February 5, 2014

GUEST COLUMN | A Call to Boycott

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Recently, this paper published a column that seriously misrepresents the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. This is part of wider misinformation about the BDS movement — including its motivation, strategies and objectives — that has been going on for quite some time. For those who haven’t heard of it, the BDS campaign is a call by Palestinian civil society to do exactly those three things to compel Israel to rethink its inhumane and atrocious policies towards the Palestinian people. The column by Julius Kairey raises three key arguments against the campaign, each of which lack a factual basis.

First, Kairey questions why Israel is singled out, and contends that in this way several other countries, too, should be the target of boycotts. What the writer fails to point out, though, is that Israel carries out its actions with the full blessing and support of the United States in particular, and the Western world in general. Israel receives $3 billion in aid annually from the U.S., a fact that in and of itself is enough to justify singling out Israel as the target of BDS.

More significantly, to say that Israel “is among the most protective of civil liberties in the region” is rather ironic when discussing a country that was founded on the ethnic cleansing and mass expulsion of its indigenous people, and refuses to recognize the legitimate claim of the refugees it is responsible for. Israel also does not recognize the rights of free movement (vis-à-vis the separation barrier), the rights to land (by refusing to grant building permits to Palestinians in Area C, the vast majority of 1967 Palestine), the rights to fair trial (Israel runs the only juvenile military court in the world, detaining minors — some even as young as five years old — without trial for throwing stones at check posts) and the right to life for the 1.5 million residents of the open-air prison in Gaza.

The tagline, “only democracy in the Middle East” belies the fact that Israel has no intention of giving the four million residents of occupied Palestinian territories the right to vote. Not only does Israel refuse to accept responsibility for the Palestinians — which it must, for its government has done everything in its power to sabotage the two-state solution — it also continues to maintain military control over these stateless people.

The second argument, namely that the BDS movement unnecessarily creates antagonism by isolating individual Israeli scholars, is as spurious as it is weak. The resolution passed by and voted upon by the American Studies Association clearly states that it is opposed in principle to interactions with Israeli institutions, not individuals. And while individuals certainly do voice their oppositions to Israeli government policies in meaningful ways, institutions cannot be so easily exonerated. Because the ASA does not make Israeli individuals the target of its boycott, which, frankly, would be downright racist, it does not harm academic freedom. Universities, as beacons of progressive thought and harbingers of social change, have a positive responsibility to divest from systems of oppression, as universities that did so from companies in the apartheid state of South Africa so remarkably proved.

Thirdly, Julius Kairey claims that calling for the boycott of institutions in other countries is inherently hypocritical. Perhaps he is unaware that the various campaigns for divestment from corporations that profit from Israeli occupation — such as those at Hampshire College, Arizona State, University of California, Berkeley and University of California, San Diego — are indeed forms of “principled activism that actually affects one’s own life.” The campaign for BDS has drawn in activists who have stood up to their own institutions, by demanding, through grassroots mobilization and representation in student senates, that they change their endowment investment policies. In the pattern of the fossil fuels divestment resolution passed by Cornell’s Student Assembly, students at these colleges have demanded that their institutions’ funds be removed from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.

The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a growing one. Efforts to malign and misrepresent it serve no cause; if anything, opponents of the boycott should examine whether they really want our institutions to be complicit in 21st century apartheid.

Emad Masroor is a freshman in the College of Engineering. Feedback may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Columns appear periodically throughout the semester.