[Marxism] Israel, South Africa and the Academic boycott

Jack Cade jack.cade at btinternet.com
Tue May 24 17:52:47 MDT 2005

Two views from Wednesday's London Guardian: Ronnie Kasrils and
Victoria Brittain v David Newman and Benjamin Pogrund

Israel, South Africa and the boycott

Academic boycott Will sanctions against Israeli universities help
or hinder peace and justice in the Middle East? 
Ronnie Kasrils is minister for intelligence in the South African
government and a former commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, military
wing of the African National Congress. He is writing in his
personal capacity. Victoria Brittain is a journalist

David Newman is professor of political geography at Ben Gurion
University in Israel and co-editor of the journal Geopolitics;
Benjamin Pogrund is director of Yakar's Centre for Social Concern
in Jerusalem and formerly deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail,
Ronnie Kasrils and Victoria Brittain The racist and colonial
policies echo apartheid, and call for a similar response

Last October, 13-year-old Iman al-Hams was shot and wounded by an
Israeli army unit in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah,
despite being identified as a little girl, and wearing a school
uniform. Iman was machine-gunned by the unit's commander. She had
17 bullets in her body, and three in her head, a Palestinian
doctor told the Guardian. Iman is one of 654 Palestinian children
to have been killed in the occupied territories since September
2000. Several were killed as they sat at their desks in class.
Three and a half thousand children have been wounded. Over 300
are in Israeli prisons.

In South Africa's state of emergency of the mid-1980s, declared
in response to a nationwide campaign of protest, 312 children
were killed, over 1,000 wounded, 2,000 children under 16 were
detained without trial, thousands more arrested, hundreds fled
into exile, and a generation was marked for life. The Rev Desmond
Tutu wrote about one child, Johnny, whom he saw after some time
in police custody: "I wanted to cry, I was filled with a blazing
anger against a system that could do this to a child . Johnny's
case alone ought to be enough to fill any decent person . with
revulsion and indignation."

Iman's is such a case, 20 years on. Archbishop Tutu has described
the situation of the Palestinians under occupation as worse than
South Africa under apartheid. In July 2004, the international
court of justice ruled that Israel's 280 mile wall, the latest
burden on Palestinians, was illegal. But Israel, like the old
South Africa faced with international disapproval, simply ignored

Twenty years ago, 496 British academics responded to an appeal
from the African National Congress leaders in exile after two
academics were served with banning orders. They signed a letter
calling for an academic boycott of South Africa. Today, some in
the new generation of British academics feel they cannot accept
Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,
the policies that brought the wall, and a new generation of
children suffering like those South African children whose wounds
of mind and body never healed.

Iman and Johnny will never go to college. But some of the Israeli
soldiers implicated in crimes like the one that killed the little
girl are university lecturers who serve in the occupation army
reserve forces every year, and who otherwise go about their
academic "business as usual" for the rest of the year. No Israeli
academic institution has ever severed its organic ties with the
military-security establishment in protest. None has issued a
public statement condemning the grave violations of Palestinian
human rights. This is part of the reason why Palestinians have
called upon the world to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

The volcanic political response to the decision by the
Association of University Teachers (AUT) in Britain to impose an
academic boycott on Israeli universities has dismissed the
crucial comparison between Israel and South Africa, which was the
main motive behind the Palestinians' call for boycott. Israeli
universities are not being targeted for boycott because of their
ethnic or religious identity, but solely because of their
complicity in the Israeli system of apartheid, which many see as
sufficiently analogous to its defunct predecessor in South Africa
to warrant sanctions.

In the occupied territories, Israel maintains a strict racial and
colonial segregation between Israeli Jewish settlers and the
native Palestinians (Muslims and Christians). The former group
enjoys economic benefits, special roads, heavily subsidised and
more heavily protected housing, and full political rights. Even
under apartheid there were never whites-only roads. There was
never a comparable prolonged siege, or curfews, that cut off
black people from each other. Palestinians, on the other hand,
are under a military occupation that kills and destroys, but also
continuously dispossesses them of their lands for the benefit of
Jewish settlers.

The desire for an ethnic-religious majority of Israeli Jews has
seeped across from the occupied territories to permeate the
Israeli "national" agenda, which increasingly views Palestinian
citizens of Israel as a "demographic threat", as former prime
minster Binyamin Netanyahu phrased it. The Palestinian minority
in Israel has for decades been denied basic equality in health,
education, housing and land possession, solely because it is not
Jewish. The fact that this minority is allowed to vote hardly
redresses the rampant injustice in all other basic human rights.
They are excluded from the very definition of the "Jewish state",
and have virtually no influence on the laws, or political, social
and economic policies. Hence their similarity to the black South

In addition, and related to the demographic question, Israel
continues to deny Palestinian refugees, who were ethnically
cleansed during the 1948 war, their right to return to their
lands and properties. Israel bases its position, which is
contrary to fundamental human rights provisions and international
law, on its right to preserve its Jewish ethnic-religious
supremacy. No other country in the world today dares to claim any
similar right.

In response to all this, how many Israeli academic institutions
have criticised the racist and colonial policies of the state?
How many Israeli academics have conscientiously objected to
military service in the occupied territories? How many university
lecturers have publicly opposed the occupation and colonisation
of Palestinian land? Professors Ilan Pappe and Tanya Reinhart
stand out, leading a few Israeli academics in calling for support
for the Palestinian academics' call for selective academic

The boycotts and sanctions ultimately helped liberate both blacks
and whites in South Africa. Palestinians and Israelis will
similarly benefit from this non-violent campaign that
Palestinians are calling for.

