Ilan Pappe admits that BDS was not initiated by a “call” from Palestinian Civil Society

A Palestinian activist and scholar, Ruba Salih, who is chairing a session tries to correct Ilan Pappé at one point, saying:

“Well the Palestinains launched BDS in 2005.”

“Yes, yes,” replies Pappé.  He makes a face which shows that he knows that what is being said is not true.  “Not really, but yes.  OK.  For historical records, yes.”

Ruba Salih then smiles, strokes his shoulder and makes clear: “That’s important”.

Pappé replies to her, nodding and smiling, quietly, embarrassed, patronisingly, knowingly: “It’s not true but it’s important.”

[This video comes from David Collier’s website, Beyond the Great Divide.]

Ilan Pappé knows that it is a lie that the boycott campaign was launched by a “call” from “Palestinian civil society”.  He knows it is a lie, but he’s content nevertheless for it to be solidified into what he calls “historical records”.

In the 1970s and 80s the ANC, which positioned itself as the voice of the whole South African nation, called for a boycott of South Africa.  Campaigners for the boycott positioned themselves as passive responders to the “call” of the oppressed.    The BDS campaign against Israel has, since 2005, tried to position itself in the same way.   However in truth, British anti-Israel activists started the boycott campaign and they persuaded people in Palestine to issue the “call”.  Although neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have issued a “call”, the BDS movement says that the “call” is issued by “Palestinian Civil Society”.

Ilan Pappé now admits that the “call” did not come from the Palestinians but he makes it clear that he is willing to go along with the pretence that it was.

The pretence is politically important because it positions Palestinians as being the initiators of the “call” and people outside the region as passive responders to the voice of “the oppressed”.

I wrote the following in 2007 (from p. 130) about the actual conception of the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel.  It was thought up in 2002 in England:

In April 2002 Steven and Hilary Rose ‘initiated’[1] the call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel.  Later they participated in setting up BRICUP, the British Campaign for the Universities of Palestine and PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  It subsequently became an important element of their political rhetoric that they are not initiators of the boycott call but are, rather, responding passively to a call from within Palestine.

In May 2002 Mona Baker, an academic at UMIST, fired two Israeli academics, Miriam Shlesinger from the board of her journal, The Translator and Gideon Toury from the board of her journal, Translation Studies Abstracts because of their institutional connections to Israeli universities.  Both have long and distinguished records as campaigners for human rights and for peace in Israel and Palestine.[2]

In May 2003, Sue Blackwell proposed a motion  (Woodward 2003) at AUT (Association of University Teachers) Council asking members to sever ‘any academic links they may have with official Israeli institutions, including universities.’ AUT Council discussed the motion and it was comfortably defeated. …

In April 2005 Sue Blackwell came back to AUT council with what she said [3] was a more sophisticated and tactical attempt to win a boycott.

[1]  Steven and Hilary Rose did ‘initiate’ the call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel in April 2002, according to Steven Rose’s own account in his profile on The Guardian’s website, Comment Is Free,, downloaded 14 February 2005.  It was later that they portrayed themselves as answering a Palestinian call rather than themselves initiating action.

[2]  Mona Baker’s ‘personal statement’ is available on her website at (downloaded 14 February 2007), together with links to the correspondence she had with the woman who had been her friend, Miriam Shlesinger, and her letter to Gideon Toury.  She writes: ‘In May 2002, following the sharp rise in the level of atrocities committed against the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, I decided to join the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The boycott was conceived along the same lines as the sanctions which ultimately led to the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The call was initiated by Professor Steven Rose (Physics, Open University) and Professor Hilary Rose (Bradford University). … I first wrote to Miriam Shlesinger (Bar Ilan University, Israel) on 23 May explaining my decision and asking her to resign from the Editorial Board of The Translator. She refused. I also wrote to Gideon Toury (Tel Aviv University, Israel) on 8 June along the same lines, asking him to resign from the panel of Consulting Editors of Translation Studies Abstracts. He too refused. I removed them both from the boards of the respective journals.’

[3]  ‘It’s a tactical attempt to get it through,’ admits Birmingham’s Sue Blackwell, one of the motion’s authors. ‘We’ve got to be a bit more sophisticated. We are now better organised. One of the reasons we didn’t win last time was that there was no clear public call from Palestinians for the boycott. Now we have that, in writing.’ (Curtis 2005)



6 Responses to “Ilan Pappe admits that BDS was not initiated by a “call” from Palestinian Civil Society”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Does this mean that Ilan Pappe is in danger of admitting that in his support for BDS (and possibly also including his claims that he was driven out of academic life in Israel) he has been living a lie all these years? That, unlike in South Africa, the call for boycott did not come from within Israeli society and not even from within Palestinian society – the supposed and presumed victims of Israeli aggression, discrimination and even attempted mass murder – but from anti-Israelis in British society? That, in that case, it might even be disguised antisemitism?

    Surely not! How could such a distinguished academic and intellectual be guilty of such a thing?

    Answers on a postcard, please, that is, one side of a standard piece of A5 paper.

  2. Abtalyon Says:

    Surely the back of a postage stamp will suffice.

  3. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Unbelievable isn’t it Brian?

    This Youtube video is a very helpful dissection of Prof Pappe’s influential book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”:

    Well worth taking 15 minutes to watch.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      James, thank you for this. It really is worth 15 minutes of the time of anyone who cares about a truthful interpretation of the historical facts. It is also fascinating to put this alongside Benny Morris’s “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War”, with its careful attention to detail and proper academic referencing. My word, was that book published nearly a decade ago?

      I still it fascinating that Morris carefully details the Arab militias attempts to ethnically cleanse the area designates as “Jewish”, and fail miserably. And then Pappe has the gall to describe the invasion of 5 Arab armies as a “minor” (or some such) intervention, as though they had sent a few lightly armed policemen! And still the under-armed and outnumbered Israelis defeated 4 of the 5 armies, leaving only the Jordanians in possession of the West Bank.

      BTW, anyone reading this who hasn’t read Morris’s “1948: The First…”, etc, should.

  4. Paula Says:

    Belgium: Ilan Pappé is the guest of conspiracy theorist Michel Collon

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