BDS roundup: Full cultural and academic boycott of Israel adopted at South African University

On this week’s roundup of news from the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement: A South African university adopts a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel; A new Sodastream store will be protested every week in Brighton; Protesters disrupt the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company’s performance in Edinburgh; Protests in Hyderabad, India against Israeli participation in education summit; and Palestinian civil society and academic groups applaud Judith Butler being awarded the Adorno prize.

South African university adopts full academic and cultural boycott of Israel

An ad lauding the BDS victory at Wits in the <em>Mail & Guardian</em>. (Photographer unknown)

BDS South Africa
The Student Representative Council at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa unanimously adopted a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel on 29 August.

This comes on the heels of increasing support of the Palestinian-led BDS movement in South Africa, including the recent moves by government officials to have Israeli settlement products products correctly labeled to let consumers know they originate from settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank; and a proclamation by a government minister to discourage South Africans from traveling to Israel because of its human rights record.

Posted on the website for BDS South Africa, the Wits’ student council’s resolution says that it will “not participate in any form of cultural or academic collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions and will not provide support to Israeli cultural or academic institutions.”

The resolution adds:

… The Wits Student Representative Council stands firm in its support of Palestinians and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

… [The Wits SRC] will not participate in any form of cultural or academic collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions and will not provide any support to Israeli cultural or academic institutions;

…will not provide any support to Israeli cultural or academic institutions through our own powers (vetting, signing etc.);

…will promote and support the annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) together with other structures on campus;

…[will] promote the BDS campaign in terms of academic and cultural institutions relating to Israel.

… The BDS movement against Israel is historically based and exemplified in our own South African history and the fight against the institutionalised racism of apartheid. Throughout the world students joined people of conscience in opposing the regime which systematically perpetrated racial injustice in South Africa. Because of our history of apartheid, as South Africans, we must unite and stand in solidarity with those who face similar oppression. Several prominent South African leaders have said that what Israel is doing to Palestinians is an even more brutal form of apartheid than the apartheid experienced here in South Africa.

In a press release emailed to The Electronic Intifada, BDS South Africa said that the boycott resolution “also calls for an immediate investigation into any relationships that Wits University, which is based in Johannesburg, may have with any Israeli institutions including academic, financial and cultural relations.”

The press release adds:

In 2005 Palestinians issued a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it abides by international law and basic human rights. …Last year in 2011, the University of Johannesburg became the world’s first university to impose an academic boycott on Israel when it terminated its institutional relationship with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University.

In the 1980s, during Apartheid, there was a strong and vibrant international student movement in solidarity with the people of South Africa; today, over 20 years later, there is a growing and vibrant international student movement in solidarity with Palestinians (and progressive Israelis) who are resisting Israeli Apartheid.

… Finally, Wits University students are going to come under immense pressure from the Israeli lobby (consisting of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, SA Zionist Federation and others) for their principled boycott of Israel resolution. You can assist by writing a short note of support to the Wits SRC. Messages can be sent to us, and we will in turn forward them to the relevant members: administrator [AT] bdssouthafrica [DOT] com.

New Sodastream store to be protested every week in Brighton, UK

Protesters hand out leaflets outside the Sodastream store in Brighton.

Tony Greenstein
Following the opening of a Sodastream store in Brighton, boycott activists led a large protest in front of the shop on 9 September, handing out leaflets to passersby informing people of Sodastream’s occupation profiteering. Sodastream, which makes carbonated water products, is based in an illegal Israeli settlement colony in the occupied West Bank.

Activist Tony Greenstein posted on his blog that “the vast majority of Brighton people passing by gave us their support and we ran out in 2 hours of over 500 leaflets. …So successful though was our first outing that we’ve decided that instead of mounting pickets every 2 weeks, as happened at Ahava, we are going to do weekly pickets of this Apartheid shop.”

Ahava, the Israeli cosmetics company made from resources pillaged from the Dead Sea in the West Bank and fabricated in a nearby settlement colony, has been the target of BDS campaigns in the US, Japan, and across Europe. Last year, Ahava’s flagship store in London was forced to close its doors after sustained pressure from protesters.

Greenstein adds in his blog post:

[Sodastream’s] branding in Green Brighton is interesting. It calls itself “Eco” stream — part of an attempt to greenwash its activities just as the Jewish National Fund calls itself an eco-friendly organisation, building all those forests and parks, even if they are on top of razed Arab villages whose inhabitants have been expelled from the West Bank! But there is nothing eco friendly about Ecostream’s base and activities.

… Sodastream is based in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone, which is part of the growing number of Jewish only settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Ma’ale Adumim.

Protesters disrupt Israeli dance company’s performance in Edinburgh

Activists with the Boycott Batsheva campaign gathered on 30 August in Edinburgh, Scotland, in protest of the Batsheva Dance Company’s performance during the Edinburgh International Festival. Batsheva, which is sponsored by the Israeli government, was dogged with protests in the US.

