Posted by: r.m. | January 10, 2009

Academic Boycott (Israel, Palestine, and Academia)

A week ago, Marcy Newman and I wrote several editorials that we submitted to the L.A. Times, The Washington Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. None were published.  We wrote a fourth editorial to the Chronicle for Higher Education, in which we asked for an academic boycott of Israel.  It wasn’t published.  Today, that piece (An Open Letter to Our American Colleagues in the Midst of the Massacre in Gaza) got published on two blogs (South Lebanon and Dissident Voice)

If you read that piece, you will also realize that it was written a week ago. We had written: “At this writing, there are over 434 Palestinians who have been killed (21% women and children) and over 2,300 Palestinians who are injured (57% women and children), many of whom will likely die as a result of a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment.”

The number of martyrs has increased.  More than 800 Palestinians killed now. More than 3000 Palestinians injured.

Academic Boycotts against Israel (and all other boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel and Zionism) need to flourish worldwide, and not just from the United States, but also from here in the ‘Arab world,’ and particularly from Lebanon.

While searching for who else has posted our article, I can across this article: Accepting the Might to Exist: Some Israeli Lessons for Anthropology

In referring to the bombing of the UNRWA school, Maximilliam Forte wrote: “Today’s massacre was an event, an event that begs the question as to what kinds of assumptions about humanity do the perpetrators of such an attack work with in their own minds. There is an Israeli state “anthropology,” maybe not formally conceived as such, but certainly nonetheless a perspective on the condition(s) of humanity, on who is human, what is human behaviour, and what kinds of rights are to be enjoyed by what kinds of humans. ….

Israel is trying to write its own political anthropology, but it does not stop there. It is “writing” its own general anthropology as well. Examine the assumptions, both unspoken, and spoken (and see the quotes at the end).

What does the Israeli state assume about the humanity of Palestinians when it expects them to succumb to force and accept the right of Israeli might? It assumes that Palestinians, unlike Jews, unlike human beings, have no memory, no capacity for remembering, and no capacity for emotion either. The Palestinians, presumably, will merely bury their dead, forget about it all, and move on.

What does the Israeli state assume about the humanity of Palestinians when it demands that they surrender, that they cease to respond to forcible Israeli expropriations of their lands, barring Palestinian refugees from returning to their lands while establishing a “Law of Return” so that anyone from New York to Kiev can assume possession of a land they have never been to but to which they claim a relationship as eternal natives? In assuming that Palestinians will cease to respond, they assume the humanly impossible. And in assuming the humanly impossible, the Israeli state furnishes itself with a pretext for genocide — the killing of Palestinians can never stop, because their response to such killings will never stop.

What does the Israeli state assume about the intelligence and emotional makeup  of Palestinians when it suggests that suffering incurred by Palestinian civilians ought to turn them against their Hamas leadership, that they should blame Hamas for their suffering? It assumes that victims of a bombing will blame a fellow target, not the bomber. Why, do Israelis react that way to rocket attacks? Do Israelis say, “it’s the fault of the other settlers, they deserved to die, the Palestinians were right to fire at us”? In fact, where has the assumption that punishing civilians turns them against their leaders ever worked? And indeed it is a tested assumption, tested against North Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iraq. Nowhere did the people targeted show themselves as any less human than the attackers.

What the Israeli state implicitly assumes, to the extent that it takes its own propositions seriously, is that Palestinian life matters less, is of less value, and the only way it can be of less value is if one sees Palestinians as less human. Israeli identity is thus assumed to be better, more deserving of rights and privileges, with an exclusive emphasis on Israeli suffering.

Meanwhile, the humanity of the Palestinians is denied, and it is in this context of its creation that the Israeli state expects its “right” to exist to be accepted? Of course all anthropologists should be feeling their stomachs turn, that is, if they see their discipline as being anything like a science in service of humanity.”



  1. While I am willing to consider the arguments in favour of an academic boycott against Israel, I would like to see a generalized boycott and process of divestment of the kind that crippled apartheid South Africa. This cannot continue to proceed without more serious challenges from all of us.

    Thanks for your link and reading the post.

  2. Rania, I was wondering if you could recommend any comprehensive list of US companies that have invested in Israel? As well as US companies that sell Israeli goods?

  3. Good piece by Naomi Klein that was published in the Guardian and the Nation.

    Enough. It’s time for a boycott

  4. Dear Maximilian:
    I agree with you completely. A complete boycott of Israel is necessary – and moral.

    Dear Kristin:
    I will soon post a list of companies that are investing in Israel and/or selling Israeli goods.

  5. This news from the Boycott Israel Umbrella Organization just about says it all

  6. RE: last poster, that is simply not true. I am against all forms of racism including that against jews. I agree that there is widespread anti-Jewish racism worldwide but there is also widespread anti-Arab racism. Racism has no exclusive victim indentity. Best to keep religion and race out of the ongoing aggression that it taking place right now. Note the quote by Israelis in Naomi Klein’s article:

    Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause – even among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors in Israel. It calls for “the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions” and draws a clear parallel with the anti-apartheid struggle. “The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves … This international backing must stop.”

  7. hey anonymous
    the fact that the site you refer us to does not even take comments, doesn’t have obvious contact info says alot about its propaganda and demagogy status…
    then there is the fact that finding faults to your opponent does not automatically make you the moral and reasonable victim; who by the way just happens to have an army capable and willing to wreck havoc…

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