At its annual meeting, the African Literature Association (ALA) passed a resolution supporting the spirit of the 2004 Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel. The annual meeting took place in April, but the resolution was only publicized this week as Israeli bombs rained down on Gaza.
Kenyan novelist, political analyst and activist Mukoma Wa Ngugi, an ALA member not directly involved in organizing the boycott vote, commented to me via email: “The African literary tradition has been one in which writers have used their pens to speak out against injustice – so they wielded their pens against colonialism, neocolonialism and concomitant dictatorships and today against unequal globalization.”
He said that the “ALA endorsement of the boycott falls within the tradition of a literary and intellectual tradition that has often stood on the side of marginalized and ‘dominated.’ In this sense it is not a surprise that the first sentence reaffirms the principle of standing against all forms of racism including ‘including anti-semitism, discrimination, and xenophobia.’”
He said that the statement was “strongly worded and grounds its rationale in the anti-apartheid tradition of boycotts and sanctions in order ‘to awaken the world’s conscience to a situation that must change.’ It reminds us that Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, who once said that South African ’freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,’ have historically stood with the Palestinian people. The rationale is also grounded in the plight of African immigrants and refugees in Israel who have been received with virulent racism.”
The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on Tuesday afternoon released a statement praising the ALA’s resolution.
Also at the annual meeting, a resolution opposing all homophobic legislation was passed. The boycott resolution’s full text is as follows:
BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)
The ALA supports the Academic Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.
Whereas the African Literature Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-semitism, discrimination, and xenophobia, and to solidarity with aggrieved peoples in Africa and in the world; Whereas Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians; Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students; Whereas the African Literature Association is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression, and military violence, and in keeping with the spirit of its previous statements supports the right of students and scholars to intellectual freedom and to political dissent as citizens and scholars; it is resolved that the African Literature Association (ALA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ALA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Rationale: The resolution is offered in the spirit of the past boycott of Apartheid South Africa, one of the ALA’s earliest efforts at political coalition politics. This boycott has been endorsed by Bishop Desmond Tutu. ln the spirit of his endorsement, and of our commitment to the liberation of dominated people everywhere, we are resolving to act against a state that has taken actions that have resulted in the dispersal of millions of Palestinian people around the Middle East and North Africa (including Egypt and Tunisia), that has targeted African refugees by placing them in internment camps indefinitely, and that has collaborated with authoritarian regimes in Africa, either by their work in extractive industries, or in the shipment of arms to repressive regimes. The resolution, like the long boycott of South Africa and of Southern Rhodesia, is intended to awaken the world’s conscience to a situation that must change.