Romeo and Juliet in Palestine

Tom Sperlinger, a Reader in English at Bristol University, has published an account of jhp54ef08e49f548the five months during which he taught literature at the Palestinian Al-Quds University, under conditions of occupation. His memoir Romeo and Juliet in Palestine chronicles the time he spent with Al-Quds students and faculty, and the difficulties he faced teaching English literature to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. His memoir challenges those in the humanities who consider life in Palestine irrelevant to the kind of learning we undertake when we study literature.

His University of Bristol website, notes that “Romeo and Juliet in Palestine, was published by Zero Books in June 2015 and has been reviewed in The Observer, the Electronic Intifada and SCTIW Review. It is about a semester [Sperlinger] spent teaching at Al-Quds University in 2013.”  See the interview with Sperlinger about the book for the Bristol Festival of Ideas and for the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper in Brazil.” Continue reading

Defend Campus Free Speech: Oppose Canary Mission’s Blacklisting of Students and Scholars

For over a year, a growing number of students and faculty have become the target of the Canary Mission (CM), a clandestine organization that is devoted to monitoring and Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 3.51.22 PMharassing anti-Zionist activists and critics of Israel on university campuses (see here and here and here and here for recent coverage).  The organization, which operates anonymously, has been linked to and endorsed by well-known defenders of Israel, such as David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes. Horowitz’s Freedom Center maintains the Discover the Network page which lists individuals, among them an odd assort of academics, on the ostensible American Left. Pipes is associated with the controversial 2002 Campus Watch blacklists. Akin to Campus Watch, which focused primarily on Middle East Studies scholars, who questioned US policy in the Bush era, Canary Mission project is both more specific and more general; it is more specific in its focus on campus critiques of Israel, but it is more general in not limiting the list to Middle East Studies scholars.

Canary Mission is nothing but a blacklist, pure and simple.

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“Life and Death in Palestine”: A Radio Interview with Ben Ehrenreich

Ben Ehrenreich is an independent journalist, whose varied writings include a prize-winning article on death in Los Angeles in the Los Angeles Magazine and the story behind the murder of the Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton.  Visit Ben Ehrenreich’s blog to follow his compelling coverage of stories that often do not appear in the mainstream press. In addition to his work as a  journalist, he is a creative writer, and has published two novels, The Suitors and Ether (City Lights 2011).

414duvBsJoL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_-1Ehrenreich has written for Harper’s Magazine on Israel’s water war against Palestine and this year published a new book, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine (Penguin).

To listen to or download the podcast of the interview with Ben Ehrenreich who discusses with David Lloyd his new book on “life and death in Palestine,” click this link.

In early August, David Lloyd interviewed Ben Ehrenreich for the weekly SWANA (South and West Asia and North Africa) Collective radio show, which produces original programming for KPFK/Pacifica Radio 90.7 fm, Los Angeles. The discussion between Lloyd and Ehrenreich focuses on the current situation in Palestine-Israel, Palestinian resistance movements, the suspended peace talks, and prospects of the continuing Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid. The interview originally aired on August 1, 2016 and was produced by Nyma Ardilan.



The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Platform and Palestine Solidarity

The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a broad coalition of Black organizations, published Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 1.34.50 PMin early August a resolutely inspiring platform, bringing into clear focus some of the most urgent political issues of our era, from the criminalization of Blacks and immigrants to economic injustice to inequality in education to the militarization of US society. The M4BL policy platform represents without question the most far-reaching attempt in the 21st century to present the systemic nature of racial violence in the US, whose most spectacular and outrageous form finds expression in the police serial killing of Blacks, but which can be tracked to every sector of society. Continue reading

