violate human rights, as the stronger side they are the chief culprits today. Their greatest source of vulnerability is the obsessive need to feel an integral part of the West and the global community. This feeling is particularly strong among the elites, including academics. It is central to their professional identity and it contributes to a sense of political complacency. With their eyes turned to the West, Palestinians living under conditions of military occupation and suffering from massive violation of human rights have become invisible to them. This is the challenge, then: how to use the quest for normality and legitimacy in order to force ordinary people to move against extraordinary circumstances?

With this in mind, a group of academics at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), with the support of fellow academics elsewhere, have started a campaign to sever UJ’s relations with an Israeli academic institution – Ben-Gurion University (BGU). The campaign calls on UJ to suspend an agreement for scientific cooperation until Israel abides by international law, and the university takes a stand against the occupation.

As one of the signatories to a petition supporting the campaign, I would like to explain some of the reasons behind it (without speaking on behalf of any other signatory). But first, to clarify: the campaign targets relations between institutions. It is not aimed at individual academics of whatever political persuasions. It attacks oppressive practices rather than political views. It seeks to enhance exchanges and debates between different opinions rather than close them up. In other words, it is seen as an educational tool that opens us new opportunities to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and allow us to make an intervention on the side of protecting and promoting human rights for all.

Why use this particular tactic? There is nothing specific about BGU – it collaborates with the military, it turns a blind eye towards oppressive practices, and it practices discrimination against Palestinian students – but all Israeli academic institutions do the same. In a sense, signing the petition is a way of expressing concern about the broader context of occupation, denial of human rights and political oppression in Israel. It is unlikely on its own to change anything and the chances that BGU would yield to demands to renounce the occupation are extremely low.

At the same time, the potential educational value of this initiative is great, both in relation to South African and Israeli audiences. It sends a clear message that there is strong and growing disapproval of Israel’s practices, which are illegal and immoral, and that those who fight such practices within Israeli universities can expect solidarity from fellow academics elsewhere.

For this to work, it is important that it should not be seen as a punitive and externally imposed measure. Rather, it should be a step towards forging international links of solidarity and activism with Israeli and Palestinian progressive academics. Ideally it would help create a counterweight to the increasing pressure from right-wing forces that seek to silence critical voices at Israeli universities, including BGU.

Ultimately, this may be the most important contribution of the initiative: to side with those fighting for change from within. Local activists in Israel/Palestine – of both national groups – are subject to enormous pressure internally, and the only way they could sustain a campaign for change is by maintaining a constant exchange of information, solidarity, and a flow of moral and material assistance from the outside. It is only in dialogue between all the relevant constituencies that the campaign can move forward.

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