Why boycott Israeli universities?

June 28, 2007

Why Boycott Israeli Universities?

British Committee for the Universities of Palestine 2007

35 pages, £2.50

Visit <http://www.bricup.org.uk>

Following a motion passed at the annual conference of the 120,000-strong British University and College Union (UCU), the June 8 Times higher education supplement reported that leading US lawyer Alan Dershowitz had "pledged to lead a campaign to visit financial and legal ruin on any UK academic backing a boycott of Israeli academe".

However, a glance at the motion actually passed at the UCU conference suggests that Dershowitz's pledge is (amongst other things) somewhat premature. In 2004, a call for a boycott of Israeli universities was issued by a group of more than 50 Palestinian trade unions, NGOs, and community organisations.

The motion passed by UCU did not actually call for a boycott. Rather, it asks for the full text of the Palestinian call for a boycott to be circulated to all local UCU branches for information and discussion. The motion also encouraged UCU members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli academic institutions, called for the organisation of a Britain-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic trade unionists, and actively encourages UCU branches to create direct links with Palestinian educational institutions.

That the mere call for a discussion of an academic boycott of Israel should precipitate such an extreme reaction from US supporters of Israel is an indication of how many raw nerves would be inflamed if a boycott went ahead.

The June 26 British Socialist Worker reported that the national conference of Unison, a union covering workers in the public sector, had overwhelmingly passed a motion stating: "Conference believes that ending the occupation demands concerted and sustained pressure upon Israel including an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott."

This brief pamphlet, produced by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, an organisation of British academics set up in response to the Palestinian call, sets out the case in favour of a boycott. It spells out the similarities between the present call for a boycott of Israel and the boycott adopted by the Association of University Teachers (one of UCU's two predecessor unions) against Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

The pamphlet details the human rights violations committed by Israel against Palestinians, from house demolitions, to legalised discrimination, to torture and murder, and spells out the dire conditions suffered by Palestinian academics and students, for whom the idea of academic freedom (much vaunted by Israel's supporters) is but a distant dream. It explains the tactics behind the boycott call, and responds to several of the most common arguments raised against the boycott.

As the debate unfolds in the months to come, the arguments in favour of the boycott are likely to get drowned out as the corporate media whips up anti-Palestinian hysteria. All those seeking a sober assessment of the case for a boycott will appreciate the rational and measured approach of this pamphlet.

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