"Why Call For The Academic Boycott Of Israel?"

(partially updated: May 6, 2018).

1. Palestine's Catastrophe. On 29 November 1947 the General Assembly of the fledgling United Nations (founded 24 October 1945) adopted under intense US pressure Resolution 181 (33 of the 57 member states voted yes). In view of the announced termination of the British Mandate over Palestine, the Resolution imposed a political "partition" of the Palestinians' homeland into an "Arab State" (with a majority of Palestinians) and a "Jewish State" (with a majority of Jews). Shortly after the Resolution's adoption, early December 1947, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began with a series of attacks by Zionist militias on villages and neighbourhoods.(1) It was the onset of what would be called the "Nakba", or "Catastrophe": more than 750,000 Palestinians (i.e. 80% of the native population) were driven from their homes and land into exile (approximately half of them had already been expelled before the British left, 14 May 1948), most often to settle in squalid camps in the West Bank, Gaza or neighboring countries. Horrific war crimes: mass executions, bombardments, atrocities such as brutal and often deadly rapes, e.a. induced under the native population a climate of terror and panic, making people flee "voluntarily".(2) During the terrorist operations more than 400 villages were razed to the ground and 11 major towns were depopulated. All Palestinian assets (property, land, treasures, art, books physical documents, pictures, etc.) were seized. All traces of Palestine's history, society and culture were set to be wiped out.(3) As a result of the massive expulsion within two years Israel had become a majority Jewish nation with a majority of Jewish villages. After the armistices (in the first half of 1949), what is more, the young Israeli state (proclaimed when the last British soldiers left, 14 May 1948) ended with 78% of historical Palestine under its full control.

Twenty years later, finally, its army being victorious in the so-called 6-Day War of June 1967, Israel captured also the remaining 22% of historical Palestine. In this so-called "Naksa" or "Setback" too some 300,000 Palestinians were expelled by force (many of them for the second time), but the Israeli leadership refrained from a massive expulsion on the scale of 1948. It being out of the question to grant citizenship to the remaining non-Jewish population and the downright annexation of the territory being inacceptable to the international community, the freshly occupied territories - the West Bank (of the Jordan River), East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights - were placed under military rule (so-called "belligerent occupation"). The pseudo-juridical basis for its imposition was the same as in 1948, namely the British Mandatory emergency regulations (e.g. detaining people without charge or trial). The Israeli interpretation of them "gave a military governor unlimited control over every aspect of the life of the people in his area."(4) Today, as a result of seventy years of dispossession, the Palestinian people is still a nation geographically fragmented between refugee camps, in the diaspora, militarily occupied, or treated as second-class citizens in a country upon which their ancestors dwelt since time immemorial. Their right to self-determination, although explicitly recognized by the UN, is violated every day. Yet through it all, the Palestinians endure, despite the overwhelming odds against them. These days, March-May 2018, Palestinians' "sumud" is demonstrated, once again, with the "Great March for the Return" at the militarized Gaza Strip fence: thousands of unarmed civilians of all ages defying the bloodbath wrought by the murderous Israeli army. [The 14th of May, 52 Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli gunfire and 1,204 wounded, 40 of whom are in critical condition and 76 in serious condition.]

2. Occupation and Repression.The "Nakba" did not end once the Israeli state was established, far from it. In a sense you could say the disaster only began, and it has not ended to this day.(4) Israel has not changed its approach to the Palestinian people since then nor its violent treatment of them. More than ever the Palestinians continue to be robbed of their land and be deprived of their basic human right to a free, peaceful and dignified life. In their daily cruel “routine” of violence and repression Israel's security forces (police and Shin Bet) and occupation army (so-called Israel Defense Forces), persist in violating international law. Children in particular are targeted. Since 1967 at least 8,000 of them, some as young as 12 years, have been arrested and incarcerated in a military detention system notorious for its ill-treatment. During confrontations with Palestinian children in open air lethal ammunition is increasingly used. Especially when reacting to childrens' quasi ritualistic stone-throwing, soldiers are prone to chase and even kill them, "in the same way an animal is hunted down and bagged on a safari" (Israeli journalist Gideon Levy).(5) @ despite the settlement expansion during and after the Oslo talks; despite the wars on Gaza, the war on Lebanon, the siege of Gaza, the use of torture and imprisonment without trial, the Wall, the demolition of houses, the theft of water, the uprooting of olive trees, the ethnic cleansing of the Bedouin, the apartheid, the everyday violations of international law, the incarceration of Palestinian children…. And still they love Israel though it should surely be clear to any rational person what sort of state Israel is… @ That’s the reality there, and it’s one of state-sponsored terror, the State of Israel. Because what is land confiscation on a huge scale, what are restrictions on freedom of movement, and with it freedom of employment and commerce, home demolitions, the imposition of curfews and closures, the building of innumerable fences and walls and the deployment of military forces armed to the teeth, in the heart of a Palestinian civilian population, in order to protect an Israeli civilian population that settled among it by force – what are all these if not terror, in other words, a war against unarmed citizens? (Ilana Hammerman, "Israel Is the Terrorist. Young Palestinians are not carrying out acts of terror- they are leading a desperate struggle against an army that is a thousand times stronger than they" (Haaretz, April 5), @ All these years, meanwhile, land grabbings and confiscations, demolitions of homes and structures (like schools), evictions and displacements of communities continued apace: since 2009, the number of demolitions - in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but also in Israel itself - reaches a record high (from 2001 until 2016, for exemple, Israel caused an estimated $74 million in destruction to EU-funded projects). Especially Bedouin villages or structures in the Naqab (Negev) are constantly under threat of demolishment to make room for Jewish settlements. There does not come an end, that is, to the Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing, racist violence and expansion of illegal settlements. In the absence of international sanctions the daily situation for Palestinians is becoming worse and worse under Israel's colonial imperative of establishing a Jewish state with "maximum territory, minimum Arabs."

Every night, families are terrorized by armed soldiers or police bursting into their homes, ransacking the rooms and violently kidnapping men and/or children to an unknown destination. Every day, while queueing many hours at hundreds of checkpoints, men, women and children, besides being robbed of their time and their life, are subjected to racist humiliations, arbitrariness and violence from soldiers and border police. In the Gaza Strip, almost three years after the last murderous invasion, its nearly 2 million inhabitants hardly survive under an unabated barbarous, medieval blockade which is almost 10 years old. With the devastations of homes and infrastructure (electricity, water, health care...), the inhuman conditions of life (especially for children) and the recurrent military attacks the hopelessness of the situation is hallucinatory. This is not a natural disaster but it is politically man-made by Israel. A "genocidal intent", as a consequence, seems more than likely. The Palestinian refugees, finally, and their descendants continue pining away in their camps in the Occupied Territories and the surrounding Arab world. For many of them their plight is worsened by the war in Syria, their return to their homeland being ruthlessly refused by Israel.

2. Apartheid and Dispossession. There is more to Israel’s persisting policies of oppression of the Palestinians than just military occupation. The academic authors of a recent report on Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people, published on behalf of a UN commission (6) conclude "that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law". The report, indeed, offers a detailed analysis of Israeli legislation, policies and practices that enable Israel to operate an apartheid regime that "dominates the Palestinian people as a whole", i.e. not restricted to the Occupied Territories. The prohibition of apartheid being a "ius cogens" in international law, "the United Nations and its agencies, and all Member States, have a legal obligation to act within their capabilities to prevent and punish instances of apartheid that are responsibly brought to their attention". Finally, "civil society institutions and individuals also have a moral duty to use the instruments at their disposal" (p. 53).

In addition to racial segregation and institutionalized racial discrimination, Palestinians are confronted, since 1948, with a coordinated policy of State dispossession of Palestine: dispossession of its territory, its natural and material resources and its economy, destruction of its urban patrimony and its landscapes, erasure of its history, its culture and its identity. In short, what is aimed at by their occupiers, is the complete dismemberment of Palestine's social and political fabric. For the purpose of characterizing Israel's policies, the Israeli sociologist, Baruch Kimmerling, coined the word “politicide”. Ethnic cleansing going on, the remaining Palestinians should resign themselves “to live like dogs” (Moshe Dayan, 1967), without dignity, in non-contiguous, powerless "Bantustans". The similarity with South Africa, indeed, is striking: there as well "the architects of apartheid adopted a strategy of so-called “grand apartheid” to secure white supremacy in the long term through the country’s geographic partition into white areas (most of the country) and disarticulated black areas" (p. 46).

3. Israeli Academia. Universities are a crucial institutional pillar of Israel's militaristic and belligerent society, contributing to empower and facilitate its policies of oppression and apartheid. The IDF (IOF, actually), safeguarding its organic link with the universities, is often physically present on campuses. Many academics, at the same time, hold a military rank and many universities offer special courses for the benefit of defense and security operatives (e.g. of the Shin Bet). Major universities (Tel Aviv, Bar-Ilan, Haïfa...) accommodate a semi-military research center dedicated to Israel's "national security".

Technologically, some universities are directly implicated in the military-industrial complex: "Technion" e.g. collaborates closely with Israel’s four greatest arms factories and contributes actively to the development of high-tech weapon systems (e.g. combat-drone technologies). It even offers a special course for the benefit of future weapons salesmen. These salesmen enjoy an important advantage, anyway, in comparison with their international competitors: they promote their products for being “combat-tested” in the Occupied Territories, the latter serving as “laboratory” and the almost 5 million Palestinians as “lab-rats”. The same goes, mutatis mutandis, for Israeli “security” technology: thanks to the collaboration between universities, the technology sector, the IDF intelligence services and "homeland security" companies and the expertise acquired in the oppression of the Palestinians, Israel is developing itself more and more into a global hub in matters of security systems. The "sins of Israel", you might say, being the occupation and its crimes, are "good for business".

4. Academic Complicity. The strategic importance for Israel of science and technology explains why the academic boycott is provoking more ideological and political hysteria from Israel's establishment and it lobbies abroad than the purely economic BDS. It contributes, indeed, to unmask the ideological infrastructure of the settler-colonial Apartheid State. En plus, scientific and high-tech achievements (as well as artistic products) are an essential component of the “Brand Israel” campaign. Launched in 2005, it is meant to make Israel attractive to a western public as being a "normal", western, democratic and “hip” country, while dissimulating the reality of oppression of the native population.

Not one Israeli university or faculty ever distanced itself from the occupation, the murderous invasions of Gaza or the blockade, never mind that it would have protested publicly. On the contrary: they all applauded the punitive invasions and remunerated their student-soldiers who participated in them. Not even one of them expressed its solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues suffering from discrimination and repression. A number, though, of individual academics did criticize the policies of their country, some of them supporting the boycott campaign as well (cf. "Boycott from Within"). Alas, they are few in numbers (some hundreds on a total of some 9,000). Today, they are silenced, mostly, by orchestrated campaigns of hatred against them (e.g. by NGO Monitor, founded at Bar-Ilan University, and Im Tirzu) and the government's repressive policies. Our solidarity should help to hearten them.

5. "Why Israel?" The Israeli State is a military superpower engaged in a war against a defenseless civil population. No acceptable reason can be thought of, either from a military, a political or a moral point of view, why, of all states, Israel alone should not have to comply with its international legal and ethical obligations. Its “exceptionalism” and impunity should at last come to an end. According to international law, third countries have the legal obligation to see to it that its rules are respected by Israel as well. Security Council resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016, with its condemnation of Israel's colonialist policy, is an important signal but it does neither provide for its execution nor for sanctions in the event of Israel's refusal.

