Omar Barghouti (Intal/Flickr)
He also spoke to Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s Worldview (use the player above to listen).
Following the American Studies Association’s (ASA) landslide vote to endorse the academic boycott of Israel in December, Israel and its supporters fear that the much larger MLA – with 30,000 members in 100 countries – is heading in the same direction.
No boycott resolution is currently on the MLA’s agenda, but there is a resolution on academic freedom in the occupied territories which is seen by some as a trial balloon.
Barghouti dismissed complaints from Israel supporters that the MLA panel lacked “balance.”
While there were a range of views represented, Barghouti said organizers were not required to host opponents of their views.
“For example, if you’re having a panel on rape, you’re not required to have a rapist or somebody who supports rape to counter those who oppose rape but have different views about opposing rape,” Barghouti told WBEZ.
Barghouti also detailed Israel’s systematic attacks on Palestinian academic freedom and education including the total shut down of all schools and universities during the first intifada in the late 1980s and Israel’s bombing of schools and universities in Gaza five years ago.
BDS is about opposing a comprehensive Israeli “system of racial discrimination,” Barghouti explained.
Barghouti lauded the decision announced this week by PGGM, a $200-billion-dollar Dutch pensions firm, to divest from Israeli banks due to their involvement in Israel’s illegal colony construction in the occupied West Bank.
He called the PGGM decision “warm news” in the “very cold weather of Chicago” and noted that it was “unprecedented” in its scope since the pensions giant divested from all Israeli banks, not just their operations within the occupied West Bank.
Barghouti also responded to the statements by several dozen university presidents condemning the ASA boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
“BDS is a grassroots movement. We do not expect presidents of universities in the United States – who are closer to CEOs than to real presidents in an academic sense,” to endorse it, Barghouti said.
“Their main function is fundraising and they see BDS as hurting their fundraising and thus the automatic support for Israel right or wrong plus the omission of Palestinians, including Palestinian academic freedom.”
“We rely on the fast-growing movement among academics, among students on campus. Israel is very aware and so are we about the growth of BDS on US campuses. So the fact that they gathered eighty presidents of universities to defend Israel and attack the BDS movement is no surprise to us because most of those presidents were against divestment from South Africa. The tide changed.”
Barghouti said that progress in the BDS movement against Israel was “much faster” than the progress made by the campaign against apartheid South Africa when he was a student in the United States in the 1980s.