Opinion |

It Is Time to Boycott Israeli Academia

Odeh Bisharat
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File photo: Students at Birzeit University, 2017.
File photo: Students at Birzeit University, 2017.
Odeh Bisharat

Israel doesn’t need a BDS movement of its own to boycott the Palestinian Authority. As the occupying power, it has a wide range of laws and regulations that enables it not just to boycott the PA, but to destroy it. The most recent drastic measure was the substantial cut in tax payments to the PA because of its payments to the families of Palestinian prisoners.

Still, in the eyes of the world this isn’t a boycott that’s starving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on some pretext, even though all Israelis involved in acts against Palestinians enjoy the warm embrace of the National Insurance Institute.

Now Palestinian academia is being targeted, particularly Bir Zeit University, which enjoys a brilliant academic reputation, in addition to its prominence in Palestinian social and national life.

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The occupation has decided to devastate its academic faculty, not by means of arrests, God forbid, but simply by not extending their visas. Many of the university’s “foreign” faculty members are Palestinians in every way, but due to Israeli abuse they cannot get Palestinian citizenship and are thus blocked from being able to serve their people. “The bad man doesn’t sleep, and doesn’t let others sleep,” as the Arab proverb says.

Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights, together with the Al-Haq organization and Bir Zeit University, are taking legal action on the matter. According to Adalah, between 2017 and 2019, four full-time foreign faculty members, along with three part-time lecturers, were forced to leave the country because Israel refused to renew their visas.

Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs briefs reporters on alleged ties between militant groups and NGOs which support the BDS movement. Near Tel Aviv, Israel, February 3, 2019
Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs briefs reporters on alleged ties between militant groups and NGOs which support the BDS movement. Near Tel Aviv, Israel, February 3, 2019Credit: \ NIR ELIAS/ REUTERS

Adalah has documented the stories of those lecturers who have been denied the right, or perhaps the duty, to make their contribution to Palestinian society− not by making bombs, but through academic activity the Palestinians so badly need. This hasn’t stopped Israeli politicians from crying bitterly about the boycott or sanctioning of Israeli academic institutions – a cry that, as time passes, turns out to be aimed solely at increasing the popularity of people like Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and MK Yair Lapid, since such a boycott barely exists.

I am appealing here to lecturers at Israeli universities who call themselves democrats: What are you doing given the injustice taking place in your backyard? Why aren’t you clamoring against the government abuse taking place ostensibly in your name? Why haven’t we heard of 200, 300, or a thousand Israeli lecturers visiting Bir Zeit and declaring to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “We are not with you?” If there is no significant action by Israeli academia, it will be remembered as a disgrace.

Although I view boycotts as a legitimate means when it comes to a lofty goal like national liberation, I am usually not in favor of boycotts. But given the passive response of Israeli academics to the suffering of their Palestinian colleagues, I say that if such unresponsiveness reigns, there must be a boycott of Israeli academia. It is unforgivable that while lecturers here decry international boycotts against them, the bulldozer of the occupation, acting also in their name, is destroying the world of their Palestinian colleagues. The word “disgraceful” precisely describes this shameful behavior.

And let’s not forget our German friends, who are continuing support for the Israeli occupation through the shameful decision by the Bundestag to declare the BDS movement anti-Semitic. It’s important that they know that in their eagerness not to be considered anti-Semites, they have crossed a thin line and are now being anti-Semitic toward another Semitic people – the Palestinians.