BDS gains traction among academics
Like a snowball rolling downhill, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at Israel keeps growing — especially among those who teach at universities.
The global BDS movement was initiated by Palestinian organizations in 2005, and is co-ordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, a group of 27 organizations established in 2007.
It urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it ends its occupation of the lands occupied in June 1967; dismantles the wall dividing the West Bank from Israel proper; and makes Arab citizens of Israel fully equal.
It also demands that Israel allow post-1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their homes and properties within present-day Israel, as stipulated in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, passed in December 1948 following the first Arab-Israeli war.
Were all of this to come to pass, it is highly unlikely that Israel would remain a Jewish-majority state, or even continue to exist at all.
Israeli academic institutions are particularly targeted due to what the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calls their “persistent and deep complicity in planning, implementing and whitewashing crimes against the Palestinian people.”
Their demands are resonating in the United States. On Nov. 27, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) voted to support the boycott; 653 people approved, while only 86 opposed.
One week earlier, the general conference of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The resolution, which passed with 1,040 votes in favour and 136 votes against, will go to a vote of the full membership in the spring.
The AAA is the largest American academic association to date to pass an academic boycott resolution.
These two associations join a growing list of scholarly associations and academics which approve of this form of punishing Israel.
They include the American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, the African Literature Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, the Association for Humanist Sociology, and the Peace and Justice Studies Association.
Some American academics are pushing back. Led by Mark Yudof, president emeritus of the University of California system, and Kenneth Waltzer, former director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) has been formed to combat what it calls “Orwellian efforts” to discredit Israel.
Stephen Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University in Washington, DC, described the network as a group of concerned academics who “have devoted themselves to making it possible for people from all points of view” to speak candidly and without disruption.
“We ourselves are critical of Israel. We don’t claim perfection for Israel and no one expects us to do that,” stated Trachtenberg. “We’re not afraid of fair criticism of Israel.”
Also, the BDS movement suffered defeat at the American Historical Association’s annual conference. On Jan. 9, by a vote of 111-51, the AHA’s business meeting rejected a resolution to sanction Israel over alleged violations of Palestinian academic freedom.
“They understood that this was part of a political campaign and an attempt to use the American Historical Association for political purposes, and they rejected that,” remarked Prof. Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland.
“The members of the AHA have very high standards. They were not going to vote for a resolution like this that was making factual assertions that they couldn’t verify themselves.”