Today, ultra-nationalist and religious extremists are in power in Israel, and its society is becoming “extremely brainwashed and nationalistic, religious, right-wing and even racist, more and more”. So, “the only way to change things in Israeli policy will be only by pressure from the outside” (Gideon Levy). As long as international sanctions fail to materialize, however, Palestinians’ hopes for justice will be vested in the international BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) campaign they launched in 2005. It should play as important a role as was played by the global boycott of South Africa in ending Apartheid there. No wonder, the 2017 Apartheid Report recommends a.o.: "National governments should support boycott, divestment and sanctions activities and respond positively to calls for such initiatives"; and "Efforts should be made to broaden support for boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives among civil society actors" (p. 56). This transnational activism of civil society should contribute to "exert pressure on Israel to dismantle apartheid structures and negotiate in good faith for a lasting peace that acknowledges the rights of Palestinians under international law and make it possible for the two peoples to live together on the basis of real equality" (o.c., p. 53).

6. The Palestinians' Right to Education. One of the foremost victims of Israel's colonial policies is the right of Palestinian youths to a future-oriented education. During boycott debates the flag of “academic freedom” is often raised but almost never on behalf of the Palestinian academics, researchers and students. It is their academic freedom, though, which is violated on a daily basis. Their right to mobility and academic collaboration (nationally as well as internationally) is more and more restricted if not sabotaged by their oppressor. When protesting or resisting, lecturers and students are beaten up (sometimes even shot at), arrested and incarcerated. In 2016, according to a report, "the occupation’s violations resulted in the death of 26 students and one teacher, as well as the wounding of 1,810 students and 101 teachers and administrators, noting that 198 students, teachers and employees were arrested from the West Bank." (7) Not rarely, also, university campuses are stormed by heavily armed Israeli troops shooting tear gas canisters as well as rubber or even live bullets and ransacking the university's infrastructure, archives or libraries. The Al-Quds, Kadoorie and Birzeit universities e.g. were subjected more than once in 2016 to this kind of willful and malicious hooliganism by the occupation army. A USACBI delegation to Palestine in December 2012 published afterwards a collective statement (in Periscope, July 2012), in which the participants summarized their observations, "noting how Israel's apparatus of control regulates every aspect of Palestinian life, including access to education". It also offered a powerful report on the "degradations of academic freedom experienced by Palestinian scholars and students". We quote a paragraph of it:(8)
"As members of an international community of scholars, cultural workers and activists we remain specially attuned to the role that knowledge production, dissemination and exchange plays in both upholding and challenging relations of unequal power. Palestinian scholars and students are routinely denied academic freedom by the state of Israel. Israel has consistently closed Palestinian universities under security pretexts; international and Palestinian scholars living abroad are denied visas for faculty appointments in the occupied territories. Israel thwarts Palestinian research capacities by restricting imports of equipment necessary for teaching basic science and engineering. It is all but impossible for Gaza students to attend West Bank universities, or for scholars from Ramallah, Gaza City, and eastern Jerusalem to meet in the same room. Even Israeli scholars who dissent from state policy face marginalization and harassment. Most Israeli (as well as US) academic institutions have been either silent or complicit in the face of Palestinian scientific, educational, medical, social, and political suffocation. Many Israeli academic institutions are directly involved in violations of Palestinian human rights and international law – from expropriating Palestinian lands to providing demographic, sociological, medical, legal and scientific research in the service of Israel’s apartheid policies."
7. The BDS Campaign. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) international campaign is today the most effective, concerted and morally coherent form of solidarity with the Palestinian people. A similar peaceful and democratic alternative does not exist: the much-vaunted "dialogue" and "commitment" have yielded nothing and have had no positive impact on the ground. To persist, though, in pursuing a strategy that has long since proved bankrupt, sums up Einstein's idea of ​​madness: to persist in doing the same thing and expect different results. The international boycott campaign is a rights campaign: its aims making Israel respect the internationally recognized human rights of the Palestinians. It seeks neither the destruction nor the bankruptcy of the Israeli state. It is not directed against individuals but against Israel's racist and colonial policies that have been sustained for 70 years, as well as against the institutions supporting and perpetuating them. The boycott is not an end in itself but only a means and a tactic: it will have an end as soon as the Palestinian people obtains its legitimate rights.

Today, BDS and solidarity with Palestine are welcomed on all continents and in most of the EU countries. Ironically, its growing success is confirmed by the massive counter-offensive by the Israeli government (it even has its own minister) and its unconditional supporters in the rest of the world (especially in the United States, where the anti- Boycott campaign is heavily funded by billionaires). Anti-BDS organizes its own conferences in Israel and the United States (recently: the "2nd Annual Conference against the BDS" by the "Israel Mission to the UN"). At the same time, active lobbying of national governments aims to make pass a law banning any BDS campaign (such a ban is the case in France and in some 20 states in the US). A particularly popular falacy among the defenders of Israel consists in assimilating political and moral criticism of Israel's policies to antisemitism.(9) At the European level, thankfully, Ms Federica Mogherini (Vice-President of the European Commission) confirmed that BDS activism is a matter of the guaranteed freedom of expression (this was reaffirmed by the Dutch and Irish governments, among others).

8. The Academic Boycott. Like BDS, the academic and cultural boycott campaign also was launched by Palestinian civil society. Guided by PACBI, it gets a hearing on more and more campuses all over the world. The academic campaign, in particular, is directed at Israeli academic institutions for their profound collusion with the Israeli apartheid regime and the crimes against international law perpetrated by its forces of order and security. Here as well boycott is not an end but a tool. It is a temporary tactic aimed at putting an end to Israel's policies of discrimination and persecution, especially in the fields of education and research. At the same time we pledge our solidarity with and support for our embattled Palestinian colleagues and students. Thanks to their much-praised “sumud” or resilience, Palestinians wherever they live persist to stand up as a society, in spite of all the evil that is being done to them. They are counting though on our support. Let us stand with them.

As yet (29 August 2018), BACBI‘s call has been endorsed by 491 intellectuals and academics from all Belgian universities. Our Statement of Principles emphasizes that the boycott is directed at Israel’s academic institutions, not at individuals. Collaboration, that is, with Israeli scholars is nót targeted, unless a project, conference or event is explicitly and officially sponsored by an institution or by the Israeli State and/or contributes in one way or another to whitewashing Israel's oppression policies against the Palestinian people. The fact that every academic or researcher of necessity belongs to and is remunerated by an institution, is of no consequence, here. Not included under the boycott either is one's participation in scientific networks having Israeli researchers among them. Once again, boycott here is nót an objective in itself. It is only a means or tactic in order to put an end to conditions of oppression and injustice for the benefit of implementing the requirements of international law and human rights.

Please read our Statement of Principles: click here! And please endorse it: click here!


(1) See: Ilan Pappé, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" (2007), Ch. 4, "Finalising a Master Plan". On the contribution of the Israeli so-called "New historians" to a correct view on what really happened in 1948, see: Dominique Vidal, "L’expulsion des Palestiniens revisitée par des historiens israéliens", in: Le Monde Diplomatique, Déc 1997, pp. 24-25, click here!

(2) One of the early massacres meant to struck the Palestinian population with panic and make them flee, was that of Deir Yassin, a village of some 600 inhabitants, outside the territory granted to the Jews by the UN. At the dawn of April 9, 1948, commandos from the terrorist Irgun (led by Menachim Begin, later prime minister) and Stern Gang (led by Yitzhak Shamir, later prime minister) militias invaded the village and wrought a bloodbath (more than 100 people were killed). For a list of the 44 most notorious massacres committed between 1937 and 1948 at the hands of the Haganah and its armed wing, the Palmach, as well as the Stern Gang (or "Lehi"), the Irgun and other paramilitaries, see the Fact Sheet: "Notorious massacres of Palestinians between 1937 & 1948" (Addustour, 15 May 2013, via, click here!