Ronnie Kasrils is minister for intelligence in the South African
government and a former commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, military
wing of the African National Congress. He is writing in his
personal capacity. Victoria Brittain is a journalist

victoriabrittain at yahoo.co.uk


David Newman and Benjamin Pogrund This self-defeating campaign of
double standards is strangling liberal voices

We are opposed to the continued Israeli occupation of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip. We are equally opposed to the, at best
misguided, at worst immoral attempts by the Association of
University Teachers to boycott the Israeli academic community.
Such a boycott would do irreparable harm to the tenuous, but
growing, Israeli-Palestinian relations and joint research at
almost all of Israel's universities. For those of us who are
active in the pro-peace, anti-occupation movements in Israel, the
boycott only serves to make our work almost impossible. If there
is a public space in Israel where liberal voices can be heard, it
is the universities.

As far back as the pre-Oslo days, when the Israeli government
forbade all relations between Israeli citizens and the Palestine
Liberation Organisation, the first significant links were forged
through academic contacts. These links have grown during the past
decade in the many ongoing dialogues and negotiations between
Israeli and Palestinian academics, particularly in the difficult
period since 2000 when almost all formal political dialogue
between the sides ceased.

It is ironic that it is precisely these voices of liberalism
which are under attack by the voices of rightwing patriotism in
Israel and elsewhere, in an attempt to delegitimise all pro-peace
and anti-occupation voices, even to the extent of seeking to have
some of them dismissed. But, to their great credit, the Israeli
academic establishment has refused to take this easy option, most
notably in the case of Haifa professor Ilan Pappe. Instead, it
strenuously defends freedom of expression as a basic right for
all Israeli and Palestinian academics.

The boycott attempts from abroad only serve to strengthen the
voices of the Israeli right, and their simplistic arguments that
the British academic community is collectively anti-semitic and -
in the words of one senior Israeli professor on the eve of
Holocaust day this month - is guilty of repeating what the
Nazi-era Germans did to Jewish academics. This knee-jerk,
somewhat hysterical, reaction goes down well with the Israeli
Jewish public, large sections of whom remain convinced that they
stand alone against a hostile world that wishes for nothing more
than the extinction of the Jewish state.

The fact that some of the AUT boycott leaders have categorically
stated that they see the state of Israel as being "illegitimate"
brings into question the real motives behind their action. The
boycott leaders may not see themselves as antisemitic, but they
are guilty of inadvertently feeding into a growing anti-semitism
on British campuses and helping to create a feeling of insecurity
among Jewish students, who no longer feel safe in what should be
one of the most secure and free public spaces of any society.

Why do they pick on Israel? Why are they silent about
transgressions of freedom in other parts of the world? If they
want to concentrate on the Middle East, why do they not take a
stand about those states that openly declare their desire to
destroy Israel, a state created by the United Nations, or which
systematically deny equal rights to ethnic and religious
minorities, women and political "others"? Why do they falsely
seek to equate the oppression suffered by black people in
apartheid South Africa with Israel today? Yes, there are economic
and political inequalities in Israel/Palestine, and academics are
actively involved in redressing some of these injustices and
promoting affirmative action programmes. Why do the boycott
instigators continue to falsely claim that Zionism is effectively
racism? This was tried once at the UN and was eventually dumped,
but it is still used as a means of delegitimising the existence
of the state, as the instigators of the boycott are clearly
intent on doing.

The purpose of a boycott has to be carefully thought out because
it might not serve the cause it is meant to help, as was seen in
apartheid South Africa. Britain played a leading part in the
academic boycott of that country and those who supported it
certainly felt emotional satisfaction at doing what they thought
was the right thing. The effects on the ground, however, were
calamitous: the English-language universities traditionally
depended for their life blood on infusions of lecturers from
abroad, especially Britain, to bring fresh thinking, energy and
courage. But they did not come, because of the boycott and
because the South African government discouraged them, and this
contributed to a steep decline in university resistance to

And the idea that certain universities or, for that matter,
certain academics (such as those opposing Israel government
policies, or Arab professors) would be free from the boycott, is
obnoxious. Is the AUT really prepared to be party to such a
process of selection, based on political views or ethnic

In a letter from the European commission last week, the EU made
its position very clear, stating that " 'boycotting' behaviour
against Israeli scientists is totally unproductive and worrying .
is unacceptable in project(s) funded by the European Union. The
European commission will do its utmost to discourage such an
unacceptable way to penalise scientists from wherever they come
from". Boycotting Israeli academics would bring into question the
basic right of British institutions to benefit from European, or
any other form of funding that assumes equality of access and
opportunity by all, regardless of national, religious or ethnic
origin and affiliations.

If the AUT is really concerned about the plight of the
Palestinians, it should be investing time and effort in promoting
more, rather than less, Israeli-Palestinian cooperative projects
in the fields of health, education and technological advancement.
It should be inviting Israeli and Palestinian scholars to take
part in joint research projects; it should be hosting joint
forums of political and social dialogue; and, most important, it
should be using its research expertise to contribute to the
furtherance of peace and conciliation between the two peoples. By
trying to promote a boycott, it is only serving to worsen
relations between the two peoples and to open itself to charges
of double standards.

David Newman is professor of political geography at Ben Gurion
University in Israel and co-editor of the journal Geopolitics;
Benjamin Pogrund is director of Yakar's Centre for Social Concern
in Jerusalem and formerly deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail,

newman at bgu.ac.il; pogrund at actcom.co.il

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