International Criminal Court founder Cherif Bassiouni defends violation of Israel boycott

Cherif Bassiouni

UN Photo/UNIS

International law expert Cherif Bassiouni has rejected criticism over a series of lectures he is giving at Israeli universities in violation of the Palestinian call for boycott.

The scholar, who played a key role in the founding of the International Criminal Court (ICC), shared with The Electronic Intifada an email he sent to PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

PACBI had called on Bassiouni to cancel his speech at Tel Aviv University citing the institution’s “persistent collusion in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

Bassiouni revealed that he is giving four lectures at Israeli institutions this month.

He also shared with The Electronic Intifada the texts prepared for his speeches at Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Unaware of boycott

In his email to PACBI, Bassiouni says he had been unaware that Palestinians had called for an academic boycott until an invitation to speak at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank had been withdrawn over his planned appearances at Israeli institutions.

Knowing about the boycott now, however, he makes clear he will not respect it.

“If I understand it correctly, this is a secondary boycott since you are boycotting anyone that does not follow your boycott,” Bassiouni states in relation to the rescinded Birzeit invitation.

“I can’t help the irony of having been boycotted and discriminated against all of my life by pro-Israel organizations, such as AIPAC, and now to find you boycotting me,” Bassiouni adds. “The world is full of strange paradoxes.”

The scholar who has headed dozens of international and UN panels in recent decades asserts that by going to Israel he would be continuing his lifelong practice of “speaking truth to power.”

Bassiouni acknowledges that he was “strongly in favor of divestment” from apartheid South Africa.

As to whether he would have gone to the country in violation of boycott calls, he states: “I never went there because, had I gone, I would have been arrested by the apartheid authorities since I was a strong supporter of the ANC and organized a tour of US universities of its first president.”

Bassiouni does not say whether, absent the risk of arrest, he would have respected the academic boycott of South Africa called for by the ANC – the African National Congress.

But the emeritus professor of law at DePaul University recounts his roles in helping to push for the international prosecution of the “crime of apartheid” and his chairmanship of investigations into war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

This record, he states, helped lay the ground for the creation of the ICC. “And now, Palestine has the opportunity to seek recourse before the ICC,” Bassouni tells PACBI. “Hopefully, this will prove to be an effective deterrent against the continuation of illegal settlements and the type of incursions that we have seen in Gaza twice.”

PACBI responds

PACBI told The Electronic Intifada it has responded to Bassiouni’s email.

It says it is unaware of the details of any invitation to Bassiouni canceled by Birzeit University.

“The BDS movement, including PACBI, does not call for ‘boycotting’ Bassiouni or any other academic who similarly crosses the BDS picket line,” PACBI states. 

But it adds that if “Birzeit University canceled Professor Bassiouni’s talk there after learning about his intention to undermine the academic boycott, it is a normal and welcome decision. The BDS movement calls on Palestinian institutions not to provide a cover for violations of the BDS guidelines.” 

“Not welcoming BDS bashers at a Palestinian university as a reaction to their ‘fig-leafing’ of Israel and its deeply complicit universities is quite different from ‘boycotting’ them,” PACBI notes.

“Slap in the face” speeches

Bassiouni’s speeches are worthy of study in light of his affirmation that he intended to “speak truth to power” when in Israel.

His lecture on “justice and reconciliation” for Hebrew University, for instance, endorses the Zionist project of establishing a “Jewish national homeland” in Palestine.

“In retrospect,” Bassiouni asserts, “adequate economic assistance as well as a disciplined and organized approach to such a relatively large-scale migration in such a short period of time, could have avoided the irreconcilable difficulties that came about from what turned out to be an existential experience for the Jews.”

In other words, Bassiouni is suggesting in effect that more international assistance and support for Zionist colonization would have made the ultimate dispossession of the Palestinians a more orderly process with fewer troublesome long-term consequences.

In the present, Bassiouni endorses “a ‘two state solution’ based on adjustable 1967 boundaries” – a formula typically used to allow for Israel to annex vast Jewish settlements it has built on occupied land in violation of international law.

“Israel is to be secure as the national Jewish homeland,” he adds, with its “Jewish character” guaranteed, albeit while granting equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel, whom he calls “Israeli-Arabs.”

In his review of history, Bassiouni is absolutely silent about the Nakba – the premeditated, mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that Zionist militias began in 1947 and that continued on a large scale into the 1950s.

The international law scholar is also silent about the rights of Palestinian refugees, particularly the right of return. The right of refugees to go back to their homes, even if local authorities are bigoted against them is basic and long-established principle of international law.

It was implemented in Bosnia – part of the former Yugoslavia – where hundreds of thousands of refugees returned home, often to areas controlled by authorities dominated by groups that had been enemies during the brutal wars of the early 1990s.

Indeed, the US defined refugee return, especially to areas controlled by hostile groups, as being at the heart of the Bosnia peace agreement. US General Wesley Clark declared in 1998 that the return of refugees would demonstrate that “the power of the ethnic separatists is a thing of the past.”

“People truly want to go home to the land where they grew up, where their grandparents planted orchards, where their ancestors are buried,” Clark said.

There’s no indication in his speeches that Bassiouni affirmatively supports Palestinians enjoying the same right.

If Bassiouni’s justification for violating the boycott is that he would confront Israeli academics with harsh truths they never hear, then based on his speeches, there’s no evidence he intends to do so.

Even if that were the case, however, PACBI’s academic boycott guidelines do not make exceptions based on the content of a lecture.

PACBI told The Electronic Intifada that “unrelated to the BDS criteria,” it “was utterly disappointed, even shocked, by Professor Bassiouni’s actual lectures,” the texts of which he also shared with the Palestinian organization.

In addition to omitting mention of the Nabka and the right of return, PACBI noted that Bassiouni “does not mention the system of Israeli racial discrimination or the need to abrogate Israel’s more than fifty racist laws as a necessary condition for any just and comprehensive peace.”

PACBI said that Bassiouni’s talks were a “slap in the face of our nonviolent human rights struggle.”

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Comments

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It's hysterical that such a prominent Arab scholar wasn't even aware there is an academic boycott. So much for that long-vaunted tipping point that's gonna drown Israel.

Would it be possible for the Electronic Intifada to print the professor's emails verbatim and in their entirety? It's just more informative to see it as one cohesive body than as selected clippings.

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Boycotting German-made goods was a strategy. It was so effective that it resulted in a headline stating "Judea declares war on Germany" and sent several hundred thousand (or whatever) to the prison camps. We know that murdering innocents is underway and has been for 40 years. It is time these people in Gaza receive some international help and if there is not a body in place to organize this help, one should be created immediately.

Has the world ever seen so many commitees, councils, self-appointed and privately funded organizations deemed to be in place to help the less fortunate in this world? No. Has the world ever seen such chaos? No.

It's time we clean up the mess in Israel. The criminally insane actions are a thorn in the side of our ability to function in our individual countries and as we know, Israel stands behind Zionism, master thieves.

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The U.S. actively promoted repatriation of many refugee groups - Rawandans, Afghans, Iraqis, Khmer, Bosnians. Yet when it comes to Palestinians all the good reasons for repatriation suddenly disappear. It's an astonishing and disgusting double standard.

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In endorsing settler colonialism for some Jews, Cherif Bassioni
demonstrates a tragic misunderstanding of international law.
He might maintain the position that he should not become
engaged in Palestinian rights to their lives, land and cultural
dignity. However, he disingenuously pretends no knowledge of
the origins of Zionism, of its history of massacres, home demolition,
and state terror to achieve a discriminatory/exclusionary rule
by Jews only. His empty espousal of a "home for the Jewish people"
---at the expense of lives and homes of others--- is against all
fairness and decency and against international law which does not
encourage aggression and crimes of humanity as well as war crimes.

No one can try to hide his prejudices under other efforts. Indeed, on
the face of it, it is unclear why Bassiouni did not support the apartheid
government against the ANC. The basic principles---those of settler-
colonization---are similar.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA

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Bassiouni says he is discriminated against by pro-Israel organizations...?
It looks more like he's being coddled by them. I wonder how much money he gets for his "truth to power" brown-nosing at those boycotted state institutions.

The irony is that he would be associated with an international criminal court. Let's hope the ICC actually becomes something valid in spite of him.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.