Autonomous University of Barcelona senate urges rector to back academic boycott against Israel

The university community of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) is the first in Spain to pass a motion supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. However this decision is not binding on the leadership of the university.

The BDS campaign at the UAB has taken a year to achieve one of its main aims, for the senate to adopt a motion supporting academic BDS against Israel. The senate is the highest representative of the university community, debating general university policy, reviewing the actions of university leaders and reporting to other organs of university government.

In last Thursday’s session, led by Rector Ferran Sancho, members of Crida for UAB, an umbrella group for students of different faculties, put down a motion on behalf of UAB BDS. The motion was voted on and passed.

The university community calls on the UAB leadership to declare the UAB “free from Apartheid” until Israel “respects human rights and complies with international law”. In practical terms, this means that the university community has called on the UAB leadership to declare the UAB “free from Apartheid” and to break all links with “Israeli institutions which are directly or indirectly involved in the occupation of Palestine” until Israel “respects human rights and complies with international law”.

The UAB BDS group has welcomed this victory and adds, “We are very proud of the enthusiasm and energy devoted to this cause”. Chaimae, a member of the UAB BDS group, said that they have stepped up their campaign among teachers, researchers and students from different faculties. They have organised on-campus awareness activities, such as talks and a concert to commemorate Nakba Day. “Eventually,” Chaimae says, “we achieved enough support to table this issue in university representative bodies.”

Fàtima, a pro-Palestinian activist, emphasises that this is only the start. She believes that passing the motion will “create pressure for BDS to be applied” and, if it is not applied, it will at least highlight “the rector’s disinterest in the stance taken by the university community”.

The struggle for an academic boycott

The struggle at the UAB is not the first academic boycott campaign in Catalonia. Over the last two years the Complicitats que maten (Complicities that kill) campaign has called on the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) to rescind its agreements with Israeli institutions and has gathered 400 individual and 67 collective endorsements.

On 12 November 2013, UVic-UCC announced the signing of collaboration agreements with Israeli institutions. UVic-UCC Rector Jordi Montaña had travelled with the delegation of the president of the Generalitat of Catalonia government, Artur Mas, on an official trip to Israel. He came back with agreements with the University of Haifa and Rambam Health Care Campus to promote mobility programmes for teachers, researchers and students, and to establish inter-university undergraduate and master’s degrees.

The University of Haifa sponsors an academic programme that trains army intelligence officers at a military centre on the university campus itself.

The “Complicitats que maten” campaign has condemned University of Haifa sponsorship of training of future intelligence officers at a military centre on the university campus itself. Furthermore, students who have served in the army have preference on accommodation lists, which according to activists “is discriminatory towards Palestinian Arab students”.

The victory in the UAB senate vote is a great step forward in this struggle, since this is the first university in Spain to declare support across campus for an academic boycott. Previously, units in other universities had come out in favour of the cause, such as the Geography and History Faculty of the University of Valencia, the Department of Sociology of the University of La Laguna and the Department of Social Anthropology of the Autonomous University of Madrid, among others. According to the Academic BDS for Palestine group, more than 1,300 university teachers and researchers have endorsed this initiative, which calls for solidarity and involvement of the international community to “oblige Israel to comply with currently applicable law and desist from decades of oppression and repression in Palestine”.