Vote backing boycott challenges feminists to take clear stand on Palestine

Members of the National Women’s Studies Association have voted to endorse the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel in a landslide vote.

Almost 90 percent of voting members – 653 scholars – backed a resolution developed by Feminists for Justice in/for Palestine, a group that has been active since NWSA’s 2014 conference in Puerto Rico.

At that conference, nearly 800 participants had signed a petition calling on the organization to declare its support for BDS.

“In the present moment, our counterparts in Palestine face daily violations of their human rights, including their academic rights to free speech, assembly, association and movement,” the resolution states. “At the same time, Israeli institutions of higher learning have not challenged, but instead legitimized, Israel’s oppressive policies and violations.”

The resolution endorses the boycott of “economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel.”

Founded in 1977, the National Women’s Studies Association has more than 2,000 individual and 350 institutional members in the US and other countries.

“BDS is a feminist issue”

San Francisco State University professor of ethnic studies Rabab Abdulhadi told The Electronic Intifada that recent votes to back BDS by other academic groups made it easier for members of National Women’s Studies Association to follow suit.

“But this also was a long time in the making because of the changes NWSA was going through, especially the browning of the organization and the challenges it waged against white supremacy which went hand in hand with Zionist influence in the women’s movement and women’s and feminist scholarship,” Abdulhadi said.

She believes the NWSA vote has added significance because it is the first major academic organization encompassing feminist, gender, sexuality and women’s studies to back BDS.

Simona Sharoni, professor of gender and women’s studies at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, credited educational work within NWSA, but particularly visits to Palestine, such as the 2011 Indigenous and Women of Color delegation, for building support for boycott as an effective tactic.

Sharoni told The Electronic Intifada: “What is significant about this particular resolution is the rationale; the fact that the resolution makes it explicit that BDS is a feminist issue, that it is an expression of transnational feminist solidarity and that one cannot call themselves a feminist and address inequalities and injustices without taking a stand on what is happening in Palestine.”

Vulnerable faculty

NWSA backed a second resolution by 97 percent, urging support for the increasing number of contingent faculty – educators employed on short-term contracts.

That resolution emphasizes “the disproportionate impact of precarious employment in higher education on women and people of color.”

While this has broad implications for higher education and scholarship, recent controversies, including the University of Illinois’ firing of Steven Salaita, have highlighted that the fewer employment protections scholars enjoy, the more vulnerable they are to censorship and retaliation.

Just the beginning

Earlier this month, the American Anthropological Association adopted the academic boycott of Israel by a landslide vote of members at its annual meeting.

That resolution will go to a full referendum of its 10,000 members in April.

Several academic associations, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the African Literature Association, have already endorsed the boycott. The first to do so, in April 2013, was the Association for Asian American Studies.

In December 2013, the American Studies Association endorsed the boycott in a referendum, sparking a fierce backlash from anti-Palestinian groups and repudiation by pro-Israel presidents at a number of US universities.

But that does not seem to have slowed the growth in support for the academic boycott called by Palestinians a decade ago.

“For us this is just the beginning,” Sharoni said. “Voting as an academic to support BDS is not a radical act – it is a symbolic statement that is long overdue. Now we need to follow up with actions that reflect the spirit of the statement.”