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Academic Boycott of Israel Overturned

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    Freedom vs. Academic Freedom The AUT Boycott By OMAR BARGHOUTI and LISA TARAKI http://www.counterpunch.org/barghouti06012005.html On May 26, the Association
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 5, 2005
      Freedom vs. "Academic" Freedom
      The AUT Boycott


      On May 26, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in Britain
      reversed its previous decision -- taken on April 22 -- to boycott
      Israeli universities. Intimidation and bullying aside, no tool was as
      persistently used, abused and bandied about as much as the claim that
      academic boycott infringes on academic freedom. Freedom to produce and
      exchange knowledge and idea was deemed sacrosanct regardless of the
      prevailing conditions. There are two key faults in this argument. It
      is inherently biased because it only regards as worthy the academic
      freedom of Israelis. The fact that Palestinians are denied basic
      rights as well as academic freedom due to Israel's military occupation
      is lost on those parroting it. And its privileging of academic freedom
      as a super-value above all other freedoms is in principle antithetical
      to the very foundation of human rights. The right to live, and freedom
      from subjugation and colonial rule, to name a few, must be of more
      import than academic freedom. If the latter contributes in any way to
      suppression of the former, more fundamental rights, it must give way.
      By the same token, if the struggle to attain the former necessitates a
      level of restraint on the latter, then be it. It will be well worth it.

      But is there a compulsory trade-off? Is academic freedom mutually
      exclusive with basic human rights? In most cases, no; but, in specific
      situations of persistent oppression and enduring breach of
      international law supported -- explicitly or implicitly -- by academic
      institutions, the answer is a resounding yes. Towards the end of the
      apartheid era, when the world boycotted South African academics -- as
      part of the overall regime of sanctions and boycotts endorsed by the
      United Nations at the time -- a degree of violation of academic
      freedom was indeed entailed. That was accepted by the international
      community, though, as a reasonable price to pay in return for
      contributing to the defeat of apartheid and the attainment of more
      basic freedoms denied black South Africans for generations. From an
      ethical perspective, freedom from racism and colonial subjugation was
      correctly perceived as more profound than the "unwanted side-effects"
      caused to academic and other freedoms of individual academics opposed
      to apartheid. The march to freedom had to temporarily restrict a
      subset of freedom, enjoyed by only a portion of the population.

      And, upholding the principle of moral consistency, one cannot but view
      Israel in a similar light. As the South African Council of Churches,
      Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ANC leader and current government minister
      Ronnie Kasrils and hundreds of leading academics, trade unionists and
      human rights activists in South Africa have publicly recognized,
      Israel's system of racial discrimination and colonial oppression is
      sufficiently similar to the defunct apartheid regime as to warrant
      Palestinian calls for sanctions similar to those declared against
      South Africa in the past. The same trade-off accepted in the South
      African case will be encountered in the Palestinian struggle for
      freedom, justice and peace.

      However, it should be noted that in the Israeli context, what is being
      so valiantly defended by the opponents of the boycott is not only the
      unfettered access of Israeli academics to the global community of
      scholars and participation in the "free exchange of ideas," but also
      the material and symbolic privileges of academic life. In this sense,
      rejecting academic boycotts in order to preserve Israeli academics'
      freedoms and privileges, while ignoring the more vital rights and
      freedoms of Palestinians -- whether academics or not -- is a blatant
      case of double standards.

      It is also worth mentioning that the concept of academic freedom has
      been abused by opponents of the boycott and misunderstood by many
      others in this particular case. In democratic societies, the academy
      takes a grave view of scholars whose writings and activities can be
      interpreted as inciting to racial hatred. For example, academics in
      the United States and Europe who have denied that the holocaust
      occurred, or who have otherwise challenged accepted facts about it
      have faced harsh disciplinary measures from their universities and
      censure from colleagues and professional associations. In Israel,
      however, where racism against Palestinians and Arabs is a normal
      feature of everyday discourse and practice in the mainstream of
      society, the concept of academic freedom is so elastic as to include
      the freedom to propound racist theories and incite to hatred, ethnic
      cleansing, and worse.

      Boycotts and sanctions are not exact sciences -- if any science is.
      They affect real institutions providing jobs and services to real
      people, many of whom may not be directly implicated in the injustice
      that motivated those punitive measures in the first place. Any
      boycott, intended to redress injustice, will in the process harm some
      innocent people. That goes without saying. One must therefore resort
      to clear, morally consistent criteria of judgment to arbitrate whether
      the causes of the called for boycott and its intended outcome
      adequately justify that unintended harm. In the case of Israeli
      universities, the weight of the causes cannot be more morally
      imperative or politically pressing.

      Israel Boycott

      For decades, Israeli academic institutions have been complicit in
      Israel's colonial and racist policies. Funded by the government, they
      have consistently and organically contributed to the military-security
      establishment, and, therefore, to perpetuating its crimes, its abuse
      of Palestinian human rights and its distinct system of apartheid.

      Contrary to the false image -- created and skillfully marketed by
      Israel and its apologists, academics included -- of the Israeli
      academy as a "bastion of enlightenment" and a solid base for
      opposition to the occupation, this academy is in fact part of "the
      official Israeli propaganda," according to Ilan Pappe, one of the
      leading Israeli "New Historians" who exposed the systematic ethnic
      cleansing of Palestinians during the Nakba. [1]

      Not only do most Israeli academics defend or justify their state's
      colonial narrative, they play a more active role in the process of
      oppression. Almost all of them obediently serve in the occupation
      army's reserve forces every year, thereby participating in, or at
      least witnessing in silence, crimes committed with impunity against
      Palestinian civilians. In the last 38 years of Israel's illegal
      occupation, very few of them have conscientiously objected to military
      service in the occupied territories. Those who have politically
      opposed the colonization of Palestinian land in any public form have
      also remained in a depressingly tiny minority. [2]

      Even the revered academic freedom on Israeli campuses that Israeli
      propaganda tries to project in the media is grossly exaggerated. It is
      well constrained within limits set by the Zionist establishment;
      dissenters who dare challenge those boundaries are fiercely ostracized
      and demonized. This is why another purpose of the proposed academic
      boycott is to "provide a means to transcend the publicly-sanctioned
      limits of debate," in the words of Oren Ben-Dor, [3] a British
      academic of Israeli origin. "Such freedom is precisely what is absent
      in Israel," he adds. From this angle, the boycott is seen as indeed
      "generating" true academic freedom. "The Zionist ideology which
      stipulates that Israel must retain its Jewish majority is a
      non-debatable given in the country -- and the bedrock of opposition to
      allowing the return of Palestinian refugees. The very few
      intellectuals who dare to question this sacred cow are labeled
      'extremists'." Ben-Dor attacks those in the Israeli "left" who opposed
      the boycott as "sophisticated accomplices to the smothering of debate ."

      Irrespective of individual accountability of Israeli academics, a
      judicious and methodical scrutiny of the culpability of Israeli
      academic institutions in the crimes perpetrated against the
      Palestinian people will reveal an abundance of incriminating evidence.
      Even Baruch Kimmerling, a renowned Israeli academic who is opposed to
      the academic boycott, writes: "I will be the first to admit that
      Israeli academic institutions are part and parcel of the oppressive
      Israeli state that has committed grave crimes against the Palestinian
      people." [4] The facts presented below are only a small part of the
      evidence underlining this institutional culpability. They are
      particularly pertinent in light of the misinformation propagated by
      some academics in the Israeli left who experienced nothing less than a
      moral collapse when they joined the establishment choir in spreading
      half-truths -- or worse -- to shield their academic institutions from
      international reproach.

      Haifa University: Institutional Racism

      Haifa University not only condones racist utterances and
      pronouncements by its faculty, but also provides institutional
      sponsorship and thus legitimacy to the activities of academics engaged
      in scholarship that has been widely characterized as racist or
      inciting to racism and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians of
      the occupied territories and the Palestinian citizens of Israel
      itself. This legitimacy is conferred by the university through its
      sponsorship of academic departments and research centers under whose
      aegis racist work is carried out.

