BDS Roundup: US scholars group unanimously passes boycott of Israeli institutions

In this latest roundup of news from the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement: 

- Association for Asian American Studies in US unanimously approves academic boycott resolution
- Sussex University students pass referenda to continue boycott of Israeli goods, urge administration to boycott Veolia
- Faculty at Columbia University and Barnard College launch divestment campaign
- Belgian students call for academic boycott
- UC Davis to vote on divestment 
- Sodastream protest leads to boycott victory at Milan bar
- Melbourne activists hold boycott action against Sodastream

Association for Asian American Studies unanimously approves academic boycott resolution

- United States: The General Membership of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) in the United States voted in favor of a resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The vote, which took place during the annual conference in Seattle, Washington, in mid-April, was passed unanimously.

In a statement, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) said that AAAS is “the first academic organization in the US to boycott Israeli institutions.” 

AAAS’ resolution recognizes the systematic repression of education for Palestinians and the impact by Israel’s military occupation on students. It also notes the destuction of schools and universities by Israeli attacks, periodic closures of schools “as a result of actions related to the Israeli occupation,” and Israel’s restrictions of movement and travel faced by Palestinian students and faculty that “obstruct their right to education.”

The resolution adds, in part:

Whereas Israeli academic institutions are deeply complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights and in its denial of the right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians, in addition to their basic rights as guaranteed by international law; and

Whereas the Association for Asian American Studies supports research and open discussion about these issues without censorship, intimidation, or harassment, and seeks to promote academic exchange, collaboration and opportunities for students and scholars everywhere;

Be it resolved that the Association for Asian American Studies endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Be it also resolved that the Association for Asian American Studies 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.

Online publication Inside Higher Ed reported on 24 April that:

AAAS president, Mary Yu Danico, confirmed the resolution was approved and directed questions to the association’s past president, Rajini Srikanth, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Srikanth likened the academic boycott to that which was levied against South African universities to protest apartheid, and emphasized that the boycott is of institutions, not individual academics.

“The reason that we’re very clear that this is a boycott of Israeli institutions and not Israeli scholars is that we are very aware that there are Israeli scholars who understand the difficulties that Palestinian academics and students have and speak up in support of Palestinian rights,” she said. “So we would absolutely be working with them, and providing them whatever support they need to challenge their institutions.”

At the same time, she said, “We would discourage partnerships with Israeli academic institutions, whether they’re curriculum partnerships or study abroad partnerships, because that would be becoming complicit with the discriminatory practices of Israeli institutions, and we would be encouraging faculty, staff and students to forge alliances with Palestinian faculty and Palestinian students who now have so much difficulty engaging in conversations with scholars from the rest of the world.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) applauded the Association for Asian American Studies for passing the academic boycott resolution. PACBI’s open letter to AAAS states, in part:

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) salutes the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) in the United States for its principled support for the cause of justice in Palestine by adopting, at its annual meeting in Seattle on 20 April 2013, a resolution supporting the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and in solidarity with the world-wide movement responding to this call from Palestinian civil society.

Palestinian academics, students and society at large deeply appreciate and are inspired by this most effective expression of international solidarity that reminds us of similar initiatives taken by academics and academic associations worldwide in the 1980s in support of the academic boycott of South Africa under apartheid.

The adoption of this resolution by the General Membership of the AAAS is precedent-setting. This is the first time that a professional association of academics anywhere outside the Arab world adopts such a clear and unequivocal resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions due to their entrenched complicity in Israel’s persistent denial of basic Palestinian rights, including the right to education and freedom of movement.

… The AAAS has proven beyond doubt that effective solidarity with the oppressed is the most morally and politically sound contribution to the struggle to end oppression and to promote human rights and justice. We are certain that this outstanding expression of solidarity and support for the Palestinian BDS movement will galvanize academics across the United States as well as in other countries to issue similar calls for the boycott of the Israeli academy and its complicit institutions.

As in South Africa during apartheid, only by isolating these institutions can there be any chance of ending their complicity in Israel’s multi-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people.

