FFIPP-UK Newsletter, 29th April 2005

1. It’s Not the Boycott, Stupid, It’s the Occupation, by Uri Ram (Israel)
2. Comment on the Boycott of Israeli Universities in the UK, by Avishai Ehrlich (Israel)
3. Academics try to overturn Israeli university boycott – report in the Independent, 28 April 2005
4. Some items from Chris Brooke’s weblog, the Virtual Stoa
5. ENGAGE: A New UK website opposing the boycott
6. FFIPP posting on the ENGAGE website
7. Letter to the Guardian from Dr Uri Bar-Joseph on Haifa University and the Pappe case

1. It’s Not the Boycott, Stupid, It’s the Occupation

Uri Ram

April 26, 2005

The angry responses in Israel to the decision passed by the Association of University Lecturers in Britain to boycott two Israeli universities, Bar Ilan and Haifa, because of their acquiescence with the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, have, as usual, succeeded in diverting attention from the main issue — the occupation, to the secondary issue of the boycott.

The deputy to the ambassador of Israel in Britain is quoted as saying that Jewish lecturers were not boycotted since Nazi Germany. Interesting; nobody mentioned a boycott of Jewish lecturers. Moreover, as far as there are “Jews” in this case, these are the Palestinians. Those who suffer daily from undifferentiating occupation, killing, destruction, confiscation and humiliation are the Palestinian residents; residents, not citizens, because the state dominating them does not grant them citizenship rights, barely human rights.

The President of Haifa University declared that a certain lecturer who supports the boycott should depart the University, because one cannot support boycotting it and still “enjoy its delights”. Good to know what the President is occupied with — “enjoying the delights” of the University. Maybe this is why he thinks that the University is his own, or of him and the colleagues to his position; a “non-political” position of course; just a simple banal acquiescence with the occupation and its horrors. I would have expected him to declare that this decision is mistaken because the university does oppose the occupation; or to declare that the university would start doing so. I would have expected him to take an unequivocal moral stand against the occupation, rather then condemning one pious lecturer in this Sodom. I would expect this also from the rest of the University Presidents in Israel, with the exception of Bar Ilan, which ideologically and actively supports the occupation. In the future Israeli University Presidents will not be judged by the number of graduates or by the number of articles produced in their time, but by the question “where were you when the occupation and oppression took place?!”

Israel must be reminded what it tries to make everybody forgetting: the occupation is unlawful; the settlements are unlawful; any activity of the occupying power which is not necessitated by immediate security considerations or the temporary upkeep of the area until its return to its local population is unlawful, and moreover illegitimate and amoral. This is what the British lecturers proclaim: the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas is unlawful, illegitimate and amoral. It’s not the boycott, stupid, it’s the occupation.

And now one may also consider the boycott. Why boycott on Israel and not on Britain, which occupies Iraq?! Why start with the universities, and not, for instance, with the official representatives of Israel or with Israeli corporations?! What about lecturers in the boycotted universities who oppose the occupation, Arab, Jews or others (will there be selection committees; a horrible thought)?! And does not every Israeli tax-payer — including the writer of this text — a complaisant with the occupation?! I don’t have unequivocal answers to these questions, but I know that the occupation and the occupiers ought to be unequivocally condemned and boycotted. The problem is not the boycott, stupid, it’s the occupation.

Dr. Uri Ram
Senior Lecturer, Department of Behavioral Sciences,
Ben Gurion University

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2. Comment on the Boycott of Israeli Universities in the UK

Avishai Ehrlich

I was asked to comment on the decision of the AUT, one of Britain’s university teachers’ trade unions, to boycott Israeli Universities. I enter the fray very reluctantly because it is so emotional; whatever I’ll say can be misconstrued.

I am not in principal against the decision to boycott. Among the many crimes of the Israeli occupation is the disruption, for many years, of education of the entire Palestinian nation: The prolonged closures of Palestinian schools and Universities, the denial of the right of freedom of movement, study, free speech and the right to protest, the arrest of thousands of students often without trial etc…I see in this particular call for boycott a measured international response to one of the arenas in which the occupation manifests itself.

Neither do I think that Israel should be last among the world’s nations to be reprimanded. That Jews have, in the past, been victims do not exempt them from being perpetrators; I do not regard it necessarily hypocritical that other international crimes, perhaps worse than Israel’s, are yet not criticized and sanctioned by British Academy. I would expect that having taken a firm moral stand on this issue the membership of the AUT will be more outspoken on other international crimes.

