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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

prelude to an academic boycott of israel

from a forthcoming WRMEA article.
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London Conference, a Prelude to Academic Boycott of Israel

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
Jan/Feb 2005
By Paul de Rooij

On Dec. 5, some 270 academics from around the world convened in London to discuss the implementation of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and the severing of cultural links with Israel. The aim of the conference was to refine the arguments, clarify the rationale, and determine how to act next. Participants considered it an important step toward convincing large numbers of academics to heed a call for an academic boycott.

Support for the boycott is motivated by the terrible conditions created by the Israeli occupation and continued dispossession of the Palestinians. Furthermore, the failure of governments to effectively pressure Israel so that it will comply with international law means that it is up to civil society to act. As Lawrence Davidson, a professor of history in the U.S., stated: “Governments in the West, left to themselves, do not have the will to sanction Israel for its illegal occupation of the occupied territories and its violent destruction of Palestinian society. Therefore, an international grass roots movement must be organized to educate significant parts of the Western populations on the nature of Israeli behavior, and simultaneously build pressure on Israel to change its ways, and governments to act to encourage this change.” Boycotts, a quintessential nonviolent form of protest, are seen as a key tactic to force Israel to end the occupation and in general obtain a modicum of justice. Academics in particular see the boycott of Israeli academic institutions as a way they can contribute to this struggle.

Israeli professor of history Ilan Pappe called on his academic colleagues to “boycott us.” This may seem an odd recommendation coming from an Israeli scholar—indeed, someone likened Pappe’s call to a “turkey voting for Christmas”! Pappe explained his action, however, by arguing that change will not come from within, that external pressure is essential for Israel to change. Although Israeli academics may be more liberal than the population at large, Pappe didn’t believe that demand for change would come from this quarter. If Israeli academics actively were working for change, he explained, then the boycott might be seen as counterproductive. It was clear from several presentations, however, that Israeli academic institutions are part of the problem. Support for the boycott also came from a handful of academics in Israel, some Israeli academics working abroad, and a significant number of Jewish academics.

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