A prominent Indigenous rights defender and former UN human rights investigator is being urged to cancel a lecture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
James Anaya, the dean of the University of Colorado law school, served as UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples from 2008 to 2014.
In a response to The Electronic Intifada, Anaya defended his decision to give a lecture at the Israeli institution scheduled for Tuesday.
Anaya has a long career advising and representing Indigenous groups. His official biography says that he was lead counsel for the Indigenous parties in Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, a case in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the first time upheld Indigenous land rights as a matter of international law.
“As a former UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, James Anaya knows all too well the injustices suffered by Indigenous peoples around the world, including Palestinians,” a spokesperson for the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel told The Electronic Intifada.
“It would be hypocritical for Anaya to speak at an institution whose facilities were built by the direct expulsion of entire Palestinian families from their lands,” the spokesperson said.
“This seems to be another example of redwashing on the part of the Israeli institution,” Native Hawaiian scholar and activist J. Kēhaulani Kauanui told The Electronic Intifada, using a term that refers to the promotion of Indigenous peoples of the Americas as a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.
Nick Estes, a scholar and member of Kul Wicasa (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), is also calling on Anaya to cancel his talk.
“The UN was founded in 1945 partly to end colonialism. What Israel practices is a form of settler-colonialism, very much aligned with what the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia practice against Indigenous peoples,” Estes stated in an open letter at the website of The Red Nation, an activist collective dedicated to Native liberation.
The boycott call has been endorsed by numerous academic associations, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.
“With increased international attention to Indigenous rights with Standing Rock and Indigenous peoples’ opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, our actions must speak to our values and commitments to human rights,” Estes added, referring to the ongoing efforts to block contruction of an oil pipeline across Native lands that the Trump administration has vowed to facilitate.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee, the civil society coalition that leads the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, has likened the Standing Rock Sioux’s struggle to defend sacred lands to Palestinians resisting Israel’s destruction of their burial sites in Jerusalem.
Anaya said his visit “follows my engagement with the human rights concerns of the Bedouin of the Negev” during his time as UN special rapporteur. In an email to The Electronic Intifada he said he had wanted to visit the area in his official role but was refused permission by Israel.
“Now that I am no longer special rapporteur, I am able to travel to Israel and follow up on my inquiry into the situation, without seeking or obtaining the permission of the Israeli government,” Anaya stated.
Anaya credited the Hebrew University’s Minerva Center for Human Rights with being “kind enough to facilitate my visit to the Negev.”
“I sincerely believe that my engagement at the university will do more to further human rights, including the human rights of the Palestinian people, than refraining from the visit would do,” Anaya stated.
Anaya did not explain why he would need to rely on an Israeli institution complicit in the state’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in order to facilitate a visit to Bedouin communities that are the targets of the same violent practices by the same state, rather than going through organizations that are not involved in these crimes.
Anticipating the kind of defense put forward by Anaya, PACBI’s guidelines for the academic boycott state that “international academics who insist on crossing the BDS ‘picket line’ by pursuing activities with boycottable Israeli institutions and then visiting Palestinian institutions or groups for ‘balance,’ violate the boycott guidelines and contribute to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized.”
Anaya’s lecture at Hebrew University is scheduled just days after a landmark UN report declaring that Israel is guilty of apartheid was withdrawn under intense political pressure, prompting the resignation of a senior UN official.
Nick Estes states that without the “lateral solidarity” between the South African anti-apartheid movement, Palestinians and Indigenous struggles, “Indigenous peoples would not have made such historic gains, like the drafting of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
“As Indigenous people committed to peace and human rights, we cannot cross this picket line,” he said.