I also think it wise and correct to single out Israeli universities on the basis of concrete specific objectionable actions rather than call for a total boycott of all Israeli universities and of all Israeli academics. However, the criteria of selection of the two Universities seem to me rather uneven and muddled. The cases against Haifa and Bar Ilan, the two universities that were boycotted, are not in the same league. The council for higher education in Israel does not accredit colleges in the occupied territories. In order to circumvent this obstacle degrees in those colleges are granted by Bar Ilan. The university thus acts as the conduit for legitimating this colleges.Bar Ilan’s involvement in the occupation is clear.

Haifa University has close to 30% Palestinian-Israeli citizen students, the highest of all Israeli Universities and much more then Arab percentage in Israel’s population. Haifa has the highest percentage of Arab lecturers among Israeli universities. Haifa is condemned for restricting academic research.  Quite a number of academics in Haifa as well as from other institutions fought the administration against attempted restriction of research and speech. The fact is that the lecturer involved was not fired. The Hebrew university in Jerusalem was exonerated from the accusation that it took land from Palestinians while Tel Aviv University, the largest, was not even mentioned though its campus is built on what was a Palestinian village before 1948. Is this because the proponents tried to avoid a split on what counts as occupied territories, or rather whether the whole of Palestine is occupied?

The symbolic significance of the decision is clear. As occupation and resistance will continue the decision may even gain some momentum in Europe. What is unclear is how it can be put to work and what will be its effects. The AUT will have to advice its members about rules of engagement with Israeli Institutions and to enforce these rules, the process will be divisive: The resolution will be challenged as restricting academic freedoms and universities may object to its implementation, it may lead to conflicts within the AUT and between the AUT and universities. The British resolution is likely to bring about counter boycotts in the USA against Palestinian, Arab and British institutions, and to bring pressure on the UK government to intervene. It is also not clear how and who will decide who among Israeli academics will be boycotted and who will be regarded ‘Kosher’, will the AUT issue black lists?

While I accept the resolution as unavoidable under the continued occupation I am concerned that it is going to weaken Israeli academics that are opposed to the occupation. They are going to be squeezed between external boycotters and internal reaction to the boycott that will try to ostracize those who will not speak against it. As the plea for the boycott came to the AUT from Palestinian universities and NGO’s many of whom, hitherto, cooperated with Israelis I am also concerned that this hardening of positions is a reflection of the present feelings among Palestinians. I understand them but it does not auger well for our future.

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3. Academics try to overturn Israeli university boycott

By Sarah Cassidy, Education Correspondent

28 April 2005

The controversial boycott of two Israeli universities by British academics could be overturned before it can start to take effect.

Academics who oppose the boycott plan are to call an unprecedented special conference of the Association of University Teachers to overturn the ban after a massive international backlash against the boycott.

Only 25 council members – AUT members elected to represent colleagues at the union’s annual conference – need to request that a special conference be held.

Lecturers who oppose the ban believe they will collect enough signatures to trigger a new conference, according to the Times Higher Educational Supplement. Jewish scholars have already called for a tit-for-tat boycott of British academics. The AUT, the UK’s leading academics’ union, last week voted to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan universities for their alleged collusion with the Israeli government in its mistreatment of the Palestinians.

The vote, at the union’s annual conference – known as council – could see all AUT members sever all links with the universities.

The boycott motion accused Bar Ilan of being “directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories” because it supervises degree programmes at a college based in the settlement of Ariel, near Nablus in the West Bank.

Haifa was accused of failing to uphold the academic freedom of staff and students who conducted research into the founding of the state of Israel that portrayed the country in an unflattering light.

But delegates who oppose the ban have complained that the accusations are false and that not enough time was allowed for debate at last week’s conference. Meanwhile, the Commission for Racial Equality has received a complaint that the debate was held on the eve of the Jewish festival of Passover, which meant that Jews could not attend. John Pike, the philosopher at the Open University who is organising the call for a special meeting, said he was “close” to reaching the 25 signatures. “It [the meeting] will happen, and with proper debate, it [the boycott] will be overturned,” he said.

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4. Some extracts from Chris Brooke’s weblog The Virtual Stoa
Décade II, Sextidi de Pluviôse de l’Année CIV de la Révolution



I Don’t Like The AUT Ban, But I Don’t Like What the Israelis Are Doing, Either: This, just in, from Amnesty International:

Israel/Occupied Territories: Israeli authorities must put an immediate end to settler violence

Amnesty International calls on the Israeli authorities to investigate recent incidents of poisoning of Palestinian fields and the increasingly frequent attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian villagers in the West Bank. Such acts must not be allowed to continue.

In recent weeks, toxic chemicals have repeatedly been spread on fields located near the villages of Tuwani, Umm Faggara and Kharruba in the southern Hebron region.

Scores of sheep as well as gazelles and other animals have been contaminated by the toxins and several have died. Palestinian farmers have been forced to quarantine their flocks and stop using the milk, cheese and meat from them, effectively depriving them of their livelihood. Since the first poison was discovered near Tuwani on 22 March 2005, more fields have been targeted in the same region.

In the days prior to the first field poisoning incident in Tuwani, a security guard from the nearby Israeli settlement Ma’on had reportedly told villagers that he wanted Palestinian farmers to stop grazing their flocks near the settlement and that, if they did not agree to this, he and the settlers had ways to make them stop.

Analyses carried out by the Center for Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at Bir Zeit University and by the Israeli Nature Protection Authority have confirmed that two types of toxic chemicals have been spread in large quantities in the area. The toxic chemicals are 2-Fluoracetamide which is banned in several countries including Israel and severely restricted in international trade, and Brodifacoum, an anticoagulant used as rodenticide.

On 12 April 2005 one of these toxins was also found in the Northern West Bank village of Yasouf, in a field located near the entrance to the Israeli settlement Tapuah, and near the place where the Israeli army had just re-opened the road connecting Yasouf to the main road. The road leading to Yasouf had been kept closed to Palestinians for years, forcing people to take a long detour to access the village.

The areas where the toxic chemicals have been found are located in Area C, which is under full control of the Israeli authorities; Palestinian Authority security forces are forbidden by Israel from operating in these areas. To date, the Israeli authorities have not cleaned the toxic chemicals from the affected areas, leaving the task to Palestinian farmers and international and Israeli peace activists. They also have not taken the necessary measures to investigate the matter with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.

Recently Israeli settlers have stepped up attacks and threats against Palestinian farmers and villagers in these and other West Bank areas, preventing Palestinians from accessing their land. In recent months, repeated physical assaults by Israeli settlers from Ma’on and the nearby settlement outpost of Havat Ma’on on Palestinian farmers and on international peace activists and human rights workers, including Amnesty International staff, have not been investigated by the Israeli police. Those responsible for these attacks enjoy impunity.
For more on related matters, follow this link.


And Finally…: Perhaps it’s not about the politics of pressure or of symbols, but about consciousness raising. (I heard Sue Blackwell suggest that it was, I think on the PM programme earlier this afternoon, though I might be wrong.) Well, fuck it, lots of us academics don’t need to be made much more aware than we are of the injustices of Israeli state policy. And if some of us aren’t, boycott motions as inadequate as these are almost certainly not the best way of educating the rest of us.

Alternatively, I’ve also heard it suggested (I think it was on the radio, it might have been on a webpage somewhere) that the point of this motion is just that it’s a first step. It doesn’t matter much on its own, but it may lead on to better things. If that’s right, then good. More effective politics of Palestinian solidarity and hostility to Israeli occupation, etc., is to be welcomed, even from British lecturers.

But I’ve also heard the kinds of phrases I don’t much like on the lips of the proponents of boycott — Israel as an “illegitimate state”, and so on. And if anyone is going to defend this as the politics of a first step, I want to know what the second, third, fourth and fifth steps are ahead of time, just to be sure, you know (and to mix metaphors) that they aren’t taking us onto a rather unpleasant slippery slope.

Symbolic Politics: Perhaps this isn’t about bringing real pressure to bear on Israel; perhaps it’s just symbolic politics, gesture politics, feel-good politics.

Maybe it’s that, and maybe that’s important. But it also provides a propaganda victory to all the cheerleaders for the Israeli government, who will say (and who are saying, but I’m not going to link to Little Green Footballs) that this is a victory for anti-Semitism, that we’re attacking academic freedom, that it’s a crap union, anyway, that double standards are rampant in this case, and so on. Lots of the people who will say these things are nuts, of course, and we shouldn’t worry too much that they’ll be saying the kinds of things that they’re going to say. But we’re handing over exactly the kind of ammunition that they most want to get hold of.

Obviously I don’t think there’s a significant anti-Semitism issue here, and I don’t really think there’s a core academic freedom issue in play here, either (though, as I say, the idea of the political test rather sticks in the craw). But we can’t easily evade all of the double standards problems this case opens up.

Why Israel, not other Middle Eastern countries? Other repressive, expansionist, colonial regimes? If we’re opposed to imperialism, why not boycott the universities of the leading imperialist power in the world, the United States, which also happens to be the major source of international support for Israeli government policy? And why not boycott ourselves while we’re at it, for the assistance that British academics often provide to the British state in support of its activities of which the AUT might disapprove?