The steering committee for the national Students for Justice in Palestine celebrated AAAS’ resolution as well. On 29 April, SJP-National stated on its website:

We are students from a variety of academic and social backgrounds. Some of us engage with your work and some of us hope to enter the academy and institutions such as yours. For this reason in particular, we see this resolution as an important moral statement that reaffirms the value and relevance of the American academy as an institution capable of advancing the cause of social justice.

The American university is a central location for the struggle to support Palestinian rights. In addition to being a space for students to engage in organizing and education it is an institution that can create or break ties with other academic institutions based on their complicity in oppressive and discriminatory policies. The AAAS statement therefore represents a choice to remove institutional ties until such a time as those ties can be maintained in conjunction with the realization of Palestinian rights.

In light of the backlash that this decision has prompted, we recall the timeless words of Edward Said, who reminds us that “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.” We look forward to the time when all other academic institutions join you in this brave but critical decision.

Sussex University students pass referenda to continue boycott of Israeli goods; urge administration to boycott Veolia

- Sussex, UK: Thousands of students at Sussex University in the UK voted on 18 April in a campus-wide referenda on various issues, including the continuation of boycotts in place against Nestle, Coca-Cola and Israeli goods. The referenda also included a vote to urge the university to boycott Veolia because of its contracts with the Israeli government.

In 2009, Sussex University students voted to boycott Israeli goods, becoming the first university union in the UK to do so. The 2009 referenda also included a boycott of Nestle and Coca-Cola in protest of those corporations’ “unethical business practices.”

This month’s referendum to lobby the university’s administration to cut its contracts with French multinational corporation Veolia was accompanied by a petition signed by hundreds of students, according to a report on Indymedia UK. The report adds that Veolia is “currently running the waste management on Sussex campus,” but the contract ends in January 2014, making it “very likely that the campaign to divest from Veolia [will become] reality since it is now officially supported by the Student Union.”

Veolia provides transportation and waste contracts with the Israeli government, including inside and between Israeli settlement colonies in the West Bank. Veolia’s contract with the Jerusalem light rail project, which aims to connect West Jerusalem with settlements in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, has been condemned by Richard Falk, the United Nation’s special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Columbia University, Barnard College faculty launch divestment campaign

- New York City: On 23 April, faculty at Columbia University and Barnard College held a press conference to announce the launch of a new campaign calling on pension fund giant TIAA-CREF to drop its investments in companies profiting from Israel’s occupation. This new campaign is part of a larger, growing national initiative targeting TIAA-CREF to divest from such corporations. More can be found on the We Divest website, a project of Jewish Voice for Peace.

A press release noted that faculty members presented a petition to the CEO of TIAA-CREF demanding that their retirement funds be invested ethically. The press release added, in part:

TIAA-CREF’s pension fund serves many of Barnard and Columbia’s faculty and staff. Though it prides itself on socially responsible investment, TIAA-CREF is invested in five companies that are actively engaged in supporting human rights abuses:
- Elbit Systems, a company manufacturing drones used by Israel for extrajudicial executions;
- Motorola, whose Israeli subsidiary develops motion-detection “virtual fences” for Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements;
- Hewlett-Packard (HP), which maintains the biometric ID system used by Israel to control and restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement;
- Veolia, a company involved in the construction of the light rail system connecting annexed East Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank;
- and Northrop Grumman, which supplies the Israeli Army with parts for the Apache AH64D Longbow Helicopter, the radar for F-16 combat jets, and Longbow Hellfire II missiles, all weapons that were used in 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli assault on Gaza that killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians in the space of three weeks, most of them civilians.

Following in Columbia’s rich tradition of activism against racial segregation and Apartheid in South Africa, a growing number of its students, faculty and staff oppose the corporate policies of these companies, which serve to maintain violent military occupation, institutionalized segregation and other grave human rights violations. Because of this, a substantial number of the Columbia community is joining the national campaign to insist that TIAA-CREF uphold its promise for socially responsible investment.

Alex Kane of Mondoweiss reported that:

The campaign is part of the larger movement to pressure TIAA-CREF to divest. In 2010, Jewish Voice for Peace and a host of other Palestine solidarity groups began to pressure the retirement fund to stop investing in companies that profit from the Israeli military’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Many members of the Columbia staff are served by TIAA-CREF’s retirement fund.