      Despite its substantial Arab-Palestinian student population, Haifa
      University harbors, or at least tolerates, a culture of racism --
      against Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular -- which
      manifests itself in the fact that members of its faculty espouse
      racist "theories," publish bigoted research papers, and advocate
      ethnic cleansing with impunity. The university has consistently and
      systematically failed to censure such academics or to properly
      investigate accusations of racism raised against them.

      It provides institutional support to racist academics and their
      research activities. The most notorious of these academics is Arnon
      Sofer, chair of geo-strategy at Haifa University and vice-chair of its
      Center for National Security Studies. He is also known in Israel as
      the prophet of the "Arab demographic threat." He takes credit for the
      route of the Israeli apartheid wall -- declared illegal by the
      International Court of Justice in the Hague, on July 9, 2004 --
      saying, "This is exactly my map." [5]

      Prof. Sofer, who views the high birth rate of the Bedouin Palestinian
      citizens of Israel as a "tragedy," and has no patience for "democracy
      and pretty words," [6] has for many years openly advocated "voluntary
      transfer" -- or soft ethnic cleansing -- of Palestinians in the
      occupied territories as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel, in
      order to guarantee "a Zionist-Jewish state with an overwhelming
      majority of Jews." In one particularly telling prediction, Sofer says,
      "When 2.5 million [Palestinians] live in a closed-off Gaza, those
      people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the
      aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. So, if we want to remain alive,
      we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day. If we
      don't kill, we will cease to exist. The only thing that concerns me is
      how to ensure that the [Jewish] boys and men who are going to have to
      do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be
      normal human beings." [7]

      Haifa University's promotion of the principles behind the infamous
      "Mitzpim Project," [8] which aimed at "Judaizing" the Galilee in the
      1970's and 80's, is another dark spot in its record of complicity in
      projects that espouse racial discrimination against Palestinian-Arabs.
      It recently published a pamphlet examining the success of the project
      in reaching its goal, namely changing the demographic balance in that
      area in favor of Israeli Jews. The University is distributing the
      pamphlet in high schools and academic institutions, thus "inculcating
      in future generations unacceptable norms that raise serious
      questions," according to Ha'aretz. Sofer himself takes pride in having
      "an effect on where the Jewish hilltop communities [mitzpim, in
      Hebrew] were later established." [9]

      These mitzpim were designed, in the words of one of Sofer's
      colleagues, Avraham Dor, to increase the Jewish population in the
      Galilee and "to drive wedges between the blocs of Arab settlements, in
      order to block their ability to create a territorial continuity."
      Another goal was to make possible "a maximum distribution of [Jewish]
      settlement sites and the 'conquest' of the territory by means of
      access roads to them and by means of the permanent Jewish presence in
      the area." Ha'aretz comments on the project saying, "Without mincing
      words, the study reveals that underlying the project were principles
      of ethnic discrimination, demographic phobia, and the concept that the
      country's Arab citizens are not equals but constitute a threat to its
      existence," and that "discrimination and inequality [against Arabs]
      are not a systemic failure but a deliberate intention." [10]

      The most recent evidence of Haifa University's culpability in the
      advocacy of ethnic cleansing is the convening of a conference on May
      17, 2005 entitled "The Demographic Problem and Demographic Policy in
      Israel." Blessed by the Rector of the university, this pseudo-academic
      forum for the purveyance of "demographic racism" -- not innocently
      timed to coincide with the 57th anniversary of the Nakba -- included
      almost all of the academic and political luminaries of ethnic
      cleansing, such as Arnon Sofer, Yoav Gelber, Yitzhak Ravid,
      Brigadier-General Herzl Getz, General Uzi Dayan, and Yuval Steinetz.
      Ravid, a researcher at Rafael, the Israeli manufacturer of arms, has
      been an advocate of inhibiting the natural growth of the Palestinian
      population in Israel, claiming that "the delivery rooms in Soroka
      Hospital in Be'er Sheva have turned into a factory for the production
      of a backward population." [11]

      Haifa University's rector has also recently "exonerated" Dr. David
      Bukay, [12] who teaches in the Department of Political Science, of any
      wrongdoing despite the fact that Israel's attorney general had ordered
      an investigation against him on suspicion of "racist incitement," upon
      receiving an official complaint filed by Mossawa-The Advocacy Center
      for Arab Citizens of Israel (copy of the original in Hebrew is
      available). Bukay made "unprecedented" racist remarks against Arabs
      and Muslims during his lectures, according to Mossawa. His
      publications, in which he defended his racist theories of "The Arab
      character," include titles such as "Mohammad's Monsters" and "The
      First Cultural Flaw in Thinking: The Arab Personality." [13]

      In a letter dated March 13, 2005, (copy of the original Hebrew is
      available) responding to Mossawa's complaint, the deputy attorney
      general, Shai Nizan, writes: "After studying the matter, I've decided
      to issue an order to the police to open an investigation of Dr. Bukay
      on the charge of racist incitement ."

      In a typical demonstration of institutional cover up, Haifa
      University's rector, Prof. Yossi Ben Artzi, conducted his own
      "investigation" only to conclude that the remarks attributed to Bukay
      in the media "were not made in the way they were quoted and parts of
      sentences that were uttered in different contexts were yoked together
      by manipulation." [14]

      The Mossawa lawyer wrote (copy of the original letter in Hebrew is

      "Dr. Bukay's statements listed above contain expressions of
      degradation, humiliation, hostility and violent incitement against a
      part of the population based on its national affiliation; and this, in
      our opinion, violates [the relevant Israeli law against incitement] of
      1977 which prohibits racist incitement. In addition, the listed
      declarations, which contain admiration, sympathy, cheering and actual
      support for violence and terror, also constitute an infringement of
      [the law] of 1977."

      Mossawa argued that there is no room for "tolerating racist and
      inciting discourse" like Bukay's, which "hides behind the walls of
      'academic freedom.'"

      Ironically, Ken Jacobson, associate national director of the
      Anti-Defamation League, was also "shocked" after reading Dr. Bukay's
      article on the "Arab personality." Concurring with Mossawa's last
      point, he puts the blame on Haifa University's president for not
      censuring Bukay:

      "Naturally we respect academic freedom and understand that this is the
      only way academe can operate, but we believe that university
      presidents should condemn such things. It is not enough for a
      university president to say that his institution practices academic
      freedom. He must also say that such statements are obnoxious." [15]

      The Ha'aretz reporter who covered the story and interviewed all
      parties involved wrote:

      "Something strange is happening at the University of Haifa. On the one
      hand, the Anti-Defamation League is 'very disturbed' by Bukay's
      article because of its 'destructive prejudices' and the attorney
      general has initiated an investigation against Bukay on suspicion of
      racist incitement. On the other hand, the university is conducting a
      disciplinary process against the student who accused Bukay of racism."

      Hebrew University: Colonial Land Grab

      An indictment presented to the AUT executive by the Palestinian
      Federation of Unions of Universities' Professors and Employees against
      the Hebrew University, for example, exposes the following
      well-documented facts:

      In 1968, more than one year after Israel's military occupation of Gaza
      and the West Bank (which includes East Jerusalem, according to UN
      Security Council resolutions), the Israeli occupation authorities
      confiscated 3345 dunums of Palestinian land, basing their decision on
      article 5 and article 7 of the Land (Acquisition for Public Purpose)
      Ordinance 1943. The decision was published in the official Israeli
      Gazette -- the Hebrew edition -- number 1425. It was therefore
      "legalized" by Israel. Most of that land was (still is) privately
      owned by Palestinians living in that area.

      A large part of the confiscated land was then given to the Hebrew
      University to expand its campus. The Palestinian landowners refused to
      leave their properties, arguing that the confiscation order of 1968
      was illegal. In 1973, the Israeli court expectedly ruled in favor of
      the University and the state. The court decided that the Palestinian
      families must evacuate their homes and be offered alternative housing.

