PACBI: Intellectual responsibility and the voice of the colonized

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has recently encountered a number of projects that while intending to empower the colonized Palestinians, in essence end up undermining their will and choice of method of struggle for freedom, justice and self-determination. The publication of a new book entitled The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories belongs to this category. The book project represents a classic example of how the collective voice of the colonized is ignored in the production of a scholarly work supposed to empower them.

While it is crucial for scholars in relevant fields to expose and analyze the colonial situation in Palestine, this academic imperative should not imply that one overlooks how scholarship engages this colonialism. That is, this book, as a collaboration of various scholars — Israeli and non-Israeli contributors — was completed with support from the Van Leer Institute. In other words, through working under the aegis of the Van Leer Institute, this project has cooperated with one of the very institutions that PACBI and an overwhelming majority of Palestinian academics and intellectuals have called for boycotting. As such, the research project which led to the production of the volume violates the criteria of the academic and cultural boycott as set by PACBI and widely endorsed in Palestinian civil society, including by the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) and University Teachers’ Association in Palestine (UTA).

Contrary to the claims of some left-wing Israeli academics that the Van Leer institute is an incubator for cutting-edge critical thinking and oppositional politics, the institute is firmly planted in the prevailing Zionist consensus and is part and parcel of the structures of oppression and domination. It subscribes to the “vision of Israel as both a homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic society, predicated on justice, fairness and equality for all its residents,” ignoring the oxymoron presented by this inherently exclusionary vision — a “Jewish State” of necessity discriminates against its “non-Jewish” citizens. The Van Leer Institute receives financial support from other Israeli universities and state institutions that are subject to boycott. Among its financial contributors and institutional “friends” are the Cohn Institute at Tel Aviv University; the Edelstein Center at the Hebrew University; the Israel Ministry of Science; the National Insurance Institute, Israel; and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Furthermore, Van Leer, like all other Israeli academic institutions, has never taken a stance against Israel’s policies of occupation and racial discrimination, nor against the recent war of aggression on Gaza or the ongoing illegal siege of 1.5 million Palestinians there. The Van Leer is, therefore, an institution with strong links to establishment institutions in Israel. As such, it is complicit in maintaining and entrenching Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people.

Though intellectual projects may aim to rigorously articulate the complex matrix of control that exists in Palestine, the intellectual process has a fundamental ethical and political component. As such, it is incumbent upon all scholars to realize that any collaboration which brings together Israeli and international academics (Arabs or otherwise) under the auspices of Israeli institutions is counterproductive to fighting Israeli colonial oppression, and is therefore subject to boycott.

A project involving only Israeli academics, on the other hand, receiving support from an Israeli academic institution, may be seen as a justifiable exercise of a right or an entitlement by Israeli scholars as tax payers and, as a result, may not per se be boycottable.

As the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement gains momentum globally, an increasing number of voices are emerging in support of this strategy as the most effective, nonviolent route to bring about change towards justice and durable peace based on international law and universal principles of human rights. The endorsement by various artists and academics of specific boycott actions in the past few years is welcome and well-known. It is the responsibility of the boycott supporters to understand the broadly-accepted boycott criteria and guidelines upon which this boycott is based and adhere to it, rather than attempting to invent or suggest idiosyncratic criteria of their own, as the latter would undermine the Palestinian guiding reference for the global boycott campaign against Israel.

It is crucial to emphasize that the BDS movement derives its principles from both the demands of the Palestinian BDS Call, signed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in July 2005, and, in the academic and cultural fields, from the Palestinian Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, issued a year earlier in July 2004. Together, the BDS and PACBI Calls represent the most authoritative and widely-supported strategic statements to have emerged from Palestine in decades; all major political parties, labor, student and women groups, and organizations representing Palestinian refugees all over the world have endorsed and supported these calls. Both calls underline the prevailing Palestinian belief that the most effective form of solidarity with the Palestinian people is direct action aimed at bringing an end to Israel’s colonial and apartheid regime, just as the apartheid regime in South Africa was abolished, by isolating Israel internationally through boycotts and sanctions, forcing it to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights.

Since the formulation of these calls, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on defining the principles of the boycott movement. Rooted in universal values and principles, the BDS Call categorically rejects all forms of racism, racial discrimination and colonial oppression. PACBI has also translated the principles enshrined in its Call into practical guidelines for implementing the international academic and cultural boycott of Israel. However intellectually challenging and avant-garde some projects may be, by being oblivious to the Palestinian-articulated boycott criteria they in effect work against the internationally-embraced Palestinian struggle for justice.

On 19 February the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel issued a clarification on the above statement: