PACBI: From Johannesburg to Oslo, the Israel Academic Boycott Spreads

From Johannesburg to Oslo, the Israel Academic Boycott Spreads

With the 29 September 2010 decision by the Senate of the University of Johannesburg "not to continue a long-standing relationship with Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Israel in its present form" and to set conditions "for the relationship to continue," a new campaign for the academic boycott of Israel was born at the southern tip of the African continent.[1]  Almost in tandem, on 11 October, at the northern tip of the European continent, a fresh academic and cultural boycott was announced in Oslo, endorsed by 100 leading Norwegian figures in the academy, culture and sports.[2]

Two weeks earlier, the European Platform for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (EPACBI) was established, after a successful meeting in Paris of 50 representatives of academic boycott campaigns from 9 European countries and a PACBI representative.  The meeting was called at the initiative of the French campaign, AURDIP (Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine), and BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine).

Across the Atlantic, in Montreal, Quebec (Canada), on 22 October, more than 600 BDS supporters and organizers -- academics, students, trade unionists, feminists, LGBT activists, indigenous rights advocates, etc. – gathered at the particularly inspiring opening of the BDS Conference there, breaking into smaller sectoral groups over the next two days to plan, debate, strategize, share, critique and evaluate.  The academic BDS workshop witnessed one of the liveliest discussions about the many campus divestment and other academic boycott campaigns planned across Canada for this new school year.  Student and faculty BDS supporters at McGill University and Concordia University have already announced a joint campaign to scuttle exchange programs with Israel's Technion University.[3]  At Carleton University, Ottawa, an ambitious divestment drive against companies profiting from Israel's occupation and violations of international law has already been launched earlier this year.[4]

Crossing the border south to the US, tens of divestment campaigns have mushroomed across campuses. Inspired by the successful drive last year by Hampshire College student activists to divest their College's investment portfolio from  companies implicated in the Israeli occupation and the benchmark campaign to divest at the University of California Berkeley later, BDS activists in many public and private colleges have launched their own drives, learning the lessons and best practices of previous experiences.  A particularly unifying campaign in this respect is the one targeting TIAA-CREF, initiated and led by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).[5]  The endorsement by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) of this campaign [6] has helped to raise interest in it among many BDS student activists across the USA.  Given the size of the TIAA-CREF investments and the spread of its beneficiaries on most campuses, this promises to become one of the leading BDS campaigns anywhere.

In many universities around the world, in Johannesburg, Montreal, Oslo, Paris, London, Delhi, Rome, Beirut, Caracas, Melbourne, San Francisco and tens of other cities, the discussion is no longer on whether the academic boycott of Israel should be adopted, but, rather, on how, when and how gradually.  As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency put it: [7]

The fear is that Israel is subject to a growing tide of delegitimization that, if unchecked, could pose an existential threat. The nightmare scenario has the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement gaining more traction and anti-Israel opinion moving from Western campuses to governments, followed by a lifting of the protective American diplomatic umbrella.

Anyone who was active in the South Africa anti-apartheid movement in the West knows well that when US and other Western campuses started adopting divestment initiatives against apartheid, the beginning of the end of apartheid was in sight.  The real "delegitimization" the Palestinian-initiated BDS campaign on western campuses is promoting is that of Israel's occupation, colonization, ethnic cleansing and apartheid against the Palestinian people. 

Israel's recently passed loyalty oaths and other manifestations of a deep-rooted, but now bare-teethed, racism have intensified BDS campaigns against it in many liberal circles in the West as well.  Israel’s continued disregard for international law, its intensifying construction of the Wall and colonies, all illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, its ongoing slow genocide in Gaza, and accelerating ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in Al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev) as well as in occupied Jerusalem, are all revealing Israel's true face to the world, adding fuel to the already raging fire of the non-violent BDS campaign in international civil society, and college campuses, in particular.