The vote by the British university lecturers’ union to ask all its branches to discuss boycott of Israeli universities is a significant step forward for the world-wide movement to punish Israel for its ongoing ethnic cleansing. The vote is a remarkable sign of a developing awareness, especially when set against the British Government involvement in the international campaign to isolate and punish Palestine which has been going on since Palestine’s democratic elections failed to elect a party which would legitimise the ethnic cleansing of its electors. The vote is even more impressive in a country where virtually every media outlet is pro-Israeli.
Now, and increasingly, Palestinians will know they are not alone. The consistent goal of Israeli policy – to isolate Palestine - is now facing serious challenge.
‘Business as usual’ with the institutions of the apartheid state is no way to ‘build bridges’ – it merely gives the Israelis the confidence to build more walls. On the contrary, boycott works: after decades of silence and complicity, on the very day that lecturers voted, and clearly designed to head off the vote, “Four Israeli university presidents and several high-profile authors today called on the Israeli government to lift its restrictions on Palestinian students.” The call, says Rory McCarthy in today’s Guardian, “appears to have been timed to coincide with the vote” at the UCU Conference.” If one vote shifts the public position of Israeli university Presidents after 40 years, let’s get a hundred more. Boycott works.
The weapon of non-violent, grassroots boycott is being used against apartheid Israel as it was deployed against South Africa, when British university lecturers were among the first to adopt that boycott policy, with the same howls of outrage from the British government and other supporters of South African apartheid. Just as Israeli occupation is much more brutal than South African apartheid, so will the world-wide boycott movement be more wide and deep.
Many Israelis and their supporters are now demanding no limits to Israeli ‘academic freedom’, but these include the same people who have actively prosecuted a campaign against Palestinian universities over decades. Over the years the Israeli military has carried out repeated mass arrests of students and faculty, implemented detention without trial, and closed down universities with curfews, arbitrary checkpoints, and military invasions.
Palestinians responded; professors and students organised underground ‘universities’ and held archaeology and chemistry classes in private homes. None of those who are now elevating ‘academic freedom’ above all other considerations responded to Palestinian academics’ desperate pleas to merely speak out in defence of their academic freedom.
During the university closures, the Israelis imprisoned without trial students caught in possession of textbooks: there were no protests from any British Government at the time. Then, as now, London worked with Washington to isolate Palestine from any help in resisting Israel’s policy of occupation and dispossession.
Some Israelis now claim that universities in the apartheid state are centres of liberal, or even left-wing, opposition. There is not a shred of evidence for this, quite the opposite:i
Israel is deliberately shredding the academic and every other part of the fabric of Palestinian society. The Israelis have set up over 500 checkpoints and hundreds of rubble roadblocks across the West Bank to impede normal Palestinian movement.
Every University has a military checkpoint, i.e. harassment point. This writer was turned away from such a harassment point just outside Bir Zeit University near Ramallah last July and forced to take a much more round-about route to get to my arranged meeting there. It was open harassment by a bored soldier; nothing was checked. Lecturers with foreign passports are routinely harassed and must work under the threat of being made to leave at any time.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week rightly called Britain ‘a battlefield’ in this worldwide grass-roots struggle to stop Israel thumbing its nose at all enlightened world opinion. Israel ignored the World Court ruling to take down the apartheid wall which, once seen is never forgotten. Britain’s Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, whose government opposed the World Court ruling which enjoined all governments to take active measures to oppose the Wall, has emerged from the shadows to condemn the UCU motion in support of Palestine. The US-based Goldhirsh foundation has already imposed a ban on British academic funding requests for part of its $150 million hand outs.
Boycott is, of course, an Irish contribution to the struggle against imperial power. Ireland also saw settler colonialism, dispossession of the natives, a racism equal in bitterness and hatred to anything most of us have ever seen. The Rev. Ian Paisley was the worst of the worst, easily on a par with Begin or any Israeli settler, Bible in hand, ordained by their violent Deity to fight the natives. And now he knows he has to make peace – albeit of a sorts – with those who fought him and the British State, gun and bomb in hand, to demand equal rights and an end to state discrimination against Catholics that went on much longer than the lifetime of the Zionist state that ‘Ulster’ inspired - http://www.fpif.org/pdf/gac/0407divide.pdf
As Ronnie Kasrils, Jewish fighter in the liberation struggle in South Africa, now a Minister in the South African Government, addressed the Israelis after a visit to Palestine: “At a certain point in time you think that the oppression is working, and that you’re controlling the other people, imprisoning its leaders and its activists, but the resistance will triumph in the end.”
Our task is to build a movement to accelerate the boycott movement here in Scotland and the UK. The Palestinian and Arab resistance to Israel will triumph, but we can reduce somewhat the terrible cost they will have to pay, and advance the day of liberation, by working here to punish Israel. The weapon is now clear: boycott. Join the battle
5th June, 2007
"Israel was not established to further democracy, it was founded as the Jewish state. We will not let go of the sole reason for our existence," Israeli Justice Dalia Dorner, who retired from the bench in 2004.
Israeli Chief of Staff, Raphael Eitan, once explained Israel’s attitude towards Palestinians: “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”
The first Governor of Jerusalem Sir Ronald Storrs stated that Israel "will form for England a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism."