An artist’s collage juxtaposes the real-life conditions Palestinian workers face in the occupied West Bank with Scarlett Johansson’s role as SodaStream spokesmodel. (Courtesy Electronic Intifada)
Outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, activists demonstrate against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his peace proposal, Jan. 29, 2014. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
A Jewish settler (unseen at left) places the Israeli flag on a road sign as Israeli troops encircle Palestinian villagers protesting the army’s cutting branches off olive trees on a road leading to the illegal Jewish settlement of Tekoa, south of Bethlehe
Dr. Eyad El Serraj at a 1993 press conference in East Jerusalem denouncing Israel’s use of torture. (Ruben Bittermann/Photofile)
U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (l) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Jan. 22 press conference closing the Geneva II peace talks on Syria. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2007, page 58
MESA Discusses Academic Boycott Of Israel
THE MIDDLE EAST STUDIES Association (MESA) hosted a special session at its annual conference in Boston on Nov. 16 entitled “Academic Freedom and Academic Boycotts: A Symposium.” The panel was organized by New York University Professor (and MESA president-elect) Zachary Lockman and Georgetown University Professor Ahmed Dallal.
A strategic boycott of certain Israeli academic institutions who build on occupied Palestinian territory and provide research and justification for occupation is “regrettably necessary,” said Westchester University Professor Lawrence Davidson, because “the vast majority of Israeli academics are silent or active participants.”
“Academic freedom is not a luxury,” argued Institute for Advanced Study Professor Joan Scott, “but part of advocating for human rights.” Proponents of an academic boycott of Israel are putting “political tact ahead of principle,” she said.
In the opinion of Joe Stork, chair of the MESA Committee on Academic Freedom Chair and deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East & North Africa division, MESA should “oppose subordination of academic freedom” to the pursuit of other human rights.
Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), argued that the privileging of academic freedom “circumscribes the moral obligations of academics.” He reminded the panelists that international law “explicitly couples academic freedom with obligations.” Regarding a recent American Association of University Professors (AAUP) rejection of the PACBI boycott call, Barghouti cited the precedent of such measures in the “extraordinary situation” of South Africa and questioned the double standard. If such hypocrisy and inaction continues, he argued, academics run the risk of becoming “hopelessly irrelevant and irredeemably biased.”
Given that all the panelists expressed support for the use of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel generally, many audience members expressed frustration at the abstractness of the debate in the face of worsening realities. They saw opposition to the tactic of academic boycott as inaction. “I am willing to risk losing a certain amount of academic freedom,” Davidson stated, to “raise the cost” of Israel’s aggression.