(3) “The human geography of Palestine as a whole was forceably transformed... This transformation was driven by the desire to wipe out one nation’s history and culture and replace it with a fabricated version of another, from which all traces of the indigenous population were elided”, Ilan Pappé, o.c., p. 216. Or in the words of authoress Susan Abulhawa: “(What happened was) the usurping of an entire country, complete with books, homes, villas, languages, religious traditions, native foods, dance, and customs... What Western media refer to as a conflict is, in fact, the destruction of an entire people; the erasure of their history; the removal of a distinct and named geographic and sociocultural space that has existed since early antiquity”, in: Susan Abulhawa, "Occupied Words: On Israel's colonial narrative" (Al-Jazeera, 27 Oct 2015), click here.

(4) Cf. Joseph Massad, "The future of the Nakba" (The Electronic Intifada, 13 May 2018), .

(5) Ilan Pappé, "The Biggest Prison on Earth. A History of the Occupied Territories" (2017), p. xviii.

(6) Gideon Levy & Alex Levac, "Like a Safari: Israeli Troops in Jeeps Hunt a Palestinian Teen and Shoot Him in the Head. A boy who threw stones at IDF jeeps suffered the punishment of execution by a soldier; it was the third time in recent weeks that soldiers aimed at stone-throwers' heads" (Haaretz, Feb 9, 2018), click here!

(7) "Palestine and the Israeli Occupation, Issue No. 1: Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid", UN-ESCWA (UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia), March 15, Beirut 2017 (pdf, 74p.). The report was co-authored by Prof. Richard Falk and Prof. Virginia Tilley. Under heavy Israeli and US pressure, though, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, after two days, ordered to remove the report from the ESCWA website. Out of protest UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary, Ms. Rima Khalaf, resigned. For her resignation letter: click here! We saved the full report on this website: click here! The Executive Summary could also be read separately, but was removed as well. On this website: click here! The Summary can also be read online on the website of Jadaliyya, click here!

(8) See e.g.: "Report: Crimes against Humanity: Israel kills 26 Palestinian students, arrests 198 in 2016" (MEMo, Feb 28, 2017): click here! Also: Cynthia Franklin: "A Firsthand Account of Israel's Siege on a Palestinian University" (truthout, 28 April, 2018): click here!

(9) Quoted from: Sunaina Maira, "Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine" (UCP 2018), p.61. (10) Since May 26, 2016, anti-BDS pro-Israel activists in Europe now have at their disposal the so-called "IHRA working-definition" of anti-Semitism (drafted and distributed by the "International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance"). It has already been adopted (its list of Israel-oriented "illustrations" included) in the UK by Theresa May and in Germany; in the US quite the same definition is used, be it under the name of "the State Department definition of anti-Semitism". For its legal shortcomings: see for example "Counsel’s opinion on the IHRA definition" (Free Speech on Israel, March 8, 2017): click here!; and Naomi Wimborne Idrissi: "Legal opinion blasts holes in pro-Israel definition of antisemitism" (Free Speech on Israel, March 29, repr. from the NYT): click here!

PS There is a lot of debate and literature on the tactic of an academic boycott. See for example the defence of it by: Lawrence DAVIDSON, "Why The Academic Boycott Is Necessary" (2006), click here! For its principles and guidelines see the Palestinian PACBI website: click here! Recommendable: the brochure of BRICUP: "Why Boycott Israeli Universities?" First published April 2007, 35p. Also available online: click here! Have also a look at our FAQs page: click here!

BACBI's Coordinating Committee: Prof. Karel Arnaut (KU Leuven), Prof. ém. Marie-Christine Closon (UCLouvain), Prof. Patrick Deboosere (VUB), Prof. Lieven De Cauter (KU Leuven), Em.Prof. Herman De Ley (UGent), Em. Prof. Marc De Meyere (UGent), Prof. Serge Deruette (UMONS), Lieve Franssen (dirigent Brussels Brecht-Eislerkoor), Prof.ém. Michel Gevers (UCLouvain), Carl Gydé (directeur CAMPO), Prof. ém. Perrine Humblet (ULB), Em.Prof. Madeline Lutjeharms (VUB), Prof. ém. Marc Jacquemain (Université de Liège), Raven Ruëll (régisseur), Dr. Nozomi Takahashi (UGent), Prof. Karin Verelst (VUB).


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