The current Columbia campaign to divest has garnered the support of student groups ranging from Students Against Mass Incarceration to the Black Students Organization to the Native American Council.

Belgian students call for academic boycott

- Belgium: A federation representing 100,000 Belgian students in higher education has called for a freeze of all academic partnerships with Israeli academic institutions.

The Comité Palestine Louvain stated on its website that the FEF, the Belgian French-speaking Students Association, has declared:

… that its members firmly condemn the discriminatory and colonialist policy of the State of Israel. Because too many UN resolutions haven’t been respected, the FEF asks for their practical application: the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the occupied territories according to the borders of 1967, the end of colonization, and the application of the right of return for all refugees expelled from their homes, since 1948. The FEF reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves, while condemning blind violence.

Finally, the FEF considers it necessary to re-evaluate the existing cooperation agreements between Belgian French-Community universities and Israeli universities.

The entire document can be accessed here (in French).

UC Davis to vote on divestment

- Davis, California: The Associated Students of the University of California at Davis will be presented with a divestment resolution in the next few weeks. The resolution, which is sponsored by the local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), identifies US companies that profit from Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights, including Caterpillar, General Electric, Cement Roadstone Holdings and Raytheon, and calls on the University of California to divest from such companies.

This will mark the sixth University of California campus to hold a divestment resolution vote during the 2012-2013 school year, following UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Berkeley.

UC Davis’ SJP stated in a press release that:

The Students for Justice in Palestine (Davis) sponsored the resolution, joining a UC-wide effort to assert students’ agency and insist on socially responsible investments by divesting from corporations profiting from the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories.

Whether the resolution “UCD Resolution in Support of University of California Davis Corporate Accountability through Divestment from Corporations Profiting from the Illegal Occupation of Palestine,” passes or not, the Students for Justice in Palestine at UCD sees this as a beginning to pushing the University towards a more socially responsible investment.

Sodastream protest leads to boycott victory at Milan bar

- Milan, Italy: Gearing up for a promotional event featuring cocktails made with Sodastream products, the historic Bar Basso in Milan was met with protesters calling on the establishment to respect the Palestinian-led boycott call. The bar’s manager ended up canceling the event upon learning of the international boycott movement against the corporation.

Equipped with Palestinian flags, posters and flyers, boycott activists gathered at the bar on 12 April and distributed flyers to bar patrons explaining Sodastream’s business practicies and profiting from Israel’s settlement industry in the occupied West Bank.

BDS Italia stated on its website that:

After distributing flyers for about 10 minutes to the bar’s patrons and a somewhat resentful reception by the staff, Bar Basso manager, Maurizio Stocchetto, agreed to hear the reasons behind the action and invited the activists inside to speak.

After reading the flyer calling for a boycott of SodaStream and hearing our concerns, the manager phoned the agent who had first proposed the event, explaining the situation in which he found himself and expressing his resentment for not having been informed beforehand of the international boycott campaign against SodaStream.

Finally, following a call made directly to SodaStream Italy to explain what was going on in his bar, Stocchetto decided to cancel the event starting the next day, even though it meant incurring a loss (the agreement with SodaStream stipulated that payment for advertisement of their products would be based on the number of cocktails prepared with their carbonation machines).

A follow-up inspection by BDS Milano confirmed that Bar Basso had removed the SodaStream products on display and canceled the event.

Melbourne activists hold boycott action against Sodastream

- Melbourne, Australia: Activists with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid held a boycott action on 19 April against Sodastream products inside a busy supermarket. The action included a mock confrontation between a shopper and an activist dressed in a “security guard” costume who engaged in an informative conversation about Sodastream’s business practices and its direct profiting from Israel’s settlement industry.

On a video of the action, posted above, an actual security guard at the store can be heard off-camera, demanding that the action and the filming stop. But the action continues unabated, with activists engaging in a “mic check” to inform shoppers about Sodastream’s practices and the Israeli occupation.

More recent BDS news from our Activism and BDS Beat blog:



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).