Campaign for Academic Boycott Supports Barghouti’s right to Study at TAU

BRICUP and PACBI, the organizations which campaign for a boycott of Israeli “apartheid” universities, are supporting the decision of a leading supporter of the boycott Israel campaign, Omar Barghouti, not to boycott Tel Aviv University.  Barghouti is registered there to study for a PhD.  Good for them.  And good for him.

More on Barghouti’s decision to break the boycott of Israeli academia here.

MSU Jewish Studies welcomes honour to Tutu but calls on him to renounce Israel boycott

Ken Waltzer: Director Jewish Studies MSU

Ken Waltzer: Director Jewish Studies MSU

Michigan State University Jewish Studies department has released the following statement:

Since this speech, Desmond Tutu has lent his name to the 2009 U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

MSU Jewish Studies hails MSU’s decision to honor Archbishop Tutu for his important contributions to the freedom struggle in Africa, his Nobel Prize (1984), and his continued activism on behalf of the oppressed — in Sudan (Darfur), Zimbabwe, Timor, and elsewhere.  He is a deserving candidate.

However, MSU Jewish Studies also speaks against Archbishop Tutu‘s contemporary position on Israel, which rests on a false analysis of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is antagonistic to academic freedom and the values of the university, and is counterproductive in the search for an end to occupation and the establishment of peace.

First, in the speech below, please note that Tutu expresses his affinity to the Hebrew people, their bible, and their tradition, which aligns with the oppressed and downtrodden and was an inspiration, he acknowledges, in the freedom struggle against apartheid. It is a prophetic tradition and it is a tradition of kindness, compassion, and caring.

But, Archbishop Tutu charges, it is a tradition from which Israel today is truant in dealing with Palestine. It is this tradition which Israel ignores in creating checkpoints, an “illegal wall,” and things even South Africa didn’t do, like “collective punishment.”

Subtly shifting focus back and forth between Israel the Jews and Israel the state, Tutu says: Israel should be on the side of the God of Exodus, Israel should be with the oppressed – this is “your calling” – to remember “what happened to you in Egypt and much more recently in Germany” – Israel should behave differently.

For Tutu, a Christian cleric, the Jews have a “divine calling” and Israel should act in accord with it in dealing with the Palestinians.

But while we share some of Tutu’s view, especially his desire for negotiations leading to peace and a two state solution, what sort of affinity and commitment to kindness and compassion, we ask, is it that constructs the Jewish people as having a calling for justice when they suffer but derides them when they take defensive measures or fight back against suicide bombing and terror?

Tutu: anti-apartheid hero and Israel boycotter

Tutu: anti-apartheid hero and Israel boycotter

What kind of felt affinity and kindness is it that acknowledges Israel’s suffering as its calling, but identifies not at all with Israel’s yearning and aspiration (like Palestinians’ yearning and aspiration) for self-determination and security?

Why is it that Archbishop Tutu does not acknowledge that Israel has seriously negotiated for years at Oslo, Wye, Camp David, Taba, and since, and that Israelis have consistently demonstrated that Israel would leave the West Bank if they will no longer be attacked. Why is it that Archbishop Tutu does not acknowledge that a serious obstacle to peace is the drift among Palestinian leadership to viewing the conflict as a religious one?

Second, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel calls on people and institutions to one-sidedly boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israeli occupation ends, Israeli Arabs achieve equal rights, and the right of return for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, wherever born, is recognized.

In this boycott campaign, it is only Israel and Israel alone that is targeted –no other nation in the world, no other academic or cultural institutions, no other people. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is central but only Israel is seen as an actor – not Fatah, not Hamas, not others. Who opposes negotiations for a two-state solution? Israel or Hamas?

The conflict is also likened to the earlier conflict over apartheid in South Africa and Israel is demonized as evil by the false analogy.  Israel is not an apartheid or racist state and the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a conflict between rival national movements for national self-determination, not a conflict between colonizers and the colonized.  That is why the UN voted partition for Palestine and called for two states and the self-determination of two peoples in 1948.

The campaign for boycott also seeks to impose an embargo on academics and performers based completely on their national origins, and to limit academic freedom in American universities to hear all sides of the conflict from representatives of all viewpoints. It represents an attack on the idea of the university, as President Lou Anna Simon earlier emphasized, and would reduce a complex conflict between two peoples to a slogan.

The campaign for boycott also threatens what we do in MSU Jewish Studies, where among other things we study Israel and its region, have exchange relations with Israeli universities, send students to study there, administer scholarships to support students to study at Israeli universities, and regularly invite and host Israeli speakers, performers, filmmakers and films at MSU to inform about the conflict and about Israel (and Palestine) also beyond the conflict.

Finally, the call for boycott evokes the feel of similar boycotts in modern Jewish history, blaming the Jews and only the Jews (Israel) for complex issues in public life and spreading a discourse in which Zionism and the Jewish state are especially vilified.  True efforts for peace should and would do otherwise.

Kenneth Waltzer

Director-MSU Jewish Studies

How I ended up worried about Anti Semitism : Duncan Bryson

As a young man I spent several months in Israel, working as a volunteer on a Kibbutz and travelling around the country. It was a fascinating and educating time in my life, seeing up close a society that you have read so much about. Unsurprisingly I found that Israel and Israelis came in all shapes and sizes, with characters as varied as anyone else’s, and with a multitude of political views; I met racists and I met peaceniks and I met people who preferred to talk about premier league football. One thing I did find was a willingness to discuss issues frankly, and a realisation that those issues were complicated.

On my return to England I found that most people found the issues less complicated, that discussions about Israel often contained simplistic assumptions that belied either anti Semitism, anti Arab racism, or both. In such discussions I was often cast as the ‘Zionist’, which was neither accurate nor meant as a compliment. For many years, however my involvement in Middle Eastern politics went no further than these occasional pub debates.

This changed when in my early thirties I had a career change and started teaching at a further education college. I have always been a trade unionist and became active in the local UCU branch as soon as I could. This led to me attending last year’s UCU congress as my branch’s delegate. Before I went I was, of course, aware of the ongoing controversy of the academic boycott debate and had given the issue much thought. I set off to congress ready to vote in favour of motion 25, after all I felt that Israeli government policies were resulting in the oppression of many Palestinians; I felt that Israel had achieved the security it craved; that no one now spoke of destroying Israel; that even the PLO now recognised its right to exist; that Israel was building a wall that destroyed much Palestinian property and hindering progress towards Palestinian statehood. I felt that perhaps motion 25 might be a way of registering my opposition to these policies and helping to persuade the Israeli government to reverse them. I was not going to be voting against Israel, I was going to be voting in favour of those Israelis I had met who appreciated the need for a lasting peace, who favoured the return of land to the Palestinians, who were sick of the toll war took on their society and were aware of the greater toll it took on Palestinians.

What I found when I arrived at congress shocked me. Banners in the hall proclaimed Israel was a racist, colonial usurper state, that Zionism was racism. Whereas Yasser Arafat and most of the Arab world had accepted Israel’s right to exist and a two state solution, many delegates of the UCU had not. Amendments to the motion that would have assuaged my fears about its one sided nature were voted down. The debate was a deeply uncomfortable spectacle for me. The speakers against the motion were openly barracked and denied the opportunity to speak. At one point the chair rose to give her opinion (in favour). When one speaker complained that the motion may be racist, he was shouted down. I didn’t want to vote with these people, so abstained.

Outside the conference hall I spoke with a delegate who was manning an exhibition called ‘another Israel’ highlighting the work of Israeli groups who fight oppression, the occupation and try to foster greater understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. These were surely exactly the type of groups with whom those at congress so concerned about the plight of Palestinians should be making common cause. As it turns out I was the first non Jewish delegate who had shown interest in this exhibition, and this was at four in the afternoon. It appeared that a Jewish delegate manning an exhibition about Israel was viewed with some suspicion.

I believe that the majority of those who voted for motion 25, the majority of those who wish to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, hope for a fair peace in the Middle East and have no problem with Israel beyond the policies of recent governments that hinder peace and show a disregard for Palestinian life and property. As trades unionists it is incumbent upon us to help those who are oppressed and the Palestinians are being oppressed. What worries me is that when talking with life long anti racist campaigners about this issue I end out wincing as the anti Semitic stereotypes fall from their lips. I attended a Gaza solidarity march earlier this year. The march itself was angry, the speeches prone to exaggeration and lacking balance, but there was no anti Semitism voiced from the platform. In the pub afterwards though, I hadn’t finished my first pint before tales of Jewish power and control were being told, that it was hardly surprising that people blamed British Jews in some way, given their overwhelming support for Israel. More recently fellow trade unionists seem to have been angrier at the white boycott of Durban 2 than the fact that a racist was invited to be a keynote speaker.

I know Engage is not about Israel, not about the Palestinians, it’s about anti Semitism. However most anti Semitism I hear is during conversation about Israel; most times I bring the subject up I am accused of missing the point, or diverting attention from the real issue, which is Palestinian suffering. Therefore what I hope to do at congress this year is argue for a solidarity with the Palestinian people that is unequivocal in its criticism of Israeli government and military action where that criticism is due (and it is due far too often). I will also argue against those who distort history to suit their arguments or who slip into racism in their ‘criticisms’. I imagine I will be hoarse by the end!!

Duncan Bryson,

History lecturer, Halesowen college.

Seven Other Children

Opens tonight

Tickets are free: 020 7592 9666 – leave a clear message with your name, telephone number, dates and ticket requirements

New End Theatre from 5–16 May.  Starting at 9.50 pm.   If you are Jewish, please bring a friend who isn’t.

“Written as a theatrical response to Seven Jewish Children, which as you know caused such disquiet and anger at the Royal Court Theatre in February, my eight-minute play matches Caryl Churchill’s format and vernacular but seeks to provide the necessary context to the debate.

We hope that you will be able to see the fully staged Seven Other Children at the New End Theatre, Hampstead during its two-week run in early May (all tickets free and only bookable in advance). We should also be most grateful if you would spread the word, in whatever way you can, about its forthcoming production.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Stirling”