Often charges of double standards are levied in pretty bad faith, to displace attention from somebody’s wrongdoing onto somebody else’s. And some of these questions can be addressed, to some extent, probably. But there are too many double-standard worries flying around this particular issue to make this a politically sensible road to go down.

Pressure Politics: There are principles at stake, but there are also tactics to consider. What is this particular boycott likely to achieve?

Well, strangely enough, I think that a union not well known for its political effectiveness to call for a boycott with no means to enforce it, that does not have overwhelming support amongst either its members or its delegates to Council, which affects only a very small number of its members, which gives Israeli academics an opt-out if they just say they don’t like what their government is doing very much, and so bloody on and so bloody forth, is unlikely to achieve very much at all.

It might, just, generate another Mona Baker / Andrew Wilkie cause célèbre. (I’m not sure we need another of those.) It’s unlikely to do more. And I don’t think it’s terribly likely to get the Israeli government or electorate to change its mind about the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

McCarthyism? Academic trade unionists, of all people, should hesitate long and hard before approving the kinds of political declarations implicit in the call to boycott to “exclude from the above actions against Israeli institutions any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state’s colonial and racist policies.”

If this is about institutions, there shouldn’t be a get-out clause of this kind. If it’s about individuals, well, there’s a different set of issues there. But this compromise formulation seems to me to inhabit the worst of both worlds.

Vagueness: Council has resolved, first, “to call on all AUT members to boycott Haifa University until it commits itself to upholding academic freedom, and in particular ceases its victimisation of academic staff and students who seek to research and discuss the history of the founding of the state of Israel”, and, second, “to call on all AUT members to boycott Bar-Ilan University until it severs all academic links with the College of Judea and Samaria and with any other college located in an illegal settlement in the Occupied Territories”.

If academic freedom at Haifa and the College of Judea and Samaria were really the concerns of the proponents of boycott, I think the language here would be a little less vague. Who is to decide when Haifa has ceased its victimisation of academic staff and students?

By what criteria can we determine when Bar-Ilan University has severed its final academic link with the College of Judea and Samaria? These things are not at all clear. Would a statement from Haifa University be enough? Or one from Dr Pappe himself? Or a ruling from the AUT executive? Or should it be referred back to Council?

Dishonesty: If there were a groundswell of opposition to what was going on at Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities amongst British academics, if representations from the AUT over the last three years concerning Dr Pappe’s case, for example, had been repeatedly rebuffed, then there might be good grounds for boycott. Boycott should be a last resort, not a first resort, if that’s a phrase.

But, in fact, it seem clear that these two universities have been targeted because the proponents of boycott know they won’t get the general academic boycott of Israel that they want through AUT Council, so they are trying to propose something they can get away with.

OK, so this politics. You settle for what you can get. Nothing wrong with that. But this is crap politics. (See the rest of these remarks, above and below.)

General Will? I wouldn’t mind that the AUT was generally crap at politics, or that there hadn’t been much internal union deliberation if the policy adopted by Council clearly reflected the will of the majority of AUT members. But there’s no reason to think that it does. I don’t think the boycott motions would survive the test of campus ballots, for example. Nor is this just a matter of members versus their representatives in Council: there are divisions among the activists themselves, for the boycott motions seem to have been passed by Council fairly narrowly.

To conclude this bit of the discussion: unions that are crap at politics, and without an especially good record of widespread internal deliberation among grassroots members, should, on the whole, refrain from adopting obviously divisive political motions.

Deliberative Democracy: I’d have more respect for the boycott motions if they were the product of extensive deliberation inside the union in well-attended branch meetings, etc. I haven’t heard reports of widespread member participation on this issue. (Then again, I haven’t been keeping a look-out.) Reports of today’s Council debate suggest that discussion was brief and curtailed, and that only the executive got to oppose the proposed motions.

Pretty Crap at Politics: My union, the AUT, isn’t very good at politics. (It’s widely believed that the union once rejected a long-term deal from government to link academic salaries to civil service salaries, on the grounds that it could do better with annual collective bargaining.) Members don’t look to the union for guidance on national or world politics. It hasn’t acquired the kind of moral authority, forged in effective struggles over the years, that leads its members to respect the positions it takes because they are the positions it takes.

On Boycotts: Boycotts can be morally impressive when either there are significant costs for the bulk of those who sustain the boycott (e.g., Civil Rights-era bus boycotts) or when those who suffer from the effects of the boycott by and large approve of its imposition (e.g., anti-apartheid boycotts).

The AUT boycott of Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities falls into neither category. It only affects the very small proportion of AUT members with academic ties to one of these two campuses, and it’s pretty clear that the boycott is widely – though not universally – rejected within Israeli academia, even within liberal Israeli academia.

