A key figure in the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is facing harsh criticism from Palestinians over planned lectures at Israeli universities this month in violation of the growing international boycott.
The noted Egyptian-American jurist Cherif Bassiouni is scheduled to speak on Thursday at Tel Aviv University on “The role of the ICC as justice mechanism: Does it enhance the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace?”
Bassiouni chaired the drafting committee that wrote the ICC’s founding statute in 1998.
An emeritus professor of law at Chicago’s DePaul University, he has held dozens of high-profile UN positions including chair of the commission to investigate war crimes in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Bassiouni also chaired commissions of inquiry for Libya and Bahrain in 2011.
In response to inquiries from The Electronic Intifada, PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said it had been “shocked to learn” that Bassiouni would speak at Tel Aviv University “in defiance of the guidelines set by the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement for the academic boycott of Israel.”
PACBI said that Bassiouni’s insistence on making the speech “comes even after we shared with him irrefutable facts about Tel Aviv University’s persistent collusion in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”
“Tel Aviv University is more deeply complicit than most other Israeli universities in Israel’s violations of international law,” PACBI stated. “Aside from developing tens of weapon systems used by the occupation army in killing civilians and targeting civilian infrastructure, Tel Aviv University proudly developed, in partnership with the Israeli military and military industries, the so-called Dahiya Doctrine, which calls for using massive and disproportionate force against civilians and civilian infrastructure to make them force the resistance to stop.”
“This patently unlawful doctrine was used to target civilians in Gaza in the recent massacre of 2014 and the previous attacks on Gaza and Lebanon,” PACBI added.
PACBI had been unaware of Bassiouni’s Hebrew University speech at the time of The Electronic Intifada’s inquiry, but has previously called on international scholars to boycott that institution as well.
Bassiouni’s Chicago office told The Electronic Intifada on Monday afternoon that Bassiouni had already left for Tel Aviv. An emailed request for comment through his assistants went unanswered by midday Tuesday.
But PACBI said that in response to its private appeal to him, Bassiouni had cited “academic freedom” as a rationale for appearing at Israeli institutions.
PACBI said it drew Bassiouni’s attention to the response of Joan Scott, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, to similar arguments.
Scott writes in her article “Changing my mind about the boycott”:
[I]n the face of an [Israeli] apartheid that violates both the principles and practices of equality and freedom for all, a principled opposition to boycotts as punitive or unfair makes no sense. In fact, such an opposition only helps perpetuate the system. The boycott is a strategic way of exposing the unprincipled and undemocratic behavior of Israeli state institutions … Paradoxically, it is because we believe so strongly in principles of academic freedom that a strategic boycott of the state that so abuses it makes sense right now.
“Apathy towards our rights”
PACBI added: “When international academics speak at Israeli universities today, and regardless of intentions, they are lending their names to institutions that have for decades been complicit in planning, implementing, justifying and whitewashing Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people and peoples of the region. When an international law expert does so, it adds insult to injury, as he ought to know the scope of Israel’s war crimes more than most.”
“At a time when prominent US academic associations, such as the American Studies Association, are joining the academic boycott of Israel, there is simply no excuse for academics who count themselves among those who care about human rights to defy this institutional boycott,” PACBI stated.
“Respecting our boycott guidelines is the minimal form of solidarity that we are asking for. Is it too much to ask?”
“Failing to do so, despite knowing the facts, betrays apathy towards our rights under international law and feeds Israel’s impunity in perpetrating such crimes,” PACBI said in sharp rebuke to Bassiouni.