April 22, 2014
December 16, 2013
Best of the season to all BWISP members, followers and blog readers. Updates have been sporadic this year, but we continue to stand firm in our commitment to academic and cultural boycott, ready to campaign actively should British writers and Israel come under the media spotlight again. In the meantime, as a little Christmas present, I send you Article 10 of the UK Human Rights Act, which seems to me to enshrine a basic argument in favour of the boycott – that freedom of expression involves the responsibility to protect the freedom of others, and if this responsibility is spurned, then penalties may be justly incurred. Many of us will have been arguing this in principle to friends and colleagues, explaining the many ways Israeli HE institutions and cultural funding bodies work to exclude and silence Palestinians; if you are not already aware of the Act it may be useful for you to cite it in future. If any lawyers can comment further – please do!
The UK Human Rights Act 1998
Article 10 Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
October 5, 2013
The American Association of University Professors, arguably one of the most influential academic unions in the world, has just published Volume 4 of its Journal of Academic Freedom, focusing on the academic boycott of Israel. All the articles are available as PDFs, and the links are posted here for convenience. The views expressed are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent BWISP positions, though I am of course delighted to see Omar Barghouti of PACBI given such a prominent platform, and to anyone still ‘sitting on the fence’ about academic boycott, I recommend Joan W. Scott’s article. ~Naomi Foyle
Table of Contents
All essays are in .pdf format.
JAF invites responses to the essays it publishes. While we are interested in supporting dialogue in general, given the academic character of the journal, we particularly encourage submissions that engage in thoughtful and well-supported ways with the content and arguments of our published essays. Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ashley Dawson
Rethinking Academic Boycotts
By Marjorie Heins
Palestine, Boycott, and Academic Freedom: A Reassessment Introduction
By Bill V. Mullen
The Israeli State of Exception and the Case for Academic Boycott
By David Lloyd and Malini Johar Schueller
Boycotts against Israel and the Question of Academic Freedom in American Universities in the Arab World
By Sami Hermez and Mayssoun Soukarieh
Changing My Mind about the Boycott
By Joan W. Scott
Market Forces and the College Classroom: Losing Sovereignty
By Michael Stein, Christopher Scribner, and David Brown
Academic Freedom from Below: Toward an Adjunct-Centered Struggle
By Jan Clausen and Eva-Maria Swidler
May 15, 2013
May 15th 2013 is the 65th Nakba Day: the annual commemoration of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli forces in 1948, known to Palestinians as ‘the catastrophe’. Nakba Day is scarred by sorrow and anger, especially for the survivors of 1948 – but it also courses with determination. The anniversary is marked by demonstrations world-wide, a concerted reminder of the need to resist displacement, and demand the full menu of human rights for Palestinians, whether they be refugees, members of the diaspora, under Occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, or living in Israel as part of the country’s 20% Arab population. The official peace process may have atrophied, but grassroots activism in support of the end to Israeli apartheid and the occupation of Palestine is growing steadily, galvanised in part by the prominent successes of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)movement.
In the spirit of such determination, BWISP is proud to take this occasion to honour Stephen Hawking, the latest and perhaps most illustrious public intellectual to join the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Hawking’s unequivocal decision to respect the boycott made headlines all over the world. In a sign of how solidly BDS has moved into mainstream political discourse, Hawking’s choice was supported by two-thirds of those polled by the Guardian. Thank you Stephen Hawking!
BWISP would also like to acknowledge Nakba Day by posting a link to a recent Palestine Solidarity Campaign video presenting the case for academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. And finally, we link here to a recent UK Employment Tribunal decision, categorically ruling against the complainant Ronnie Fraser, a University Colleges Union member who had argued that UCU’s support of the academic boycott of Israel was anti-Semitic. In response, the tribunal declared that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment… is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness . . .” and in very strong words deeply regreted that this case had ever been brought to court.
This legal ruling, with its clear corollary that anti-Zionism is not in-itself anti-Semitic, is highly significant for the BDS movement. We are now moving toward a time when critics of Israel will not have to fear spurious accusations of racism – or, in the case of Jewish activists, self-hatred – but can concentrate on exposing the systematic, murderous racism of the Israeli state. The world has in the past risen to end the shameful and injurous practice of apartheid in South Africa. On this, the 65th Nakba Day, BWISP restates its commitment to such a global movement in support of a just peace in Palestine, and human rights for all.
April 5, 2013
In 2010 the renowned Scottish writer Iain Banks made a principled public statement in The Guardian in support of the cultural boycott of Israel. This week he was in the news again, tragically to announce that he has – barring a miracle – terminal cancer. Tributes have been flying in – at such velocity they swamped his website. Today The Guardian reposted his 2010 statement, presumably with his consent. I pay my respects here to a great writer: a man who knows his own humanity is inextricable from the suffering of others, and who faces the worst with clear-eyed conviction and courage.
Some readers may wonder why Iain Banks isn’t a member of BWISP. I don’t know him personally so cannot say. Some Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish writers do not identify with the label ‘British’, and some people simply aren’t ‘joiners’. But for a writer of Banks’s stature to take an individual public stand on this issue is a significant act, and one that means a great deal to our movement. Once again, I applaud Iain Banks, and wish him and his wife every possible joy in the months to come.
January 18, 2013
Writers from Palestine in London: Asma’a Azaizeh & Marwan Makhoul
In association with Banipal, join The Mosaic Rooms for an evening of poetry and discussion with Palestinian poets Asma’a Azaizeh and Marwan Makhoul on:
Thursday January 24th, 7pm
Asma’a Azaizeh won the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Writer Award in 2010 and published her first collection of poetry ‘Liwa’ in 2o11. She has worked as a journalist and presenter for various newspapers and radio stations and is currently presenter of a Palestinian television programme on culture and art, as well as a lecturer in creative writing.
Marwan Makhoul published his first book of poetry Ard al-passiflora al-hazinah (Land of the Sad Passiflora) in 2007 with Al-Jamal Publishers. That same year a second edition of the book was published in Haifa and then a third edition in Cairo in 2012. In 2009 he won the prize of best playwright in the Acre Theatre Festival for his first play.
The event will be introduced by Banipal’s editor Samuel Shimon and chaired by Omar al-Qattan, followed by a Q&A, reception and book signing. Copies of the Banipal 45 issue, Writers from Palestine, will be on sale and available for signing.
November 11, 2012
Saturday November 10th, as part of Redrawing the Maps: A John Berger Free School, BWISP co-ordinator Naomi Foyle and Palestinian human rights worker Saleh Hijazi co-hosted a very special event, Letter(s) to Gaza. The event allowed the audience to converse with Palestinian speakers Ahmed Safi (Gaza and Oxford Brookes University), Ahmad Alaraj (The Freedom Theatre) and Selma Dabbagh (British Palestinian novelist), then write their own letters to the besieged population of Gaza, to be posted on the Letter(s) to Gaza blog. The letters will be circulated in Gaza via Palestinian students and their families, courtesy of Dr Haidar Eid of Al-Aqsa University, whose 2009 open letter to Barack Obama challenges the American President to end his indifferent lip service to the plight of the Palestinians, and hold Israel to account for the suffering caused by the blockade.
The Letter(s) to Gaza event was a response to John Berger’s video reading of Ghassan Kanafani’s short story ‘Letter from Gaza’, which can also be read here. ‘Letter from Gaza’ is a haunting portrait of the courage of Palestinian children. Written over forty years ago, it is no less relevant today, when as I write reports are coming in of four teenage boys killed in Gaza by IDF shelling of a football playground. Two were killed in the initial assault; two in a second shelling when they ran to help their friends. The mother of one boy gave birth to a new son today, and named him after his murdered brother. On Remembrance Sunday here in the UK, one could read no more searing account of the impossibility of forgetting the dead.
In the context of such brutal repression, hoping to make a difference by writing letters to people one has never met may seem a fey notion. But Ahmed Safi told us that people in Gaza are so isolated any kind of friendly contact from the outside world would be hugely welcomed. He also told us of the spirit of the people is strong, that they smile in the face of relentless IDF attacks, and maintain a vision of freedom from the blockade that has crippled their economy and infrastructure. His own grandfather spoke for sixty years of his home in Jaffa, which he was forced to flee in the Nakba in 1948. This tenacious remembrance, Ahmed realised after his grandfather died, was not despair but a kind of hope: the hope of return. Ahmad Alaraj spoke of how touched he, as a Palestinian forced to live in the West Bank, was to meet Ahmed Safi. He also talked about the Freedom Theatre’s recent Freedom Bus project, a travelling theatre initiative which included a video link to Gaza, to gather stories which actors then performed for audiences in the West Bank. Again, to feel a sense of connection with those imprisoned in Gaza had been a very moving experience for him. Selma Dabbagh spoke of her own love of Kanafani’s stories, and her recent experience judging Gazan blogs, which she admired greatly, but felt did not always convey the lively spirit of their authors, whom she’d met on her visit to Gaza for the 2012 Palestinian Festival of Literature. Perhaps this disconnect between personal and public expression is the result of cultural factors; perhaps it also indicates what the huge responsibility it is for a young person to speak as a member of a suffering population in a public forum, unsure of who is listening. At the event, in a discussion facilitated by BWISP member Jonathan Rosenhead, we discussed the political situation in Gaza – including Saleh Hijazi’s investigation of human rights violations by Hamas, and Ahmed Safi’s work in the international aid industry, which he feels does not address the cause of the crisis, the Occupation; but we also stressed that a letter was a personal document, and that we hoped to encourage an intimate exchange based on mutual interests and curiosity about the other. We wanted to allow people here to ask questions and offer support, and for Gazans to feel free to reply and share something of their daily lives, the routines and dreams that keep them going.
Something wonderful happened in the room itself, as Palestinians who cannot meet in their own homeland were brought together, while the audience overcame some initial shyness and wrote intensely for half-an-hour, resting their papers on copies of the John Berger exhibition catalogue. When we shared the gist of our letters, it appeared we had all found a personal path into our correspondence. One man wrote about Palestinian cinema; a woman wrote a letter to a little boy who had open heart surgery in her London hospital six years ago; another related the émigré history of her own Finnish family to the Palestinian refugee experience of losing one’s home; another man had recently been hit by a car, and discovered that his surgeon was a dedicated member of Medical Aid of Palestine. I wrote about my efforts to get to Gaza in 2009, and recalled my dream of co-editing a collection of poetry from Gaza. As we parted, it felt like not the end of the event, but the beginning of a conversation.
The letter-writers will be sending final copies to the organisers this week, to be posted on the Letters to Gaza blog. If anyone reading this post would also like to contribute a letter, please get in touch with Saleh Hijazi and Naomi Foyle at email@example.com
Finally, Saleh and Naomi would like to thank the organisers of Redrawing the Maps, a week of events, screenings and discussions celebrating the work of John Berger. We would also like to thank John Berger himself, whose long, warm and incisive commitment to Palestine, and bold early advocacy of the cultural boycott of Israel, have laid the foundation for all BWISP’s campaigns and activities.
November 2, 2012
October 16, 2012
On Tues October 9th I appeared with British-Palestinian novelist Selma Dabbagh, British filmmaker and cultural boycott activist Miranda Pennell, and the British-Israeli-Iraqi-Jewish writer and journalist Rachel Shabi in a panel discussion at SOAS, organised by the Centre for Palestinian Studies and chaired by Bidisha. The discussion was wide-ranging and included the role of Arab women in political struggle, the question of ‘fashionable causes’ and the usefulness of comment threads. Cultural boycott was also high on the agenda, and the subject of some disagreement on the panel and in the audience. I would therefore like to respond here to three questions raised during the evening.
1. Not all Palestinians support BDS, so why should I?
Rachel Shabi helpfully stressed that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign is a Palestinian initiative. However, she counter-claimed that Palestinian society is diverse, and not all Palestinians believe in boycott. This statement is undeniably true. Leaving aside the question of militant resistance, some Palestinians believe in working within the Palestinian Authority and the UN, or with charitable NGOs. Others are simply trying to survive, and may place their faith in Allah, God, or the Shekel. So how does one, as a solidarity activist, decide which Palestinians to support?
The question is a political one, and must be answered politically. Only politically organised activity with strong and principled Palestinian leadership can bring positive, lasting change in the region. So, which such groups are reaching out to solidarity workers, and requesting our support?
We can immediately rule out the PA. Unless one is a UN representative, the PA is not reaching out to foreign individuals. In addition, the UN route to change is blocked by the veto power of America, and – as Wikileaks demonstrated – the PA is seriously compromised by corruption within the organisation. There is no way for solidarity workers to effectively help change this situation, apart from campaigning for UN reform. While I do not disparage such a goal, to devote all one’s energies to it would be an incredibly indirect way of expressing support for Palestine.
One can of course join direct action groups, helping with the olive harvest, accompanying children in Hebron on the way to school, working with faith groups, or joining non-violent protests against the apartheid wall. But doing so will still leave you with the fundamental choice for peace campaigners in the region: do you support ‘dialogue’ groups or the boycott divestment and sanctions movement? For many Westerners, dialogue seems instinctively attractive, but in my own view, careful thought and research must inevitably lead to the conclusion that it is not the option for the true solidarity activist.
The concept of ‘peace through dialogue’ appeals to many Westerners and left-wing Israelis because in our own personal experience we often need to engage in conflict resolution with antagonists in our families or workplaces, and this process is predicated on the understanding that both parties must listen to each other and take responsibility for their own failings. However, it is a huge mistake to project this personal process between equals – or those in a mutually agreed power structure, such as a workplace – onto the Israel-Palestine conflict. While political and personal dialogue is indeed fundamental to the peace process, it is essential that this dialogue takes place within a framework that acknowledges the true scale and roots of the conflict: the occupation of Palestine; the apartheid nature of the Israeli state; and the Israeli denial of the refugees’ right of return.
In other words, in the case of Israel-Palestine, any dialogue that takes place is never between equal partners. Analogies all break down at some point, but rather than a ‘bad marriage’ between incompatible people who have to co-parent their children, the Israel-Palestine conflict is akin to a highly abusive relationship where the abuser has huge wealth and social prestige, and the abused person has been disbelieved by the police for years – and in fact has been punished for resisting the attacks, or occasionally responding to them in a violent manner. Only if the authorities and the abuser finally recognise the nature of this abuse, is it safe or indeed worthwhile for the two parties to attempt any kind of dialogue. Think of the difference between divorce counselling and a bullying tribunal at work. In the former, a neutral mediator helps two people make compromises; in the latter, the victim and the bully have clearly differentiated roles to play in proceedings, and if found guilty the bully will be punished. Again, this is only an analogy, and I apologise to Palestinians who may find it ill-fitting or simplistic. But I think it is worth making because I believe that many Westerners think of dialogue mainly in personal terms.
The ‘dialogue peace camp’ does not offer solidarity to the Palestinians – not just because it does not start from the understanding that the conflict is hugely imbalanced, but because it explicitly forbids such an analysis. A list of 66 Palestinian-Israeli ‘co-existence’ organisations can be found here, on the website of the British charity Children of Peace. I wish to stress that I am in no way judging the motives of the Palestinians involved in these grassroots organisations. I have not lived their lives, and I have not faced their choices. What I want to highlight here is the fact that Children of Peace only funds groups that sign up to its ‘non-partisan’ values. These values are expressed in the charity’s claim that, in relation to adults, Israeli and Palestinian children have suffered ‘disproportionately’ from the conflict: to get funding from Children of Peace, organisations are not allowed to politically challenge the fact that, thanks to the occupation, Israeli apartheid and the refugee camps, it is overwhelmingly Palestinian children who have died or been maimed, and who suffer from poverty and lack of educational opportunities.
Children of Peace is a throwback to Empire. The charity is operating like a group of secular Victorian missionaries, providing vital aid only to those who are willing to subscribe to its world-view. Given the fact that Israel chronically underfunds education, health and basic social services for Arab-Israelis, and systematically attacks the basic infrastructure of Gaza and the West Bank, there is huge financial incentive for Palestinians to sign up to such deals. But without the ability to name the conflict for what it is, such organisations will never be able to effect substantive and lasting change. As Faris Giacaman argues here, Palestinians have long known that what they call ‘the peace industry’ has not built up significant Palestinian power or leadership:
Based on an unpublished 2002 report by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last October that “between 1993 and 2000 [alone], Western governments and foundations spent between $20 million and $25 million on the dialogue groups.” A subsequent wide-scale survey of Palestinians who participated in the dialogue groups revealed that this great expenditure failed to produce “a single peace activist on either side.” This affirms the belief among Palestinians that the entire enterprise is a waste of time and money.
The survey also revealed that the Palestinian participants were not fully representative of their society. Many participants tended to be “children or friends of high-ranking Palestinian officials or economic elites. Only seven percent of participants were refugee camp residents, even though they make up 16 percent of the Palestinian population.” The survey also found that 91 percent of Palestinian participants no longer maintained ties with Israelis they met. In addition, 93 percent were not approached with follow-up camp activity, and only five percent agreed the whole ordeal helped “promote peace culture and dialogue between participants.”
By insisting on a narrative of two equal parties to conflict, and by making financial aid dependent on Palestinian acquiescence to this narrative, the ‘peace industry’ only reinforces the imbalance of power in the region. This is the process of ‘normalisation’ that the boycott movement decries.
In contrast, the assets of the BDS movement are limited to moral capital only. And yet it has attracted the broad support of 173 Palestinian grassroots organisations, including many unions, and a growing group of Israeli activists, Boycott from Within. PACBI has the express support of over 60 Palestinian cultural and academic organisations. The BDS movement has not bought this support: on the contrary, boycott advocates within Israel now face severe penalties from Israel – heavy fines or imprisonment – for expressing their views. A solidarity activist can therefore support BDS knowing that the movement represents not only an accurate analysis of the conflict, but also the free and principled self-expression of a huge range of community and professional organisations. No external authority or funding body is dictating the operating terms of these groups. Unlike the ‘dialogue peace camp’, BDS is a purely Palestinian-led political movement with a huge base of mobilised popular support, and is therefore the only option for international activists who wish to work in solidarity with Palestinians.
2) Isn’t cultural boycott ‘a bit witch hunty’?
Rachel Shabi expressed support for divestment, but stated that she felt cultural boycott in particular could be ‘a bit witch-hunty’. This is not an uncommon reaction to boycott campaigns; I therefore wish to take this opportunity to expand on what I said at SOAS and entirely reject the comparison.
Political witch-hunts involve substantial punishments: the loss of employment, the destruction of one’s career, perhaps even imprisonment. Modern day ‘witch hunts’ also often involve smear campaigns. The subjects of cultural boycott campaigns are never remotely in any such dangers.
To start with, the boycott targets institutions, not individuals. When boycott activists direct campaigns toward individuals, it is simply to ask them not to appear in Israel or at Israeli-funded events. If they insist on crossing this picket line, then boycott activists may protest against their activities on that particular tour of the region. Otherwise, activists have never called for the ‘boycott of boycott busters’
Crucially, boycott activists cannot force writers, musicians or artists not to take a gig in Israel: any loss of employment that results from respecting the boycott is entirely voluntary, and amply offset by the reward of right relationship with one’s own conscience. The only pressure that boycott activists can apply is sustained moral pressure, and to suggest that we should not be doing so verges on questioning our right to protest. I personally have led campaigns politely but persistently requesting high-profile writers not to appear in Israel. These writers are wealthy professionals with teams of publicists, editors and festival staff to support them. If they make a decision to take money from an apartheid state, they ought to be prepared to face a rational public debate about it.
It constantly disappoints me that British writers who appear in Israel do not want to participate in that debate. I do not possess a tall black hat, a ducking pond, or any kind of power or desire to wound these writers. I just want them to change their minds about shaking hands with ethnic cleansers, and if they cannot do that, then I believe they should at least answer all the questions the BDS movement lays at their doors.
3) Can BDS lead to peace, and if so, how?
This was a question from the audience, and it is a good one. BDS is obviously a controversial strategy because it strikes at the heart of neo-liberal values, and the concept of unlimited free speech; its detractors therefore sometimes argue that adopting BDS only inflames the conflict. I obviously do not agree.
In South Africa, sustained international pressure played a huge role in bringing apartheid to an end. How BDS can help do this in Israel is suggested by a recent article by Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf: the reason the peace process has stalled, he argues, is because for the average Jewish Israeli the status quo is preferable to either the one-state or the two-state solution. The one-state solution would involve the kind of demographic and democratic shift Zionists most fear, and the two-state solution would involve giving up settlements, land and resources. I am grateful to Boycott from Within activist Ofer Neiman for sending me the link to this article, and for his succinct summation that what boycott does is make the status quo uncomfortable. BDS is a constant reminder that the world does not approve of the political choices Israel is making. BDS may in the short-term add to friction, but this friction is necessary grit in the process of real change: change that results in the priceless pearl of justice.
I hope that these responses flesh out my comments on the night. I will also post them on the BWISP FAQs page for ease of future reference.
October 2, 2012
Palestine Now: Writers Respond
With Bidisha, Rachel Shabi, Selma Dabbagh, Miranda Pennell and Naomi Foyle
Date: 9 October 2012 Time: 5:30 - 7:00 PM
Venue: School of Oriental and African Studies. Russell Square: College Buildings
Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre
Type of Event: Lecture
A panel discussion with Bidisha, journalist for the Guardian, the Observer, the FT and the New Statesman, authors Rachel Shabi and Selma Dabbagh, activist and film-maker Miranda Pennell, and Naomi Foyle, British Writers in Support of Palestine. To coincide with the publication of Bidisha’s fourth book, Beyond the Wall: Writing A Path Through Palestine (Seagull/Chicago University Press).
Organiser: London Middle East Institute
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Tel: 020 7898 4490