      According to authoritative legal experts, the basis for the illegality
      of the Hebrew University land confiscation deal is that this land is
      part of East Jerusalem, which is an occupied territory according to
      international law (numerous UN resolutions recognize East Jerusalem as
      an inseparable part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories).

      Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem, as well as
      expropriation of Palestinian land and efforts at forced eviction of
      its Palestinian owners in this area, are illegal under the terms of
      International Humanitarian Law. [17]

      The annexation of occupied East Jerusalem into the State of Israel and
      the application of Israeli domestic law to this area have been
      repeatedly denounced as null and void by the international community,
      including by the UN Security Council. [18]

      By moving Israelis (staff and students) to work and live on occupied
      Palestinian land, the Hebrew University, like all Israeli settlements
      illegally established on occupied territories, is gravely violating
      article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 which states that:
      "The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own
      civilian population into the territory it occupies."

      Based on the above, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem cannot invoke
      Israel's domestic law in order to justify the oppressive and illegal
      measures it has been taking in order to evict the Palestinian families
      who remain the legal owners of the land in question under
      international law.

      Given the multi-faceted complicity of their institutions in oppressing
      Palestinians, Israeli academics should either mobilize to oppose what
      is done in their names, with their direct and indirect help, or stop
      complaining when conscientious academics around the world decide to
      take them to task.

      Lisa Taraki teaches sociology at Birzeit University.

      Omar Barghouti is an independent researcher. Both are Founding members
      of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of
      Israel (PACBI). They can be reached at: jenna@...


      [1] Meron Rappaport, Alone on the Barricades, Ha'aretz, May 6, 2005.

      [2] Ilan Pappe states: "The boycott reached academia because academia
      in Israel chose to be official, national. Prof. Yehuda Shenhav checked
      into it and found that out of 9,000 members of academia in Israel,
      only 30-40 are actively engaged in reading significant criticism, and
      a smaller number, just three or four, are teaching their students in a
      critical manner about Zionism and so on." Ibid.

      [3] Oren Ben-Dor, The Boycott Should Continue, The Independent, May
      30, 2005.

      [4] Baruch Kimmerling, The Meaning of Academic Boycott, ZNet, April
      26, 2005.

      [5] Meron Rappaport, A Wall in their Heart, Yedioth Ahronoth, May 23,
      2003, cited in:

      [6] Ha'aretz, February 25, 2003.

      [7] Jerusalem Post weekend supplement Up Front, May 21, 2004.

      [8] Ha'aretz, September 26, 2004.

      [9] Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2004.

      [10] Ha'aretz, September 26, 2004.

      [11] Arjan El Fassed, Racism thrives at Israel's Herzliya conference,
      The Palestinian Return Centre, January 2004:

      [12] Ha'aretz, April 28, 2005.

      [13] The following examples (all from the above cited Ha'aretz
      article) of Dr. Bukay's writings and utterances in class give a
      representative sample:

      - "Among Arabs, you will not find the phenomenon so typical of
      Judeo-Christian culture: doubts, a sense of guilt, the self-tormenting
      approach. There is no condemnation, no regret, no problem of
      conscience among Arabs and Muslims, anywhere, in any social stratum,
      of any social position."
      - "[Palestinian] Terrorists should be shot in the head in front of
      their families [as a deterrent]. a whole house should be demolished
      with the occupants inside."
      - "Arabs are nothing but alcohol and sex."
      - "The Arabs are stupid and have contributed nothing to humanity."

      [14] Ibid.

      [15] Ibid.

      [16] Ibid.

      [17] In particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the
      Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949), Part III,
      Section III, Article 47, states that:

      "Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be
      deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of
      the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the
      occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the
      said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities
      of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any
      annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory."

      [18] UN Security Council Resolution 252 (21 May 1968) considers that:

      "[A]ll legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by
      Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which
      tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot
      change that status [and] Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all
      such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any
      further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem."

      Also UNSC Resolution 478 (20 August 1980) determines that:

      "[A]ll legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by
      Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter
      the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in
      particular the recent 'basic law' on Jerusalem, are null and void and
      must be rescinded forthwith."



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