Academic Boycott and Academic Activism

In her recent essay for Social Justice, Sunaina Maira provides analysis of the importance of Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.45.24 AMacademic boycott resolutions, both in their passage and in the spaces they create for dialogue, education, and democratization of the neoliberal university. She begins by noting, “Something unthinkable has happened in the United States in recent years: The boycott of Israeli academic institutions has expanded rapidly, with one major academic association after another endorsing the boycott or voting on boycott resolutions. Just as recently as in 2010, it was unimaginable for many, including Palestine solidarity activists and Palestinians themselves, that the academic boycott could win support in the United States. Our government, after all, is the most powerful ally of Israel and has provided unconditional military, political, and economic support to the Israeli state. Concomitantly, the issue of Palestinian liberation has historically been suppressed and subjected to censorship in the US academy and public sphere, representing what many describe as a new McCarthyism.” She goes on in this essay, found in full here to explore the significant role that the Palestine question and BDS have played in movements for social justice, and in challenging foundational colonial narratives. Maira also makes the case for the political principles that structure the boycott movement, and for the way it relies on autonomous grassroots mobilizing, done in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

She makes an argument that resolutions adopted by academic organizations are important not just for their outcomes, but because they create an important intellectual and political space, that contributes to the struggle to democratizing the neoliberal university. She concludes, “The boycott is thus central to the contemporary culture wars, and is an important site for academic activism and struggles for emancipation.”

As MLA Members for Justice in Palestine partake in this struggle with a boycott resolution—and build on the space for dialogue and education created by the Right to Enter Resolution passed at the 2014 Delegate Assembly—a resolution that received the majority of votes without reaching MLA’s required 10 percent threshold—Maira’s analysis of the importance of this campaign is timely and inspiring.

Sangeeta Ray’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Sangeeta Ray is professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Maryland. She umdpic_0teaches anglophone postcolonial and world literature, US minority literature and environmental literature. She has published two books, Engendering India: Woman and Nation in Colonial and Postcolonial Narratives (Duke UP 2000) and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: In other Words (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). She co-edited The Companion To Postcolonial Studies (Blackwell, 2000) and the 3 volume Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016). She was the President of the Cultural Studies Association (2006-08) and has served on the supervisory Board of the English Institute.

Sign the “Open Letter” calling on the MLA membership to endorse a resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Only the signatures of (former or current) MLA members will be included.

I am really surprised that today, in 2016, the idea of BDS remains controversial. The facts are clear. Israel with its own militaristic power and with the backing of the world’s most powerful nation has resolutely and with impunity exercised imperialist policies on the land and people of Palestine. Violence and brutal occupation has been a key tactic of the Israeli state and the costs to the Palestinian people enormous. When those who are treated without dignity retaliate they are subject to greater humiliation and oppression in the name of saving a nation established in the first place through a series of political negotiations starting with the Balfour declaration in 1917.  As a scholar working in the field of postcolonial studies since the early 90’s, it is imperative that I call attention to the continuing violation of the basic civil rights of the Palestinian people. BDS was a successful movement in the past as in apartheid South Africa. Israeli apartheid is ripe for the same legal and non-violent tactic. The movement is directed at institutions and by withdrawing our formal cooperation from those that facilitate and aid in the denial of rights to Palestinians we are actually extending academic freedom for all.  I have spent my entire academic career teaching and writing about oppression and freedom. I am a literary scholar and teach literature from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia, continents and regions subject to slavery, indentured labor and imperialism. The literature I focus on speaks to the very core of what we value in the humanities and literary studies—freedom to move, to think, to write, to speak, to gather and to live without fear and with dignity. How can I not, in good faith, endorse the MLA boycott resolution? I must and do.

Stathis Gourgouris’ Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Stathis Gourgouris is Professor of Classics, English, and Comparative Literature & Society at stathis photoColumbia University. He is the author of Dream Nation (1996); Does Literature Think? (2003); Lessons in Secular Criticism (2013); and editor of Freud and Fundamentalism (2010). He also writes regularly in internet media (such as The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books,  Al Jazeera, Open Democracy, The Immanent Frame), as well as major Greek newspapers and journals on political and literary matters. A collection of such essays on poetics and politics, written in Greek over a period of 25 years, is forthcoming in 2016 with the title Contingent Disorders. He is also an internationally awarded poet, with four volumes of poetry published in Greek, most recent being Introduction to Physics (Athens, 2005). His work has been translated into French, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, and Hebrew. He has served as Director of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia (2009-2015); President of the Modern Greek Studies Association (2006-2012); and at the Board of Supervisors of the English Institute, Harvard University (2006-2009).

