Israeli academia deserves to be boycotted

 

The idea of an overall academic boycott of Israel is not an attack on individuals and is most certainly justified, writes Ilan Pappe

G uy Beiner (Opinion, September 27th) has asked us all to rethink the idea of an academic boycott of Israel. This is always a good idea, and as an Israeli academic who strongly supports the boycott, I find it useful to rethink such a drastic move against my state and my peers in local academia.

However, most of his rethinking focuses on the tactics of the campaign and he says nothing about the background for it. He is also misinformed about its recent developments.

This is clear from the very beginning of his piece, which tries to portray the boycott action as directed against individuals.

Since the Palestinian civil society and universities under occupation called for such a boycott, as the last resort to save them from continued oppression and future devastation, it was made clear that the boycott is institutional and not individual.

Moreover, unlike the original Association of University Teachers' call for a selective action against two universities, the Irish one calls for an overall institutional boycott. This indeed is the only way to avoid the pitfall of "McCarthyite Selection Test", against which Beiner rightly warns.

For background, Beiner suggests that the Irish academics would contact the Israeli ones. But this would hardly provide them with any information: there are many more Irish than Israeli academics who have seen with their own eyes the brutal treatment of Palestinians throughout the long years of occupation.

I am a regular visitor to the sites where on a daily basis the Israeli security apparatus abuses and tortures thousands of Palestinians. I can count on one hand the number of Israeli academics I have met in these locations.

The Irish academics would be much better advised to talk to members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who witness daily the callous policies of mass killings, ethnic cleansing, long-term imprisonment without trials, demolition of houses and expropriation of land; an endless list of barbarisation that can not be summarised by what Beiner euphemistically calls a problem of "human rights".

Faced with such sights, one can understand, but not condone, suicide bombers who explode themselves in civilian areas. Those of us in Palestine and Israel who call for a boycott wish to find other ways of ending the occupation.

For years we trusted and supported the peace process. But after 40 years of it, we realised that every such effort failed due to the basic Israeli wish to have as much of the area it occupied in 1967 with as few Palestinians on it as possible.

With no hope for peace, and no redemption in violence, what are the Palestinians supposed to do after 40 such years of Israeli ruination and deception that had allowed Israel to be let off for actions other states had paid dearly and justifiably for throughout the years?

The problem is not that dialogue is not "in fashion", as Beiner explains: dialogue has been abused by Israel as a tool of occupation.

This is the background and therefore the boycott is not an attempt to "alleviate the misery of Palestinians", as Beiner puts it.

Beiner does not know, or does not want to know, why "misery" is such a sterilised term for describing the horrors of the Israeli occupation.

What all of us who support the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions want to avert is an explicit Israeli plan to destroy the Palestinian people.

This is not just about daily hardships in the occupation; it is about the present expulsion of Palestinians from the greater Jerusalem area and the imminent uprooting of hundreds of thousands of them from vast areas of the West Bank. It is also a last effort to prevent the escalating mass killing that rages in the Gaza Strip.

Finally, Beiner focuses on exonerating Israeli academia from the charge of culpability. But Israeli academia is guilty as charged by the Palestinian academics, whom Beiner ridicules, on two accounts. First, by not raising their voices in protest, they allow the atrocities to continue. We have all rightly blamed German academics for their silence during the Nazi period.

However, they at least can be excused as they were risking, at best, execution.

The Israeli academics risk nothing in criticising the policies of occupation and ethnic cleansing. And yet they are mute and the majority of them are supportive of it.

Secondly, Israeli academia is providing the moral infrastructure for the occupation and key members of it assist in its daily praxis as was described accurately by the Palestinian call for a boycott.

Where Beiner may be allowed to shun the Israeli atrocities on the ground, he cannot naively claim that he does not know, as someone who teaches in Israel, that any national policy is devised in Israel with active academic involvement.

Demographers and geographers advise on the policies that imprison more than one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and in towns of the West Bank.

Architects planned and built the notorious apartheid wall and orientalists provide the logic for the destruction of the social fabric of the native society and the starvation of its children. This and more than that can be achieved only when the local academic system provides scholarly justification for such ideas and academics actually work as advisers and policy-makers.

Some of this advice and practices stem from the university Beiner comes from.

The same policies of ethnic cleansing at work in the West Bank are implemented against the Palestinian Bedouins who live in the Negev.

And when Beiner and his colleagues close the door for discussing politics in the classroom, so as not to be "irresponsible", as left-wing academics supposedly do, they also partake in the systematic violation of human and civil rights that occurs less than a mile from their classroom.

From his classroom window Beiner can see the fields of the Bedouins sprayed with poison from the air as part of the attempt to uproot them, and in five minutes' drive he can reach a nearby prison where Palestinians are tortured to become collaborationists in the service of the occupier.

Politics should be allowed into his classroom, since the destruction of Palestine will bring with it inevitably, in a later stage, the destruction of Israel as well.

Ilan Pappe is a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Haifa and a campaigner for Palestinian human rights