In a press release emailed to The Electronic Intifada, Boycott Batsheva campaign activists say that hundreds took part in the protest outside the festival’s performance venue.

The press release stated:

The protest had been organised by the Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid campaign, a Scottish based coalition made up of Palestine solidarity groups. The campaign was established in June this year to encourage festival director Jonathan Mills to cancel the scheduled performances based on Batsheva’s links to the Israeli state.

Earlier this week, leading writers including Iain Banks and Scotland’s national poet, Liz Lochhead, signed a letter calling for the scheduled performances to be cancelled.

The lively protest outside — which consisted of chanting, singing and ticket burning — resulted in some members of the public returning their tickets to the box office and joining the crowd outside.

Approximately five members of the UK Zionist Federation called a counter-demonstration to take place at the same time, and individuals attempted to distribute pro-Israeli material to groups entering the Playhouse. Limor Livnat, the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport, and Israel’s ambassador to the UK were inside the Playhouse.

As well as the demonstration outside, individuals disrupted the performance inside. The protesters held up Palestine flags and large signs during the performance, which read: “No to Batsheva,” “No to Apartheid” and “Free Palestine.” The disruptions inside led to the performance being halted three times while security attempted to remove the individuals.

Kate Connelly, who disrupted the performance inside, said:

“I believe the strong presence outside the Playhouse, coupled with the disruptions inside sent a strong message to the Batsheva Dance Company, the Israeli government and the festival organisers that the arts can never be used to distract from the reality of apartheid.”

The campaigners added that they also protested outside the venue on the following nights of Batsheva’s performances, “insisting that this run of protests will set a precedent for similar actions later in the year when the Batsheva Dance Ensemble are due to embark on a UK wide tour.”

Protests in Hyderabad, India against Israeli participation in education summit

On 6 September, human rights activists in Hyderabad gathered to protest the participation of three Israeli universities in the Indo-Global Education Summit. InCACBI, the Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, published a press release about the action.

InCACBI’s press release states:

The police, which [were] deployed in large numbers at the hotel in view of the protest, swooped on the protesters and tried to prevent them from surging into the hotel. Severe scuffle ensued when the police tried to evict the protesets. Traffic came to a standstill for around half an hour on the busy thoroughfare. The police arrested the protesters and shifted them to Banjara Hills police station.

Tel Aviv University, Technion, and Haifa University are the three Israeli universities that have been invited to participate in the Summit by the organisers [of] The Indus Foundation. Speaking to media persons, former MP of CPI(M) P Madhu said “UPA government’s continued effort to collaborate with Israeli regime is condemnable. The Israeli state daily tramples on the academic freedom and cultural life of the Palestinian people. Cooperating with the instruments of such a state is unprincipled.”

… The protesters [went] to the summit venue protesting collaboration efforts of Indian government with Israeli government. Students, Teachers, Lawyers, doctors, workers and many more democratic-minded people from different walks of life were amongst the protestors.

… Earlier, a roundtable discussion was organised on this issue on September 3 in which why the collaboration with Israel must be opposed was effectively explained.

Palestinian civil society and academic groups applaud Judith Butler being awarded the Adorno prize

US professor, philosopher and human rights activist Judith Butler was defended by Palestinian academic and civil society organizations following pressure and attacks by Israel lobby and Zionist organizations who tried to thwart Butler from receiving the prestigious Adorno Prize from Germany this week.

Butler wrote an impassioned defense of her politics in Mondoweiss recently, in response to an attack in the Jerusalem Post on her being awarded the Adorno Prize.

In a joint statement, the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees, the General Union of Palestinian Writers, the Association of University Teachers-Gaza, and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), said that “Butler’s humanism, critical thought and distinguished intellectualism entitle her without doubt to this and many other awards.”

The statement adds:

The main reason for this crusade against Judith Butler is her outspoken support for the Palestinian-led, global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS calls for ending Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinian people through sustained, effective, morally-consistent pressure on Israel, on its complicit institutions, as well as on international corporations and entities that are implicated in Israel’s violations of international law.

In endorsing BDS, Butler is being consistent with her long tradition of standing up for freedom, justice, self determination and equal rights in other causes. The fact that she evokes her Jewish identity and social justice principles associated with it to challenge Israel’s and Zionism’s cynical appropriation of Jewishness is what made her a particularly urgent target for propaganda campaigns waged by Israel and its lobby groups.

The great Palestinian thinker Edward Said once wrote:

“Nothing in my mind is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position that you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. … For an intellectual, these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence.

Personally, I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”

Judith Butler is such an “unafraid and compassionate intellectual.” We salute her courage and call on every self-respecting academic and intellectual to stand with her against the hopeless, vindictive, yet taxing, attempt to silence her mind.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).