On May 26, the Special Council of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in the United Kingdom will be convening to reconsider the motions to boycott two Israeli universities passed less than a month ago at its regular annual meeting on April 22. Considering the well-orchestrated campaign of vilification and misinformation aimed at demonizing and discrediting the idea of boycott and boycott activists in the UK and beyond, it will not be surprising if the Special Council revokes the boycott motions. However, we wish to stress that despite this anticipated setback, the inspiring process of awareness building and mobilizing that was launched in preparation for the AUT’s initial meeting will persist and can only grow.
Boycotting Israeli institutions due to their complicity in Israel’s racist and colonial policies against the Palestinians remains formidably on the agenda. We may not get tangible results this year, but the prospects for success next year or the following one are much greater now. Many more years separated the ANC’s call for boycott of apartheid — issued in 1956 — and the actual implementation of meaningful sanctions. What matters most is that the taboo has indeed been shattered. Comparing Israel to South Africa has notably become more acceptable than before; and, crucially, Israel’s ability to continue its criminal oppression with impunity has suffered an arguably irrecoverable loss. In short, Israel has become boycottable in the minds of many around the globe.
Just this week, the Call for Boycott issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) received the critical endorsement of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) — representing millions — and of more than a hundred South African academics, including Dennis Brutus, John Pampallis and Steven Friedman. South African government minister and ANC leader Ronnie Kasrils has also come out in unreserved support of this boycott call, which enjoys the backing of an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society, universities included.
The outcome of Thursday’s meeting is largely anticipated by the boycott activists in the UK as well as by PACBI for several reasons, including:
(1) The extensive intimidation tactics used by organized Israeli and Zionist interest groups in the UK, Israel and even the US to vilify boycott leaders and to effectively suppress any rational debate on Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, the main motive behind the boycott;
(2) The blanket media coverage given only to one side of the debate, that of the anti-boycott forces, with an almost complete preclusion of Palestinian voices;
(3) The appalling misinformation campaign waged by Israel and its apologists, including some key figures in the Israeli “left,” who joined the establishment chorus in this regard.
The hysterical reaction of Israel to the possibility of boycotts and the profound debate that has ensued around the world on Israel’s illegal occupation and other forms of oppression prove beyond doubt that this campaign has touched a sensitive nerve. If Israel wins this round in the boycott process, it will only prove what is already widely recognized: its lobby and interest groups have enough influence in the media and in the academy to continue escaping censure and to avoid carrying out its obligations under international law. The facts on the ground will remain, however. Israel’s colonial Wall, its ever expanding settlements, its indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians, its relentless land and water theft and its abuse of Palestinian human rights are all too real to be ignored by the international community.
Just as in the South African case, a comprehensive regime of sanctions and boycotts remains not only the most politically effective but also the most morally sound strategy in bringing about Israel’s compliance with international law and universal principles of human rights. With such international pressure, the prospects for a just peace in our region will finally thrive.