Sign the “Open Letter” calling on the MLA membership to endorse a resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Only the signatures of (former or current) MLA members will be included.

I consider my support of BDS the realization of my most elementary democratic responsibility. In the sense that the ranks of my profession internationally constitute a demos of which I am a part, I cannot possibly sit aside and allow a specific constituency (the Israeli state and its institutions across the board) to exercise violence against the basic liberties of another (the life of Palestinians across the board) year after year for decades with total impunity.

My support of BDS against the Israeli state and its institutions is not directed against the people of Israel and surely not the Jews of the world. Nor does it stop me from collaborating with Israeli colleagues on specific projects.

Let’s keep in mind that the call for BDS emerged from the ranks of Palestinian colleagues and students whose very lives are conducted daily under the guns of the Israeli army. To call these life conditions a “violation of academic freedom,” although entirely factual an assessment, is almost absurd in its formalism. When people are being killed systematically, their homes and means of livelihood demolished, their prospects of living and flourishing ruined, their basic rights trampled daily, all on top of a whole history of their land having been stolen, occupied, reapportioned, bought and sold, and their people dispossessed, expelled, and exterminated, to speak only in terms of academic freedom is to touch on the barest elements of the issue. Nonetheless, as academics who take seriously our democratic responsibility, this is the very least we can do in light of an unjustifiable situation.

Critics of BDS point to what they call the exceptionalism of the action, namely that Israel is singled out as a target, and in that sense they charge BDS with anti-Semitism. Nothing can be more deviously misleading. On the contrary, BDS testifies precisely to the fact that no exceptions are being made. Just like boycott and divestment actions in which I have participated in the past – César Chavez’s pioneering action in California and later the boycott of South Africa’s apartheid policies – BDS against Israeli state policies of violence means precisely that Israel cannot be allowed to be an exception.

I participate in the international call for BDS against Israel with the same conviction I took to my recent participation in international actions against the Turkish state’s arrest of academics and students for exercising their right to criticize their government or against the Saudi state’s condemnation of the poet Asraf Fayadh to death on charges of blasphemy. I make no exceptions when it comes to state violence against people, whether indigenous or neighbors to the land, and the Israeli state is one of the worst such violators in contemporary history.

My support of BDS against the Israeli state and its institutions is not directed against the people of Israel and surely not the Jews of the world. Nor does it stop me from collaborating with Israeli colleagues on specific projects. Support of such Israeli colleagues and students especially who engage in actions against their state, often with dire consequences against them and their families, I consider imperative.

Nor, moreover, does my support of BDS keep me from being critical of certain actions conducted in its name which I consider politically misguided. The boycott of the extraordinary West-Eastern Divan Orchestra project, created by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said, is one such case I criticize. But this is precisely the point. BDS is a movement whose ranks are heterogeneous and engaged in democratic action and self-critique. It is not an ideologically blind movement – people in BDS are constantly thinking and rethinking their position. To support it does not mean to temper in the least one’s exercise of unbounded (self-) critique.

BDS is the very least we can do in this climate of both overt and tacit support (especially in the US) of Israel’s abhorrent policies of extermination of Palestinian life which have been going on unfathomably for decades on end. The recent wrathful response of certain institutions, both in America and abroad, against BDS testifies to BDS’s importance and effectiveness. As an MLA member of 35 years, I consider endorsing BDS to be essentially pertinent to the Association’s basic values in favor of academic freedom. Let us not cower before the insidious backlash from institutions we otherwise fight against every day in our workplaces and in our lives.