Israeli boycott deserves attention: We must ask what “academic freedom” means for Palestine.
Response to: Sean Bernstein and Yoni Saadi, “Don’t allow boycott of Israeli universities”
The growing call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions deserves careful response. Bernstein’s and Saadi’s “Don’t allow boycott of Israeli universities” letter in the Nov. 9 issue of The Minnesota Daily is a welcome start. Any response, however, must accurately represent the boycott call as it has emerged from Palestinian civil society. The campaign calls for an institutional — not an individual — boycott. It recognizes the value of intellectual exchange.
However, it requests that we avoid participating in projects that provide institutional legitimacy for Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territories.
Although Bernstein and Saadi claim to defend academic freedom, they ignore a troubling reality: The Israeli government systematically denies Palestinian scholars and students the very academic freedom they claim to defend. Palestinian schools and universities have been locked down, closed for years and bombed into rubble. Often, military barriers and walls make them inaccessible. Academic freedom is meaningless if your classroom lies in ruins, if you are stranded at a roadblock or if your administrators and professors languish in jail.
The campaign recognizes that Israeli universities provide many of the logistical tools and military technologies that enable the occupation and what the U.S. State Department calls institutional, legal and societal discrimination. The campaign also recognizes that our institutional support of Israeli universities makes us complicit too. Far from a punitive campaign directed at individuals, the campaign asks those of us working and studying in U.S. universities to think through our own position within systems of oppression. Such concerns brought 130 people together on Nov. 4 to listen to Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian scholar and human rights activist and to debate the merits of the boycott call. Whether one agrees or disagrees, it deserves our full attention and consideration.
Abir Bazaz, Bruce Braun, Diane Detournay, Vinay Gidwani, Simona Sawhney, Ajay Skaria, Corbin Treacy
Teachers Against Occupation