The term “boycott” has its origins in Ireland.
It entered the English language during the Land War of the 1880s — the struggle across the Irish countryside between impoverished tenant farmers and their often absentee landlords.
When Captain Charles Boycott, an agent of a major landowner in County Mayo, sought to evict tenants for non-payment of rent, he was shunned by the local communities: his workers went on strike, local tradespeople refused to deal with him; even the local post office refused to take his mail.
So it is fitting that Irish people have undertaken a number of significant boycott campaigns as a means of fighting injustice.
In 1984, a group of mainly female workers in Dunnes Stores, a supermarket chain, went on strike in order to comply with a trade union decision that they refrain from handling South African fruit. Nelson Mandela personally thanked members of the group following his release from prison.
Its main purpose is to encourage Irish universities to support the 2005 call made by representatives of a wide cross-section of Palestinian society for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
To their shame, some Irish universities are involved in research partnerships with Israel’s arms industry and its academic supporters.
University College Cork has teamed up with the Technion, a Haifa-based institution that has developed bulldozers specifically designed for demolishing Palestinian homes.
These projects are financed by the European Union.
Israel has taken part in the EU’s scientific research activities since 1997. Since then, its universities and enterprises have coordinated no fewer than 1,070 EU research projects and participated in 3,000 more (“Academia against apartheid,” Academics for Palestine, February 2014 [PDF]).
A veteran Irish politician Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is currently overseeing the EU’s research program.
Despite a row last year over “guidelines” reiterating EU policy that work undertaken in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank should not be eligible for research funding, Geoghegan-Quinn has taken no action to prevent Israeli weapons-producers from receiving subsidies.
When academics cooperate with Israel, they lend its apartheid policies a veneer of respectability.
The task of critical intellectuals is to challenge the spurious legitimacy that some of our colleagues in universities have conferred on Israel and to expose the lies told by officialdom.
Our task is all the more important, considering that the Irish media has for the most part refused to investigate our country’s academic cooperation with Israel.
At our launch, Academics for Palestine presented a list of more than 140 Irish academics who support calls for a boycott of Israel.
This builds on a previous initiative some of us took during Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, when more than 60 academics signed a letter to The Irish Times seeking a moratorium on EU funding for Israeli universities.
The academic boycott is a legal and peaceful way for Irish academics — and academics everywhere — to take action against the Israeli occupation.
Given Ireland’s own history of oppression, it is only natural that we should stand in solidarity with the Palestinians.
Conor McCarthy teaches English literature at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, near Dublin.