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5. ENGAGE: A New UK website opposing the boycott

1 . Engage opposes the idea of an academic or cultural boycott of Israel.·

2 . Engage aims to encourage, facilitate and publicise positive links between Israeli, Palestinian, British and global academia. Engage is for closer engagement, not boycotts.

3 . Engage stands up against antisemitism in our universities, in our unions and in our students unions.

Read their full statement at http://liberoblog.com/about-engage/

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6. FFIPP posting on the ENGAGE website

Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (UK) organises links with Israeli and Palestinian academics

Thursday, April 28th, 2005 at 1:05 am posted by davidhirsh

Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace is a loose network of faculty endeavoring to achieve a just peace and to end the occupation in Israel/Palestine and the region. It has grown up out of the commitment of a number of Israeli and Palestinian academics to work together despite the tensions and pressures of the wider conflict. Its Board currently consists of Dr Eyad El Sarraj (Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Project) (President), Prof Anat Biletsky )(TAU)(Vice-President), Simone Susskind (Belgium)(Vice President), Prof Arnon Hadar (Coordinator), Lily Feidy (Miftah), Prof Salim Tamari (IJS, Birzeit), Prof Oren Yiftachel (BGU), Prof Lynne Segal (UK), and Yoav Elinevsky (Student Coordinator).

In the last couple of years, a number of activities have been organised, in particular regular trips to Israel and the Occupied Territories, so that academics and students (US in the main) can see the situation on the ground for themselves, as well as a series of high profile conferences in Tel Aviv, East Jerusalem (twice), and Brussels. It’s most recent action was to take delegation of Gaza students (many leaving the Gaza Strip for the first time in their lives!) first to the East Jerusalem conference in January this year an, this month, on a speaking tour around US campuses.

A FFIPP – International Network was set up after the Brussels conference last summer. For those people from the UK who have taken part in its activities, trying to develop a FFIPP-UK network seems the next logical step.

We support much of what Engage stands for and hope we can work together on many practical, positive interventions. For us, however, the boycott question has never been a central defining issue. As an organisation FFIPP takes no position on the question of boycott. It has been debated at the last three conferences and each time a clear majority has opposed the boycott call. But we are not an organisation taking votes or attempting to enforce a line. We have had no reason to suspect the motives of those who call for boycott, but we prefer to emphasise the positive aspects of joint work and cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians and others – and recognise that boycott calls may put that in jeopardy. A clear majority of supporters has wanted to put the emphasis of our work in other directions.

At the same time we would ask more of Israeli academics than perhaps you would. Of course we agree when you say that Israeli academics are not ‘responsible for the sometimes brutal actions of the Israeli government’. At the same time, they have responsibilities and can rightly be questioned about their actions – or lack of them – in response to violations of Palestinian academic freedom as a result of the occupation.

The direction we want to go in was reflected in our letter in the Guardian and in the activities we are planning for FFIPP-UK.
We have already been
a) exploring the idea of collecting textbooks and other materials for Palestinian universities;
b) working on a meeting in London on 12th July with Dr Eyad El Sarraj, Chair of FFIPP and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Project, who will talk on Living with Conflict: Working for Reconciliation; and
c) planning a dayschool, provisionally called “Fear of the Other: Antisemitism, Islamophobia and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” in London on 23rd September.

We’re sure Engage will be supportive of these and that together we can find other practical ways of furthering our objectives. We clearly have much in common.

Richard Kuper, FFIPP-UK

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7. Letter to the Guardian from Dr Uri Bar-Joseph on Haifa University and the Pappe case

No grounds for boycott

Letter to The Guardian, Thursday April 28, 2005

As the chair of Dr Ilan Pappe’s department, the division of international relations at Haifa University, and as his personal friend, I would describe the basis for the AUT’s decision to boycott Haifa University (Letters, April 25) as groundless, for the following reasons:

First, the charges against Dr Pappe in his 2002 trial did not concern his defence of Mr Katz’s thesis or his political beliefs, but rather the style he used and the actions he took in making his stand. Other faculty members who took a similarposition but in a different way provoked no antagonism and have been treated respectfully by the university authorities.

Second, no proceedings were started against Dr Pappe. This was due to the decision of the university’s president of the court that these types of charges should be pursued in a civil court.

Third, after this incident there was no attempt to deny Dr Pappe his position as a tenured senior lecturer. Hence the AUT’s claim “that the recriminations [against Dr Pappe] are still continuing and Dr Pappe’s job is still being threatened” is groundless.

Dr Uri Bar-Joseph
Haifa University
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