BRICUP : Call for Boycott of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (HUJ)

David Pegg and Monica Wusteman | BRICUP Newsletter N 56 | 7 septembre 2012 | A British University , York St John University, (YSJU) is collaborating with HUJ to organize….

David Pegg and Monica Wusteman | BRICUP Newsletter N 56 | 7 septembre 2012 |

A British University , York St John University, (YSJU) is collaborating with HUJ to organize a conference entitled “Mediating Peace: Reconciliation through Art, Music and Film” to take place Jerusalem in November. BRICUP is advocating boycott and has presented its argument to YSJU: our text is printed in the August edition of
this Newsletter (Number 55). In addition to the fact that Palestinian civil Society has called for a boycott of all institutions involved in Israel’s system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, there are powerful arguments that apply specifically to HUJ – the theft of Palestinian land and the very close association with the Israeli military and security machine. Newsletter 55 also reproduces the letter
that Kairos Palestine has sent to YSJU, urging boycott. Picking up that report, Sue Blackwell, a member of the BRICUP committee, has contributed further and devastating evidence of the specific abhorrent action by HUJ – see the Letter to the Editor in this issue. Two other members of the BRICUP Committee have met with the deputy vicechancellor of YSJU to urge cancellation. The University responded by calling a special meeting of the University’s Ethics Committee. That committee
was not aware that part of the HUJ was built on Palestinian land or that the University had such a close association with the Israeli military establishment. They identified the ethical question as – how to contribute ethically towards a just
solution, given the two alternatives of engagement or disengagement. They recognised the close parallel with apartheid South Africa but considered that, in the absence of a mutual commitment to boycott by HE bodies in the UK, they were free to decide the matter themselves: Their decision was that the conference should not be cancelled. The committee envisaged various types of engagement to be implemented: that Palestinians would attend; that the organizers would make it clear in their introduction just how conflicted the YSJU committee was; that the ethics of organizing the conference would be discussed at the conference;
that they would monitor any refusals by Israel to issue visas to attend; and that participants would be invited to attend an ‘alternative’ tour of Israel/Palestine.

BRICUP replied by urging that all Universities considering collaboration with Israeli universities should, at the outset, and before any contracts are signed, carefully consider the arguments for boycott advocated by the BNC, PACBI and BRICUP. We
noted that the YSJU Mission Statement includes phrase “we [..] promote justice” yet collaborating with a University that is complicit in the deplorable actions and policies of the Israeli Government, is inconsistent with the promotion of justice. We noted that that the generalised argument that appears to have convinced YSJU is that engaging in debate, challenging prejudice and advocating justice are
more likely to contribute to just solutions that is boycott. That could be true in this case if Israel were to be seriously engaged in such a debate and if there
had been progress during the 64 years that have passed since al-Nakba. Moreover, it is clear from the continuing Israeli land grabs and ethnic cleansing,
Israel’s record of aggressive military actions against its neighbours, and now from the leaked “Palestine Papers” that it is not, and never has been, the intention of Israel to reach a just negotiated settlement [1, 2]. In our view these facts utterly
destroy the argument of the conference organisers.

Haim Bresheeth provides a detailed analysis of “engagement” in this Newsletter. While we reject ‘engagement’ we do not embrace ‘disengagement’ as defined by YSJU – that is “ignoring and having nothing to do with [..] people who do not agree”. We do not refuse to discuss the Palestinian issue with individual Israelis and in fact it is our experience that boycott actually increases such discussion – see “Talking to the Globe” in the June 2012 Newsletter, page 3 – and the article about the current Batsheva protests in this Newsletter. We say [3] that, “The boycott is aimed at institutions, not individuals. It applies to individual academics only in so far as they are acting on behalf of or as officials or representatives of Israeli academic institutions or of Israeli higher education at the national level.”

We noted that the committee made the argument that “there has been no shared decision [..] for an academic boycott of Israeli universities [..] by any representative body in HE in the UK” However, the Palestinian boycott call of 2004 did not call for a boycott by institutions but by academic colleagues.
In part, it read

We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all
Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid

Thus the alleged absence of a shared decision by UK HE institutions to boycott Israeli institutions has no effect on the validity of the Palestinian call, which
ethical and solidarity considerations all support. But in fact, the 2010 congress of the University and College Union in the UK, resolved “to reaffirm its support for BDS and to seek its implementation within the constraints of the existing law”, […] to establish an annual international conference on BDS [and to] […] commence the investigatory process associated with the imposition of a boycott of Ariel college”. (Motion 31). We noticed that the YSJU made no reference to contracts and finance yet these are often important considerations in such
circumstances. We have informed YSJU that we regret their decision and hope it is not irreversible. We intend to carry this action further by communicating directly
with people who are planning to intend the conference. We informed YSJU that we have discussed the situation with Omar Barghouti at PACBI, and that he would be very happy to discuss the matter with them.

Prof David Pegg and Dr Monica Wusteman


[1] Ilan Pappe: “A History of Modern Palestine: One Land , Two Peoples” 2nd Edition Cambridge University Press (2006)

[2] Clayton Swisher: “The Palestine Papers” Hesperus Press (2011)

[3] BRICUP “Why Boycott Israeli Universities” p 24 (2007).