PACBI’s recent statement entitled “Intellectual Responsibility and the Voice of the Colonized,” which criticizes the research project that led to the publication of the book, The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has stirred a healthy debate and mostly constructive discussion among various scholars. Some, however, have misinterpreted this statement and reached certain conclusions that are neither based on the text of the statement nor representative of PACBI’s consistent positions. It is important, therefore, to further clarify our position in this regard.
Among the various misinterpretations of this statement, we find the following questions the most reasonable to engage:
Is PACBI calling for a boycott of the book itself or of its editors despite the critical, anti-colonial positions they both promote?
Absolutely not! The key part of the PACBI statement says:
“[T]hrough 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)” (emphasis added).
Neither is this a call to boycott the book or its editors and contributors, many of whom we know to be principled supporters of Palestinian rights. It is very clear that the merit of the book itself is not the issue. The main and only issue is the violation of the PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel inherent in the research project that led to the production of the volume. The project under which the research group worked was supported and funded, at least in its founding stage, by the Van Leer Institute, as stated in the first pages of the book itself. That is the only relevant and public statement available. The Van Leer Institute, despite claims made for it, is not exempt from the academic boycott, as the PACBI statement explains. Thus, any project under its aegis and funded by it must be brought under scrutiny from the perspective of the academic boycott.
What purpose does this PACBI statement really serve, then?
PACBI reiterates its long-standing position that any link that an international — as opposed to Israeli-only — research project may have to Israeli academic institutions violates the boycott criteria and must be subject to criticism. The overriding consideration here is not the creation of a positive atmosphere conducive to scholarly cooperation between Palestinian and anti-colonial Israeli academics, as one critique of our position has it; rather, it is how to isolate Israeli academic institutions due to their entrenched complicity in the state’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinian people. Anti-colonial projects should not, under any circumstances, undermine the logic and the principles of the academic boycott endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Palestinian academics and intellectuals.
Crucially, PACBI is calling attention to the responsibility involved in the process of producing knowledge and the institutional conditions of that production, as articulately put by a prominent supporter of the boycott. Although attention to the complexities of Zionist colonial practices in Palestine is a necessary part of scholarly production, this production never occurs in a vacuum. The Van Leer’s support for this project is the crux of the issue. For an international boycott to be successful, it must be acknowledged that such institutions, however they choose to present themselves, are part and parcel of a state apparatus that has — through brutal methods — sought to destroy Palestine as an idea, a place and a people.
Shouldn’t Van Leer’s support for this strongly anti-colonial project be lauded, not condemned?
Like all the rest of Israeli academic institutions, as stated in the PACBI statement, the Van Leer Institute is complicit in perpetuating a system of colonial oppression and apartheid. Aside from the fact that the Institute has never taken a public position against the occupation, the denial of the UN-sanctioned rights of Palestinian refugees, or, crucially, against the system of racial discrimination within Israel, its acceptance of financial support from other, Israeli universities and state institutions is further evidence that it sees nothing wrong with allying itself with complicit institutions. Its very promotion of Israel as a “Jewish state” and claim that it is, also, a democracy betrays a vision of exclusion that can never be simultaneously inclusive.