Academic boycott of Israel – Stand up and be counted

It has been a long time since 1967. I know. I was a young conscripted officer in the Israel Defense Force then, as blind as the current generation of IDF….

It has been a long time since 1967. I know. I was a young conscripted officer in the Israel Defense Force then, as blind as the current generation of IDF officers are, as they kill people in Gaza without any doubts entering their minds, seemingly.

Well, not quite that blind, or that stupid, really; and I did not harm anyone, of course. And, gradually and painfully, I turned from a critic of the Israeli system towards an anti-Zionist position, with the help of academic colleagues in Britain, after I left Israel. I never looked back.

But this background opened my mind to the great importance of academic discourse on political topics, and the falseness of the artificial separation between what is academic and what is political. And while in Britain in the 1970s, I could immediately see the injustice involved in South African apartheid, even before I could see the injustices in Palestine.

The last 50 days of murder, destruction and mayhem have been, I am sure, most difficult for anyone who cares about human rights, or about human beings, for that matter.

Not for the first time, an Israeli leader set off on a journey of death and destruction, in order to prove a point: Israel is in control of the whole of Palestine, and can do what it likes, kill who it likes, and is immune from international justice and public opinion, as long as it has the support of the most powerful regimes on earth, involved in war crimes themselves.

Well, they were wrong. As wrong as the South African whites were when they acted in the same manner, assuming total impunity.

They were wrong, because this brutal, mindless and useless – not to mention illegal – massacre of innocents in Gaza, has touched a raw nerve in us all, whether we are closely related to the conflict or not. Nelson Mandela’s statement that we are “not free, as long as Palestine is not free”, has gained an immediate hold on millions of people during this attack, more than ever before.

The understandable anger over the images we all saw, the feeling of utter helplessness, the seething anger of not being able to intervene and stop this – these emotions must be common to millions now. And that is the new element, which can change the situation for the better, as it did in South Africa. The South African moment of the Palestine conflict is here, with us.


Many liberals in the West have perceived Israel as a democracy, some as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ – as claimed by Israeli propaganda.

But after five decades of brutal occupation, land theft, illegal settlement building, the construction of the apartheid wall, the multiple destructions of Beirut and Gaza, the daily oppression of all Palestinians still living anywhere in Palestine – it must now be clear even to those who normally support Israel that this occupation, these repetitive crimes, will never be ended by relying on Israeli opposition and the one-time ‘peace movement’, now not even a shadow of its unjustified past glory.

It must also be clear that Israel, the ‘Jewish state’, set up in the same year – 1948 – as the South African apartheid state, is nothing but what political sociologists have termed a herrenvolk democracy – a democracy of a ‘master race’, as was the South African state.

A democracy for Jews only, and a denial of human rights of any kind to four million human beings under its control, for nearly five decades; not just any people, mind, but the former inhabitants of the country which was taken by force and ethnic cleansing, leaving them stateless, status-less refugees in their own land.

That this was done with the approval and generous support of the most powerful nations of the Western world, the United Kingdom and United States, makes it worse, not better, to my mind.

Civic action

So what can intellectuals, artists, authors and academics do at a time like this? Well, quite a lot, actually. As much as was done in the past against the inhumanity of South African apartheid.

We can, and should, use non-violent, direct means of civic action, which are available to all, and are the most effective form of political action, when our own governments are not just supporting Israel financially, but also supplying the armaments which make the murder in Gaza (and elsewhere) possible.

We should build an international anti-apartheid movement against Israel, based on the experience collected in the past, without going into hair-splitting arguments about whether Israeli apartheid is better or worse than South African apartheid was.

We should act for justice and equality, and hence help to bring about just peace in Palestine, freeing in the process not just Palestinians but also Israelis from the yolk of criminal apartheid and occupation.

Palestinian civil society called, in July 2004, upon the international community to start a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – BDS – campaign against Israel. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was launched in April that year.

In the UK, this call was heeded almost immediately by many academics who set up the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, BRICUP, advocating BDS and an academic boycott. Its many actions and successes are well documented.

This was followed by similar organisations in many countries, including the US, where USAPACBI – the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – has been very active, as well as the Canadian version, Faculty for Palestine, and similar organisations in most European countries. During the Gaza massacres, 1,700 academics signed an open letter to Israeli academics, asking them to oppose the Gaza attacks.

At the forefront of such organisations, Jews such as myself have stood firm, to dispel all false accusations of anti-Semitism. We ask you to join the action, and to galvanise a mass movement, which is the only way to bring lasting, just peace to the Middle East.

Yes, we can, and we will! Stand up and be counted!