The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005, and is coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), established in 2007. BDS is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.
For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation. Despite abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN, other international bodies, and preeminent human rights organisations, the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable and enforce compliance with basic principles of law. Israel’s crimes have continued with impunity.
In view of this continued failure, Palestinian civil society called for a global citizens’ response. On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s historic advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognized in full compliance with international law.
The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:
- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
The BDS call was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. The signatories represent the refugees, Palestinians in the OPT, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
THE ACADEMIC BOYCOTT
The academic boycott aspect of the BDS campaign is inspired by the historic role played by people of conscience in the international community of scholars and intellectuals who have shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in their struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which is the part of the Palestinian BDS National Committee tasked with overseeing the academic boycott aspect of BDS, has issued guidelines for people of conscience in the international community who have decided to join the academic boycott, as a contribution towards upholding international law and furthering the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
The PACBI guidelines first note that the institutional boycott called for by Palestinian civil society does not conflict with the universal right to academic freedom. The internationally-accepted definition of academic freedom, as adopted by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNESCR), reads:
Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction. The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds.
Anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights, the BDS movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion. If, however, an individual is representing the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution (such as a dean, rector, or president), or is commissioned/recruited to participate in Israel’s efforts to “rebrand” itself, then her/his activities are subject to the institutional boycott the BDS movement is calling for.
Mere affiliation of Israeli scholars to an Israeli academic institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott.
While an individual’s academic freedom should be fully and consistently respected in the context of academic boycotts, an individual academic, Israeli or otherwise, cannot be exempt from being subject to “common sense” boycotts (beyond the scope of the PACBI institutional boycott criteria) that conscientious citizens around the world may call for in response to what they widely perceive as egregious individual complicity in, responsibility for, or advocacy of violations of international law (such as direct or indirect involvement in the commission of war crimes or other grave human rights violations; incitement to violence; racial slurs; etc.). At this level, Israeli academics should not be automatically exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse. This is in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which the BDS movement’s principles are based, and which states:
In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society.
As a general overriding rule, all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are subject to boycott because of their decades-old, deep and conscious complicity in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence, actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, or indeed through their direct collaboration with state agencies in the planning and implementation of projects that contravene international law and Palestinian rights. Accordingly, these institutions, all their activities, and all the activities they sponsor or support must be boycotted. Projects with all Israeli academic institutions should come to an end, as was the case with all South African academic institutions under apartheid.
Based on the above, PACBI urges academics, academic associations/unions, and academic institutions around the world, where possible , to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation or annulment of events, activities, agreements, or projects that promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines.
The following events, activities, or situations are some of those which are in violation of the Palestinian academic boycott:
- Academic events (such as conferences, symposia, workshops, book and museum exhibits) convened or co-sponsored by Israel, complicit Israeli institutions or their support and lobby groups in various countries.
- Addresses and talks at international venues by Israeli state officials or official representatives of Israeli academic institutions
- Study abroad schemes in Israel for international students. These programs are usually housed at Israeli universities and are part of the Israeli propaganda effort, designed to give international students a “positive experience” of Israel, whitewashing its occupation and denial of Palestinian rights.
- Normalization Projects. Academic activities and projects involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other (whether bi- or multi- lateral) that are based on the false premise of symmetry/parity between the oppressors and the oppressed or that claim that both colonizers and colonized are equally responsible for the “conflict” are intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible forms of normalization that ought to be boycotted. Far from challenging the unjust status quo, such projects contribute to its endurance. Examples include events, projects, or publications that are designed explicitly to bring together Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis so they can present their respective narratives or perspectives, or to work toward reconciliation without addressing the root causes of injustice and the requirements of justice.
Joint projects that meet the following two conditions are not considered forms of normalization and are therefore exempt from boycott:
(a) the Israeli party in the project recognizes the comprehensive Palestinian rights under international law (corresponding to the 3 rights in the BDS call); and
(b) the project/activity is one of “co-resistance” rather than co-existence.
Debates between Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis are also excluded from the boycott if organized without any cooperation with Israel, its lobby groups, or its complicit institutions.
International academics who insist on crossing the BDS “picket line” by pursuing activities with boycottable Israeli institutions and then visiting Palestinian institutions or groups for “balance,” violate the boycott guidelines and contribute to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized. The BNC (including PACBI) rejects this attempt at “fig-leafing” and does not welcome such visits to Palestinian institutions.